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

Can Women Minister? – 1 Corinthians 14:33-38

בטי מולר- דבורה הנביאה

Deborah, Prophetess and Judge (Photo credit: zeevveez)

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (ESV)

Is it really Paul’s intent that women should never speak in open assembly? Even those who believe that Paul restricts women’s roles in church or synagogue rarely take the position today that women should not speak out at all. For example, the ESV Study Bible says, “[I]t is difficult to see this as an absolute prohibition (cf. Acts 2:17; 21:8-9). Paul is likely forbidding women to speak up and judge prophecies (this is the activity in the immediate context; cf. 1Co. 14:29), since such activity would subvert male leadership.”

However, in the past, such an interpretation was the norm, even though it led to a contradiction in the text itself. Matthew Henry (not my favorite commentator, but a popular one nevertheless) manages, in the course of trying to defend the seemingly plain meaning that women were to keep utterly silent, to actually highlight the problem with such a reading:

There is indeed an intimation (1Co. 11:5) as if the women sometimes did pray and prophesy in their assemblies, which the apostle, in that passage, does not simply condemn, but the manner of performance, that is, praying or prophesying with the head uncovered, which, in that age and country, was throwing off the distinction of sexes, and setting themselves on a level with the men. But here he seems to forbid all public performances of theirs. They are not permitted to speak (1Co. 14:34) in the church, neither in praying nor prophesying. The connection seems plainly to include the latter, in the limited sense in which it is taken in this chapter, namely, for preaching, or interpreting scripture by inspiration. And, indeed, for a woman to prophesy in this sense were to teach, which does not so well befit her state of subjection. A teacher of others has in that respect a superiority over them, which is not allowed the woman over the man, nor must she therefore be allowed to teach in a congregation: I suffer them not to teach. But praying, and uttering hymns inspired, were not teaching.

Likewise, John Gill writes, “This is a restriction of, and an exception to one of the above rules, that all might prophesy; in which he would be understood of men only, and not of women . . . in the church of God, they might not speak with tongues, nor prophesy, or preach, or teach the word.” His commentary on 11:5, as a result, denies the plain meaning of Paul’s writing there:

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth,…. Not that a woman was allowed to pray publicly in the congregation, and much less to preach or explain the word, for these things were not permitted them: see 1Co. 14:34, but it designs any woman that joins in public worship with the minister in prayer, and attends on the hearing of the word preached, or sings the praises of God with the congregation, as we have seen, the word prophesying signifies . . .”

Gill’s argument is that prophesying refers to anyone who “attends public worship, that joins in prayer with the minister, and hears the word preached by him, which is meant by prophesying; for not foretelling future events is here meant, but explaining the word of God, the prophecies of the Old Testament, or any part of Scripture, unless singing of psalms should rather be designed, since that is sometimes expressed by prophesying . . .” but that “explaining the word of God” is specifically withheld from women.

John Calvin tries to explain 1 Corinthians 11:5 similarly:

It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in 1Co. 14:34.

So, basically Paul decided to throw in a couple of completely extraneous words that would give his audience a false impression . . . for giggles, I guess.

You can see the conundrum that results from forbidding women to teach given that Paul had only just given rules allowing them to prophesy. A simple rule of Jewish hermeneutics–one that Paul would have been raised and steeped in, and indeed bases many of his teachings on–is that no word of the Scriptures is redundant or unnecessary. Paul would not have said that women could prophesy with their head covered if he wished to convey that women could not speak out at all. Nor can we argue that somehow one can separate the public prophesying of men from some kind of private prophesying (singing of psalms, whatever) of women. By their very nature, a prophet has to speak the words of the living God, and by virtue of speaking those words, carries an appointed authority.

There is a second fundamental problem with the idea that this passage forbids women to speak publicly: There is no passage at all in the Torah that forbids women to do so.

Try as they might, no commentator has been able to produce such a command. The ESV Study Bible notes say with a tone of uncertainty, “Paul is probably thinking of the woman’s creation ‘from’ and ‘for’ the man (see 11:8-9; Gen. 2:20-24).” Gill claims the reason can be found “In Gen. 3:16, ‘thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee’,” an opinion shared by Adam Clarke. Yet this punishment cannot be taken to be a command, but is rather a statement by the Holy One of the natural result of the woman’s newborn sin-nature. After all, it is part of the man’s curse that “thorns and thistles it [the ground] shall grow for you” (Gen. 3:18), but that doesn’t mean that we are commanded to go out and plant thorns and thistles any more than we are commanded to sweat before we eat bread (v. 19)!

Matthew Henry does not even attempt to find such a command in the Torah. Neither does John Calvin:

What connection has the object that he has in view with the subjection under which the law places women? “For what is there,” some one will say, “to hinder their being in subjection, and yet at the same time teaching?” I answer, that the office of teaching is a superiority in the Church, and is, consequently, inconsistent with subjection. For how unseemly a thing it were, that one who is under subjection to one of the members, should preside over the entire body!

Yet for all of his strong verbiage and acknowledged knowledge of the Word, Calvin produces not a single line of the Law commanding the subjection of women.

“Who told that woman she could speak to men?”
“God.”
“. . . Oh.”

