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"Edward Patrick Wixted : The Colt of the Ass" is a personal tribute to one man's passion for truth, his remarkable achievements, and his enduring legacy. It is also a testament to his ability to awaken in others a sense of their own potential.
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Note: I am indebted to Tom Kelly for re-typing much of Ted Wixted’s original printed material.
A Cameo of History and the Credentials of the Roman Church (The Clarion 30 July 1954)
Emperors, Bishops and Church Fathers (The Clarion 30 July 1954)
Let’s call him Tom (Aspect Magazine 1962)
Six Propositions concerning the Churches (25 February 1962)
Church Unity: Christian churches all agree about the doctrine of the Virgin Birth (14 April 1963)
Questions that must be answered (12 May 1963)
An Open Letter to the Clergy of Queensland (24 November 1963)
Oecumenical Church Councils before 900 AD (1964)
The Appearing of the Messiah (12 July 1964)
A Code of Ethics (27 June 1965)
The Establishment v The People: Your right to a choice (15 October 1965)
The Mistakes of the Book of Mormon: Clear Forgery (17 October 1965)
The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth (1 May 1966)
The Use of the term “Jews” in the New Testament (22 May 1966)
A Guide to Bible Prophecy: Israel’s Book and People (11 February 1967)
In the time of Yeshua Hanotzri: Accusations against the Nazarene (7 July 1968)
The man born to be King (9 February 1969)
The Tactics of the Australian Press (19 December 1965)
Operation Petrov (27 October 1966)
Australian Involement in the Vietnam War (1967)
Speech by Dr. Herbert Vere Evatt (March 1968)
Landmarks in Australian Politics No. 1 (16 June 1968)
Landmarks in Australian Politics No. 2 (23 June 1968)
Landmarks in Australian Politics No. 3 (9 February 1969)
Click here for Part I. From there, readers can easily navigate through the series.
E.P. (Ted) Wixted
17 May 2001
The Gospel of Luke Part III
Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum...
As demonstrated in the Gospel of Luke Part I, in ancient Greek usage, a "parthenos" was just an unmarried woman, whether she be a physical virgin or not.
If proponents of the Virgin Birth doctrine insist that "parthenos" means physical virginity then they are still confronted with an insurmountable problem because at the time of the angel's visit there had, as yet, been no conception. That Jesus was not conceived until some time after the angel's departure is confirmed in 2:21.
"When eight days were fulfilled for circumcising him, his name was called Jesus, which was so called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb."
"Mary said, 'Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; let it happen to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her."
Luke used the Greek word γένοιτό (genoito) in the aorist tense "let it happen." If Luke had wished to signify that conception happened at the word of the angel then he would not have used the word γένοιτό (genoito).
As one of the most renowned and respected exegetes of New Testament Greek, Frederick Godet, points out:
"The evangelist shows his tact in the choice of the aorist γένοιτό. The present [tense] would have signified, "Let it happen to me this very instant?" The aorist [tense] leaves the choice of the time to God." 1
You will see that Godet's statement is correct if you look at the other sixteen New Testament occurrences of γένοιτο, none of which refer to something to happen/not happen instantly but at some indeterminate time in the future.
Luke tells us that after the angel's departure, Mary left "with haste" to travel to Elizabeth's house, a journey of four or five days [1:39] and that by the time Mary reached Elizabeth's house, she knew that she was pregnant, knew that the angel's promise of a son entitled to sit on the throne of David was already in the process of being fulfilled, enabling her to exclaim "he that is mighty has done to me great things." [1:49] If it were a miraculous conception, the only way Mary could possibly know any of the above would be by the continued absence of menstruation. We know that only a few days had passed between the angel's visit and her arrival at Elizabeth's house - not enough time for pregnancy to be confirmed by these means.
Mary's state of knowledge could only be the result of an encounter which took place on the journey to Elizabeth's house, and which led to Mary's conviction that she had already become pregnant.
Briefly and bluntly put, Luke tells us that conception took place by normal means, after the angel's visit but before Mary arrived at Elizabeth's house, through an encounter with a descendant of David who could father a son entitled to sit upon David's throne, and who Luke names in 3:23. All of the angel's promises to Mary and to Israel have been fulfilled - that is the whole point of the story.
Luke's gospel is a private letter and, as such, contains private and confidential information. We are indeed fortunate that this letter has been preserved. Some may find offensive what I am about to reveal here but Luke found it necessary to reveal the same information to Theophilus because he considered it more important to stress that God keeps his salvation promises regardless of the means employed to do so, or whether man agrees with those means or not.
Matthew of course tell us precisely the same. Even though Matthew does not name the biological father of Jesus, he also found it necessary to stress that God's salvation plan for Israel has often been achieved through strange and unusual circumstances. If you refer back to the stories of the four women mentioned in Matthew's genealogy - Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba - you will find that all of them took decisive steps vital to the fulfillment of God's purposes for Israel, regardless of whether their actions had contravened normal social relationships or whether they were "outsiders" - non-Israelites. For Israelites, the names of these women would have evoked memories of the inscrutable yet saving purposes of God, which have never been constrained by biology, social norms, or ethnicity. (See Ruth 4:17.)
The Translation Games
Translators have played games with Luke 3:23 which begins the genealogy of Jesus.
A Selection of English Translations -
"And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli..." [KJV]
"Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli..."[ESV]
"Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli..."[NIV]
In these English versions, translators have destroyed the meaning of the verse by inserting parenthesis and commas in sincorrect place and by also inserting words which do not appear in the Greek texts - "which was the son" or "the son" immediately preceding "of Heli..."
It was very surprising and disturbing to me to discover that scholars of the Catholic Church have actually known and recorded the truthful translation of Luke 3:23.
The Roman Catholic Encyclopaedia article entitled 'Genealogy' 2 has the following to say:
"St. Matthew's genealogy is that of St. Joseph; St. Luke's, that of the Blessed Virgin. This contention implies that St. Luke's genealogy only seemingly includes the name of Joseph. It is based on the received Greek text, on (os enomizeto ouios Ioseph) tou Heli, "being the son (as it was supposed, of Joseph, but really) of Heli.
This parenthesis really eliminates the name of Joseph from St. Luke's genealogy, and makes Christ, by means of the Blessed Virgin, directly a son of Heli."
So, the Encyclopaedia's translation of 3:23 is:
"And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years old, being the son (as it was supposed of Joseph, but really) of Heli."
In his Commentary on the Gospel of Luke,3 renowned exegete and scholar of Biblical Greek, Frédéric Louis Godet, inserts dashes in the text and says:
"The text, therefore, to express the author's meaning clearly, should be written thus: "being a son - as was thought, of Joseph - of Heli, of Matthat..."
So Godet's translation of 3:23 is:
"And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years old, "being a son - as was thought, of Joseph - of Heli, of Matthat..."
Although Frédéric Godet [and the RCE] assert that Luke's genealogy is that of Mary, i.e. Jesus, [Mary], Heli, Matthat, etc. to maintain the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, Godet's arguments as to the original geneaological information provided by Luke and the correct translation of the passage remain overwhelmingly convincing.
The one issue upon which these scholars are united is that the name of Joseph does not belong in the original genealogy.
