JC Studies Blog

Updated: Jan 20


My premise is simply this: the restoration to Jewish roots in the Christian community is a call to maturity. It is time to grow up by building upon sure foundations.


The teaching of the apostles and prophets is the church's foundation, and Messiah Jesus is the cornerstone. This Jewish rabbi started his church, consisting entirely of Jewish believers, receiving its spiritual birthing with the Holy Spirit's coming on a Jewish festival, Pentecost (Shavu'ot).

I made my first journey up to Jerusalem so many years ago, and it changed the course of my life. I am blessed and enriched by the work of scholars like David Bivin, Marvin Wilson, and those of the Jerusalem School for Synoptic Research. Having been in this kind of study and research now for many years, I feel one thing more strongly than ever.

By connecting disciples of Jesus to their Jewish roots, God is urgently leading people back to the foundations of their faith. He wants us to be faithful.


Connecting with our Jewish roots should not be a faddish thing, and I hope it never deteriorates to that; there is always that danger with new things. We think because we put on a head covering (kippah) or wear a prayer shawl (tallit), or know some Hebrew words, we are getting back to our Hebraic heritage.


In my judgment, to return to the origins of Christianity—to connect with our Jewish roots—is a quest to become more like the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. We aim to become conformed to his image in ways more accurately than we would have done otherwise.


As a wise preacher once observed, you must know two things to get to your destination: where you are going and from where you are leaving. It doesn't do much good to look at a map and find your destination if you don't know your departure point.

My approach is to examine our point of departure (in both a positive and a negative sense) in order to have a better idea of how to get to the place prepared for us. That destination, I believe, is not the world to come; that is our reward. No, our destination in this life is to get to the appointed place of blessing, of productive living and ministering in the kingdom of God. All for the sake of and to the glory of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

To that end, it is beneficial to know how the church was established. In other words, its departure point. And it is also helpful to see where the ecclesiastical church sometimes disconnected from its biblical roots so that we can reconnect, and as Paul says, share in the nourishing root of the olive tree (Romans 11:17).


I want to share some thoughts about what I believe the essence of the restoration to our Hebraic heritage is all about. My text is Ezra 7:10, which has become a personal life-scripture for me. It reflects the very heart of our Lord, and therefore the very heart of Jewish roots—the call and commission to study, to do, and to teach.


For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law (Torah) of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.


When we recognize that Jesus was part of the dynamic world of Israel's first-century society, then it is self-evident that we are dealing with a Jewish teacher (rabbi). He spoke Hebrew, was brilliant in his exposition of the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh), and was extraordinarily effective in teaching and making disciples.


Did you know there is a course taught at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on the Jewish background to the Sermon on the Mount? It is one of the best examples of Jewish instruction in the first-century.


In the act of teaching the Torah, Yeshua was really not an exception to the norm of his first-century world. During the second temple period, especially beginning in the third century BC, Judaism was preoccupied with the study of the Hebrew Scriptures (Talmud Torah). It represented the heartbeat and way of life for the Jewish society in which Jesus was fully immersed.


Talmud Torah means more than merely looking at or acquiring information about Scripture. It is more than just a search or quest for knowledge. It is ultimately an intense yearning for the very presence of God.


A beautiful Jewish commentary (midrash) tells how God came down on Mount Sinai, wrapped himself in a prayer shawl (tallit), sat down, and taught his disciple Moses. The word torah comes from the root yarah, which means to throw or shoot something straight to hit the mark, the target. Conversely, chet is the main word for sin in the Hebrew lexicon, and it has the idea of missing the mark.


In a word, torah is teaching.

Though torah is translated as law, it means more than what law means to us in English today. The Torah is guidance and direction, instruction and training. Yes, it contains commandments, but even those are instructive. Yahweh was a teacher, and therefore when his son Yeshua came, he came as a teacher. He was carrying on in the tradition of his Father!

Messiah Jesus came to teach us words that would bring us into life, and in the study of those words, we become his disciples — we come into the knowledge of the truth that sets us free to begin the journey with him.