So can a woman be a prophet? Clearly so; there are indeed many examples of women prophets in the Law and Prophets, such as the Matriarchs (for example, Genesis 25:23), Moses and Aaron’s sister Miriam (Exo. 15:20, cf. ch. 14), Deborah (Jdg. 4-5), Hulda (2Ki. 22:14), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), and Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3). In the New Testament we also have Anna, who prophesied over the infant Messiah and spoke publicly about him to all who would hear (Luke 2:36-38).

The case of Deborah is particularly interesting because she was not only a prophetess, but also a judge–a ruler–over Israel, “and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Jdg. 4:5). We also have an extensive prophecy by her in Judges chapter 5. Clearly, the Holy One gave her his approval and authority to rule over Israel, and to do so she spoke openly and publicly. How then can we claim that a woman cannot publicly prophesy? And if a woman can have a gift of prophecy, this is clearly a greater and more authoritative gift than teaching: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (1Co. 12:28).

One could certainly suppose that by “law” Paul is referring to Jewish Law, which certainly did (and among the more Orthodox, still does) have injunctions against women teaching, as Adam Clarke points out:

This was a Jewish ordinance; women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies, or even to ask questions. The rabbins taught that “a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff.” And the sayings of Rabbi Eliezer, as delivered, Bammidbar Rabba, sec. 9, fol. 204, are both worthy of remark and of execration; they are these: ישרפו דברי תורה ואל ימסרו לנשים  yisrephu dibrey torah veal yimsaru lenashim, “Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered to women.” This was their condition till the time of the Gospel, when, according to the prediction of Joel, the Spirit of God was to be poured out on the women as well as the men, that they might prophesy, i.e. teach. (To 1Co. 14:34)

Acknowledging that women may prophesy (as Clarke rightly points out Joel 2:28-29 specifically predicts), and that to prophesy must necessarily involve teaching, Clarke takes a more reasonable interpretation of Paul’s intent than most: “It was permitted to any man to ask questions, to object, altercate, attempt to refute, etc., in the synagogue; but this liberty was not allowed to any woman.”

While this is closer to the mark, Clarke misses two important points: First and most obviously, it was not Paul’s habit to command universal obedience to Jewish law or custom in the Ekklesia–just the opposite, in fact! Secondly, while he is probably correct that the objection stemmed from wishing to avoid an impropriety that would unnecessarily offend the Jews of the synagogue (the requirement that a woman cover her head with a veil in 11:5 being from a similar concern), what we see described in 1 Corinthians–speaking in tongues, freely prophesying, healings, a fellowship meal, etc.–could not possibly be part of the mainline synagogue service, and would be seen as offensive to non-believing Jews in any case. (“Goyim prophesying? Surely you jest!”)

Finally, Paul’s rhetorical question, “Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?” makes no sense if he thought women should not be allowed to teach. It’s a non-sequitor to go from the question, “Can a woman prophesy, which requires teaching in public?” to an answer, “Why? Are you saying that only women can receive the word of God?”

So how then should we understand this passage? Is Paul simply dealing with a temporary situation in which the women were being unusually disruptive, as some claim? But if so, why wouldn’t he be more clear?

The solution lies in recognizing a rhetorical device Paul would use from time to time: First quoting an adversarial position, and then refuting it. To pick just a couple of examples:

Earlier in the same letter (6:12), Paul writes, “‘All things are lawful for me,’” but then refutes the notion that therefore sin is permitted by responding, “but not all things are helpful.” And again, he quotes and responds, “’All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.” (He repeats this formula in 10:23.)

Likewise, in Romans 3:8 Paul writes, “And why not do evil that good may come?–as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.” He responds to the charge in 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

So then, let us take each of these factors into consideration when interpreting this passage:

  1. There is absolutely no commandment in the Torah–or anywhere else–that a woman must be silent in public assembly.

  2. There are several Biblical examples of prophetesses, some of whom undeniably prophesied publicly and at least one of whom actually served as a judge over Israel.

  3. Paul himself had stated that a woman who prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, which carries the implicit ruling that women may prophesy if they do so in an honorable fashion.

  4. Paul’s rebuke, “Did the word of God come to you only?” is a non-sequitur to the question, “Can a woman prophesy openly?” since there is no indication that anyone asked if only women can prophesy.

  5. Paul sometimes quotes a position only to turn around and refute it.

And finally, there is one final factor to consider: There are no such things as quotation marks in ancient Greek or Hebrew. Therefore, the translator must supply them based on the context of the passage in question.

And with that, let us requote the passage as it appears in the ESV, supplying only a set of quotation marks, adding a couple of interpolations for clarity, and correcting one translation in the ESV (the word “Or” in v. 36), and see if it fits:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

[Some say,] “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

[Paul responds:] What? Was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you [i.e., that a woman may prophesy with a modest head-covering] are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

Ergo, Paul is not teaching that women may not pray or prophesy, both of which require speaking in open assembly, but is answering those who ignore the clear precedent of Scripture in demanding that women have no public role in the Ekklesia in order to follow the common practice in the synagogues of the time.

