My apologies to my readers for such a long absence. I’ve recently started a freelance researcher position and the simple fact of the matter is that by the end of the day, I’m usually all written out. What writing energy I do have left has been going to a book tentatively titled The End of the Curse. I’ll finish writing on the impact of the cross in the not-too-distant future, since that is one of the subjects of the book.
Naturally, me being me, it was the possibility of a debate that drew me out.
Over on the Word of His Grace blog, I apparently top the list of Peter Ditzel’s “Hall of Shame” based on some stuff I wrote for HebrewRoot back in the day. As I’ve noted before, I’m no longer associated with that site, I’m rather surprised that my writings there have never been taken down, and as Peter notes, the site is so neglected that it is apparently infected with malware again. (Which is why I won’t link to it.) While I’m not ashamed of anything published there, and have in fact reproduced a lot of it on this blog, my theology has of course continued to evolve and grow in the more than a decade that has passed since I wrote those articles.
This is all to say that while Peter isn’t attacking a straw man, he’s not working off of my best material either. Actually, while I top his list, he doesn’t actually reference any of my material, which is admittedly a bit frustrating.
So with that in mind, I’ll briefly address some of Peter’s comments insofar as they apply to my theology then or now. That means I’ll be skipping the whole section on Two House Theology, since I’ve never subscribed to any form of it (though I have friends who do). That pretty much leaves his contentions on the Sabbath and kashrut.
Peter writes: “Why, if God intended the keeping of a Sabbath day or a holy day, does the New Testament contain not a single instruction, admonition, or chastisement concerning the keeping or breaking of one of these days?”
First, even if that were true–and it’s not–given that the first 3/4 of Scripture emphasizes the Sabbath over and over again, why would we need it to be repeated to understand that it’s still important? Scripture repeatedly states that the Sabbath is to be kept as long as Israel exists (Exo. 20:8-11, 31:13), states that violating it is one of the reasons that God punished Israel (Lev. 26:35; Jer. 17:27; Amos 8:5ff), and offers a blessing even to the Gentiles who do keep it (Isa. 58:6-7).
Given all of that, isn’t the burden of proof on the traditional Christian side?
Remembering vs. Keeping
Now to clarify: I’m not saying that Gentile Christians have the same obligation to the Sabbath that Jews do. The UMJC recognizes that Isaiah 58 contains a Divine invitation for the “son of the foreigner” to participate in the Sabbath, not a command. As Toby Janicki points out in The God-Fearers (pp. 76-77), Deuteronomy 5:15 says that those whose ancestors were redeemed from Egypt have the obligation to keep or guard (shamar) the Sabbath. Those who worship the Eternal Creator, and to whom therefore the Sabbath is a memorial of creation and a way to emulate their Creator–i.e., Gentile Christians–have only the injunction to remember (zakhar) the Sabbath (Exo. 20:8, 11).
Even so, as Janecki points out (p. 82), the evidence “from Josephus and other classical writers” (e.g., Against Apion, 2.40) is that Christians in the 1st century did in fact observe the Sabbath, though they did not, perhaps “keep” it as strictly as their Jewish brethren. This fact has been recognized even outside of the Messianic and Hebrew Roots movements by authors such as Samuele Bacchiocchi (From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity, pp. 74-131) and J. Hugh Michael (“The Jewish Sabbath in the Latin Classical Writers,” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature 40 no. 2 (January 1924), pp. 117-124). As I’ve pointed out in Judenrein Christianity, the move from Sabbath to Sunday was primarily motivated by the desire of the Church to distance itself from the synagogue, and even its own Jewish members!
A Sabbath-Keeping For the People of God
But in any case, Peter’s basic premise is flawed, because the New Testament does contain an injunction to keep the Sabbath, though it’s been hidden behind a deliberate mistranslation: Hebrews 4:9 should read, “There therefore remains a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God,” if we rendered sabbatismos (“rest” in the KJV, “sabbath rest” in most other versions) as even Christian lexicons admit is the correct meaning. Once properly translated, the full import of the passage becomes clear:
For if Joshua [Yeshua] had given them rest, he would not have spoken of another day [of rest] after that [in Psalm 95:7-11]. So there remains a Sabbath to keep (lit. ‘Sabbath-keeping’) for the people of God, for the one who has entered into [Messiah’s] rest also rests (aorist tense) from his works as God did from his (Heb. 4:8-10) . . . For he has said elsewhere concerning the seventh [day], “And God rested on the seventh day from all of his works” (v. 4, quoting Gen. 2:2) . . . Therefore let us be diligent to enter that [Sabbath] rest [of the seventh day], so that no one will fall through the same example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:11).
