Epistles of Thomas

March 21, 2009

Nickelsburg lecture on the Messiah review

Filed under: New Testament,Old Testament — Thomas @ 14:01
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Wednesday evening brought George W. E. Nickelsburg to Trinity Western University where he lectured on “Were the Jews Expecting the Messiah? And did the First Christians Think He had Come?” There was the small change from the previously announced title to make it specific: “the Messiah” rather than “a messiah.”

Nickelsburg began by summarising the typical presentation of this topic:

The Jews wanted the messiah to come to rescue them from the subjugation of Rome. However, Jesus showed up as a suffering messiah and was crucified. Rome destroyed the temple and Jerusalem in 70. The Jews were expecting the Messiah but missed him because they were looking for the wrong kind of messiah. After the destruction of the centre of Judaism they turned to Torah.

This is something of a strawman but regardless he spent the rest of the lecture deconstructing this view. His conclusion was that the Jews were not expecting the Messiah but different groups had different expectations based on their focus on particular problems and the required solution. Some groups focussed on a Davidic king while others focussed on a king and priest (DSS) while others added a true prophet to the mix.

Christians focus on the absence of prophets between the closing of the Old Testament with Malachi and the arrival of John the Baptiser. However, there were lots of people during this period who claimed to be prophets but their claims were rejected by those who thus labeled this period prophetless. Christians promoted this label and promoted John.

Nickelsburg emphasised that Christians adopted the label of Messiah for Jesus and that the Enoch “son of man” concept governs many New Testament referenes to Daniel 7 where this label originated. Enoch presents the “son of man” as a judge and this was carried over into Christianity. Nickelsburg is an Enoch specialist so I take this with a small grain of salt as scholars tend to over find their specialist concept.

He concluded the lecture by asking why Jews did not accept the Christian proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. He gives these reasons:

  1. Some awaited a messiah to 0verthrow Rome.
  2. Paul suggests that the crucifixion put some Jews off.
  3. Jesus as Messiah depended on the claims of resurrection and not all believed in the concept (e.g. Sadducees).
  4. Those expecting a prophet would have been put off by his lax approach to Torah.

The Jewish relationship to Torah is where Nickelsburg made his greatest contribution to my thinking on this subject. For Jews the Torah was divine instruction to be heeded but the concept of a messiah was peripheral. The early Church focussed on Jesus as Messiah/Christ and the law was peripheral. The Church dispensed with the necessity to obey Torah and admitted Gentiles into full membership [without circumcision] but still claimed to be the true Israel. Those who rejected Jesus as the Messiah focussed on Torah obedience.

This was quite likely Paul’s position before he met the risen Christ on the road. Torah was more important to him than the claims of these followers of the Way to have found the Messiah. I had a question for Nickelsburg which I was unable to ask due to the lateness of the hour. I will ask it here:

Within the context of Jewish messianic expectation during this period what was it that “sealed the deal” for all those Jews who did accept Jesus as the Messiah (of both Jews and Gentiles)? Was it his life, his crucifixion, his resurrection, his ascension, Holy Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost; all of the above, something else?

I am happy to agree that those who rejected him focussed on Torah (retaining their Jewish identity in that way) but what about the thousands of Jews who did accept Jesus? He doesn’t seem to have met the expecatations of any particular messiah-expectant group. Did they do it in spite of Torah? Did they see him as “fulfilling” Torah? What caused them to give up the marks of circumcision? I’m sure it wasn’t just Paul’s letters!

February 26, 2009

Is Rabbinic Judaism God’s instrument?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 15:05
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Derek posted this today:

Rabbinic Judaism is God’s ordained instrument to preserve Israel for the last days and God’s restoration. Seen in that light, rabbinic Judaism is not quite the enemy many have made it out to be. Ought we not to work with God and not against him? Should our methods encourage Jews to abandon the distinctives of rabbinic Judaism?

I think this is a good question to throw out to Christians who support Israel and believe that the modern nation is vital to God’s plans at the conclusion of history. If this is so then obviously not all who are ethinically Jewish can be allowed to accept Jesus as Messiah because to do so means accepting the breaking down of all ethnic barriers. Thus, if Israel the nation is required then it follows that Rabbinic Judaism and its inherent opposition to Jesus as Messiah has been required to preserve and promote Jewish identity.

Obviously this is not the case. The greatest treatment of this issue is by Paul in Romans. In 11:11f he says: “Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.  But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!” Did Paul mean that they should continue to live under the law for 2000+ years even though life in the Spirit had arrived. Of course not!

Jesus wept over Jerusalem because he knew the chosen people were stubborn. When he said “come follow me” Rabbinic Judaism responded, “No thanks. We have the Law and the Prophets. We don’t need to follow God incarnate.” I think the consequences of this can be seen from the fact that most ethnic Jews are secular and do not care any more about Rabbinic Judiasm than Derek does about Catholicism.

Derek mentions the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) of which I was previously unaware. They have many papers online from their previous consultations and are a good resource to research Messianic Judaism and the evangelism of Jews.

February 17, 2009

Were the Jews Expecting a Messiah? – George W.E. Nickelsburg

Filed under: Jesus,Old Testament — Thomas @ 10:25
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Professor George W.E. Nickelsburg is coming to TWU in March to speak on Were the Jews Expecting a Messiah?

Date: Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Time: 7:30 pm
Location: Northwest Auditorium

I think this would be a good lecture for our Sunday school class as this was the topic of our second lesson. Nickelsburg is an expert on intertestamental and first century Judaism. If you want to carpool let me know.

HT Scotteriology

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