Jesus is the biological son of Heli, a direct descendant of King David and, therefore, entitled by birth to the title "Messiah." God's promises to David have been fulfilled.
Without any evidence whatsoever, and despite the fact that Luke has clearly identified Mary as a Levite, some translators, scholars and ecclesiastics continue to claim that Luke is tracing Mary's descent from David. This assertion is quite ludicrous and totally ignores ancient Hebrew culture where tribal affiliation and family genealogy could only be traced through the patrilineal line. It is a clumsy attempt to conceal the stark reality of the very point that Luke is making and conflicts with every other New Testament statement about the birth of Jesus.
As Longnecker 4 quite rightly observes:
"It need not be supposed that the church's ascription of messiahship to Jesus made him a descendant of David in their eyes when in fact he was not. Neither the acclaim of Jesus as "son of David" on the part of the people not the Evangelists' recording of that fact are plausible 'had it been believed that he did not satisfy the genealogical conditions implied by the name. And, as Dalman has further pointed out:
"As the scribes held to the opinion that the Messiah must be a descendant of David, it is certain that the opponents of Jesus would make the most of any knowledge they could procure, showing that Jesus certainly did not, or probably did not, fulfil this condition. And there can be no doubt that Paul, as a persecutor of the Christians, would be well instructed in regard to this point. As he, after mingling freely with members of the Holy Family in Jerusalem, shows that he entertained no sort of doubt on this point, it must be assumed that no objection to it was known to him. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a single trace of conscious refutation of Jewish attacks, based on the idea that the derivation of Jesus from David was defective."
As we can now see, the endlessly-discussed 'conflict' between the two genealogies of Matthew and Luke is simply an illusion necessitated by adherence to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.
This manufactured 'conflict' has been used by many who seek to destroy the veracity of the gospels. Its negative impact, therefore, can hardly be overestimated.
It is time for us, in this 21st century, to enquire without fear into the explanation about the biological father of Jesus that Luke has provided for us. God moves in mysterious ways and it is not our function to question God. God is a god of truth. Commitment to truth is the hallmark of those who would be followers of Jesus. When Jesus was questioned by Pilate, he said:
"For this reason was I born,
And for this purpose came I into the world,
That I should bear witness to the truth,
Those that are of the truth shall hear my voice." (John 18:38)
Long ago I had to accept this truth even though, at the time, it conflicted with my personal feelings, everything I had hitherto been taught, and meant permanent estrangement from the Church in which I had been raised. I had to empty my mind of all the doctrinally imposed images of the Christ and instead bow my head in humility and simply marvel at God’s purposes to search hearts and minds.
To illustrate, I recall that many moons ago I pointed out to a member of the Christadelphian religion that Luke names the biological father of Jesus. His response rings in my ears to this day:
"God would not have a bastard as his Messiah."
This display of breathtaking self-righteous arrogance is precisely how God searches the human heart and mind. This Christadelphian judged himself out of his own mouth. As well as confirming that he himself would discriminate against a child because of the parents' marital status he also presumed to know the mind of God. A similar self-righteous arrogance has been the hallmark of the Church from time immemorial.
The crucially important fact that Mary was of the tribe of Levi has been completely overlooked by theologians intent on promulgating the doctrine of Virgin Birth. These theologians, knowing that the New Testament states many times that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and of the "seed of David", and knowing that Joseph is not the father of Jesus, erroneously assert that it is through Mary that Jesus can claim Davidic sonship.
NOTES: The ESV is based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983), and on the Greek text in the 1993 editions of the Greek New Testament (4th corrected ed.), published by the United Bible Societies (UBS), and Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.), edited by Nestle and Aland.
 Frédéric Louis Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 1889, page 95.
 Catholic Encyclopaedia article Genealogy [The article goes on to provide the Greek text which, it says, most textual critics prefer but, as Godet uses the same 'preferred' Greek text, the intent of the verse remains the same.]
 Professor Frédéric Louis Godet's 1889 classic Commentary on the Gospel of Luke [pages 195-204]. Godet's commentary is frequently referenced to this day as a reliable source for the study of Luke's Gospel. It is one of the most significant studies of Luke from the 19th century and is respected for its exegetical style and ability to address the authenticity and origins of Luke's Gospel with precision..
 Richard N Longnecker, The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity, Regent College Publishing, 1994, pp 110-111.
Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum...
The Gospel of Luke : Part II
The Promise to King David
"And when your days be fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your offspring after you, who shall come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever." [II Sam 7:12-13]
Luke 1:32b -1:33
Gabriel announces the imminent fulfillment of this Davidic promise:
"...and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." [See Note below]
At this time, Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a descendant of David. As we have already seen in the Gospel of Matthew : Parts I and II, Joseph's line had been debarred forever from sitting on the throne of David - by God himself.
It is important to note here that Luke has already identified Mary as a Levite and that her relative Zacharias served in the temple. The Levitical priesthood kept the genealogical records, paying particular attention to those of the Levites and to those of the descendants of King David. As such, Mary would have been well acquainted with Joseph's genealogy. [Josephus, in his autobiographical Life, refers to the "public registers" from which he extracts his own genealogical information.]
Knowing that her betrothed could not father a child entitled to sit on the throne of David, Mary asked the angel the most logical of questions -
"...How shall this be, seeing I don't know a man"?
Even though proponents of the Virgin Birth doctrine assert that the word "know" [ginóskó] here refers to knowing sexually, the correct view is that Mary did not know - did not have knowledge of - a man who could father a child entitled to sit upon the throne of David. The seven New Testament occurrences of ginóskó - know - all refer to a state of knowledge and confirm that the assertion made by Virgin Birth advocates is completely without foundation.
As we have seen, the angel has made some startling promises concerning the child to be born - promises that cannot be fulfilled if Joseph is to be the father.
So what was Gabriel's response to Mary's question?
"And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you..."
An underlying Hebrew parallelism is evident here (Expressing the same thought twice using equivalent words). The "Holy Spirit" is synonomous with the "power of the Highest."
It is this divine power, the "Holy Spirit," which will "overshadow" or protect Mary. The image of the Spirit "overshadowing" Mary is drawn from the image of Boaz covering Ruth with the "wings" of his garment and from the Hebrew theme of overshadowing protection which is found in the Psalms. "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler." (Psalm 91:4)
"...Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you..."
There is nothing singular or exclusive about the word 'holy' in reference to Jesus. At the time of his birth, every first born male that opened the womb had to be called 'holy' [sanctified] according to the Law of Moses.
A comparison of texts will place the matter in its correct perspective:
"And while they were there (in Bethlehem) Mary brought forth her first born son." (Luke 2:7)
"And YHVH spoke unto Moses saying, Sanctify unto me all the first born, whatsover openeth the womb among the Children of Israel, both of man and beast: it is mine." (Ex.13:1-2)
"...the males that openeth the womb shall be YHVH's." (Ex.13:12)
"And when the days of their purification according to the Law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called 'holy' to the Lord)." Luke 2:22-23
"...shall be called the Son of God."
"And Elizabeth your kinswoman, she has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren. For no word from God shall be empty of power."