Shalom

Can Women Minister? – Introduction

Day 260: Don't Censor Me

(Photo credit: amanky)

Recently, Derek Gilbert brought a controversy to his PID Radio forum on Facebook that has been raised several times: What is the proper role of women in the Ekklesia? He linked to an article by Tony Jones called, “It’s Time For a Schism Regarding Women in the Church,” in which Jones makes the following assertion:

The time has come for a schism regarding the issue of women in the church. Those of us who know that women should be accorded full participation in every aspect of church life need to visibly and forcefully separate ourselves from those who do not. Their subjugation of women is anti-Christian, and it should be tolerated no longer.

That means:

  • If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.

  • If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.

  • If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.

  • If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.

That is, we who believe in the full equality of women need to break fellowship with those who do not.

Well, given that I’ve had my own “schism” with churches that teach that Jews need to assimilate into the predominant Christian culture, I can understand feeling the need to take drastic steps to call attention to an issue one feels strongly about. However, the next two sentences by Jones are patently ridiculous: “The time for dialogue and debate has passed. The Spirit has spoken, and we have listened. It’s time to move forward with full force.”

Really? Who is the prophet whose calling we all recognize that the Spirit has spoken through? It seems to me that the only universally accepted prophets are in the Bible, and there is still a legitimate debate on how we should interpret and apply them in this regard. Jones claims, “The full equality of women and men, however, is an issue that has long since been settled.”  In secularized Western culture, perhaps–but that’s the same culture that believes that refusing any and all sexual restraint (under the aphorisms of “Be true to yourself” and “Follow your heart”) is more noble than dedicating one’s whole spirit, mind, body, and sexuality to the Creator who actually knows your heart. Moreover, the vast majority of cultures around the world do not take the equality of men and women to be a given, so the only way one can call this a settled issue is by either appeal to a myopia of Western libertarian morality or by appeal to a wide-ranging agreement among conservative Christians (i.e., those who take the Bible seriously) that women have the same rights and responsibilities in ministry as men according to the Bible. Since Jones does not (and can not, because it doesn’t exist) appeal to the latter, I have to assume that he’s appealing to the former. That’s rather chauvinistic in its own way.

With that being said, I actually mostly agree with Jones’ premise. I believe that the Bible does allow for women to have the full range of ministerial roles available up to and including the roles of prophet and apostle (obviously not meaning one of the Twelve). However, I also believe it to be the clear teaching of Scripture that the husband is the head of the household, and therefore a woman may not exercise a ministerial, teaching, or prophetic role in such a way as to dominate, disobey, or even shame her husband. God has instituted the family in such a way so as to give us poor men a fighting chance.

I have no idea if I mean that last sentence in a tongue-in-cheek way or not. Anyway, before I get in too much trouble here . . .

In many cases, we acknowledge that there are commandments in the Bible which seem horribly oppressive to us, but when understood in light of the times they were written in, make perfect sense and demonstrate incredible compassion. For example, there are large sections of the Torah devoted to slavery. Because of the racist overtones that word has taken on in the United States, we instinctively recoil at the thought of owning another human being. And yet, in the ancient world, slavery was simply another rung on a complex social ladder–the bottom rung for the menial slave in the field or mine, but many slaves were important members in their masters’ households, with wealth and prestige that set them above poor if independent farmers. For example, Eliezer was Abraham’s slave, yet he stood to inherit all of his master’s wealth (Gen. 15:2). Since slavery was simply a universal societal norm, and in many cases offered a better alternative to starving to death, the Bible did not forbid it outright, but rather regulated it while transforming the manner in which one man looks at another. There is a reason that the Abolitionist movement in the United States was comprised largely of sincere Christians.

In the same way, the Bible was written in a rather sexist time and culture, but no more endorses such sexism than it does the concept of slavery. Rather, in numerous ways–both subtle and overt–it lifts up women and shows them to have enormous value . . . not as property, but as people. For example, in most cultures, the father of a bride must pay a dowry. In the Jewish culture, inspired by the Biblical stories of Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, and so forth, the prospective husband must pay a bride-price to his wife’s family. He is not “buying” her in the sense of buying a slave, but must demonstrate the extent to which he values her before her father will consent to the marriage. In the event that he should later divorce his wife, he must give her a written document called a get which serves to protect her from a charge of adultery should she remarry (Deu. 24:1), and she retains the bride-price to live on. There were also protections for women in the event of false accusations of adultery, such as the Sotah (“Bitter Water”) ceremony of Numbers chapter 5.

Nevertheless, there are a handful of passages in the New Testament that have long been taken as excluding women from major ministerial roles, usually restricting them to ministering to other women. Those in the Christian and Messianic communities who understand them in this way–many of them women themselves!–are not hostile to women, nor deserving of scorn. They are simply taking the Bible seriously and drawing a line in a world that hates having any lines drawn at all!

However, let’s take a look at those passages and see if they really are as strenuously against women in ministry as they seem at first glance.

Shalom!

