Teachings of Jesus: The Measure We Mete

Book Covers“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a popular axiom that points to something very important. What we see on the outside may not be representative of what is on the inside. Appearances can be deceiving.

Judging people based on appearances moves us into dangerous territory. It limits us from understanding what motivates and guides them. In our minds we might employ a label that is inaccurate. On a personal, emotional level we can understand why this could be hurtful and why we wouldn’t want to be labeled this way ourselves.

The Bible, too, warns that this type of judgment is wrong. In the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, God explains that there is a vast difference between man’s way of judging and His own. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16.7). The right type of judgment considers not just outward appearances but what makes up the whole person. This allows us to discern between right or wrong behavior without condemning the individual.

Jesus told His first-century followers to be careful in the way they judged, because the same judgment would be used against them (Matthew 7:1–2). This is good advice for us as well and calls for a certain amount of gravity. If we're careless about our judgment of others, perhaps condemning them for something we see but may not correctly understand, then we will receive the same type of judgment in return.

But it’s important to note that godly judgment applies in both directions. Consider, for example, those who offer spiritual instruction. If we esteem such individuals based on appearances—on how well they speak or how imposing they are on the outside—we could be making a disastrous mistake. Rather we should listen to their message and observe the way they live. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them.” Their words and actions will identify what is on the inside. We should put less emphasis on outward appearances, because that isn’t the true measure of what they are and what they teach. Do their words ring true when compared to biblical instruction, and furthermore, do they practice what they preach? Those who teach certain principles and behavior but live contrary to their own teaching negate the effectiveness of their words and undermine their own credibility. On the other hand, a person who may be less imposing as a personality but who teaches words of truth and lives by them should be judged accordingly.

Many Jewish instructors in Jesus’ time were examples of the first sort of teacher, and He had harsh words for them. He said they looked good on the outside—they dressed well and gave eloquent prayers—but inside they were full of extortion and self-indulgence. He called them blind and hypocritical (Matthew 23:25–28).

Jesus wanted to emphasize that deception abounds when religious deceivers are active. He told His audience, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

He explained that, because of lawlessness, even some who claimed to be performing miracles in His name would not be in His kingdom. In other words, they were not keeping the words and laws that are found in the Bible. This is an important lesson to keep in mind as we live our lives as well.

Should we judge a book by its cover? It is rarely a reliable guide for identifying what is inside. By the fruits of people’s lives, however, we can learn to discern what really motivates their actions.



Tags: bible history, First Century, First Followers, first century church

Jewish New Testament Studies: revisited

Just in case you thought that the Jewish Annotated New Testament reported in a previous blog was unusual, I have just received two other recent titles that speak to a growing field of Jewish New Testament studies. 

Zev Garber is the editor of The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation, while Herbert Basser has produced The Mind Behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Matthew 1-14. Both Garber and Basser are notable and well published Jewish authors. 

As editor of his volume, Garber has assembled a cast of 19 scholars, mostly Jewish or if not Jewish, then involved in Jewish Christian dialogue, to address the subject of Jesus. The chapters, each by a different author, are divided into three sections namely: Reflections on the Jewish Jesus; Responding to the Jewish Jesus; and finally, Teaching, Dialogue, Reclamation: Contemporary Views on the Jewish Jesus. Shofar SupplementsGarber dedicates his book as follows: 

To the courageous and devoted essayists of this tome. Jews, who practice the faith of Jesus, and Christians, who believe by faith in Jesus. By the authority of Torah and Testament, they merge as one in proclaiming the Jewish Jesus and restoring his pivotal role in the history of Second Temple Judaism and beyond. The rest is commentary and controversy. Read and see why. 