Just as God had ensured the conception of the aged and barren Sarah [Gen 18:14] so has God now ensured the conception of the aged and barren Elizabeth. These conceptions were of a far more "miraculous" nature than the relatively simple task of finding an eligible man to father a child with the young and obviously fertile Mary.
"And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word. And the angel departed from her."
A suitable descendant of King David was found. The New Testament goes on to record the fulfillment of the promise made to King David and then to Mary:
"...concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh... "(Rom 1:3-4)
"Of this man's [David] seed has God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus. (Acts 13:23)
"Has not the scripture said that the Anointed one comes of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was? "(John 7:42)
"Remember Jesus Anointed, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel." (2 Tim 2:8)
NOTE: One important point that should not be overlooked is that Gabriel promises that the child to be born will reign over the "house of Jacob." The term "house of Jacob" signifies the whole twelve tribes of Israel, whereas the "house of David" signifies just two tribes - those of Judah (David's own tribe) and Benjamin (with a sprinkling of Levites).
A little background is necessary to understand Luke's intent here. The Kingdom of David originally included the entire twelve-tribed Israel - the twelve sons of Jacob. After the death of Solomon, David's son, the Kingdom split into two parts: the northern Kingdom of Israel consisting of 10 tribes, and the southern Kingdom of Judah consisting of two tribes. Around 721 BC, the Assyrians invaded the northern Kingdom. The Assyrians had a policy of removal and replacement of native populations so they removed a fair proportion of the Israelites and replaced them with another group of captive people. These replacement people later became known as the Samaritans. Around 604 BC, the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, invaded the southern Kingdom of Judah, destroyed the temple of Solomon, and carried off the leading citizens to Bablyon. These people became knows as "Jews" (Judahites). Some returned from Babylon, and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. The descendants of these returnees and those who had always remained in the land are the people we meet in the New Testament. Of the entire New Testament, only Luke makes mention of a descendant of the ten northern tribes - Anna of the tribe of Asher. [Luke 2:36]
Luke's purpose in mentioning "the house of Jacob" and Anna the prophetess of the "tribe of Asher" [Luke 2:36] is to reinforce the memory that Messianic promises were made to the entire people of Israel - all twelve tribes. We will see when we come to a future commentary on Apostolic Succession why this is important.
to be continued...
Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum...
The Gospel of Luke : Part I
As we discovered in the previous commentaries on the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth, here, here and here, there is absolutely no justification for asserting that the doctrine is based on either Isaiah 7:14, or on the Gospel of Matthew. Now we will see if there is any justification for asserting that the doctrine is based on the Gospel of Luke.
Luke begins his gospel by assuring Theophilus that he has done his research...that he has “investigated everything carefully from the beginning.”
As we shall presently see, one of the most important of his discoveries is that he has verified the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. This is, for him, a cause of great celebration. He can demonstrate that Jesus has a claim by right of birth to sit on the earthly throne of David.
Luke first sets out to prove to Theophilus his claim to have investigated everything carefully from the beginning by describing the circumstances surrounding the birth of John the Baptist. He establishes his credentials by going into great detail about the priest Zacharias, even going so far as to identify Zacharias as belonging to the priestly “course of Abia.”
One of Luke's major purposes here is to identify Zacharias' wife Elizabeth as “one of the daughters of Aaron.” Thus, husband and wife both belong to the tribe of Levi.
He is laying the groundwork, painting an intimate and detailed picture of a priestly family, so that when he goes on to describe the events in Nazareth, Mary will appear no stranger to Theophilus: as a “suggenes” (tribal kin) of Elizabeth, she will fit neatly into the framework he has already set out.
The crucially important fact that Mary was of the tribe of Levi has been completely overlooked by theologians intent on promulgating the doctrine of Virgin Birth. These theologians, knowing that the New Testament states many times that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and of the “seed of David,” and knowing that Joseph is not the father of Jesus, erroneously assert that it is through Mary that Jesus can claim Davidic sonship.
Luke's infancy narrative lays particular emphasis on Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish Messianic promises, as we can clearly see in the Canticles of Mary, Zachariah and Simeon, and in the response of Anna the "prophetess." (Note that the emphasis on David and Israel and the frequent mention of "our fathers" rule out the assertion that these hymns of praise in Luke were originally products of a Gentile Christian community.)
It is therefore ludicrous to assert that he would attempt to portray Jesus as a descendant of David through the matrilineal line, a totally invalid proposition as tribal affiliation and family genealogy could only be traced through the patrilineal line.
Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias, had been regarded as barren but had conceived a child and was six months pregnant when the angel appeared to Mary.
"Now in (Elizabeth's) sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin (parthenos) betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary."
Luke testifies that, at this time, Mary was a "parthenos." (In ancient Greek usage, a "parthenos" is just an unmarried woman, whether she be a physical virgin or not.)
Whether Mary was a physical virgin or not, however, it is of critical importance to realise that there had, as yet, been no conception. That Jesus was not conceived until some indeterminate time after the angel's departure is confirmed in 2:21.
"When eight days were fulfulled for circumcising him, his name was called Jesus, which was so called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb."
Luke, writing these words to Theophilus, having no personal knowledge but having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, nevertheless was able to specify that the conception took place after the Annunciation. Perhaps because the early church was male-dominated, it seems to have completely escaped attention that every young woman is a virgin before she first has a sexual relationship. It also seems to have escaped attention that Mary was the only person who could possibly know these intimate details, therefore Luke's source derived in whatever chain of transmission from Mary herself.
"And he came in to her, and said, Hail: You are highly favoured, the Lord be with you."
Note that it was the same Gabriel who told Daniel that he was also highly favoured (Dan. 9:23, 10:11,12,19). "The Lord be with you" was a standard form of Jewish greeting.
"But she was greatly troubled at the saying and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be.
"And the angel said unto her, 'Fear not Mary for you have found favour with God: And behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bring forth a son and shall call his name Jesus.'"
At first, we are told that Mary could not understand the angel's greeting for, unlike Zacharias, she had made no supplication to God.
"He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High."
The Sons of God
The disciples expected the Messiah to be born from the seed of David the King. The term Son of God designated a human being especially related to God and imbued with God’s spirit. That it would in future come to imply the “divinity” of Jesus would have been profoundly shocking to the disciples, or to any Jew. Can we imagine that Judas knew he was betraying his God? Did the disciples believe that God was washing their feet at the Last Supper? Or when Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, did he think that that God was incapable of defending himself?
The concepts of Hebrew Sonship and Fatherhood must be the most misunderstood and misused in all of human history. To regard God as a Father and to naturally then be called a "Son of God" carries no suggestion whatsoever of "divinity." These related concepts were applied to the anointed kings of ancient Israel and to the whole House of Israel long before the time of Jesus:
"His name shall be Solomon . . . he shall build a house for My name and I will be a Father to him and he will be a son to Me." [ I Chron. 22:9-10]
"I will be his father, and he shall be my son." (II Sam. 7:12-17)
"You are my father, my God, the rock of my salvation.” (Psalm 89:26)
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1. See also Exodus 4:22)
And the appellations "son of God" and “son of the Most High" would be applied by Jesus himself to others:
"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God," and again: But love your neighbours and do them good, and lend, never despairing, and your reward shall be great, and you shall be sons of the Most High." (Matt. 5:9, Luke 6:35)
Adam is called the "son of God" because he was created in God's image (Luke 3:38; Acts 17:26-29).
