Here are answers to some of the questions we've received. Click on a title to go to a particular question and answer. Or scroll down the page to the text below. You can also check out our Subject Index and Search pages to find topics of interest. If you'd like to ask a question about the Bible, Christianity, or the Jewish Roots of the Christian faith, e-mail us at Jeff@totheends.com
Questions About Baptism
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Q1: I have some questions concerning the Biblical form of Baptism. [Is it in] water by immersion?
A1: An accurate understanding of baptism as practiced in the Bible requires a familiarity with the Jewish practice of ritual immersion (the mikvah bath). (See our Q&A "The Jewish Roots of Baptism." See also our Teaching Letter #6, "The Baptism of Jesus".)
Ritual immersion among the Jews meant complete immersion in water: every part of the body, even every hair had to be submerged in the water. Undoubtedly, this was also the practice in the New Testament church (Acts 8:36-39, Rom. 6:4).
The connection between the Jewish ritual bath and Christian baptism has been demonstrated by discoveries such as a mikvah bath in Nazareth (part of a Christian synagogue complex) that was used for baptism by early Christian Jews. Its use is clear from the Christian graffiti found scratched in its sides.
By the 2nd century AD, the uniform practice of the Church was a triple immersion in water (in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). This triple immersion is still practiced in the older Eastern churches. Single immersion, which first appeared in the 4th cent., was initially condemned, though it was later permitted in the West as a sign of the unity of God against heretical views.
Q2: Is sprinkling an acceptable form of Baptism?
A2: The first mention of anything other than complete immersion for baptism is in the Didache, a Christian manual from the late first or early 2nd centuries. It affirms the preference for complete immersion. But in the absence of enough water, it permits pouring water three times on the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Didache VII.3).
From the 2nd century, in the Western church, the practice of pouring became widespread. This was done as the candidate stood with the lower part of his body submerged in water. Beginning in the 8th cent., this was replaced with a simple pouring of water (known as affusion). Affusion did not become the norm in the West until the 13th cent. It is the normal procedure in the Roman Catholic church today.
Sprinkling with water (aspersion) is a variant form of affusion. The spread of affusion (and aspersion) accompanied the spread of infant baptism.
It seems clear from the historical data that complete immersion is the original, Biblical form of baptism, and that later variants were introduced among groups completely cut off from the original Jewish meaning of the rite.
The decision about whether variant forms are acceptable or not has to do with our understanding of the meaning of baptism. Most Protestant groups correctly emphasize the inner decision to repent and accept Christ as primary over the outer form of baptism. (This also matches with the information we have about John the Baptist's form of baptism: that the inner cleansing was accomplished by repentance, the outer cleansing by immersion; see our article "The Baptism of Jesus.")
For myself, I would not consider baptizing anyone except by immersion unless it was in an unusual situation in which immersion was not practical. As far as counseling someone who was sprinkled as a believer, I leave the decision about whether or not to be immersed up to them. (See our Q&A "Baptism by Pouring or Immersion?".)
Q3: Is baptism essential for salvation and eternity with Jesus? Can people that are not baptized be saved? What about the thief on the cross? What about the people that died in the New York tragedies that may not have been baptized? What about "All those that call on the name of the Lord shall be saved?"
A3: The command to baptize believers is clear (Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:16, Titus 3:5, etc.). Anyone who refuses to obey this command is therefore in rebellion against God. However, should someone lack baptism because of some extraordinary circumstance that is not of their own doing (like dying immediately after accepting Jesus--as did the thief on the cross), I'm sure that God will understand. As the verse you quote says, "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13).
Q4: Is baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit correct? Is baptism in Jesus' name correct? Does invoking the name of Jesus really matter?
A4: As mentioned above, a triple immersion in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the earliest form of which we can be certain, and was the universal practice of the early church. Unfortunately, the records of this practice come from after the time of the New Testament, and the New Testament itself is not as specific about how baptism was done as we would like.
While some emphasize the distinction between a Trinitarian baptism (Matt. 28:19) and the verses that mention baptism in the name of Jesus, this assumes that only these two baptismal "formulas" appear in Scripture. The actual situation is more complicated. Not only does the original language of Scripture mention baptism "in" the name of Jesus (Acts 10:48), but also "into" the name of Jesus (Acts 8:16, 19:5) and "at" the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38).
The most common of these is baptism "into" the name, the same wording found in the Trinitarian formula in Matt. 28:19. In the original Greek, this seems not so much a formula as a description of the result of baptism: the entrance of the believer into the Body of Messiah (similar to Paul's expression "in Christ").
Another complicating factor is the original Jewish background of the expression, "the name." Both in ancient and modern Hebrew, this expression ("the Name") is a title for God, an allusion to the sacred name of God: YHWH in Hebrew, or Kurios in Greek. This is the original implication of the expression "Lord Jesus" (or "Jesus is Lord"; Kurios Iesous in Greek): that Jesus is God. This is why proclaiming Jesus as Lord (Kurios) was a declaration of faith (Rom. 10:9): it was a declaration of his divinity. To be baptized "into the name of Jesus" is therefore an allusion to coming into covenant relationship with God as represented by Jesus in his teachings and his person.
As some have pointed out, baptism "into the name of Jesus" appears in sections of the New Testament describing the mission to Jews, that is, the preaching of the gospel to people already committed to the God of Israel. The Trinitarian formula, by contrast, occurs in a description of preaching the gospel to non-believers ("all nations"; Matt. 28:19), for whom this more full expression would be necessary to accurate understanding. Yet the meaning would be the same, since the "name" shared by Father, Son, and Spirit is also the "name" of Jesus: YHWH/Kurios (see for example Gen. 19:24, Ex. 34:5,6, etc. "Jesus" is not the "name" of Father, Son, and Spirit, as claimed by many Oneness groups. Rather, that "name" is YHWH).
(The same also applies if we understand the "name" to be a synonym for power and authority, as it is sometimes interpreted. Matt. 28:19 would therefore teach that Father, Son, and Spirit share one power and one authority--a beautiful three-in-one statement.)