Yes, Paul does teach that followers of Christ remain under the authority of the Law of Moses

Sometimes, it takes a bit of a challenge to draw me out of my current shell. For those of you who aren’t up on my personal life, I’ve got another Bugg in the oven (a girl this time) and between getting ready for her arrival and three out of four of my computers being down, I simply haven’t had the time to blog that I’d like. I have been working on the Curse of the Law series, but ended up wanting to write it all out from start to finish before posting any more.

But today, Peter Goodgame of Red Moon Rising has succeeded in drawing me out with an article entitled, “Does Paul teach that followers of Christ remain under the authority of the Law of Moses?” Since Peter has been nice enough for forward me a copy of his very excellent book, The Second Coming of the Antichrist as well as Red Moon Rising to review (for the record, Antichrist is far and away the better of the two, but both are well worth reading), and since I had the chance to interview him on the Iron Show this caught my attention.

I tend to pick on the people I like and respect the most, and Pete certainly fits the bill. He’s humble, a real disciple of Christ, and both well-read and articulate. That’s not to say that I agree with him on a lot–but I love the challenges he raises in his work. And that being the case, I thought it right that I rise to the challenge and answer his charge, quoted here from the conclusion of what promises to be a multi-part series:

It is absolutely impossible to reconcile the teachings of Paul with a theology that embraces the Mosaic Law and the Old Covenant practices of Sabbath-keeping, kosher diet, observance of feasts, and circumcision as binding upon New Covenant believers.  You cannot hold to the teachings of Moses and to the teachings of Paul at the same time. You must choose one or the other. Either embrace Moses and reject Paul as a false apostle, or embrace the teachings of Paul and accept that in Christ the Old Covenant with its commandments and ordinances has passed away.

This is my Bible in Galatians. I would not spend this much ink on someone I thought was an apostate.

This is my Bible in Galatians. I would not spend this much ink on someone I thought was an apostate.

I’m sorry Peter, I love you, and I regard you as a brother in Yeshua, but you’re 100% wrong on this. I also have to ask why, since you have my email, you decided to post this without asking why I would disagree–as you would’ve known I would. But since you’ve decided to post publicly first, I’m going to answer in public as well–not to rebuke, but to stir discussion.

First, a general observation about this first article: Other than the initial quote from Matthew 5:17, it doesn’t quote from Yeshua at all. That, it would appear, remains for part 2. To me, it would seem that we should first address what the Messiah said before even getting to what His Emissary said. To make the Son of God secondary to Paul is . . . a bit backwards, if an unfortunately tendency among Christians in general.

So to get to the quote-and-rebuttal format that I prefer:

Did Jesus really teach that New Covenant Christians must continue to follow the Law of Moses?  The answer that came from the Gentile Church from the very beginning was a flat “No.”

Once again, Christians refuse to show the Jerusalem Council as actually Jewish

Once again, Christians refuse to show the Jerusalem Council as actually Jewish

There’s a big problem with the above quote, and it is the word “Gentile.” Was the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 Jewish or Gentile? The word in front of the word “Council” should answer that question. I’m not sure if this is a typo or if Peter is making a point that I’m not catching.

But moreover, Peter shows that he doesn’t understand the original issue and is filtering the question through his 21st Century Protestant Christian lenses. The question should instead be, “Did Jesus really teach that Gentile Christians must continue to keep all of the ceremonial commandments of the Torah?” to which we would respond, “The answer that came from the Jewish Assembly from the very beginning is, ‘not entirely.”

See, neither the Acts 15 council nor Paul’s letters on the subject ever really bring up the question of whether Jewish disciples should continue to keep the whole Torah (though Paul does touch on the subject, and as we will see, is very clear that Jews are indeed obligated). Their question was entirely focused on how to best integrate the Gentile believers into what had been for its first decade an almost entirely Jewish institution.

By what authority and from whose teaching did they come to this conclusion? The answer to this question is the Apostle Paul.

Where in the world would Paul get an authority to abolish the Torah that the Twelve who actually walked with Yeshua in the flesh for 2-3 years didn’t? I mean really, do Christians not think through the logic of making Paul the supreme Apostle? I’m not just trying to pick on Peter here–again, I really like and respect the guy–but this just goes to show the virtual worship of Paul that Messianics reject.

Among the Gentile churches in the first century Paul was looked up to as an authoritative representative of the risen Jesus Christ.

“Gentile” being the key word, and “an” being the other key word. But even Paul submitted his views to the authority of the Jerusalem Council, and states plainly that Peter, for example, still had a mission to the circumcised (Gal. 2:8). Ergo, if Peter’s reading of Paul were correct, it might be appropriate to say that Paul did not regard the Torah as binding on Gentile Christians–but one could not then take that statement and turn it into an attack on Messianic Jews for following the example of the actual King of the Jews in keeping that Torah, as Peter does.

We show that the Law of Moses is indeed still binding on Jewish disciples and that Paul himself kept the Torah in The Jew and the Law, so I won’t repeat all of those points here. I’ve also covered the horrifyingly anti-Semitic results of Christianity’s use of Paul’s work in defense of the Gentiles as an attack on Jewish Torah-keeping in my Judenrein Christianity series, so again I won’t repeat what has gone before.

Paul was the first to specifically target the Gentiles for conversion . . .

I’m pretty sure that honor was actually given to Peter in Acts 11.