Those followers of Jesus who have received the Holy Spirit are made "sons of God" and Jesus is the "firstborn of many brethren” (Rom 8:14-17; 29-30).
The author of Hebrew speaks explicitly of the many "sons of God" who are to come (Hebrews 2:10). For John, those who are united with Jesus become "children of God." (John 1:12-13).
In late 2nd Temple Jewish writings, a devout follower of God is said to be his "son." (Wisdom of Solomon 2:16-18; 5:5; Sirach 4:10). The patriarchs Noah, Lamech, and Shem are addressed as "my son" in 1 Enoch.
The essential difference between Jesus and all these other "sons of God" was that he was also the promised deliverer.
When the term "son of God" is used in reference to Jesus, it is synonomous with the term "Messiah" as we can see in Mark, John and Acts where the two concepts of "son of God" and "Messiah" are merged into the one person of Jesus, thus proving they are interchangeable terms in the New Testament.
"But Jesus was silent and made no reply. Then the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" (Mark 14:61)
“...so that you may believe that Jesus is the anointed (Messiah), the Son of God.” (John 20:31)
"And we bring you good tidings of the promise made unto the fathers, (the promise of a deliverer) that God hath fulfilled the same unto our children, in that he raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, 'Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee."(Acts 13:33)
Note that one of the creedal pillars is the assertion that Jesus is the “eternally-begotten son” of the Father. This single statement by Paul, that Jesus became the “only-begotten” son of the Father on the day of his resurrection, should be more than enough to consign the creedal formulations of “eternally begotten not made” to the rubbish bin of theology because there was a time before Jesus was “begotten.” To say that he was begotten from all eternity is a self-contradiction and absurd in the extreme. Eternity has no “beginning.” Sonship supposes time, generation and Father - time before the generation.
We read in Luke 2:48-50 about Mary and Joseph's search for Jesus
" 'What made you search?' he said. "Did you not know that I was bound to be in my Father's house?' But they did not understand what he meant."
Thus, Mary, who supposedly had undergone a virgin conception and the travail of child-birth, did not know what Jesus was talking about when he called YHVH his Father. Her amazement would be that a child born in such lowly circumstances would call God his Father. Such sentiments were reserved for the nation as a whole, or Kings.
The above evidence demonstrates that to regard God as a Father, and to thereby be called a "son of God" carries with it no implication whatsoever of "divinity." Any assertion to the contrary is to read texts according to the demands of Christian theology.
to be continued at Luke 1:32b...
Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum...
The Gospel of Matthew : Part II
Allusions to the theme of a Davidic Messiah were expressed repeatedly in the Hebrew Scriptures but the Second Book of Samuel, Chapter 7 verses 12-17 is undoubtedly the primary text upon which Jewish expectations of a Messiah of Davidic ancestry is based.
“And when your days be fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, which shall proceed out of your bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you: your throne shall be established forever. According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak to David.”
The three major elements of this text are:
1. The Davidic descent of the Messiah
2. The father-son relationship between God and the Messiah
3. The perpetual nature of the Davidic throne
Because the translators have been so remiss, I will supply the proper translation for them.
"The book of the generation(s) of Jesus Anointed, the son of David, the son of Abraham." (Matthew 1:1)
Within this single verse are contained several points of great significance to Jews.
Although it may seem strange to our modern perceptions, the unique religious and political character of ancient Israelite society mandated the keeping of genealogies. Genealogies were a testament to God's providential rule of history and defined a person's identity within the family and the tribe. By the time of Jesus, the two major genealogical registers considered most vital to maintain were those of the descendants of the kingly house of David and those of the priestly house of Levi.
Matthew's genealogy is similar to that given in Ruth 4:18-22 in that it is concerned with recording only the highlights of God's saving plan for Israel through the Davidic line.
When we read through the genealogy, verses 2-17, we see that it serves three major purposes:
To demonstrate God's salvation plan for Israel
By removing several generational steps which, for whatever reason, he considers unimportant to the story he is presenting, Matthew is able to construct a genealogy around the three great rise and fall periods of Israelite history: Captivity-Freedom; Freedom-Captivity; Captivity-Freedom.
To demonstrate that God's salvation plan has been achieved in the past through strange and unusual circumstances
If you refer back to the stories of the four women mentioned in Matthew's genealogy - Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba - you will find that all of them took decisive steps vital to the fulfillment of God's purposes for Israel, regardless of whether their actions had contravened normal social relationships or whether they were "outsiders" - non-Israelites.
For Israelites, the names of these women would have evoked memories of the inscrutable yet saving purposes of God, which have never been constrained by biology, social norms, or ethnicity. (See Ruth 4:17.)
To demonstrate that God's salvation plan has been achieved in the present through similarly strange and unusual circumstances
Unlike most other genealogies in the Hebrew Scriptures, Matthew mentions Jesus first, then switches to back Abraham and then down through the generations to Joseph. Jewish readers would have been immediately alerted to something not altogether regular.
Matthew has carefully prepared the ground for the two revelations of verse 18.
"Now the birth of Jesus Anointed was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Spirit."
Firstly, God is working out his present salvation plan through another woman, Mary, just as he did those four times previously through Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.
Secondly, Joseph is not the father of Jesus. Matthew knows that his readers will wonder why he has gone to considerable trouble to carefully construct and provide a genealogy only to then inform them that Jesus is not the son of Joseph. He also knows that his readers, his Jewish readers, will search back through the genealogy to find the answer, and they will find it and understand.
The contemporaries of Jesus, if they ever gave it more than a passing thought, believed that Jesus was the son of the parents who raised him - Joseph and Mary - but Matthew found it necessary to deny this common perception for a compelling reason that had absolutely nothing to do with a 'virgin birth.'
Write this man childless
So what is Matthew's compelling reason for denying Joseph's biological connection to Jesus? Well, in verse 11 we read:
"And Josias begat Jechonias1 and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon" (1:11).
The following passages in Jeremiah 22:24, 29-30 reveal to us why Matthew went to great pains to stress that Jesus was not the son of Joseph:
"As I live, says YHVH, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck you thence..."
"O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of YHVH. Thus says YHVH, Write you this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah."
Matthew's gospel was written for the purpose of convincing Jews that their expected Messiah had come, but before presenting Jesus' credentials for 'messiahship', however, Matthew had to demonstrate the fact, the prerequisite, that Jesus was not descended from David through Jeconiah, as was Joseph. Joseph was indeed a “son of David” but disinherited!
Matthew knows that Jesus is not the son of Joseph when he begins to construct his genealogy, yet he still prefaces his account by calling Jesus the "son of David." How is he able to have the Magi ask the question "where is he who was born King of the Jews..." with such superb assurance? Only a patrilineal descendant of King David would qualify to be called the "King of the Jews."