The essays cover the historical time frame from the first century to the present. Most are focused on the time of the Second Temple, with contributions examining the Byzantine period, the pre-modern as well as current responses. They also examine documentary evidence outside of the Gospel accounts such as Rivka Ulmer’s Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus. In that essay, Ulmer challenges the ideas that the Messianic expectation of Jesus was something imposed later and that the idea of a suffering servant as a messiah was not part of Jewish thinking. Such approaches have been used to create a sense of distance between Christians and the Jewish ideas of his day. Israel Knohl of Hebrew University, Jerusalem, has also written on the fact that such an idea was current in Jewish expectations at the time of Jesus. Such essays help relocate Jesus as a Jewish reformer within a Judean matrix rather than the founder of a new religious movement. 

Herbert Basser is a noted Talmudic and midrashic scholar at Queens University, Ontario, Canada. It may seem strange to find a Jewish Talmudist preparing a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, but Amy-Jill Levine sums up his contribution by commenting: 

Herbert Basser’s commentary on Matthew 1-14 both offers fresh insights into the composition of the First Gospel and makes a major contribution to the understanding of the Jewish roots of Christian origins. Employing later compilations of Jewish literature along with the expected Tannaitic, Targumic, and Qumran materials, he is able to construct an interpretive model of how Jews read Scripture, discerned orthopraxy, and maintained community. His approach does not artificially force Judaism into a predetermined model; instead it recognizes that within the diversity of that thought there exist particular interpretive strategies and rhetorical modes of argumentation. Confirming many of his connections are both Septuagintal readings and Syriac translations of both Hebrew biblical material and early (Greek) Christian literature.

ISBN 978 1 934843 33 8 The volume covers half of the Gospel account. Basser leaves the reader in suspense as to whether another volume will address the remaining chapters (13). He does provide a listing of articles that he has already published which could or will form the basis for the second volume. For the benefit of a reader who does not have access to the sources of his articles, we hope that he is able to deliver that second volume.

Both books are part of larger series. Zev Garber’s volume is part of the Shofar Supplements in Jewish Studies, published by Purdue University Press, while Herbert Basser’s volume is part of the Reference Library of Jewish Intellectual History, published by Academic Studies Press of Boston.




Tags: Jesus, Judaism, First Century, Second Temple, Gospel of Matthew, Basser, Garber

Major New Testament publication launched.

Following the success of its Jewish Annotated Old Testament, Oxford University Press approached the editor and other Jewish scholars about producing a Jewish Annotated New Testament. The resulting New Testament Study Bible has just been released.

Using the New Revised Standard Version as the basic text, and Amy-Jill Levine with Marc Zvi Brettler as editors, they have assembled a phalanx of Jewish Scholarship to provide commentary on the entire New Testament. This may seem oxymoronic to most Christianity, but in reality, the New Testament addresses a Jewish audience with Jewish issues and challenges much more that a traditional Christian audience. As a result, they are able to illuminate various NT passages in a surprising manner.

Designed to follow the organization of other Study Bibles, the JANT provides introductions to the various books of the New Testament together with commentary on the various passages on the lower section of each page. In addition, some 18 essays on various background issues that are foundational to an appreciation of the New Testament, numerous maps, charts and sidebars are provided to add understanding for the reader.

Aimed firstly at a college student application, the book will also be valuable reading for the general Christian audience in providing a marked contrast and fresh approach to the traditional Christian creedal readings and interpretations of the New Testament provided in other study Bibles.

Care has been taken to avoid reading later Rabbinic teachings of the 4/6 th centuries back into the New Testament so that the commentary provided represents Jewish attitudes and understandings of the first century in which the New Testament is set. Some references to Rabbinic teachings are recorded when they throw light on the practice or teachings on the New Testament period.

For anybody who considers themselves a student of the New Testament, the Jewish Annotated New Testament is a volume that should be added to their library for regular use.

Tags: new testament, Judaism, First Century

The New Testament Environment

Book examines the religious sentiments in Judaea in the first century

"Common Judaism" was a term coined by E.P. Sanders to describe the religious sensibilities among people who lived during the period known as the Second Temple. This period coincided with the life of Jesus Christ, who, like the majority of the populace, did not follow the strictures of the major religious groups such as Sadducees, Pharisees or Essenes. Obviously some of the population had no religious interest at all, but the majority were considered to follow a form of "common" Judaism. 

book published late last year examines the concept of a common Judaism in greater detail, building on the work of Sanders, who, in fact, contributed an essay to the book.