For evangelicals the New Covenant is understood as the replacement of the Old Covenant, even though much of the ethics and many of the commandments of the Old can be found within the New. On the other hand Messianic believers tend to believe that the New Covenant includes the Old Covenant, with its Sabbath-keeping, dietary restrictions, Feast Days, etc., which remains in force for believers but is applied differently to Jews and Gentiles.

Actually, that’s not what Messianics teach at all, as I or any other Messianic would have told Peter had he simply asked. Rather, we make the distinction between the Old Covenant and the commandments of the Torah. Paul himself makes the distinction between “law” in the sense of the covenant, and “the Law” in the sense of the Torah’s commandments, as I show here. Failure to recognize this distinction (or even make it transparent in the standard Christian translations) has led to a gross misunderstanding of Paul’s writings, as has been noted by Christian authors like N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders, and James Dunn.

But again, let us simply look at Paul’s life to see how he lived out the New Covenant on a practical day-to-day basis: He went to synagogue on Shabbat (Acts 13:14, 17:1-2, etc.) and when he could find no synagogue building, sought out other Jews to pray (16:13). He took a Nazrite vow on his journey long before he knew of a problem in Jerusalem (18:18). He hurried back to Jerusalem to take part in the Shavuot (Pentecost) pilgrimage feast (20:16). He returned with the intent purpose of not only giving alms to the poor, but also to make phosphoras, sacrificial offerings in the Temple (24:17)–undoubtedly including the ones required to fulfill his Nazrite vow (Num. 6:14-17). He was willing to buy sacrifices in bulk to help four other guys complete their own Nazrite vows in order to demonstrate that he was not “teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:20-26). He insisted under oath to the Sanhedrin that he was still a Pharisee (23:6) and to Festus that he had done nothing either against the Law of the Jews or the temple (25:8).

Paul’s entire post-conversion life is utterly incompatible with a man who believed that the Torah had been abolished by the coming of Christ or that keeping the Torah’s commands were incompatible with being under the New Covenant instead of the Old.

Peter goes on to make an appeal to the work of Brian S. Rosner, author of Paul and the Law. I’ve not read Rosner’s work, so I can only comment on what Peter has shared. However, what Peter presents is clearly flawed:

The first move, of repudiation, can be seen in the negation of circumcision in 1 Corinthians 7:19a. Another instance is in 1 Corinthians 9:20, where Paul says simply, ‘I myself am not under the law’.

1 Corinthians 7:19 says, “Circumcision (being Jewish) is nothing and uncircumcision (being Gentile) is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.” Many Bible verses add, “is what matters” to the sentence, but in the process miss the point. Paul goes on to say in v. 20, “Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called,” which is reiterating his statement in v. 18. So if Paul is calling on Jews, who were called when circumcised, to remain circumcised, how does this constitute a repudiation of circumcision? Rather, what Paul is saying is, “Whether one becomes circumcised or not should be nothing more to the person than keeping God’s commandment. Those who are already circumcised, the Jews, should continue to be so. Those called uncircumcised are commanded not to become Jews by circumcision.”

This is my son, born of a Jewish mother, circumcised by a Chabad rabbi on the 8th day.

This is my son, born of a Jewish mother, circumcised by a Chabad rabbi on the 8th day.

None of this is anything close to repudiating the commandment of circumcision. Indeed, we see that Paul thought that those circumcised should continue to circumcise their sons (Acts 21:21-26 again), and he himself circumcised Timothy, the son of a Jewess (16:3).

Moving on to 1 Corinthians 9;20, Paul does not actually say, “I am not under the law” except in the Alexandrian version of the text. All of the other textual traditions leave that line out. One should never base one’s theology on a disputed passage.

Moreover, as we covered previously under Common Mistranslations, Paul does not here say “under the law,” but rather “under law.” Paul defines “under law” in Galatians 4:21-31 to mean “under the Sinaic covenant”–yet as we have seen, saw no problem with keeping the whole Torah under the New Covenant.

Next, it’s ludicrous for Paul, a Pharisaic Jew, to have “became as a Jew” in the sense that a Gentile Christian might–that is, to adopt something apart from who he really is. Nor can we claim, as Paul’s critics and some of his supposed followers might, that this means that Paul had abandoned all Jewish practice except when pretext and hypocrisy (lit. “acting”) was expedient to him. The man was simply too much of an honest zealot to merit such a slander on his character!

Finally, the phrase “without law” is mistranslated. The Greek anomia means “lawless” and has the connotation of “wicked” or “rebel” everywhere else it appears in the NT. Does this mean that in order to reach pagans, Paul slept around with cultic prostitutes? Of course not.

So then, how should we understand him? Let’s pull all of the above together: “To the Jews I became [in my way of presenting the Gospel and ministering to them] as a Jew; to those who are under [the Sinaic covenant of] law as one under [the covenant of] law, so that I might win those who are under [the covenant of] law. And to those who are lawless [and wicked], [I ministered in a way that could be understood to those] as lawless, thought not being [myself] lawless to God, but en-lawed of Messiah[, ministering to those outside of God's grace as Messiah Himself did], so that I might win those who are lawless [and wicked].”