Matthew is certainly sure of the Davidic ancestry of Jesus, but how detailed was his information? As we will discover when we come to examine Luke's infancy narrative, more comprehensive information about the biological ancestry of Jesus was available to an earnest seeker like Luke, but the question of whether or not Matthew had access to this comprehensive information remains an open question. It is obvious that Matthew's infancy account is told from Joseph's point of view so Matthew's source originated, in whatever chain of transmission, from someone close to Joseph. Therefore, we would not expect Matthew's source to have access to the type of intimate information that could have originated only with Mary herself.
The Holy Spirit
Two passages from Matthew commonly adduced to support the virgin birth doctrine are 1:18 and 1:20:
"she was found with child of the Holy Spirit" (1:18)
"that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (1:20)
It is quite obvious in 1:20 that the 'Holy Spirit' does not refer to the manner of conception but to "that which is conceived in her."
A consistent theme of the Hebrew Scriptures is that the Spirit of God (the 'ruach ha-kodesh') is regarded as the agent of every human birth.
"The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life." (Job 33:4)
"So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife; and he went in to her, and YHVH gave her conception, and she bore a son." (Ruth 4:13)
"YHVH visited Sarah as he had said, and YHVH did to Sarah as he had spoken. Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son..." (Gen 21:1-2)
"YHVH visited Hannah, and she conceived..." (1 Samuel 2:21)
"And the man knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man with the help of YHVH." (Gen 4:1)
To use this theme in a 'particular' or 'exclusive' way only where it refers to Jesus is to make a mockery of the Scriptures and wrest the words of gospel writers into a meaning which they never intended.
One need only to consult Luke to appreciate just how insupportable it is to use these verses from Matthew to justify a 'virgin birth'. References to the workings of the Holy Spirit abound in Luke Chapters 1 and 2 e.g. John the Baptist was "filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb," (1:15) and a few months before John was born, his mother Elizabeth was "filled with the Holy Spirit." (1:41)
What's in a name?
In verse 21, we read:
"And she will bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus (Yeshua) because he will save his people from their sins."
It should be immediately apparent that the logical and causal relationship indicated by "because" is missing. It may be interesting to those Catholica members who participated in previous discussions on the question of Hebrew originals underlying our present Greek gospels to point out that this causal relationship is also missing in the Greek.
The Hebrew name Yeshua is a shortened form of Yehoshua, the name of the successor of Moses - Joshua. It is derived from YHVH and the Hebrew verb root yasha meaning to save or to deliver. Only on the basis of a Hebrew original is this logical and causal relationship between the name and the function explicit i.e. "you will call his name YHVH is our salvation because he will save..."
Note that the child was not named Immanuel. Again pointing to a Hebrew original is the fact that while the explanatory note providing the meaning of the name Immanuel (verse 23) has been translated into English according to English word order, the Greek preserves the original Hebrew word order - Immanu (with us) El (God).
The Corporate Personality
The Jewish religion, both past and present, is communal. In the words of the Jewish scholar Nicholas de Lange "To be a Jew means first and foremost to belong to a group, the Jewish people, and the religious beliefs are secondary, in a sense, to this corporate allegiance."2
Most Jewish prayers were, and still are communal, as we see in the "Our Father." An old Hasidic saying goes like this: "A prayer which is not spoken in the name of all Israel is no prayer at all." 3
Central to the idea of Hebraic community is the concept of the "corporate personality."4 From ancient times, the entire community, past, present and future, was considered to be one personality, as "a living whole, a single animated mass of blood, flesh and bones."
Even today, at Passover, modern Jews are required to think of themselves as personally taking part in the Exodus and receiving the Torah at Sinai.
Matthew draws on this Hebraic concept of the "corporate personality," in his presentation of Jesus.
Signs of Deliverance
Drawing on the meaning of Jesus' name, to save or to deliver, Matthew paints Jesus as recapitulating in his individual existence a selection of deliverance themed passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially those associated with Moses. For Matthew, Jesus is the representative Israelite, the one standing for the many, the corporate personality, the one who fulfills in his individual existence God's salvation plan for the whole people of Israel. Jesus is Israel: Israel is Jesus.
Discover Matthew's method for yourself by reading these passages from the Hebrew Scriptures in their original contexts:
Ch. 1:23 quoting Isaiah 7:14
Ch. 2:6 quoting Micah 5:2-5
Ch. 2:15 quoting Hosea 11:1
Ch. 2:18 quoting Jeremiah 31:15
Ch. 3:3 quoting Isaiah 40:3
Ch. 4:14 quoting Isaiah 9:1-2
One of the deliverance themed Scripture passages Matthew presents as being fulfilled in Jesus was the sign given to King Ahaz by the prophet Isaiah (Is. 7:14).
The one and only significance of Verse 1:23 is that it forms part of Matthew's overall presentation of Jesus as the representative Israelite.
The proponents of the virgin birth doctrine seem not to realise that Jews loved their own Scriptures and knew them intimately. Matthew was certainly not going to expose himself, and Jesus, to their ridicule by claiming the fulfillment of a non-existent virgin-birth prophecy. See the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth : Part 1 for a full discussion of this passage from Isaiah.
Jesus, as Matthew's representative Israelite, as the one standing for the many, as the corporate personality, can very obviously be no different in any essential respect from his fellow Israelites.
There is absolutely no justification for asserting that the doctrine of the virgin birth is based on the Gospel of Matthew. To do so is to utterly destroy Matthew's Jesus.
1. Jeconias is the Greek form of 'Jeconiah' (1 Chron. 3:16-17; Jer. 24:1), and 'Coniah' (Jer. 22:24,28; 37:1).
2. Nicholas De Lange, Judaism, Oxford University Press, New York, 1986, p. 4.
3. Martin Buber, ed., Ten rungs: Hasidic Sayings, Schocken Books, New York, 1947, p. 31.
4. H. Wheeler Robinson, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel, rev.ed, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1980, p. 28. Quotation from W. Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, 2nd ed, A.& C. Black, London, 1894, pp. 273-74.
Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum...
The Gospel of Matthew Part I
Note: I had intended to present the Gospel of Matthew as Part II of the Virgin Birth Doctrine but before getting too far into the New Testament, I find it necessary to preface my commentary with some brief introductory remarks so the following will serve as Part I of the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew begins by telling us his purpose in writing his account of the life of Jesus. It is firstly to present the genealogy of "Jesus Christ". We often pass over the term "Jesus Christ" without according it proper attention.
We know that the word Christ is the English term for the Greek Χριστός (Khristós). It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Mashiach) meaning "Anointed one".
Why is the word Khristós never translated into English? In the case of proper names like Jesus, a Latin/English transliteration of the Greek Iēsou, we should of course adhere as closely as possible to the original but Khristós is not a proper name: it is a descriptive title.
In every case in the Hebrew Scriptures, Mashiach is translated into English as "anointed". In the New Testament, however, where it refers to Jesus, its Greek equivalent Khristós is left untranslated and simply Anglicised? Why?
This deceptive measure has caused millions of Christians to believe, even today, that "Jesus Christ" is a double-barrelled name. But imagine what would have happened if the translators had done their job properly and the Greek word Khristós had been properly translated into English as "anointed".
The words "Jesus Christ" invite no question, but the words "Jesus anointed" immediately pose a question for the reader — anointed by whom and for what purpose? Translators have successfully masked the premise upon which every book of the New Testament is based.