Now note that the above passage was written to the Hebrews (it’s right there on the title of the book), the early Messianic Jews, not to the Gentile part of the church, so the point that there is a Divine invitation, not a command, to the Gentiles to keep the Sabbath remains.
What the Greeks Knew About Jews
Peter continues: “This is especially odd considering that Paul’s letters are largely written to Gentiles, who would have had no knowledge of these days.”
That’s completely incorrect. As James Dunn notes in The New Perspective on Paul (pp. 122-132), the three things that everyone in the Roman empire knew about the Jews is that they rested on the seventh day, that they wouldn’t eat certain foods (especially pork), and that they circumcised their children. Moreover, Peter forgets that the Gentiles to whom Paul wrote were all in close, personal contact with the Jewish believers. Paul would not waste time writing on what they already knew correctly; he only wrote to correct misconceptions or to give rulings in borderline cases. And despite the early believers observing the Sabbath (see above), Paul never writes to correct this practice!
The Jerusalem Council
Peter writes: “And why does the letter to the Gentiles that we have already examined in Acts 15 not tell the Gentiles to keep these days?”
Peter doesn’t provide a link, and while I can assume, I don’t actually know what his full argument here is, so I’ll just be brief: Saying that Acts 15 forbade the Gentiles from observing the Sabbath is like saying that it commanded them to steal–neither the Sabbath nor theft is mentioned in the final ruling, so obviously, both must be the opposite of what is commanded in the Torah, right? Secondly, Peter realizes that the Acts 15 council was dealing with Gentile believers, but as is the case for most Christians forgets that even if we grant his argument, the fact is that Jewish believers would still keep the Sabbath, and did, along with the rest of the Torah. Thirdly, there’s a clear expectation that the Gentiles would continue to attend the synagogues with their Jewish brethren wherever possible in verse 21.
Why Does Peter Pass Judgment On His Brother?
Peter writes: “How can Paul say the following, in Romans 14:5-6, if keeping Sabbaths and holy days is important?”
I actually did answer this on Hebrew Root, and since Peter claims to have read it enough to put me on his “wall of shame,” he really doesn’t have an excuse here. To sum up, Paul does not call the one who “esteems one day above another” weak, nor does Paul tell them to cut it out. Paul is simply advising a “live and let live” approach between Jews, who have an obligation to keep the holy days God set, and Gentiles, who have an invitation to participate and an obligation to remember, but no more than that. After all, Paul himself continued to keep the Sabbath and the feasts (Acts 16:13, 20:16) and enjoined the Corinthians to keep the Passover (1Co. 5:7-8), so he could hardly be forbidding others to do the same without being a hypocrite.
A Reality Without a Shadow?
Peter: “The Bible says that the Sabbaths were only shadows, but Jesus Christ is the body or substance (Colossians 2:16–17).”
It says that they are shadows, true–but not that they are only shadows. That’s another mistranslation. What Paul is doing here is invoking the Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” which posits that the ideal “heavenly” realities are reflected as “shadows” in the lesser, physical world. But here’s the key: In Plato’s allegory, the shadows all come from that which is real. Ergo, for those who have not yet been permitted to turn around and see the reality behind them, the shadow is what lets them glimpse into that reality.
To put it another way, while I do have the reality of my wife, when she is away on a long trip, I treasure the photographs I have of her which continually refresh her face in my memory. Likewise, the Sabbaths and the Feasts are my “picture” of the world-to-come and the Messiah I look forward to seeing “face to face.”
And this is why Peter’s insistence that “there is absolutely no reason for us to keep these defunct days, even merely as a homeschool unit study,” is so judgmental and foolish. Even if they are shadows, they still serve a purpose in edifying and educating the body. If Peter doesn’t wish to accept the Divine invitation, that’s fine–he’s doing so out of his own convictions of what it means to trust and be faithful to Christ. He’s therefore still in the Lord and still my brother. But his objection to anyone else enjoying them comes off as more than a little hysterical and certainly a bit hypocritical: He quotes Romans 14:5-6, but then isn’t content to let others be fully convinced in their own minds that certain days are to be kept holy to the Lord. He cites Colossians 2:16-17, but then passes judgment on others on the basis of observing the day.