Note that Paul is careful to say that he is not lawless himself, but is en-lawed, or within the Torah as taught by the Messiah. If that is the case, and Yeshua Himself cited the importance of circumcision, putting it even above the Sabbath (John 7:22-23) which Yeshua taught was given as a gift to man (Mark 2:27), then Paul could not have taught that the Torah, or circumcision, was abolished.

Besides all this, Paul himself said, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2). A very strange thing indeed if Paul was renouncing all circumcision.

The second, replacement, is evident in 7:19b with the call to keep God’s commandments, that is, apostolic instructions. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians replacement of the Law of Moses can be seen clearly in 9:21, where Paul says, ‘but am under Christ’s law’.

And what is Christ’s law? The Torah (Mat. 5:17-19).

Rosner goes on to argue that Paul’s only use of the Torah was to re-appropriate it as prophecy. While it is true that Paul found the Torah teeming with prophetic import (and no rabbi would disagree with him), this does not mean that Paul, who kept the Torah himself, saw that as its only purpose, and Rosner (as presented by Goodgame) fails to substantiate his point. I myself have written on the prophetic meaning of the Feasts of Israel, both past and future. Yet it was only by actually living out the Feasts that I gained the insight that I have, and it is through the Feasts that I pass on that insight to my children. Moreover, the fact that many of the Feasts still have a future fulfillment would mitigate against the idea that they should no longer be kept now that they are “fulfilled.” Why not celebrate the ‘fulfilled’ Feasts in honor of Messiah and the ones yet future in anticipation of His return?

Paul’s stated desire to win Jews for Christ by pretending to be an observant Jew . . .

Waitaminute. Did Rosner, and by extension Peter, just say that Paul is an untrustworthy hypocrite?

Godzilla-FacepalmWe Messianics have far too much respect for Paul for that.

The verb ‘to abolish,’ katargeo, is in fact a favorite word for Paul to describe what Christ does to the law. Its strength in this context [within Ephesians 2:14-18] can hardly be missed, as it sits in company with ‘tearing down’ and ‘putting to death’.

Back up there. Where exactly do we get the idea that Ephesians 2:14-18 is referring to the Torah? The reference to “the dividing wall” is to the barrier that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Israelites in the Second Temple. Archaologists have recovered a plaque from it which reads, “No stranger is to enter within the partition wall and enclosure around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his death, which will ensue.”Middle Wall of Partition

Test time: Tell me where in the Torah, the Prophets, or the Writings (the OT) there is a command to build a wall around the Temple to keep Gentile worshipers from getting too close? Go on, look for it. We’ll wait.

Give up? You won’t find such a command in God’s word because there isn’t one. In fact, the dividing wall was erected in direct violation of Numbers 15:14-16, which makes it clear that the alien (Heb. ger) who wished to sacrifice to the God of Israel in His sanctuary must be allowed to do so in exactly the manner of the native-born Israelite.

So then, when we understand the allusion and the context, we see that when Paul writes of “the Law of commandments contained in ordinances,” he is not speaking simply of the Torah, but rather of a flawed interpretation (dogmasin, dogmas, ordinances) of the Torah that actually goes against its real intent. I cover part of the nature and reason behind these ordinances in my series on the Eighteen Measures.

In 2 Corinthians 3:7 Paul uses it in the passive voice to say that the Law of Moses has been ‘set aside’, with its ‘ministry of death, chiselled in letters on stone tablets’.

In the covenant sense, sure. But in speaking of “tablets of human hearts” Paul refers to Jeremiah 31:31-34, where the prophet speaks of the day when the Lord “will put My Torah within them and on their hearts I will write it.” How can the Torah be abolished if the promise of the New Covenant is to have it written on our hearts. Moreover, Paul makes the point in Romans 7:7-13 that it is not that the Torah became death (or a minister of death), but rather that our sin nature rebels against any commandment given by God, so that the written Torah creates an impulse to rebel. God’s solution was not to remove any law from us, but rather to write His eternal Law–the Torah–on our hearts.

F. F. Bruce writes that what has been done away with in Christ is not the law ‘as a revelation of the character and will of God’ but the law ‘as a written code, threatening death instead of imparting life’…

King-James-BibleAnd yet, Christians are still to be exhorted from a written Bible of written commandments, even under the New Covenant. So even there, the issue is not whether we have a written code, but whether it has been written on our hearts as well as on paper and which commandments it is comprised of . . . and which commandments are required of which groups of people.