Every time the word "Christ" appears as a descriptor of Jesus, the writer is affirming his belief that Jesus is the anointed one of God, the Hebrew Messiah.
If the term had been translated into English we would not be using phrases like "the total Christ" or "the cosmic Christ": we would instead be using phrases like "the total Anointed one" or "the cosmic Anointed one", again posing the question that should have been asked all along — anointed by whom and for what purpose?
Some theologians and biblical scholars assert that Paul used the word "Christ" as a name. If we translate it into English, however, we see that Paul was calling Jesus the "Anointed one", which is merely a shorthand way of referring to the man he at other times described more fully as the "Lord Jesus anointed".
This type of assertion deflects attention away from the fact that just like all the other writers of the New Testament, Paul was stating his belief that Jesus was the Hebrew Messiah, the Anointed one of God. They conveniently ignore the fact that Paul is fully immersed in the history of his own people, that all his teachings are set within a Hebrew covenant framework, and that according to Paul, for Christians to be accepted into this covenant, they must first recognise Abraham as their "father".
All the New Testament writers regarded Jesus as the Anointed one, the Messiah, born of the "seed of David according to the flesh" as Paul himself states, and it is only by artificial contrivance and theological sophistry that the clear intent of all similar passages can be ignored.
These theologians and biblical scholars are reluctant to fully grasp the implications arising from New Testament claims about the Hebrew Messiahship of Jesus, and they have an excellent reason for so doing. The reason is extremely simple — nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures is there a single hint that the Messiah was to be anything other than a normal man anointed by God to be his instrument of intervention in human affairs.
(As far as non-canonical sources are concerned, it is asserted that in works such as 1 Enoch there were expectations of a divine, pre-existent Messiah but these assertions are merely the result of reading Jewish texts through the lens of Christian theology. See James VanderKam1 for full discussion of 1 Enoch.
As I wrote in one of my precursor posts on the Catholica Forum to this series, Great Expectations, "...by the time of Jesus, a great majority of the 'simple' people awaited the promised Messiah of the house of David who would deliver them from the tribulations of the Roman yoke and establish God's Kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness in its place." The Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) is a magnificent encapsulation of the hopes of the Jewish people.
As we can see from all the above, in the very first words of the New Testament, Matthew affirms that Jesus is the Anointed one of God, the Hebrew Messiah. The ramifications of New Testament affirmations such as this have been simply ignored by vast numbers of theologians and biblical scholars during these many centuries.
The New Testament writers state over and over again that the Jewish Jesus is the Messiah according to the Hebrew Scriptures. If so, then it follows naturally that non-Jewish, Hellenist-inspired doctrines such as the Virgin-Birth/Incarnation/Trinity are simply not true, and are not to be found anywhere in the New Testament, as we shall presently see.
Note: Readers may like to refer back to my post in the Catholica forum on 7th June 2010, Great Expectations, for an overview of Hebrew Messianic Expectations in the time of Jesus.
1. James VanderKam, From Revelation to Canon: Studies in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature, Brill, 2002.
The propagation of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth by the Hellenist and Latin Fathers served two purposes:
For nigh on two thousand years, ecclesiastics and scholars have continued to assert, as did the Fathers, that the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus is based on the Bible.
As their evidence they quote:
In this Part 1, we will examine the first assertion.
At various times, Christian ecclesiastics and theologians of various stripes have asserted the following:
All of these assertions represent a mixture of error and confusion.
The sign given to Ahaz King of Judah by Isaiah the prophet (circa 730 BC)...
The context of Isaiah Chapter 7 is the threatened destruction of the House of David by the armies of Rezin King of Syria and Pekah King of Israel. Isaiah the prophet gives King Ahaz a sign of deliverance from these enemies. Chapter 7 verses 14-16 read:
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Curd and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. But before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you have a horror of shall be forsaken."
The Hebrew words of Verse 14 are taken from the Leningrad Codex B19A (L), dated 1008-1009 AD, as reproduced in Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia.
The literal translation is:
"Therefore · he will give · the Lord · himself · to you · a sign
Behold (hinneh) · the young woman (ha-almah) · is pregnant/will be pregnant(harah) · and is bearing/and bear · son · and she will call · his name · with us · God."
Isaiah's message to King Ahaz had nothing to do with the conception or birth of the child. The sign was about the length of time that would elapse before the House of David (Judah) would be delivered from its enemies. The child Immanuel soon to be born would function as a living 'clock' — he would be a physical reminder to the King that before the child reached the age of reason the threat posed by the kings Rezin and Pekah would cease. (Rezin and Pekah were subsequently killed. See II Kings 15:29-30 and 16:9.)
The word almah used here simply means a young woman of marriageable age whether or not she be a virgin. It is the feminine form of elem meaning a young man (of marriageable age). Even today in Modern Hebrew almah still means a young woman — "Miss...".
The crucial second part of Verse 14 is a verbless clause introduced by hinneh. Such clauses refer to the present or to the immediate future. Therefore the translation must be either:
"Behold, the young woman is pregnant and is bearing a son…"; or
"Behold, the young woman will be pregnant and bear a son…"
I prefer the latter translation as the child referred to here is obviously the same child born to Isaiah in Chapter 8. Note that the child is named Immanuel (God with us) by the mother in Chapter 7 to symbolise that God would be with the House of David in its struggle against the kings Rezin and Pekah, and then named Maher-shalal-hashbaz (the spoil speeds, the prey hastes) by the father and God in Chapter 8 to symbolise the impending destruction of these two kings by the King of Assyria. Isaiah goes on to say in 8:18 that:
"I and the children whom the LORD has given me shall be for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells in mount Zion." (Mention is made in 7:3 of another son of Isaiah, Shear-jashub.)
The name Immanuel has no special or extraordinary significance. (See Judges 6:12-13). It is no different to many other Hebrew names possessed of similar meanings: Boel (God is in him), Abijah (YHVH is my father), Zebadiah (Gift of YHVH), Ahijah (brother of YHVH), Elihu (God himself)!
What is important for us to take note of is that the child Immanuel of Isaiah 7:14 was a child born in Isaiah's own time.
The Hebrew Scriptures were eventually translated into Greek at some point between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC. This Greek version is commonly referred to as The Septuagint (LXX standing for the seventy scholars supposedly engaged upon the translation).
Without going into laborious detail, scholarly opinions vary widely as to the Septuagint's origin, its transmission, its textual integrity (especially the Book of Isaiah), whether it first included only the Torah, the dating of the first translation, and so on. Many excellent works on the subject are readily available.
The Greek Septuagint rendered the Hebrew word almah (young woman) of Isaiah 7:14 into the Greek word parthenos (virgin). The translation of this one single word has been a source of raging controversy ever since.
However, all these long centuries of dispute have really been quite pointless because parthenos had varied usage in ancient Greek and never carried the narrowly defined meaning of strictly physical virginity.
A girl could lose her virginity biologically, but not socially. If the sexual union was not sanctioned in official ways, then it was hidden in the eyes of society — it was officially non-existent.