According to this understanding, the particular formula used in baptism is less important than ensuring that the baptismal candidate understands what he is doing, and has a basic understanding of the Christian revelation of one God who has revealed himself in three co-eternal ways, as well as of Jesus as the Divine Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament and that appeared in human flesh.
Accepting such "looseness" with regard to formulas (though not with regard to understanding) finds support in the general Protestant attitude toward liturgy in general in which, though liturgies may be beautiful in themselves, are unable to ensure a right relationship with God. On the contrary, a personal Biblical understanding is of more value than any number of correctly performed liturgical acts. The intention of the heart is more important than the words on our lips: for we often don't even know how to pray as we should (Rom. 8:26).
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Baptism.)
Q: Is there a scripture to back up the teaching that Satan cannot read our minds? --Claren S.
A: Although there is no Scripture that directly addresses the enemy's capabilities in this area, many verses indicate that knowing thoughts is an exclusive prerogative of God. For example, Heb. 4:12 mentions being "able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart" as an ability of God in a context that describes his omniscience (v. 13). Since omniscience is clearly a uniquely divine attribute (and Satan is a mere created being), this implies that God alone knows our thoughts (see also 1 Chron. 28:9; Psa. 94:11, 139:2; Isa. 66:18; Eze. 11:5).
1 Cor. 2:10-16 indirectly touches on this topic in trying to explain how we can understand the things of God in light of the fact that no one knows the mind of God but himself (vs. 11,16). The answer, basically, is that we have the Holy Spirit in us (vs. 12) and so we have the mind of Christ (vs. 16). In arriving at this conclusion, Paul drops some leading hints: "he who is spiritual [or Spirit-filled] evaluates/examines all things, yet he himself is evaluated/examined by no one." This would seem to eliminate the possibility that Satan could know (or evaluate) our thoughts.
But an even stronger argument can be made from Paul's assertion that "we have the mind of Christ" (vs. 16). If that is so, and no one can know the thoughts of God (except the Spirit of God; vs. 11,16), then to the degree that we share the mind of Christ, no one can know our thoughts, either.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Satan.)
Q: I know that Peter was a Jew that was born and lived in Bethsaida. I've heard that Peter was a black man. I've been to Vatican City in Rome and seen the statue of Peter in the church there; he's definitely portrayed as a black man in the statue. Is this correct? Was one of the 12 tribes black men? I stated this as fact one night in my class at church (because I would believe that the statue would be historically correct) and was told that I was wrong. --Michael D.
A: Christian art cannot be used to establish historical facts about the Biblical period. The artists were usually far removed in time from the original events, and knew even less about them than we do today. Even art in the catacombs of Rome, drawn within a couple of generations of the New Testament, got it wrong: Jesus is shown with no beard, carrying a magician's wand, wearing Roman-style clothing, etc.
One of the reasons there are no accurate depictions of the disciples and others known to us from the New Testament is that the original Jewish Christians were opposed to the making of idols and images. This was because of their continued obedience to the Law of Moses (Ex. 20:4, Lev. 26:1, Deut. 4:16-18).
If the statue of Peter you're referring to at the Vatican is the one at the front right side of the central nave of St. Peter's basilica (a famous statue usually pointed out to visitors), it was made in the 13th century, thought to be the work of Arnolfo di Cambio. The dark color of the statue is due to the fact that it is made of bronze. Although it may be difficult to get an accurate impression of the facial features when standing beneath it, full frontal photographs of the face of the statue clearly show it to have Caucasian features rather than Negroid features.
Although blacks do appear in many places in the Bible, there is no evidence that any of the Jewish tribes were originally black. On the contrary, the Bible clearly states that all the tribes were descendants of one man, Israel, a Semite, and that they remained a Semitic people throughout Biblical times.
Individual blacks that appear in the Bible include the Cushite (black) wife taken by Moses (Num. 12:1) and the Cushite that carried news to David of his son Absalom's death (2 Sam. 18:21-32). An Ethiopian (black) man rescued Jeremiah from the cistern (Jer. 38:7-13), and a high Ethiopian official (the Ethiopian Eunuch) was one of the first to accept Jesus as Messiah (Acts 8). The Cushite (black) kingdom of Tirhakah was an ally of King Hezekiah of Judah (2 Kings 19:9; see also Isaiah 20:3-5, 37:9).
Documented groups of black Jews appear only in post-Biblical times. The most well-known of these was in Ethiopia, where it seems that Jewish traders or merchants intermarried with local blacks, possibly beginning as early as the 6th century BC. Most of the Ethiopian Jews have now moved to Israel (a fulfillment of prophecy mentioned in Isa. 11:11).
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Peter.)
Q: I just read with interest your article #13 on the Laws of Noah. In the Acts 15 passage where the council of Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] stipulated the three laws that were to be observed by Gentiles coming to faith in Messiah, Yaacob [James] says in verses 20-21: "...write them to abstain from the defilement of idols, and from whoring, and from what is strangled and from blood. For from ancient generations Mosheh [Moses] has, in every city, those proclaiming him--being read in the congregations every Sabbath." What do you think is the relevance of the latter sentence? What do you think he meant by it and why do you think he added this rider? --Marie R.
A: Acts 15:21 is Yaakov's [James'] rationale for delivering a letter with the "three exceptions" to Gentile believers in Jesus. Most assume this verse is an obscure explanation as to why the three exceptions were needed in the first place. Following from this starting point, the three exceptions are usually thought to be a concession of some kind to Jewish sensibilities (those to whom the law of Moses is read in the synagogues).
But if this approach is correct, that these were merely concessions, it implies that the council did not believe they were a theological necessity, but rather only a matter of practical advisability. On this basis, most Western churches have long since stopped preaching against eating strangled animals or blood, and many older churches have taken a permissive view of idols (statues and images used in worship).
