“Re-Judaizing Jesus”

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Time Magazine recently published an article which implies that a rising number of Christian teachers regard “[Jewish] sources like the Mishnah and Rabbi Akiva as vital to understanding” Yeshua.  Surely, reference to this literature among the Hebrew Roots community is common, but according to the aforementioned article, it is also true of at least two Christian leaders.

My hope is that believers who come across factoids like this will not take them to heart, and will instead steer clear of Jewish literature as an avenue for understanding Yeshua.  Seeing the Master in His proper historical and cultural context is one thing, but the Talmud and other Jewish writings are ultimately useful and authoritative for one thing only: acquiring an understanding of Judaism—a Judaism which is historically and spiritually hostile to the Messiah Yeshua.  Indeed, did not the Master Himself say to the fathers of Rabbinic Judaism, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me.  But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'” (Mark 7:7)  For all their alleged wisdom and insight, the Rabbis take us on a circuitous journey around and passing by the God of Israel, failing to deliver us into a deeper relationship with and knowledge of Him.

I also take stark issue with the idea that Yeshua was “passionate[ly] dedicat[ed] ‘to Jewish ideas of his day'”.  The Master Yeshua, though immersed in first century Israeli culture and what Stern calls “thoughtforms of their time” (p. 32, JNT Commentary), surely would not have appropriated the teachings of men and taught them as His own.  On the contrary, Yeshua brought not “Jewish ideas” to their fullness, but the Torah and the Prophets (Mt.5:17ff), and if there is any resemblance between the teachings of the Rabbis and that of Yeshua, I contend that it was the Master’s influence on His contemporaries—not the other way around!  There is no doubt that restoring the Jewishness of Yeshua is absolutely crucial, but to study Talmud in order to uncover “ideas that he rewove but did not abandon” is misleading at best.

In my personal study of Jewish literature, I have yet to come across a piece of godly, divine wisdom that is unique to those writings.  If we want to understand the “New Testament Jesus,” we need to look no further than page one of our Bibles—beginning with the Torah, then on through the whole of Scripture—the only truly authoritative Jewish text. If only my “people of the Book” would forsake their philosophical ways and return to the Torah and the Scriptures!—because as long as we remain confined by the wisdom of men, Salvation will remain ever elusive.

I would like to openly invite anyone to offer up here any piece of Jewish literature that aids in our understanding of Yeshua that cannot be found anywhere in Scripture.  I do not make this challenge brashly or with disdain for the texts of Judaism, but only in the confidence that there is no need (and indeed, it may even be counter-productive) to go beyond Scripture in seeking the “Re-Judaized Jesus”.

  • Bryan Z
    December 23, 2006

    For the most part I agree with your points. When my Messianic Rabbi mentioned the piece in Time, it sounded very exciting, and in some ways it is, for when the church discovers more of the Jewishness of Yeshua, it will help to bridge gaps and begin a very exciting time, and it seems like maybe that time is soon coming. However the text of the article was much less exciting than the title. I found nothing interesting in the use of traditional Jewish text, nor in the inclusion of someone in the forefront of Emergent/Emerging theology. To include Jewish writings and water down the Good News, does little for me, and little for God, but how often does Time magazine do anything to glorify God?

    So, for me, I am glad that the idea is spreading and Gentile believers are starting to see the roots of their own faith. Ultimately the Scripturally Jewish Jesus is not Jewish because of the rabbinic traditions of His day, but because of being Torah true. He was Jewish not for doing Jewish things, but for doing Biblical things, the commandments of God. Recognizing that is a positive thing as we have a consistent Messiah and a consistent Father in Heaven, the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). B”H

    Bryan Z.

  • Aaron L
    May 7, 2008

    Amen Kevin!!

    I give you credit because so many in the “messy-anic” movement would call such a comment as “anti-semitic”. I would say anti-semitic against who? Why is the “true Judaism” always referred to how one follows the Talmud and the rabbis, instead of of how one follows the true God and His Messiah Yeshua?

    I applaud you Kevin, as you continue to inspire believers to realize that they do not need man’s “interpretations” to live a life dedicated to The Almighty. By allowing the Ruach to guide you and Yeshua as the example for you to live a life pleasing to the Father, is the personal relationship that He desires from all those who He calls His own.

    May He bless you and keep you, and may He bring blessings to you and your family and on all of the work of your hands.

    Aaron L.

  • Rivkah
    June 11, 2008

    I beg to differ with you, Kevin. Although over-focusing on the Talmud/Rabbinic sources can cause some to focus less on the actual Word, re-reading these sources CAN help us better understand the life and ministry of our Messiah. As we read the Rabbinical literature with Yeshua-loving eyes, we are able to see him in his proper context and it opens up our eyes to the deeper meanings of his teachings. It’s time we saw him for who he really is and was, and not in the Anglo-Saxon context we have been taught for centuries. Thank you for your blog, and I pray for more healthy discussions such as this.