The Septuagint itself in Gen: 34:2-4 twice describes Dinah after her rape by Shechem as a parthenos and the word was also used in classical Greek literature to refer to women who had not retained their virginity biologically e.g. Homer, Iliad 2.514; Pindar, Pythian Odes 3.34; Sophocles, Trachiniae 1219; Aristophanes, Clouds 530.
But over and above all the foregoing semantic disputes is the central issue that the book of Isaiah is a Jewish book reflecting Jewish thought. The concept of a virgin birth is utterly alien to Jewish thought. It was alien to Isaiah, it was alien to the Jews of the New Testament, it is alien to Jews now and always will be.
An important observation to be made from all the above is that if Isaiah did indeed prophesy a virgin birth for Jesus, as Christian scholars assert, then that particular manner of being born applied equally to the child Immanuel born in Isaiah's own time. Thus they are faced with a profound theological problem — two virgin births!
In the next commentary, we will examine the assertion that evidence for the doctrine of the Virgin Birth can be found in the Gospel of Matthew.
 Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, 1983.
 Brown, Driver and Briggs, eds. Gesenius, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, Oxford University Press, London, 1968.
Very soon after the apostolic age, Christianity began to embrace anti-Jewish ideas and doctrines. Until relatively modern times, the Jewish nature of the New Testament documents went unrecognised because of Christian ignorance of Jewish thought.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Christians have always had little or no awareness of the Jewish roots of their faith, as the photo below demonstrates. This photo, courtesy of Yad Vashem, depicts the crucified Jesus looking in the direction of a sign which reads "Jews not welcome here." The photo was taken somewhere in Germany in the 1930's, still within the living memory of a few, which makes it all the more disturbing.
However, a new and searching light began to penetrate into the dark recesses of this millennial ignorance soon after the Second World War.
If the Holy Spirit of Truth, a thoroughly Jewish concept, is indeed present in this modern world, then it was instrumental in bringing about the two greatest sources of knowledge contributing to our understanding of Jesus and of the New Testament, since the New Testament was first written - the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the adoption of Modern Hebrew as the official language of the State of Israel.
Astoundingly, these two sources of knowledge became available at the same time - 1947 and 1948. Since the establishment of the State, New Testament scholars based at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem have acquired a conversational knowlege of Hebrew. This conversational knowledge of Hebrew makes it easier to see the Hebrew subtext behind the Greek copies of the gospels while study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and coinage of the period is making it increasingly clear that Hebrew was spoken and written among Jesus' contemporaries.
Nowhere in the ancient world was the written word more revered than amongst the Hebrews. For a classic example of this reverence, we need look no further than the Book of Jeremiah where we learn that as soon as the prophet received the word of God, his scribe Baruch committed it to writing.
The Jewish religion centered on the written Hebrew Scriptures, which Jews were, and still are, admonished to know and teach their children.
We know that 1st Century Jewish boys were taught Torah, and how to read Hebrew from an early age. [According to the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 42a), Jewish boys were taught the Shema, the foundational creed of Judaism, as soon as they could speak.]
We know from the Gospels that many who had gathered around Jesus were priests, professional scribes, theologians, and religious scholars.
We know that Jesus himself could certainly read, quote, interpret and debate the Hebrew Scriptures with these priests, professional scribes, theologians and scholars.
We know that the disciples interpreted and defended their views of written Scripture.
We know that the titulus was placed in a position where it could be read by "many" Jews.
Yet, in the educated environment of Jerusalem, with its abundance of written literature, its reverence for the written word, and the presence of the aforementioned priests, scribes, theologians, and religious scholars, their modern counterparts would have us believe that no one committed to writing the words of him who some believed to be no less that the awaited Davidic Messiah.
Well, we need believe the assertions of these modern theologians no longer because hidden from view all this time, as if waiting to be revealed at the appropriate time, we now discover that the Greek gospels are full of Hebrew idioms, Hebrew thought patterns, Hebrew literary devices and Hebrew syntactical structures. Indeed, sections contain such slavishly transparent transliterations that they can only be based on Hebrew originals. These sections are mainly those which record the words of Jesus and those of his opponents. Luke's gospel is the most remarkable in this regard. The evidence is now overwhelming that the sayings of Jesus and those of his opponents were taken down at the time of their utterance, in the language in which they were uttered, in the place in which they were uttered.
The good news for Christians is that because these translations of the Hebrew words of Jesus have been rendered into Greek with such scrupulous attention and care, we can have a high degree of confidence in the fidelity of the gospel authors. We can therefore have a high degree of confidence that the words of Jesus have been faithfully transmitted to us.
Accordingly, the bad news for most theologians and biblical scholars is that we can no longer have confidence in their views. By continuing to assert that the gospels were only committed to writing after a period of long, oral transmission in a language and culture far removed from their original Jewish context, they stand opposed to the rising tide of knowledge and understanding.
However, these scholars do not stand against new knowledge and increased understanding without good reason. That reason is a residue of deep dislike for Jewish thought, widely regarded as narrow-minded, exclusive and legalistic, as opposed to Greek thought, widely regarded as spiritual, cosmic, and universal.
However, no personal and philosophical preference will alter the inescapable fact that the New Testament is not based on Greek thought but on Jewish thought.
At a very early stage, Christianity cut itself off from the tree onto which it was grafted, and it remains cut off to this day. However, because knowledge is no longer the exclusive preserve of ecclesiastics and academics, and because of the rapid pace of its dissemination, we now see all too clearly that the Christian age, characterised more by war, hatred and division than by love, peace and unity, is soon to die.
The Spirit of Truth, which I repeat is a thoroughly Jewish concept, is abroad and cannot be stopped. Unless Christianity returns to its Jewish roots, re-grafts itself onto the tree from which it sprang, it's sickness is terminal.
When the major doctrines of orthodox Christianity centred upon Jesus are examined, and we compare them with the Jewish meaning of the texts on which they are supposedly based, we will find that these doctrines have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus the Jew or with original Jewish Christianity. Worse than that, we will find that they distort and misrepresent the central redemptive theme of the Bible from start to finish.
In fact, if it had been deliberately determined by someone or something, right from the beginning, to destroy everything that Jesus was born, lived and died for, then the outcome could not have been more desirable for that someone or something.
"Consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you." [Romans 11:18b]
The religion of Jesus
Jesus was not only a Jew by accident of time and place but he was also a Jew by faith, by temperament and by spirit, an apocalytic teacher who observed Torah, frequented Temple and synagogue, and kept the Jewish religious festivals, a Jew bent on the uniquely Jewish business of preaching the coming Kingship of God.
Jesus spoke always from within the Jewish religion, not once abandoning the faith of his ancestors. His teachings, like those of his followers, reflect a distinctive ethnicity and culture.
Jesus fully identified with the Hebrew Scriptures. He garnered spiritual support in his battle with temptation by quoting three times from the book of Deuteronomy. He began his public ministry by quoting from the Book of Isaiah. He and his followers referred to the Hebrew Scriptures as the "word of God" and quoted from many of its books and from every major division [Tanakh - Torah, Prophets, Sacred Writings].