But the view that these are concessions runs directly counter to the Scriptural statement that these three exceptions are "necessary things" ("essentials"; 15:28), and not merely concessions. Why were they considered necessary? Because they were among the laws of the Bible that Gentiles, too, were required to obey--laws that soon came to be known as the Laws of Noah. Once we understand the Scriptural necessity of these requirements, the meaning of Jacob’s statement immediately becomes clear. It is not an explanation as to why the exceptions were needed, but of why a letter should be written and sent.
And what was this reason? At the time, Judaism had not yet reached its current consensus about Gentiles and the Law of Moses. Many were preaching that Gentiles must convert to Judaism to be right with God (that they must be circumcised and obey the entire Law of Moses as a legal necessity). These preachers were so successful, it’s been estimated that 10% of the population of the Roman Empire was Jewish, many of whom were converts.
In the earlier Maccabean period, this pro-conversion view had taken a violent turn when defeated enemies (such as the Edomites/Idumeans) were converted to Judaism by force. This understanding of the necessity of conversion, though, did not last, and was abandoned after the wars against Rome in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. This is when the Noachide Laws (the Seven Laws of Noah) were officially adopted, providing an alternate means for Gentiles to be right with God.
But the Council of Jerusalem (in Acts 15) took place before this, when things were still in a state of flux between the pro-conversion view and the Noachide view, and many were still preaching the necessity of full conversion to Judaism--including many within the Messianic community itself (Acts 15:1,5). The Council firmly decided against this view (Acts 15:10,19, etc.). But the presence “in every city” of those who were preaching Moses created an obstacle and a hindrance to the new Gentile believers in Jesus. These preachers exerted a constant pressure to take on the yoke of the Law of Moses. But a letter from Jerusalem would provide an authoritative defense against these preachers of Moses, assuring new Gentile believers in Jesus that legal submission to the Law of Moses is not required. Only the three exceptions were necessary: exceptions that would soon be recognized by all of Judaism as part of the Laws of Noah.
Q: [In response to TL #19, Entering the Promised Land:] Why did you use "Yehoshua" as Joshua's name? Why the "e" in there? In our Jewish Bible it is Y'hoshua. Many of the O.T. prophets had "yah" or "yahu" in their names, and "yah" at the end of hallelujah. So, why the "e"? --Laura B.
A: The difference between the two spellings of the name of Joshua has to do with two different ways of writing the Hebrew vowel sh’va (also written as sheva) in the Latin/English alphabet. This vowel is considered a short vowel because it is pronounced rapidly in going from one consonant to the next. As a result, it is sometimes indicated by an "e," sometimes by a small or superscript "e" (e), and sometimes by an apostrophe(').
The prefix of Joshua's name is undoubtedly Yahu-, but since the emphasis is on the third syllable (ye-ho-SHU-ah), the first syllable is shortened because of the rules of Hebrew grammar and pronunciation. This turns the "a" of Yahu- into a sh'va, producing Yeho- (or Y'ho-) as the first two syllables in Joshua's name.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Joshua.)
Q: ...My question is, when Yeshua [Jesus] was born the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What was the significance of those gifts? --Dale, Sr.
A: The magi (MAY-gee, "wise men") were pagan priests of the Parthian Empire, the great eastern enemy of Rome. Their priestly sect had tremendous power in Parthia, including the ability to make and break kings. This means they were familiar with royalty, and so brought gifts befitting the one “born king of the Jews” they were seeking (Matt. 2:2). The magi may well have had their own mystical intentions with these gifts, reflecting the beliefs of their religion (a mixture of Zoroastrianism and older tribal beliefs). If so, these intentions are lost to us.
But from the point of view of the Bible and the Jewish people, these gifts were a prophecy of the identity and future ministry of the infant king.
Frankincense (lebonah in Hebrew, from a root meaning "white" because of the milky-white appearance of the best frankincense resin) was an important ingredient in the incense offered daily in the Jewish Temple. Incense, as Psalm 141:2 tells us, was a symbol of prayer. But it was also a symbol of the priests, who as mediators for the people, brought incense daily into the Holy Place (the sanctuary of the Temple) and yearly, by the hand of the high priest, into the Holy of Holies (Rev. 8:3,4). This points to the mediatorial role of Jesus as the heavenly high priest, who makes our requests known to the Father (Heb. 7:25,26). Because of this, frankincense was seen by the Early Church to be a symbol of Jesus' divinity.
Myrrh was among the ingredients in the anointing oil used in the Temple (Exod. 30:23-25), a symbol of Jesus as the “Anointed One” (the Messiah). But this "anointing" pointed especially to his death on the cross: as when he was anointed with oil-based perfume “for burial” at Bethany several days before his crucifixion (Mark 14:8); or given wine mingled with myrrh to drink on the cross (Mark 15:23). In the tomb, myrrh was sprinkled on his burial cloths, a custom used to combat the odors of death (John 19:39,40). Myrrh therefore points to Jesus’ death as a sacrifice, an indication of his humanity.
Gold was a common symbol of royalty, its use often reserved exclusively for the king. This pointed to Jesus' future reign as King Messiah: both now, at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:36); and in the resurrection, when he will rule the earth for 1,000 years (the Millennial kingdom; Matt. 19:28, Rev. 20:4).
Q1: I apologize if I am late to the debate but I have just read your Q&A section [Questions and Answers V].... One who has committed to faith in YHWH [Yahweh] of Israel and His Messiah Yeshua [Jesus] should not be referred to as a gentile. There is no such thing as a "gentile Christian" or "Messianic gentile." Gentiles are the heathen who do not have faith in YHWH.
A1: This has become a popular view in certain circles. But the correct answer must be sought in Scripture itself. You are right that one of the implied meanings of the word "Gentile" is "pagan"--or certainly was in Bible times. But "Gentile" is also used in the New Testament as the primary designation for non-Jewish believers in Jesus (Acts 10:45, 11:1, 11:18, 14:27, 15:3, 15:14, 15:17, 15:23, 21:19, 21:25; Romans 1:13, 9:24, 11:11, 15:10-12, 15:27; Gal. 3:14; Eph. 3:1, etc.). In Romans 11:13, for example, Paul addresses non-Jewish believers in Jesus as Gentiles, saying, "I am speaking to you who are Gentiles." Notice that he does not say "who were Gentiles." Paul still considered them Gentiles even after they came to faith in Jesus, just as Jewish believers were still considered Jews, though now believing in Jesus.