The view that the law as law-covenant is that which Paul sets aside complements Paul’s negative take on the law as commandments and represents the most comprehensive (and least ambiguous) way of expressing the capacity in which the law has been abolished by Christ. (pp. 77-78)

Quoth Paul:

  • For not the hearers of the Torah are just before God, but the doers of the Torah shall be justified. (Rom. 2:13)
  • Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the Torah, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the Torah, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the Torah? (Rom. 2:26-27)
  • Do we then make void the Torah through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish (i.e., uphold) the Torah. (Rom. 3:1)
  • Therefore the Torah is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. (Rom. 7:12)
  • For we know that the Torah is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. (Ro 7:14)
  • For I delight in the Torah of God according to the inward man. (Rom. 7:22)
  • For Christ is the end (telos, goal) of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4)
  • And I testify again to every man who is circumcised that he is a debtor to do all the Torah. (Gal. 5:4)
  • But we know that the Torah is good if one uses it lawfully . . . (1 Ti. 1:8)
  • All Scripture [including the Torah] is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Ti. 3:16-17)

That doesn’t look very abolished to me. Back to Peter:

In Paul’s theology it is faith in Christ that saves, which leads one to naturally obey “God’s commandments” (1 Cor. 7:19).  These New Covenant “commandments” are simply the teachings of Christ as handed down to the Apostles (Matt. 28:20), which are equally binding upon Jews and Gentiles. . . There are many serious Bible scholars within the Messianic and Hebrew Roots movements who are teaching that Jesus Himself upheld the keeping of the Old Covenant law, and therefore if we want to truly obey the “commandments of God” we must keep the Sabbath, eat kosher, observe the feasts, and some are even saying that if we are serious about obeying God, all males must inevitably submit to circumcision!

Not exactly, and I would disagree with the Hebrew Roots Christians who take that stance (few of whom have any real connection to the wider Jewish community). So would most of the major Messianic associations. As shown above, the Gentile disciples were not required to keep certain commandments in the Torah–but then, that was always the case, not just under the New Covenant. For example, Noah was told that he could eat any moving thing (Gen. 9:3) and the ger (alien) in the Land was permitted to eat meat that an Israelite could not (Deu. 14:21). From this, we can infer that kashrut was never required of Gentiles; it was a cultural commandment given only to the Jews. Circumcision would be another. One could argue whether the Sabbath and the Feasts also qualify. In all these cases, we see that the Jewish disciples of Yeshua continued to keep these ritual aspects of the Torah, up to and including making sacrifices in the Temple.

That’s not to say that Gentiles were not allowed to keep Passover, for example (cf. 1Co. 5:7)–in fact, Paul made the point that those who did were not to be judged any more than those who did not (Rom. 14:5-6), a commandment that Peter is in violation of by virtue of his article. However, I have no problem with Christians who say, “I don’t think I should keep Passover because . . .” Fine. You are invited, but not compelled–but don’t dare try to pass judgment against me.

Why is this so important to me? Because as I documented in my aforementioned “Judenrein Christianity,” for too long Christians have preached a false gospel every bit as damnable as that of Judaizing. They have told Jews that they can be saved, but only if they give up everything that makes us Jewish. This is entirely against the teaching of Paul, who said that the circumcised were to remain circumcised, and that the circumcised were debtors to keep the whole Torah.

Until Christians repudiate this false gospel of gentilization to the Jews, they are acting in hatred of the Jewish people. I know that they don’t intend this–Peter certainly strikes me as the kind of guy who is incapable of hating anybody–but that’s the end effect of their message: “Hey, you can be saved . . . but only if you stop being Jewish!”

I hope that Peter gets a chance to read this and think it over. If nothing else, it should make for an interesting discussion.

Shalom.

Question and Answer About Melchizedek

So, yet again, a move has put me off of posting for a couple of months straight. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’ve been doing nothing: Johnny McMahon and I have continued to jam on the Iron Show, and I’ve got an upcoming gig with Paul Kennedy on the Acts 17:11 Radio Network that we’ll hopefully get recorded Wednesday night (depending on his trucking schedule). In preparation for that interview, I’ve added a new page to the blog, Article Collections, where I will be posting pdf collections of the various articles that have gone up on the blog over time in order to make finding and using the info a lot easier. The first collection is entitled Some Assorted Articles on Studying the Scriptures (which I know lacks any pithiness or catchiness).

One of the things I really like about being a regular guest on the Iron Show is getting emails and questions from Johnny’s many (and well-earned) fans. I got the following from Robert Hall last week and thought it would make for a good post. He asks,

First, who was Melchizedek? I under stand who the bible says he is but that still leaves questions. So he was king of Salem, which means king of peace and his name means king of richousness. To me this sounds allot like Yeshua, a pre-incarnate Yeshua. Especially when he breaks out the bread and the wine. Genesis 14:18-20 Malki-Tzedek king of Shalem brought out bread and wine. He was cohen of El ‘Elyon God Most High, so he blessed him with these words:“Blessed be Avram by El ‘Elyon,maker of heaven of earth. and blessed be El ‘Elyon,who handed your enemies over to you.”Avram gave him a tenth of everything.

This was the high priest of the most high! Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. I guess my question is could he be a pre- incarnate Yeshua?

The idea that Melchizedek is a pre-incarnate Messiah is one that has a long pedigree in Christendom, so you’re far from alone. However, I would argue that Psa. 110:4 indicates that this cannot be the case. In the Psalm, the Son of David is said to be a priest “after the order of” or more accurately, “in the manner of” Melchizedek. If we took Melchizedek to be an appearance of the Angel of the Lord before the Incarnation, this would be the equivalent of saying, “Yeshua will be a priest forever in the manner of Yeshua.” It comes out as meaningless within the context of the psalm.