This appears to be a useful work for reevaluating the social environment of Judea and Galilee during the period when Jesus and the apostles taught in the first century C.E., making disciples of "the way." These were the First Followers.


Tags: Judaism, Temple, Devout people, First Century, First Followers, Judaea, Synagogues

What Happened to the Feast of Unleavened Bread or 'Hag Hamatsot'?

Why was it conflated into the Passover celebration?

At some point in time, the events of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread came to be called by a common name and literally merged into one event of eight days. It is normally considered that the conflation of the two events, outlined in Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23 came about as a result of the Rabbis, as suggested by R. Joshua Maroof in his blog Vesom Sechel.  R. George Wolf, whom I quoted last week, takes a more specific view.  In addressing this issue he opines: 

Who was responsible for this new name and the creation of a new Pesach liturgy of Haggadah for the new Pesach festival?  It was Rabban Gamaliel II of Yavne, (80-115 C.E.), the Nasi, who wished to preserve the unity of the Jewish people and halt the inroads of Pauline Christianity. In order to replace the centralized sacrificial cult, he supervised the creation of a non-sacrificial prayer service. The Pesach liturgy or Haggadah, served as a replacement for the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb and was also a defense of Judaism against the Pauline interpretation of the Pesach festival.         

The redaction of a Haggadah for the new Pesach home festival provided Jews with an official and authentic interpretation and expression of this festival’s ceremonies and theology transmitted by tradition from Moses and the Prophets to the Pharisaic Rabbis. 

It demonstrated to Jews that the destruction of the Temple was only a temporary situation and didn’t reflect a change in God’s relationship with the Jewish people, namely that God’s old covenant or promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was still in force and was not abrogated by the new covenant. 

The new name Pesach was chosen because it meant protection, to emphasize to Jews that they were still under God’s protection, as they were during their sojourn in Egyptian bondage.[1]

In taking such a view of the change Wolf highlights a major issue. Certainly Paul commanded the Corinthian church to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Corinthians 5:6-8), so where does the idea of Paul being anti-Torah and not requiring gentiles to observe Jewish dietary and festival obligations come from?

If Wolf is correct in his interpretation, ‘Pauline’ theology at the end of the century was a very different theology from what is considered Pauline theology today!  It would then present a situation in which those churches established by Paulwho died in the early 60’s some 24 -30 years prior to the events Wolf addresseswould have been indistinguishable from other groups who are commonly called Jewish Christians.  Hence the commonly supposed opposition of Paul and James would have been a fiction as well. Wolf presents a uniform view of the first century followers as being Torah observant in a way that few Christian scholars today would be prepared to accept. 

[1]George Wolf, Lexical and Historical Contributions on the Biblical and

Rabbinic Passover (New York: G. Wolf, 1991), 38–39.

Tags: Apostle Paul, First Century, Passover, Corinthians, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Gamaliel II, George Wolf, Pesach, Yavne

Discussion on Jewish Christianity

Panel to discuss two new books on subject at SBL in San Diego

Todays mail brought with it an invitation from Hendrickson's, publishers, to attend a panel discussion of two new books that have recently been published -- Jewish Believers in Jesus, by Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik of Norway, and Jewish Christianty Reconsiderededited by Matt Jackson-McCabe. (Amazon link has at least two misspellings that I noticed). The discussion will be held Monday, November 19, in San Diego during the AAR/SBL conferences.   Looking at the list of those taking part in the review, this will be one session I will definitely be attending.

Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik were at the Patristics Conference in Oxford that I notedhere.  I had the chance to speak with Reidar and hear his paper, but was unable to catch up with Oskar on that occassion.  Perhaps this time.