In Romans 16:4, Paul calls non-Jewish Christian churches "churches of the Gentiles." The non-Jewish believers in Jesus eating with Peter in Gal. 2:12 are called "Gentiles." In Eph. 2:11, Paul calls non-Jewish believers in Jesus "uncircumcised Gentiles." These he refers to as the uncircumcised part of the Church (the "Uncircumcision"), as opposed to the circumcised (Jewish) part of the Church (the "Circumcision"; Eph. 2:11). In Eph. 3:6, he says that Gentile believers in Jesus (the "Gentiles") are fellow-heirs with Jewish believers in Jesus. For you to deny as correct the term that Scripture itself uses for this group of people is to deny the authority and inspiration of Scripture.
Q2: ....“Israelites” [refers] to all redeemed people due to our being joint heirs of the promises made to Abraham (Rom 8:17, Gal. 3:29); the heirs being further defined as being descendants of Isaac and Jacob/Israel (Heb 11:9).
A2: While it's true that all believers are heirs of Abraham, this is not restricted to Abraham's physical descendants, but to those who share his faith ("those who are of faith, these are sons of Abraham"; Gal. 3:7). The singular "seed" of Abraham to whom the promises were made refers to Jesus ("to his seed...that is, Messiah"; Gal. 3:16), that through him "the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles" (Gal. 3:14, also 3:8).
The term "Israelite" is never used in the New Testament to refer to non-Jewish believers in Jesus. On the contrary, in every single occurrence it is used to refer to Jews (Acts 2:22, 3:12, 5:35, 13:16, 21:28; Romans 9:4, 11:1, etc.). Jesus, for example, called Nathanael, his Jewish disciple, an Israelite (John 1:47). The apostle Paul refers to himself as an Israelite (Rom. 11:1, 2 Cor. 11:22). So to use the term "Israelite" to refer to Gentile believers in Jesus is contrary to the use of this word in Scripture.
Q3: ....This "idea of voluntary obedience" [to the Law of Moses] is now and has always been for everyone. [In other words, God has always intended the Law of Moses to be obeyed by everyone according to a system of voluntary obedience.]
A3: On the contrary, for circumcised Jews, obedience to the Law is not voluntary but obligatory, with severe penalties for disobedience that were actually carried out in ancient times, including the death penalty (Gal. 3:10, 5:3). In the time of Jesus, as in the time of Moses, the Law of Moses was the law of the land. They could not pick and choose what to obey, but were under obligation to the whole Law (Gal. 5:3).
Q4: ....The issue the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 is addressing is whether or not a non-Israelite should be converted to the religion of Israel through circumcision and taking on the burden of complete Torah-observance before being considered "saved" or redeemed (Acts 15:1), not whether or not they should observe Torah at all. Up to that point the Israelites had followed a progressive program by which a non-Israelite could be considered redeemed (Acts 15:5).
A4: You are correct that the issue of debate at the Council of Jerusalem was conversion to Judaism, which required ritual circumcision and complete obedience to the Law (Acts 15:5). ("Circumcision" in this context was not a mere physical operation but a religious ritual of conversion.) This was the standard practice at the time for Gentiles who wanted to become Jews. The Pharisees who proposed this idea thought this same procedure of conversion should be used for Gentiles who wanted to become Christians. This view was rejected by the Council.
But there is no historical evidence of any "progressive program" of increasing obedience for non-Israelites. Gentiles who associated with the synagogue but did not convert were called God-fearers (or Fearers of Heaven). They were under no obligation to the Law at all, other than the Law's requirements for all mankind, which were soon codified as the the seven Laws of Noah. Obedience to these seven laws were considered sufficient for a Gentile to have a place in the world to come. Other portions of the Law beyond this were entirely optional (except for the many sections of the Law that were specifically forbidden to non-Jews). A God-fearer who obeyed more and a God-fearer who obeyed less of the Law (beyond the Laws of Noah) had equal standing according to Jewish religious law, with no necessity and no expectation of increasing obedience. The Laws of Noah were considered sufficient for Gentiles. This is the view with which the Council's decision agreed.
Q5: This [works-righteousness] is not the plan laid out in Torah [the Bible] but is what had developed. Kefa [Peter] recognized this plan as being wrong (Acts 15:7-11). Verses 10 and 11 particularly bring to light the issue at hand - how one is justified.... Another way of saying this would be: "We believe YHWH by way of His grace justifies all people regardless of birth origin who have faith in Him through His Messiah Yeshua and not by Torah observance as has been taught. Being declared righteous through Torah observance is too much to ask of anyone including ourselves and our fathers." And this was never the purpose of the Law of Moses.
A5: You are correct that works-righteousness was never the purpose of the Law, and that Peter and the New Testament church rejected works-righteousness, declaring that justification is only by faith. You are also correct that works-righteousness was a false understanding that had grown up over time. Even in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), right standing with God was through his calling and his grace. But this does not mean that God was indifferent about obedience to his Law, as you imply. Though it had been a difficult yoke for the Jewish people to bear (Acts 15:10), God intended them to obey it—completely—and imposed harsh penalties for disobedience. In the same way, he intends his new Law of Messiah (the New Testament) to be obeyed—completely—by those who come to Jesus by grace and faith (Heb. 10:26-31; though in both Old and New he graciously makes provision for atonement of sin). Though salvation is not, and never was, by works, God has certain mandatory expectations of lifestyle and behavior for those he has redeemed by grace and faith.
Q6: [The Law] is a "Law of liberty" (James 1:25, 2:12). This means you have the option to choose to observe or not to observe.