False Gods Gave the Sabbath?
Peter writes: “Paul wrote to the Galatians, “You observe days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid for you, that I might have wasted my labor for you” (Galatians 4:10-11). Paul was genuinely concerned about people who return to day keeping, and so am I.”
As I’ve already pointed out, Paul himself kept the Sabbath and the feasts and enjoined the Corinthians to keep Passover at the least. Moreover–and here’s the shocker–Paul and the other early Messianic Jews continued to do things like take Nazrite vows (Acts 18:18) make sacrifices in the temple (Acts 21:20-26, 24:17)! Ergo, Peter’s interpretation of Galatians 4, as common as it is in the Church, makes absolutely no sense.
So what did Paul mean? Well, let’s back up a couple of verses and look at the context: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal. 4:8-9) So when we read in the next verse, “You observe days and months and seasons and years!” what does that mean?
To say that it means the Feasts and Sabbaths, Peter not only has to contradict his own earlier statement that the Gentiles “would have had no knowledge of these days,” since Paul clearly states that they practiced these things before they knew Christ; but he also has to take the rather blasphemous position that the Feasts of the Torah came not from the Lord, but from “those that by nature are not gods” and that the Torah is not the Scripture of the Holy One, but rather the “principles of the world.”
So what is Paul talking about here? Simple: astrology. The word translated “elements” or “elementary principles” (stoicheia) actually refers to “elemental spirits,” as in the “gods” of earth, wind, and sea, but also refers to astral beings, aka the stars and constellations (Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p. 322).
Peter mostly strings together several verses in his response here, so there’s not much to directly quote. Sadly, as do most Christians who oppose the Messianic movement, Peter seems to think that we’ve never read the NT before and haven’t considered these verses. Quite obviously, we have, and to not even attempt to find out what our response is and answer that instead of a straw man is fairly disingenuous.
This is one of those areas in which the Hebrew Roots movements and mainline Messianic Judaism tend to part ways. I would disagree with Craig Whatley that kashrut is a universal commandment. As I wrote a some years ago (though I honestly don’t remember if this was in my original HebrewRoot article), I believe that God very specifically exempted Gentile believers from being required to keep kosher—however, I don’t go to the New Covenant Scriptures for such a view. I base it on two passages from the Torah: The first is Genesis 9:3, in which the Holy One tells Noah, “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you.” Note that he does not say, “Every clean animal,” which he very well could have, since Noah knew the difference between clean and unclean (Gen. 7:2ff)! Since Noah was the father of all mankind after the Flood, Jew and Gentile alike, this suggests that God did not make kashrut mandatory for all people.
This is confirmed by Deuteronomy 14:21, which states, “You shall not eat anything which dies of itself. You may give it to the alien who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to the LORD your God.” If the meat could be given to the ger (a non-native permanent resident) or sold to a nokri, the pagan, this again suggests that the prohibition against eating meat not killed in a kosher manner was specific to to the native-born of Israel.
I personally believe that God did not make kashrut a universal commandment out of mercy. There are many places in the world where, for example, pork and even dog are the primary meats available. God did not burden these people with the food laws.
So on the one hand, I would take Peter’s side against Craig where Gentiles are concerned: They can eat pork, shellfish, catfish, etc. or not as they choose.
Mark 7 Isn’t About Meat
On the other hand, Peter’s reasoning is flawed. First, consider what Yeshua himself said about the Torah:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:17-19)
“Ah,” but Peter might answer, “but he did! Jesus fulfilled the law at the Cross, so now we don’t have to keep it anymore.”
There are three problems with that in regards to the food laws. First, that’s not what “fulfill” means. To “fulfill” in that context, as in Galatians 6:2, does not mean to “abolish by fulfilling.” If it does, I can bear my brother’s burdens just once, and then I’m free to ignore anyone’s needs from then on. No, it means to demonstrate what something means fully.