Tags: First Century, Paul, Ebionites, Jewish Christianity, Nazarenes

Josephus and Jesus Christ

Insights into Josephus and the knowledge of Jesus from the First Century

On Thoughts on Antiquity, the writer has put together a useful survey of the information known about Josephus' reference to Jesus Christ.  Known technically as The Testimonium Flavianumit represents what is attributed to Josephus, and what can be deduced as Josephus's original comments.  Full details of the material together with an interface to compare different documents relating to the statement from Josephus are given on thiswebsite.

Our thanks to the author for the considerable work he has undertaken to put this material together in the public domain.

Tags: Jesus Christ, First Century, Josephus, James the brother of Jesus

Perspectives on the Apostle Paul

What is the New Perspective all about?

Readers of Vision will realize we talk frequently about the apostle Paul. In the field of Pauline studies, we would appear to support what is known as the “New Perspective on Paul.” Yet for many, understanding the differences and the implications is not readily accomplished. It could take a book to effectively contrast Pauline perspectives. 

Last week, Bruce Fisk posted a preliminary hand-out on his blog site “Crossings” showing the basic differences of the two approaches. Bruce is preparing this for use in his class New Testament Theology and Ethics at Westmont College Santa Barbara, California, where he is Associate Professor of New Testament. Good work Bruce.

Obviously, any table such as this can only represent an overview at a particular juncture. Both arguments continue to develop and change as a result of interaction. But as one reader commented to Bruce, despite the scholarly interchange in these areas, few commentaries provide this information and the laity, as a result, have little if any real conception of the differences. With acknowledgement to Bruce, his table is reproduced below. The color coding is supplied by Bruce. Names supplied are principal contributors to the discussion.


Lutheran / Traditional Perspective 
The “New Perspective”

Central Concern

Justification: how can sinners be made right before God?

Gentile inclusion: on what terms may Gentiles join God’s people? 

State of 1st Century Judaism

Burdened by the Law; dead in sin; marked by hypocrisy and legalism; bound up with sin, death & law (in contrast to grace, life & faith).

Vibrant, dynamic, diverse; a religion of grace; pattern of religion: “covenantal nomism*” (Sanders); in (spiritual) exile (Wright)

*"Covenantal Nomism” (according to Sanders): the notion that the Israelite’s place in God’s plan is determined by the covenant which God established with Israel, and that obedience to the law is Israel’s proper response to God’s initial act of grace.

The Law in Judaism

Onerous burden for those who broke it; cause of boasting for those who kept it.

A gracious, delightful gift from God, “holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12Ps 119:97)

Paul’s problem with Judaism

Legalism: it promotes legalistic works righteousness; merit theology; pride in accomplishments; faulty view of grace and works

Nationalism / racism / exclusivism / particularism: the role of the Law in establishing boundary markers, Jewish privilege (Dunn); “It is not Christianity” (Sanders)

Paul’s condition prior to conversion

A frustrated, guilt-ridden sinner who valued works over faith, and who struggled unsuccessfully to measure up to the Law’s demands (Rom 7:14-24). 

A Law-keeping (blameless) Pharisee who denied Jesus was God’s Messiah (Gal 1:14Phil 3:4-8). Images of a distressed Paul are projections of the West’s “introspective conscience.”

Paul’s conversion

Paul leaves his now-dead ancestral religion and its Law to trust and follow Christ. Paul rejects Law-keeping as impossible and/or pride-producing.

Paul is not “converted” from Judaism but “called” within it to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Stendahl). Paul didn’t so much convert from Judaism but to Christianity (Sanders). See 2 Cor 3:4-18Phil 3:3-11.

Justification by faith

The center / organizing principle of Paul’s Gospel: God’s gracious declaration that a sinner is right before God through his faith in Christ’s work. God’s response to human failure / pride. 

A “subsidiary crater” in Paul’s thought (Schweitzer); a polemical / apologetic doctrine developed to defend the full status of Gentile converts and to refute Jewish-Christian efforts to impose circumcision, etc. on them. 

Paul’s Gospel

Repent of dead works and trust in Christ’s atoning work to be justified / saved (Rom. 3:21-24). Key antithesis: Law versus Gospel.