A6: In the verses you mention, James is referring not to the Law of Moses, but to the Law of Messiah (the "royal" or "Messianic" law of James 2:8), which he calls a "perfect" or "completed" law (James 1:25) to distinguish it from the Law of Moses. He calls this law a "law of liberty" because it "liberates" us from the law (the effects) of sin and death (Rom. 8:2), not to indicate that we can observe it or not as we choose.
The rabbis have a saying that God held the mountain over the heads of the people at Sinai. In other words, they had no choice. The Law of Moses was imposed as an obligation with harsh penalties for disobedience. There was nothing optional about it. The Law of Messiah, just as the Law of Moses, is an obligation for those under its jurisdiction: as James also says, "For whoever keeps the whole Law [of Moses] and yet stumbles in one point has become guilty of all" (James 2:10). In a similar way, he says, believers in Jesus will be "judged by the [Messianic] law of liberty" (James 2:12).
Q7: Observance results in blessing (not necessarily materially), while lack of observance results in curses meted out in accordance with YHWH's grace towards each individual (not necessarily visible to others).... Yeshua [Jesus] says: "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:18-19)
A7: If lack of obedience results in curses, in other words, in punishments, how can you call obedience to the Law optional?
Yes, it’s true that Yeshua (Jesus) upheld the Law of Moses. But it must be remembered that obedience to the Law means obedience to those parts of the Law that apply to you. If you are a Jewish man, that involves different commandments than if you are a Jewish woman; if you are a priest, there are different commandments than for an Israelite (a layman). And if you're a Gentile, there are also only certain sections of the Law that apply to you. These commandments for Gentiles are primarily the laws that came to be known as the Laws of Noah. This legal position of Gentiles within the Law of Moses was the basis on which Godfearers were accepted in Judaism and Gentile believers in Christianity. (The instructions given to Gentile believers in Acts 15:20,29 are part of the Laws of Noah.)
But even for Jewish believers in Jesus, that continue to observe the Law of Moses (as well as the Law of Messiah), neither they nor non-Jewish believers in Jesus are "under" the Law of Moses anymore, nor under its curses (1 Cor. 9:20; Gal. 3:25, 4:21, 5:18). For Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13).
The fact that we are not "under" the Law of Moses, though, does not mean that we are free to sin (Rom. 6:1)! Rather, we are now "under" the Law of Messiah, and it is by this law that we will be judged (1 Cor. 9:21, James 2:12). Our blessings come from our unity with Messiah, which is expressed by our obedience to him. (“If you love me you will keep my commandments”; John 14:15.) But if, on the other hand, we fall away, we are "close to being cursed" and risk "being burned" (Heb. 6:8).
Q8: ....Ya'acov [James] goes on in Acts 15 to agree that the Prophets indicate YHWH's intention to include those from among the gentiles in the faith of Israel. And since one's willingness to follow the commands of YHWH is an indicator of true faith, he then adds conditions by which they may show the sincerity of their faith in YHWH/Yeshua, which just happens to be basics for table fellowship (Acts 15:15-20).
A8: You are correct about James' understanding of Amos 9:11,12, that it was God's plan to accept Gentiles into the kingdom of the Messiah, and that willingness to obey God is an indicator of faith. But the sincerity of believers in Jesus is shown through their obedience to the entire Law of Messiah (the New Testament), not just the “three exceptions” of Acts 15. Nor were these some new ideas that James and the Council came up with on the spot. They were, as they call them, "necessary things" or "essentials" (Acts 15:28). Why were they "essential"? Because they were some of the Laws of Noah that came to be understood as God's basic requirements for Gentiles.
Q9: Gradually these new Israelites would be directed by the Spirit of YHWH when it was appropriate to apply additional commands to their walk as they learned more of the Torah of Moses by attending the Sabbath services in their native land (Acts 15:21). Start them with milk and let them crawl before expecting them to digest meat and run a marathon.... --Sean R.
A9: Acts 15:21 does not say anything about Gentile believers in Jesus attending Sabbath services in Jewish synagogues. Rather it says that many were preaching Moses (i.e. obedience to the Law of Moses), since his writings were read in the synagogues every Sabbath. This is a reference to the strong pressure on Gentile believers to obey the Law of Moses, and is the reason given by James for the Council to write a letter: to assure these believers that obedience to the Law of Moses is not required for Gentiles (with the exception of the "three exceptions").
Here, too, progressive obedience is never mentioned (see A5 above). While it is perfectly all right for Gentile believers to observe many of the precepts of the Law of Moses on a voluntary basis (such as avoiding pork or worshipping on the Jewish Sabbath; though obedience to certain other commands is specifically forbidden for Gentiles by the Law itself), such practices cannot in any way contribute to our right standing with God, nor can they increase the infinite blessings that we already share in the body of Messiah ("...who blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Messiah," Eph. 1:3). These ritual and ceremonial laws are only a shadow that is passing away (Gal. 3:2,3; 4:9,21-27; 5:1; Heb. 8:6-13). But the reality is already ours in Messiah!
Q1: The grandson of a friend of mine was born last Thursday. They want to circumcise him, but they want to do it according to scripture. She knows it is to be done the 8th day. She wants to know how to count the 8 days. Do you count including Thur. or starting with Fri. Would he be circumcised on Thur. or Fri.? --Mary Lou G.
A: The eighth day depends on what time of day on Thursday the child was born, since the Jewish day begins just after sunset. If he was born during the day on Thursday, the 8th day will be the following Thursday (during the daytime). If he was born after sunset on Thursday, the eighth day will be the following Friday (during the daytime). It is traditional to do circumcision during the daytime.
However, the circumcision mentioned in Scripture is not just a matter of having it done at the right time. Scriptural circumcision, a sign of covenant performed with a flint knife, is the act of incorporating that child into the covenant of Abraham and the Jewish people. A Jewish circumcision must be done by a mohel, a Jewish man specially trained for this purpose. This is not available to Gentile believers in Jesus--in fact, this type of religious circumcision is expressly forbidden for Gentile Christians in Gal. 5:2. Gentile Christians are included in the covenant with Abraham through the circumcision of our hearts that takes place when we accept Jesus as our Messiah and Lord (Rom. 2:29).