At its best, Talmud Torah in the first century was an act of devotion; it was a form of prayer, a way of drawing near to God. As in all things, we see our Lord Jesus leading the way for us in this. Though he was the Word of God made flesh, he sought to know and make known the Father through studying, living, and teaching his words of life.


As his followers, would that we had a mind to do the same.

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore his audio seminars.


As we wrap up this in-depth study of the Akedah, we are reflecting on how deeply connected it was to sin, sacrifice, and atonement in Jewish thought and tradition.


I just gave you an example of this, how the sages made a connection between Isaac’s binding and the morning and evening sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple. Here are two more examples.

In the Autumn, during the Feast of Trumpets, also known as Rosh Hashanah, the ram’s horn (shofar) is sounded to remind Israel of the sacrifice God provided for Isaac. Significantly, the Torah portion read during this holy season is Genesis 22.


The shofar represents the ram substituted for Isaac. During these ten Days of Awe culminating in the solemn Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)—when Israel is being judged for their sins, and their fate hangs in the balance—they ask God to remember his oath to Abraham. Here is a prayer from the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.

“Be mindful of Abraham O Lord, of Abraham’s binding of his son Isaac on the altar, how he suppressed his compassion in order to perform your will wholeheartedly. In the same way, may your compassion overcome your anger toward us, and on behalf of Abraham’s posterity may you O Lord this day recall with compassion the binding of Isaac.”


The Akedah was also associated in Jewish thinking with the Passover, though more before the Temple’s destruction than afterward. The Book of Jubilees, written around 150 BC, says the ram substituted for Isaac prefigured the Passover lamb. The saving merits of the blood applied to the doorpost drew specifically from Abraham and Isaac’s obedience.


Notice the same sequence in Exodus as in the Akedah, God saw, and he provided. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. - Exodus 12:23


The blood applied on the three sides of the doorpost was to remind Israel of their sin. But it was also calling to mind that once before, during the time of testing, this same God saw and provided for their father, Abraham. This is why every Jewish father is called upon to dedicate his firstborn son to the LORD. How does he do that? By redeeming him with a sacrifice.

You can see the powerful impact of Abraham and Isaac’s actions on the biblical thinking of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus and the early church. The connections with the Passover lamb, the ram’s horn, and the Temple sacrifices give us much to ponder concerning the Messiah’s saving work. Everything points to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And to his blessing given in the grace of both promise and pledge at the place of testing.


How do you and I receive that blessing?


Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. - Galatians 3:7-9


It is breathtaking to see how Paul, in his theological thinking, has put all this together as part of God’s plan. When God’s Son appeared on the holy mountain as the Lamb of God, he did so as the means for fulfilling the blessings to Abraham on Mt. Moriah. As Israel’s Messiah, he bore upon himself all the curses they had brought upon themselves due to disobedience.


And that goes for us Gentiles as well. Jesus bore all the curses you and I bring upon ourselves because of sin so that the pledge given to Abraham might come to fruition in us—indeed to all of Israel. He reconciled Jew and Gentile together that we may receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.

It all goes back to Genesis 22.


Messiah Jesus, as Abraham’s seed, is the one by whom the nations are blessed. Because of Abraham and Isaac’s faithfulness, you and I receive that blessing.


Let’s close with another important idea from Paul. Perhaps he had Isaac in mind when he wrote, I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. - Romans 12:1

The consensus of Jewish tradition is that Isaac was over thirty years old in Genesis 22. That means on Mt. Moriah, Isaac put himself on the altar; he was cooperating. It was not something his father could have forced him to do.


Why then, ask the sages, does Abraham have to bind him? Because, they say, Isaac was so concerned not to dishonor his father and profane the name of God. As he lay upon the altar, he says, ‘Father, please bind my hands and my feet lest at the moment I see the knife I flinch, and thereby injure myself or injure you, and disqualify myself as an unblemished sacrifice.’


We all face tests. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to bind yourself wholly to God and the sanctity of his name; to faithfully follow him, even to the point of giving up precious things in your life should he ask. In Messiah Jesus, you are saved and have an eternal destiny. That is not the issue. What I am saying is that there are blessings for obedience; there are rewards for sacrifice.