  • Kevin Geoffrey
    June 11, 2008

    Sounds good, Rivkah. I look forward to the excerpts from Jewish literature you’ll be posting here to support your position.

  • Aaron L
    June 14, 2008

    That’s an interesting point Rivkah. So by your reasoning, as long as we look at things with “Yeshua-loving” eyes, then we can see the deeper meaning of His teachings. So then the “Anglo-Saxon” way of seeing Jesus in Easter and Christmas is justified – by your reasoning. Please understand that I am not trying to patronize you, but I thought the only way to see Yeshua in full and correct context is through the filter of the Torah. Remember the words of Isaiah when he said (also quoted by Yeshua) “Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned {by rote,}'” (Isa 29:13, NASB).

    You see the difference here. I would agree with your point if Yeshua taught as those of Talmud/Rabbinic sources taught, but he did not. Yeshua quoted and taught from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; the Rabbis only quote and teach from themselves and others like them. Remember when the crowds gathered and were amazed at Yeshua’s teachings because HE DID NOT TEACH AS THE PHARISEES TAUGHT, HE TAUGHT AS HAVING AUTHORITY (Mat 7:29, Mar 1:22) Yeshua taught with the authority of Elohim, the Rabbis only taught with the authority of those that preceded them.

    It is my utmost belief that the only contextual way to understand Yeshua’s teachings; in fact any teachings found in the Brit Chadasha, is through the lens of the written Torah of Elohim (and of course by the leading of the Ruach, which should go without saying). Shalom, sister in Yeshua, and may the Shalom and truth of our master Yeshua and the Elohim of Israel guide you in all ways.


  • Rebecca
    July 28, 2008

    what is wrong with you guys?

    I mean, Time magazine writes an article that the Re-judaizing of Jesus will be one of the top 10 trends of the coming decade!!! And all you can do is complain.

    very disappointing.

  • A.R.
    January 14, 2009

    Thank you for your post Kevin.

    As I read your post I see several problems with what you are saying in an attempt to understand the Jewish back ground of the New Testament. But to me the question should be “what is Jewish literaure to the New Testament” and not “what good does it pose for us? In other words, Jewish literatire aisde from the Hebrew scriptures offers a long standing interaction with Torah for the jewish people. The problem is when we pit religious systems or writngs against one another then we come to conclusions that I do not think are right. One text – we cannot not understand what Paul means by the “3rd heaven” in 1 Cor. unless one understand the Jewish tradtions of levels of heaven revealed for mankind kind to know God, found in the Jewish litertaure of “3rd Enoch” and the Talmud (although I cannot right now tell you where). In Matthew 5:17-19 we are told about the importance of both the small and big commandment, and exact teaching as found in the Mishnaic book “Perke Avot.” Even the dual identity of Yeshua – priest and king – stood as part of the Jewish world with the Messiah of David and the Messiah of Aaron found in the “Testament of the Twelve Patriachs.”

    The New Testament is part of Israel’s conversation on Torah and to remove it from the tradtion of people is to lose out on understanding how it developed. I certianly agree that there are things that New Testament followers would not embrace from Talmud or other Jewish books but to dismiss them out of hand is not good for us either. If we do not see ourselves as part of the Jewish conversations it just becomes “us and them” vis-a-via we are a “remant of the whole” and us is a pat of them and they are a part of us. If we think in terms of being “saved” then we further miss the connection to the literature of the Jewish people and its influence on the entirety of the New Testament. Adam

  • Kevin Geoffrey
    January 14, 2009

    Adam, thank you for your post. You make some good points, however, I don’t think they had much to do with the point of the original article, or the challenge I issued. The article from “Time” that I was responding to implied that we need to read and know the Jewish literature in order to understand Yeshua. Obviously, Jewish literature has its place (and its value), especially as it applies to understanding Judaism and Jewish history, but my point was that Jewish literature does not shed any additional light on our understanding of Yeshua—the Scriptures accomplish this on their own. You mention Matthew 5:17-19 and its similarity to Talmud—to me, this is not an example of how Talmud aids in our understanding of Yeshua. It demonstrates a similarity, yes, and perhaps even establishes a connection of brotherhood between the Jewish people and their favorite Son, Yeshua, but its repetition in Talmud does not teach me more than what Matthew 5 already clearly says.

    I also disagree with your statements that Jewish literature “offers a long standing interaction with Torah” and has some kind of “influence” on the “New Testament.” First, I personally find the Rabbis to have a superfluous interaction with Torah at best—it aids in the intellectual dissection (and occasionally destruction) of Torah, not its Scriptural application or fulfillment in Messiah. Second, if Jewish literature has “influenced” the “New Testament,” that threatens the “New Testament’s” very foundation as Scripture. Are you implying that the “New Testament” is merely another collection of Jewish literature and that the “New Testament” is not Scripture?