However, if this is being done only as a medical procedure, the parents are free to have it done on any day they choose. But the timing of such a purely medical procedure to occur on the eighth day, while it may be personally meaningful to the parents, has no religious significance either according to the Jewish or the Christian religions for those that are not Jewish.
Q2: Thank you so much. The reason they wanted it done as a medical procedure is that the clotting factor of a male child is it's highest on the 8th day. I knew this as a nurse, but I wasn't sure how it was counted.... Even though we are circumcised of the heart in Messiah, as with so many things of G-d, it benefits the male in other ways. I was told in nursing that this keeps down infections for the male etc......Cleanliness is easier..... Thank you again.
(For more information on this topic, see the Index category Circumcision.)
Q: Just a link to an interesting and informative article [which argues that Christians should not celebrate Christmas because of the pagan practices associated with the holiday and its supposed pagan origins]... http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/Xmas_ch1.htm --Laura B.
A: The topic of holy days has been difficult for Christians from the start. Should Gentile Christians celebrate the Sabbath? Should they celebrate Passover and other Jewish feasts? The answer, enshrined in Rom. 14:4-10 (as Col. 2:16), is that this is an area of Christian liberty. Each of us should make up our minds as to what we think is right, and deal charitably with those who have a different opinion.
A major difficulty for those against holidays, as was the Westminster Assembly quoted in this article, is that if God is against holidays, surely he would say so in his Word. Instead the Bible is filled with detailed instructions for celebrating many different holidays.
Or if we should decide, as recommended by the writer, to only celebrate holidays specifically mandated in God's Word, then Jesus was "inconsistent" for celebrating Hanukkah (the Feast of Dedication), a festival not otherwise mentioned--and certainly not mandated--in the Bible (John 10:22,23).
In his criticism of Christmas, the writer begins with a common, yet false, presupposition: that the celebration of the birth of Jesus began in the time of Constantine (4th cent. AD). But in fact, the birth of Jesus had long been celebrated, along with his baptism, on Jan. 6th (a combination first clearly recorded in the 3rd cent.). This Jan 6th celebration was known as Epiphany, a name that refers to the appearance of Jesus in the flesh among men.*
*Earlier evidence for a celebration on Jan. 6th comes from the end of the 2nd cent., more than 100 years before Constantine. The context in which it appears suggests that the celebration goes back much further, possibly even to the early Jewish Christians, for whom Jesus' baptism was an important event (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, I.21).
In Jerusalem, Jan 6th was the date of the celebration of Jesus' birth until 549 AD. The Armenian Orthodox Church (in the Caucasus region south of Russia) continues to celebrate that date to this day. The change in the time of Constantine was to move the celebration of Jesus' birth from Jan 6 to Dec 25. However, the association of Jan 6 with the birth of Jesus has never completely disappeared. The "twelve days of Christmas" (from Dec. 25 to Jan 6) and the (late) association of Epiphany with the wise men still connect Jan 6th with the birth of Jesus even today.
Another common but weak criticism is his rejection of the name "Christmas" because of the ending "-mas," which the writer associates with objectionable aspects of Roman Catholic worship ("mas" is a short form of the word "mass" used for Catholic worship services). The word "mass" was used for Christian worship long before these objectionable elements were introduced. (It comes from the Latin word for "dismissal" said at the end of the service.) The meaning of "Christmas" is therefore simply "a worship service in honor of the Messiah."
It is true, of course, that we don't know on what day of the year Jesus was born. The Bible gives no date. And the few hints to the time of year favor neither December 25th or January 6. But, to argue in favor of holidays, if God considered the birth of his Son important enough to give it a lengthy and detailed description in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, how could it be wrong to commemorate this birth in some way? God gives instructions for celebrating such things as the annual harvests of wheat and barley, the historical event of the Exodus from Egypt. Isn't the birth of his Son more wonderful than these?
And since the actual date of Jesus' birth is unknown, why is one date (Dec. 25th) worse than any other? If we were to choose another date instead (such as Jan. 6th or some other), wouldn't some pagan connection be found, or false or pagan commemorations eventually drift over to this new date as well? And why should we allow paganism to control our calendars anyway?
What should we do then? The message of Jesus is that God looks at our hearts. The measure of faithfulness to God is not whether you celebrate a particular holiday or not, but whether your heart is wholly dedicated to God. If all the world is celebrating Christmas in a false, pagan way, but I celebrate in pure worship of the heart, have I sinned? Or have I glorified God? And doesn't a true Christian celebrate the birth of Jesus in a sense every day of the year? Whether we choose personally to celebrate on Dec. 25th or not, what better opportunity is there to speak to our friends and neighbors about the truths we hold dear, and help them understand the differences between what the Bible says and the beliefs of secular society?
It's not only the holidays, but every day of our lives in which we need to distinguish pagan and Christian ways of living. Hopefully, as we grow in Messiah, we will grow in heart devotion as well as outer obedience to him on every day of the year.
Q1: 2 simple questions: What does Hag-ha-Pesach mean? And how do you pronounce it?
A1: Hag is pronounced with a covered "a" sound as the "a" in "father." Ha has the same covered "a" sound. Pe- is pronounced "pay," -sach is pronounced "sock."
As for the meaning, Hag means "holiday." Ha means "the." Pesach means Passover. Put together, the expression means "the Passover Holiday" which today, as in Jesus' day, is used to refer both to the day of Passover itself and to the following week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread (Num. 28:16,17).
Q2: What about the timing of Jesus' death in relation to the time of the traditional offering of the Passover lamb? I have heard that He died at the exact same time the Passover lamb was being killed. But how could that be if He and the disciples had already celebrated Passover?
A2: You are right to point out the conflict between these two ideas. Matthew, Mark, and Luke clearly state that Jesus celebrated the evening Passover Meal (the Seder Meal) with his disciples, and was crucified the next day (Matt. 26:17-, Mark 14:12-, Luke 22:7-). The idea that Jesus actually died the day before, at the same time as the Passover lambs, is based on an incorrect reading of the Gospel of John. This incorrect understanding is due to a lack of familiarity with the details of Jewish religious practice in the time of Jesus.