Jesus is the anointed, risen and exalted Lord over all nations (Wright; Rom 1:1-5). Salvation comes by transfer to the realm of his lordship, by union with / participation in Christ (Sanders; 2 Cor 5:17Rom 6:3-7). 

Paul’s reasoning

Forward: from plight to solution: Law-sin-guilt à faith in Christ à justification apart from Law

Backward: from solution to plight (Sanders): Christ à various (unsystematic, inconsistent, incompatible) assessments of sin & Law (Gal 2:21; 3:19, 24-25; Rom 3:20; 4:15; 10:4)

Or: From plight to solution to plight (Wright): exile à Christ à sin / law

Theme of Romans

A “compendium of Christian doctrine” (Melancthon). 
A theological treatise on justification by grace through faith.
Romans 9-11 are a parenthesis.

An occasional document defending the faithfulness of God (to the nations, to Israel) and the co-equal status of Jews and Gentiles.
Romans 9-11 are the climax of the letter.

Works of the Law (erga nomou, e.g. Rom.3:28)

Striving to do good; good works performed for salvation

Observing Torah; what pious Jews do; only bad when imposed on Gentiles; passé because it excludes Gentiles.

Pistis Christou (e.g., Ga.2:16)

Faith in Christ (objective genitive; anthropological reading) (Dunn) 

Faith(fulness) of Christ = subjective genitive; Christological reading (Hays)


Tags: First Century, Paul, New Perspective, Luther, New Testament Theology

Paul the Jew

New considerations about the context of Paul's usage of Torah

The Apostle Paul and his writings have increasingly been of prominence at the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature, held each November. Currently, abstracts of papers to be presented this year are being made available. Here is one that is of great interest which was posted today on Torrey Seland on his Philo of Alexandria Blog.

Markus Tiwald, University of Vienna Paul: 
Apostle of Christ and Jew
The interpretation of the “Tora” – and all that was included in this very complex expression – was the central topic in early Judaism and was handled in a wide range of different theological concepts. The diversity of these concepts can be highlighted by the differing theology in the scriptures of Qumran, Jewish pseudepigrapha and the writings of Philo and Josephus. According to these results it can be shown, that the theology of the apostle Paul has to be understood as an inner-Jewish dialogue about the right fulfillment and interpretation of scripture – but not as an “abrogation of the Tora”, as often suggested by some exegetes. Paul was Jew – and he remained Jew also in his Christian times. As a Christian he did not abrogate the Tora, but adopted the position of a liberal Tora-interpretation that was already present in early Judaism.

This is a valuable topic as Paul is so often seen and read outside of the Jewish milieu from which he came.

Tags: Apostle Paul, First Century, Qumran, Paul, Philo, Josephus, Law, Nomos, Torah

Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego

Documents that existed at the time of Jesus and the disciples will be on display in Southern California.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 at Qumran and now belonging to Israel, are coming to San DiegoCalifornia. Beginning June 29, 2007, the San Diego Natural History Museumwill be hosting the longest and largest exhibition of the scrolls. The six-month-long exhibition, which undergoes a change at the mid point, is being produced in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation 

The display will highlight some 27 different scrolls, 10 of which have never been displayed previously. These include remaining parts of scrolls of Deuteronomy, Isaiah and a Commentary of Job. A number of faculty who teach at San Diego area universities and have been closely associated with the Scrolls will spearhead a lecture series that will run in conjunction with the exhibition.  

At the same time, the University of California at Los Angeles is launching a virtual Qumrantour which will be available to visitors to the exhibition. Designed initially as a teaching tool, the virtual tour has been enhanced to recreate the location where the scrolls were found.

Unfortunately, the tour doesn’t allow visitors to search for more artifacts in the caves. However some of the original equipment used in the excavations and recovery of the scrolls will be on display.

Tags: jerusalem, Dead Sea Scrolls, Temple, First Century, Qumran, San Diego

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