Jesus taught radical obedience to God and a new way of living. He did not come to abolish the Law of Moses but to add the new commandment of love to the Law, to "fulfill" it. Jesus did not come to call his people out of their religion but to inspire them to take its precepts to heart because the time of reckoning was near. He did not preach future change in some otherworldly place but advocated change in this world of the here and now.
The preferred teaching method of Jesus was the parable. His parables have similar themes and similar structures to those of other great Jewish sages. Indeed, as Brad Young has argued in Jesus and his Jewish Parables,1 without a familiarity with rabbinic parables, it is difficult to fully understand gospel parables. Young's study of Jesus's parables further demonstrates just how close Jesus was to his own people and to the religious thought of his day.
The Lord's Prayer [Matt. 6:9-13] is thoroughly Jewish and, as Samuel Sandmel said: "could readily have appeared without change in Rabbinic literature." 2
When Jesus was asked what the foremost commandment was, he answered according to the Hebrew Scriptures just as an observant Jew would:
"The first is: Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." [Mark 12:28-31].
The first commandment consists of The Shema, the foundational statement of the Jewish religion, and is taken from Deuteronomy 6:4:
"Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is One."
The second part is taken from Deuteronomy 6:5:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."
The second commandment echoed that of that other great Jewish sage Hillel who was still teaching at the time of Jesus' birth. Both men, Hillel and Jesus, drew on Leviticus 19:18:
"Love your neighbour as yourself."
The author of Luke takes particular pains to present the life of Jesus as thoroughly informed and characterised by the Jewish religion: from the day when his parents present him to the Temple to fulfill the Law of Moses, until the day of the crucifixion when Luke provides a wonderful insight into Jesus the observant Jew by recording Jesus' cry from the cross which, even today, is part of a standard Jewish deathbed confession:
"Into your hand I commit my spirit." [Psalm 31:5].
The life of Jesus, both in word and deed, set an example for man that by universal emulation had the potential to change the world, but that potential was very soon diverted and distorted into a form of Christianity which indoctrinated its believers with anti-Jewish thought and anti-Jewish doctrines.
A wholesale ignorance and disregard of Jesus' self-identification with the Jewish religion and the Jewish people persisted from the post-apostolic age until modern times. Before the Enlightenment, no one even considered the possibility that when Paul said that all Israel will be saved [Rom. 11:26], he referred not to the Christian Church but to the Jews.
As recently as the early 20th Century, the German Assyriologist and Semitist Freidrich Delitzsch not only denied the Jewish origins of Christianity but went so far as to claim that Jesus was a Gentile.
This failure to recognise or understand the fact that Jesus was committed to his Jewish religion, and to his fellow Jews, has had profound consequences both for Jews and for Christians.
For an example of the anti-Jewish, supersessionist triumphalism endemic to Christianity I chose this statement made by Cardinal Michael Faulhaber in 1934 because he ordained the current Pope Benedict XVI in Freising Cathedral on June 29, 1951.
In his 1934 book, Judaism, Christianity and Germany, Faulhaber tried to distance himself from the Jewish people and at the same time justify the inclusion of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Christian Canon by saying that:
"By accepting these books [Hebrew scriptures] Christianity does not become a Jewish religion. These books were not composed by Jews; they are inspired by the Holy Ghost, and therefore they are the word of God, they are God's books. The writers of them were God's pencils, the psalmsingers were harps in the hand of God, the prophets were announcers of God's revelation...
"We must acknowledge that the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament have contributed material a great permanent value for the construction of the social order for all time. Social activity has assument a different form in matters of detail, for example in legislation for the poor or in the administration of justice, but its fundamental ideas are these universal values for civilisation which come to us as a priceless heritage from the sacred books of pre-Christian Judaism. This wealth of thought is so unique among the civilised nations of antiquity that we are bound to say: People of Israel, this did not grow in your garden of your own planting. This condemnation of usurious land-grabbing, this war against the oppression of the farmer by debt, this prohibition of usury, is not the product of your spirit." 3
Statements such as this made in 1934 would go on to bear terrible fruit, as we all know. Unless this age-old attitude of mind typified by the Catholic Church is kept firmly in the forefront of memory we cannot hope to guard against history repeating itself. Anti-Semitism is once more on the rise, especially in Europe, and the Catholic Church for one appears to be lapsing into frighteningly familiar ways, if recent developments are any indication. For instance, all the Church's empty gestures and sanctimonious mouthings give the lie to her actions in pushing the canonisation of Pope Pius XII and in recently re-communicating the holocaust-denying Bishop of the Society of St Pius X. These actions cause distress to the Jewish people generally and make it abundantly clear that the Church's attitude to them remains essentially as it always has been - one of contempt.
Even in the field of biblical scholarship and even though the majority of biblical scholars, both Christian and Jewish, today strongly support the Jewish background to the life and teachings of Jesus, some are unwittingly adopting anti-Jewish positions which go largely unrecognised as such because they take subtle and indirect forms.
One such form is that modern biblical scholarship now favours "demythologizing" the Gospels thus robbing them of their Jewish content in the process. For example, we now often hear of the "myth" of the Virgin Birth as if the New Testament teaches such a preposterous idea. The very concept of a Virgin Birth is antithetical to everything biblical. It is anti-Jewish.
When Luke compiled his genealogy, it was not to record a Virgin Birth but to record Jesus' right to "sit on the throne of his father David." To relegate Luke's account of Jesus' birth to the realms of "myth" is to strip it of its thoroughly Jewish content and destroy its connection with previous Jewish history.
The Christian Church was meant to be built upon the foundation of the Jewish apostles and the Jewish prophets with the Jewish Jesus as the chief cornerstone [Ephesians 2:20] so this challenging question posed by Abraham Heschel should give Christians reason to pause and think:
"The vital question for the Church is to decide whether to look for roots in Judaism and consider itself an extension of Judaism, or to look for roots in pagan Hellenism and consider itself the antithesis of Judaism." 4
No, I'm not suggesting that we should all convert to Judaism but Heschel's question nevertheless pinpoints the essential choice facing Christians. As Christians, it is important to keep in mind at all times that the election of Israel was never abolished and that Christianity is part of the people of God only by virtue of its engrafting into the Olive Tree of Israel.
Attempting to make the New Testament more palatable to the modern mind by "spiritualising" its content, by casting doubts on its veracity, by relegating part or all of it to the mythological, and by tinkering with the immature and the unbelievable, will do absolutely nothing to rescue the Christian churches.
Jesus preached radical transformation to his contemporaries at a pivotal point in their history. At this pivotal point in our history, the Christian churches must rebuild themselves on the foundation of the Jewish apostles and the Jewish prophets, with the Jewish Jesus as the chief cornerstone, or face certain doom.
1 Jesus and his Jewish Parables: Rediscovering the roots of Jesus' teaching, Brad H Young, Paulist Press, 1989.
2 Judaism and Christian Beginnings, Samuel Sandmel, New York, Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 358.
3 Judaism, Christianity, and Germany, His Eminence Cardinal Michael Faulhaber, Archbishop of Munich,Translated by Rev. George D Smith, Macmillan, NEW YORK, 1934.
4 The Insecurity of Freedom, Abraham J Heschel, New York, Schocken Books, 1972, pp. 169-70.