Even well known and respected scholars often trip up over the basic fact that the Jewish day begins just after sunset. This means that though the Passover lambs were slaughtered in the afternoon of Nissan 14 (in the Jewish calendar; see Ex. 12:6), the meal eaten that same night (the Passover Seder Meal), was already considered to be Nissan 15. Unlike our system of changing the date at midnight, their dates changed just after sunset. But in spite of this basic fact, you still see many claiming that the Passover Meal was on the 14th!
Another common error is a misunderstanding of the "preparation" day mentioned in John 19:14,31,42. Many claim that this refers to the day before the Passover began, so that Jesus must have been crucified before the start of the Passover. This certainly is what it seems to say when John 19:14 is translated, "it was the day of preparation for the Passover." But this ignores that "the Preparation" was the common name used for the day before the Sabbath (as it still is in Greece and on Greek calendars today). This can be seen by turning over to John 19:31, where it is clear that the (Day of) Preparation was the day before the Sabbath. Some argue that this refers not to the regular weekly Sabbath, but to the first day of the festival, which was also a day of rest. But this interpretation is disproven in that same verse when it says, "for that day of Sabbath was a high one." This refers to the special sanctity of a weekly Sabbath that fell during a festival week. John 19:14 can better be translated: "Now it was the (Day of) Preparation of the Passover (festival)...", in other words, 'it was the Preparation (the day before the Sabbath) that fell in the Passover festival week.' Correctly understood, none of these verses support the idea that Jesus was crucified before the Passover.
Another verse used to support the idea that Jesus was crucified before the Passover is John 18:28, in which the assistants of the high priest refuse to enter the governor's palace: "that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover." To many, this seems to imply that the Passover had not yet begun, and that therefore Jesus was crucified before the Passover.
But the evening Passover Meal (the Seder Meal) was not the only meal that required ritual purity during the Passover holiday. The first day of the feast, Nissan 15, which begins with the evening of the main Passover Meal (the Seder) and continues into the next morning and afternoon, included other meals in which a portion of the Hagigah peace offering was eaten (Deut. 16:16, Mishnah Hag. 1:1,2). These also required ritual cleanness. So there is no reason why these events of John 18:28 could not have taken place on the morning after the Seder Meal, as the other gospels indicate. Here too, nothing in this verse requires that Jesus was crucified before the Passover.
But there is another sense in which Jesus was crucified with the Passover lambs: not the lambs slaughtered on Nissan 14 for the Seder Meal, but the lambs offered up on Nissan 15th for the festival (Num. 28:17-23). These included the daily (or perpetual) sacrifice that morning and afternoon (Num. 28:3-8,23). It's no accident that Jesus was hung on the cross at the time of the morning sacrifice--about 9 am (the "third hour"; Mark 15:25), that darkness fell at the time of the additional festival sacrifices--at 12 noon (the "sixth hour"; Matt. 27:45, Mark. 15:33, Luke 23:44), and that he died at the time of the afternoon sacrifice--about 3 pm (the "ninth hour"; Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34, and Luke 23:44). In this way, he fulfilled both the perpetual sacrifice and the festival sacrifices to become our perpetual sacrifice to God.
Q: I would like to comment on your latest letter [an earlier version of Teaching Letter #25 on The Ten Tribes]. You said, “[Groups with a Messianic Israel type of teaching claim that Christians]...should join with the Jewish people in obedience to (some or all of) the Law of Moses--a teaching that flatly contradicts both the New Testament and Rabbinical law”.... Mr. Harrison, are you teaching Gentiles and Jews that they do not have to obey God’s laws and commandments? Didn’t Christ have something to say about that: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19 AV) It seems to me, according to Matthew, that teaching such things is anti-Christ.... --Lyle T.
A: Your position with regard to the Law suffers from a fundamental, though common, misunderstanding: that the Law of Moses claims the obedience of all, Jew and Gentile alike, to every one of its provisions. But this ignores the actual contents of the Law you seek to uphold. For in the Law of Moses, the requirements extended to Gentiles are very specific, and very few, as was correctly recognized by the council in Acts 15. As a Gentile believer in Jesus, I am in perfect obedience to the Law of Moses when I do not observe most of it, since most of the Law, especially the ceremonial and ritual portions, are directed exclusively to the Jewish people.
(For more on this topic, see Teaching Letter #13 The Laws of Noah. See, too, the Index categories Gentile Christians , Law of Messiah, Laws of Noah, as well as our Jewish Roots of Christianity Seminar.)
Q: [In response to Teaching Letter #25 on The Ten Tribes:] Everything that I've read from the MIA [Messianic Israel Association] states that observing the laws of Moses are a blessing, not a requirement for heaven. Even the laws of Moses teach this, right? It is by faith we are saved. It's almost impossible to "keep the Sabbath" here, being raised as we were.... Yet Scripture states that YHVH is the same, yesterday, today and forever. So, the Sabbath is still important to Him. Heck, reading the O.T., it was the breaking of Sabbaths that got Him so upset many times. The Land had to throw them out to make up for all the Sabbaths they had neglected. And you wrote that we are to keep Messiah's commandments. Those are deeper and harder to keep than the others. And are we to keep these commandments as "the way to heaven"?.... --Laura B.
A: The MIA [Messianic Israel Association] is completely wrong about the Law of Moses if they teach that it was not delivered as an obligation. Disobedience to the provisions of the Law brought penalties, sometimes even of death. That doesn't sound voluntary to me! The rabbis illustrate this with a parable in which God held Mt. Sinai over the heads of the Israelites in the desert. The point is clear: they had no choice.
(For more on this topic, see the Index categories Law of Moses and Law of Messiah, as well as our Jewish Roots of Christianity Seminar. Please note: We have recently had an extended correspondence with the Messianic Israel Association which we hope to post soon in its entirety--stay tuned!)