Another possibility that has been raised is that Malki-Zedek (“King of Righteousness”) is a name or title for Shem, Noah’s son. If we assume that the Masoretic Text of Genesis 11 gives us a complete geneology with no gaps, then Shem’s life overlaps Abraham’s, so this would be a possibility. However, if either the Septuagint’s record better reflects an older Hebrew copy of the Torah or if the geneology contains gaps (as even many geneologies within the Bible do–see Matthew 1), then Shem would have died before Abraham came to Canaan. Furthermore, we know who Shem’s father was, when he was born, and how long he lived before dying, which would kinda ruin the point of Hebrews.

Personally, I believe that the Scriptures have, as Hebrews makes a point of telling us, deliberately not given us any information on Melchizedek. While this makes him mysterious, I think we have enough to understand why Abraham’s encounter with him is included in Genesis:

  1. It establishes that Abraham was not the only one in the ancient world who knew the Most High God. Therefore, this is not a new cult overturning the established order (as the pagans would have seen it), but a very old, if minority, faith in the world.
  2. It establishes that the Holy One was not known only by the Jews, and that therefore from the very beginning His intent has been to make Himself known to all nations.
  3. Like the narrative of Balaam, it establishes that God had not left the Canaanites without a witness, and therefore He was just to judge them when they ignored the kings, priests, and prophets that He had sent them for four hundred years before Israel drove them out.

When the author of Hebrews says that Melchizedek had no parents, no beginning, and no end, he does not mean for us to take this as the literal historical truth. Rather, he is making a very rabbinic midrash (basically, a homily) that the original Jewish audience would have understood. One of the ways a midrash is made is to take some small detail in the text and take it with the most wooden literalness possible in order to illustrate a point.

For example, Deuteronomy 4:11 talks of the day when Israel stood “under the mountain.” Now obviously, the plain interpretation of this passage is that Israel stood at the foot of the mountain, perhaps in such a way that they were in its shadow. However, there is a popular rabbinic midrash that God actually picked up Mt. Sinai, held it over the camp, and told Israel that He would drop it if they didn’t accept the Torah.

Now obviously, there’s no historicity in that interpretation. (Though some ultra-orthodox insist that it’s literally true.) It’s meant solely to make the homiletic point that yes, Israel alone of all the nations accepted the Torah, but we should not be proud, for we did so out of fear rather than out of nobility–a point that follows from Israel’s reaction to hearing the voice of God in Exodus 20.

With that in mind, let us retrace the steps of the author of Hebrews. His problem, and that of his audience, is not one that Christians are sensitive to: He believes that the Torah has not been annulled and that Jews should continue to keep every yod and penstroke (Mat. 5:17-19, Acts 21:20-26, Gal. 5:3, etc.). However, a major part of the Torah is the sacrificial service that by the Messiah’s own word, he knows will soon be destroyed, this time for far more than 70 years. How can we be Torah-observant Jews without a priesthood?

Then he looks at Psalm 110, which says that the Davidic King would be a priest like Melchizedek. So he goes back to study everything we know about Melchizedek (which isn’t much) and realizes the following:

  1. Like Yeshua, Malki is both a king and a priest. In fact, his name/title means “king of righteousness.”
  2. Like Yeshua, Malki is greater than the Levitical priests–in fact, he is greater than Abraham himself, who tithed to him! (You have to be Jewish or really understand the Jewish awe of the Patriarchs to understand how mind-boggling this is.)
  3. Malki is the king of (Jeru)salem.
  4. Malki has no geneology and no death recorded in the Torah. It’s almost as if he is simply a fact of the universe, not having a beginning or and end.

Point #4 is the midrashic point. There are lots of people in the Bible whose parents, births, and deaths are not recorded for us. Take Namaan the Syrian, for example. But none of them are explicitly compared to the Messiah. The author of Hebrews isn’t saying that because Malki doesn’t have parents, birth, and death recorded that he is literally eternal, nor would he claim that this prophesies that the Messiah would be eternal. Rather, he already knows from other, plain texts that the Messiah has an eternal nature and he reads this back into Genesis 14 (deliberate isogesis) in order to understand the full import of Psalm 110.

Therefore, I think that the Bible very deliberately does not tell us who Melkizedek was in terms of his parentage, nation, or personal backstory on purpose. What we do know is that he was a truly righteous Gentile who was a point of light in a dark and savage pagan time.

And the fact that the Annointed Davidic King could be a priest like Melchizedek answers the conundrum of Messianic Jews: We can keep the Torah because a priest far superior to Levi intercedes for us with a superior sacrifice in the true Heavenly Holy of Holies. Yes, the earthly copy of the temple was destroyed and the earthly copy of the service cannot presently be carried out, but because of Yeshua’s sacrifice and priesthood, all of the commandments regarding the temple service have been and are being fulfilled in their truest form.

Far from being what most Christians think it is–a kind of Galatians for Jews telling us to forsake our “old” religion–Hebrews is actually a dissertation on how Yeshua the Messiah has made a post-temple Torah-observant Judaism possible for those who put their faith in Him.

There was a second part of Robert’s question regarding Sodom and Gomorrah that I hope to get to shortly. Stay tuned.

Shalom