Second, Mark 7 takes place a year or so before the Cross, so even if we accepted the standard Christian premise that the Cross ended the law, if Jesus abolished the food laws before the Cross, then Jesus did not fulfill the law and in fact sinned against the law of God before his sacrifice. For that matter, how could Jesus in one breath admonish the Pharisees for “rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition” (Mark 7:9) and in the very next breath do exactly the same thing?
Third, they’re not even talking about clean versus unclean animals! They’re talking about whether ritually washing one’s hands before a meal is mandatory, as Mark makes clear in verses 3-5. If you’re interested in understanding the theology of the Pharisees in regards to having multiple levels of uncleanness, look here. It’s not that relevant. The real point is that when Christians cite Mark 7 or Acts 10 to attempt to prove that kosher is done away with, they violate their own stated principles of interpreting the Scriptures in context!
And unnecessarily at that, because as we’ve already shown, Christians can argue from the Torah itself that kosher is not mandatory for the Gentiles.
Early Kosher Christians
Not mandatory, but as in the case of the Sabbath, it seems that the earliest Gentile Christians adopted it to at least some extent anyway. For example, the Didache, the earliest post-NT manual of instruction for the Church that we have, states, “Concerning food, bear what you can, but carefully keep away from food sacrificed to idols, for it is a worship-service to gods from the realm of the dead” (6:3). “Bear what you can” only makes sense if they understood that there were food commandments beyond avoiding that sacrificed to idols. Likewise, Josephus writes (Against Apion, II.40),
We have already demonstrated that our laws have been such as have always inspired admiration and imitation into all other men. Nay the earliest Grecian philosophers, though in appearance they observed the laws of their own countries, yet did they, in their actions, and their philosophick doctrines, follow our legislator; and instructed men to live sparingly, and to have friendly communication one with another. Nay farther, the multitude of mankind it self have had a great inclination of a long time to follow our religious observances. For there is not any city of the Grecians, nor any of the barbarians, nor any nation whatsoever, whither our custom of resting on the seventh day hath not come, and by which our fasts, and lighting up lamps, and many of our prohibitions as to our food, are not observed. They also endeavour to imitate our mutual concord with one another; and the charitable distribution of our goods; and our diligence in our trades; and our fortitude in undergoing the distresses we are in, on account of our laws.
So who exactly are all of these Greeks who had adopted “many” of the Jewish food laws? Based on the Didache and common sense, we can safely say that they were the Gentile Christians who, after all, were sharing a common table with their Jewish brethren.
And so it is in our Messianic fellowships today, Jew and Gentile eating together, each respecting the other’s boundaries (in exact accordance with Romans 14) and loving each other as the Lord loves us.
Under the Law or Keeping the Commandments?
Peter writes, “Anyone today who tries to follow the Old Covenant law is living in the shadows. Because he doesn’t see what has been abolished, he has a veil over is face. Only when he turns from the law to Jesus Christ ALONE will that veil be removed.”
Peter, Jews who do not believe in Yeshua read the Torah with a veil over their hearts, yes. Those of us who do believe in Yeshua read the Torah with the veil lifted (2Co. 3:16). And you apparently don’t read it at all, nor are you willing to partake of the Jewish advantage in understanding a Jewish book. As Paul writes, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way! To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2). And Yeshua said, “Therefore every scribe”–in modern terms, read that “rabbi”–“who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Mat. 13:52).
Sadly, Peter’s vision of the Church is one of Judenrein Christianity. He would refuse Jews admission into his fellowship–only ex-Jews, in his view, are allowed. He believes the anti-Semitic absurdity that God sent the King of the Jews to the Jewish people after prophesying about him through Jewish prophets in the Jewish language and the Jewish culture for thousands of years; a Jewish King who chose Jewish disciples and taught them as a Jewish rabbi and sent them first to the Jews, and only then to the Gentiles . . . to tell Jews to stop being Jewish.
Now I don’t think Peter Ditzel is personally anti-Semitic. In fact, I suspect the mere thought of the accusation will horrify and offend him. However, he is stubbornly clinging to a theology developed in undeniably anti-Semitic times for the express purpose of excluding Jews from the Church, even when it contradicts Scripture or even itself.
Hopefully, he’ll be interested in engaging and we can hammer some of this out as brothers in the Lord.