Q: [In response to Teaching Letter #25, The Ten Tribes:] I thought you might like to see that Messianic Israel is not like British Israelism:
A: Thanks for sending the posting about Messianic Israel. The need for such a message and the letter of Elder Starkovich simply reinforces my point: that Messianic Israel has been closely associated with the British-Israel theory in the minds of many in the group. When I was being sent information from Messianic Israel groups, it included much from British-Israel sites, which were obviously found to be compatible by Eddie Chumney and others who are influential in the movement.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Ten Tribes, as well as our Jewish Roots of Christianity Seminar. Please note: We have recently had an extended correspondence with the Messianic Israel Association which we hope to post in its entirety--stay tuned!)
Q: [In response to Teaching Letter #13, The Laws of Noah:] First thanks for putting some good information together. Second I have a serious question for you regarding [your teaching about the Laws of Noah].
A: Christianity assumes a progressive relationship between God and man. That is to say, the Laws of Noah were an introduction to the ways of God, the Law of Moses was a step forward, and the Law of Messiah (the New Testament) yet another step forward, all with a view to bringing mankind closer and closer to God (as will the coming Messianic kingdom and the following New Heavens and New Earth). Each of these covenantal relationships brings mankind closer and closer to God, and as a result, offers greater and greater promises and blessings from God. While the Law of Moses offers this-worldly blessings for obedience (long life, the promise of the land of Israel, many descendants, etc.), the Law of Messiah offers blessings primarily, though not exclusively, in the age to come. Without obedience to the Law of Messiah, a Gentile (or a Jew) cannot receive these greater blessings.
Q: [In follow-up to the question and answer above:] The problem with your response is that G-d made an everlasting covenant with Noah. Since G-d does not break his promises why then should a non-Jew become a Christian? Additionally, it is very well documented that Modern Christianity has adopted most of its beliefs from pagan religions.
A: You are correct that God's covenant with Noah is an everlasting covenant, and that God does not break his promises. Why then should a non-Jew become a Christian? Because of the differing content of God's various covenants with different groups of people. In the covenant with Noah, God commits himself to basically one thing: that he will not destroy all flesh through a flood again. It says nothing about eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and the other promises in the covenant of Messiah. Nor does the covenant of Moses make promises about the world to come.
Q: The term Jewish roots of Christianity: I keep seeing and hearing this term. I do not find the word used anywhere in the Bible. The word Kristos or Christos means anointed one in Greek. This means that anyone claiming to be a Christian is anointed and should be casting out demons and healing people and yet probably 90% of so called Christians do not even believe in demons much [less] healing. Not only that, Yeshua certainly did not start a new religion in conjunction with Judaism. The only other person would have been Paul and he was a Jewish Rabbi so he wouldn't be starting a new religion. In fact, Paul said it plain in Rom 2:29 and all of Rom 11 that anyone believing on Yeshua would be a Jew or if a Gentile would be grafted or adopted into the family of Jews or Olive Tree (Israel). Surely God never intended to have two religions with one killing off the other as in 1095 to 1400 plus. This term came about after the death of Paul during conferences of the so-called fathers, at the conferences of Nicea. They also began a lot of pagan practises which are still practised in the church (such as Easter, Christmas, baptisms "having someone dunk you", rituals, denominationalism-which divides rather than unites, and many other practises). Even the word "church" does not appear in Greek. The word "ekklasia" means witnessing body or assembly (Matt 16:16-18). Just because someone picked on these words everybody jumped on the band wagon without checking out what [they] mean or where they come from. Yeshua said "salvation is of the Jews John 4:20-22" so there are no Jewish roots of Christianity, it is Jewish roots period. Does this make sense?? --John S.
A: I can certainly agree with you about the inappropriateness of Christianity being a separate religion from the Judaism of which it was originally a part. Neither Jesus or Paul said anything about starting a new religion, but rather taught that Messiah (Christ) was the fulfillment of all that had gone before in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Jewish Roots of Christianity.)
Q: [In response to Teaching Letter #25, The Ten Tribes:] We have been studying the divided kingdom. I have seen that Shechem is a place they go to for different things. I have checked references and know that Abram met God there among others. My question is, do the Jewish people consider Shechem to be holy or do they hold it in high regard, and if they do would you please explain.
A: Shechem is important primarily because of its association with the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob. It's the first place Abraham arrived when he came into the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:6). Here God appeared to him, and he built his first altar (Gen. 12:6-8). There is no indication that there was a city here yet at the time, only a tree with religious associations (maqom in Hebrew, usually translated "site" or "place"--the "site of Shechem"--probably indicates a Canaanite place of worship; Gen. 12:6).
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Abraham.)
Q: I have a question for you that might seem peculiar or odd. I am a 17 year old (male) Christian Gentile, and I am looking for information on Bar Mitzvahs. I have been doing some web searches and not much has come up for my topic. I decided to contact a reliable source and ask them my question though I admit I did not read through your site much. Here it goes: Is it possible for a Gentile to have a Bar Mitzvah, why or why not. Since it is not required what would I gain by it. I know Jesus had a Bar Mitzvah so I'm wondering if it's liable to have one also. I'm going to go around and ask some input from different people to prevent myself from coming to any rash conclusions. I go to a messianic congregation in Wisconsin. You're input would be appreciated. --Aaron
A: A bar mitzvah is usually only available for young Jewish men. While some Messianic congregations are experimenting with a similar ritual for Gentiles, this is not the norm, and would not be a real bar mitzvah. A bar mitzvah, as the name implies, makes one a "son of the covenant," which refers to the covenant of Moses. This is a covenant that God made with the Jewish people, to set them apart from all other peoples. Gentiles have come to partake of this same rich heritage through the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus), but our covenant is the covenant of the Messiah (the New Testament), which we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters that have come to faith in Jesus. The only way to have a real Bar Mitzvah would be to convert to Judaism, but this is forbidden for Gentile Christians in Gal. 5:2. The closest thing to it in Christianity is the confirmation process in more traditional congregations.
(For more on this topic, see the Index category Gentile Christians.)
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