    I am not challenging the intrinsic usefulness or value of Jewish literature in and of itself—only its usefulness or value in understanding Yeshua. I agree, Jewish literature is part of the Jewish conversation, but that doesn’t mean we have to spend a lot of time listening to it.

  • Tina
    February 23, 2009

    Hello, Kevin!
    I praise my GOD for you and those who are like-spirited! I am a non-Jewish committed believer in Yeshua, and know GOD has called me out to invest in acquiring a more complete understanding of my Jewish faith. Even though I have just recently begun this next phase of spiritual growth, I have experienced a refreshening and renewal within my spirit! I have always had an affinity and compassion for the Jewish people, and have privately referred to Jesus as Yeshua for a number of years.
    Like most Western believers, I have been conditioned with a Western-Greek philosophical & religious mind-set; we simply do not realize how detrimental such conditioning has been to not only Western believers, but also to those discipled by them over the last 1600+yrs. I am excited to see the move of the Ruach in our time, and I pray continually for the biblical reconciliation of Jewish-nonJewish believers in Yeshua, as well as for repentant, believing faith for the Jewish people & Arabic peoples, and also for the peace of Jerusalem.
    All of this being said, it can be quite disconcerting to wade through some of the muddied waters of Messianic teachings. I do believe YHVH is raising up believers, such as yourself, to bring clarity and focus for ensuring truly biblical teachings which will provoke and encourage lasting reconciliation, spiritual refinement of the body, and a world-wide harvest such as has never been seen before in the Church’s history. I am so thankful to be alive for such a time as this! I pray YHVH’s will be done, His Kingdom come, on Earth, as it is in Heaven!
    Thank you again, Kevin, and may God indwell you richly!
    In Yeshua,

  • Pat Dillon
    October 4, 2009

    Dear Kevin, Thank you for your refreshing remarks that distinguish Jewishness from Judaism. Being raised a Gentile and attending Church all of my life, I can attest that there is no redeeming value in culture and tradition apart from the Hebraic Yeshua. Jewish Culture, customs and tradition are interesting in learning the background of Hebraic culture, but shouldn’t replace the agenda of Yeshua, who taught from the perspective of restoring the Jews back to the true intent of the Torah, while exposing the detrimental effect that oral tradition had on them. I am perplexed with certain aspects of the messianic movement having more of a desire to identify with Judaism than with Yehsuaism. I left the Gentile church because I wanted to hear about Jesus more than Gentile culture. It seems to me that Yeshua made a distinction between tradition and the true intent of the Torah, which was to bring salvation by faith and obedience to His commandments. I’m not contending that this nullifies the Jewishness of Jews, but it restores and establishes it back to its origional position under Moshe.

  • Kevin Geoffrey
    October 4, 2009

    Shalom Pat,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments. I agree with what you are saying with the following exceptions:

    There is inherent value in culture and tradition apart from Yeshua. We can’t — and shouldn’t attempt to — separate these things from our history and heritage as a people. That said, your point is well taken — culture and tradition shouldn’t “replace the agenda of Yeshua”. The place of culture and tradition must not supercede or supplant the Jews’ calling as Israel. (Some would argue that we can’t fulfull our calling as Jews without heavy emphasis on culture and tradition, but I beg to differ. Scripture is sufficient.)

    I also take exception with your comment that “the true intent of the Torah… was to bring salvation by faith and obedience to His commandments.” The Torah was given to distinguish Israel from the nations. It was not given to “save” Israel, nor anyone else. Salvation does indeed come by faith, not obedience to Torah. Torah was also not given just so that Israel would have a set of commandments to obey. Israel’s obedience to Torah is a means to an end, and that end is her learning to love Adonai, love her neighbors, and her distinction among the nations in order to be the Messianic, priestly nation Adonai set her apart to be — to serve the nations in restoring them to Adonai through Yeshua.

    Thanks again for your comments!

  • Aggie Henley
    June 19, 2012

    As a Gentile believer, I have found it invaluable to my understanding of Torah to read the Chumash with Rashi and other writings. How else would I understand the Jewish roots of my faith? Ofcourse one has to read circumspectly, but as a Christian, I had no idea that an oral Torah even existed, nor was I aware of the abundance of Jewish tradition, as opposed to Scriptural Judaism. Many New Testament teachings are aimed at disciples who were Jewish. How else can I put those teachings into context if I don’t know what the Jews believed?
    I’m not saying we should spend all our time poring over the Jewish commentaries, but there has to be some education. By all means we ought to read with a critical and discerning eye. This has brought me closer to Yeshua, not farther. It has challenged me to better know what it is I believe in the Holy Spirit.