Will you pledge yourself to be like Abraham and Isaac?


As you yield to and cooperate with the indwelling Spirit of Jesus, he is working powerfully through you to bless others.


This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore his audio seminars.


And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you [...].” - Genesis 22:15-17


This is one of the most important texts in all of the Torah regarding God’s covenant relationship with Israel.


El Shaddai had already initiated and established a covenant relationship with Abraham by grace alone. It was an unconditional gift that did not depend upon performance. Here he joins to the covenant his oath, his pledge; it too is unconditional and everlasting.


Notice this double emphasis, “By myself,” the Lord declares, “I swear an oath to you Abraham.” God reaffirms his promise to bless Abraham, but this time with language never used before in the covenant’s previous expressions. By his very being, he swears a solemn oath, united irrevocably and inseparably to his eternal covenant.


“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” - Genesis 22:17-18


Abraham demonstrated an extraordinary level of commitment and faithfulness to God, even willing to lose the very promises he had given him. As a reward for his obedience, God adds to everything he has already said, swearing an oath by his own being.


Obedience has rewards.


There is no false dichotomy here between law and grace, between grace and works—all those Protestant problems with which we wrestle. God’s grace is joined with Abraham’s faith resulting in something with implications for the whole world, even today. When God swears an oath, he keeps his word. Hallelujah!


Because Abraham gave his only son, God prospers his seed, and he becomes the father of many sons and daughters. Because Abraham was faithful, his offspring will be fruitful, numerous, victorious, and influential.


As Protestants, we are conditioned to read the biblical narrative exclusively as one of sin and redemption. We are taught it is the theme that connects the Bible. (For more on this, check out my series, How Do You Read the Bible?)


Please don’t misunderstand me. Sin and redemption is a crucial motif but as a subset of a much bigger picture. That bigger picture is one of blessing and consummation. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has to deal with sin by way of redemption to get you to a place where he can bless you and consummate his purposes with you and with all the works of his hands.


He has a plan that affects not only you but the very universe which eagerly awaits the great day of consummation. The lion, the lamb, the adder will all be changed, as will you and I, and the glory of the God of Abraham will be visible through all the earth. Like Abraham and Isaac, we must perceive with eyes of faith. One day, every eye will see, and every tongue will confess that there is but one God and one Lord Jesus the Messiah.


Our obedient responses to God’s grace contribute to his ends.


Here is something extraordinarily profound to me. Although it does not explicitly say so, I see in Romans another allusion to the Akedah. It is a wonderful text, and I want to show you some things about it.


What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? - Romans 8:31-32


Paul is alluding here to Abraham offering up his son, his only son whom he loves. God, like Abraham, offered up but did not spare his only son. Paul observes that if he did that, how much more will he bless you. In light of all this, here is a penetrating question.


Why do we struggle so much to accept that our Father wants to bless us in the intimacy of a covenant relationship in Jesus?


Here is another significant point. Contextually in Romans, Paul goes on to say, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Where did he get those ideas, and why did he use those particular phrases?


Paul is so immersed in Scripture that he hardly says something that does not have some allusion or reference to the Hebrew text. (For more on this, get my series on the great apostle). We find all of these terms listed in chapters 27 and 28 of Devarim (Deuteronomy). These chapters deal with both the blessings and the curses of the covenant.


Hold that thought for a moment, and let me press your minds even further.


In Jewish teaching, long before the Christian era began, the Akedah was considered the basis for temple sacrifices.


In the morning and again in the evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the Jerusalem Temple. The sages of Israel considered them (the tamid) as a re-enactment of the Akedah. Why? Because it was on that very mountain that Abraham offered up his son. In perpetual memory of Abraham’s faith and God’s mercy, sacrifices were offered on that same mountain, in the house of the LORD.


These morning and evening offerings were viewed as a liturgical commemoration of what had happened on that mountain so long ago. And this is the point I want you to see. They were to call to mind God’s pledge to Abraham for two reasons: so that in like manner his people would be faithful, and so that in his mercy, God would remember and spare Israel from being punished for her sins.


Even today, during times of fasting and distress, one of the traditional Jewish prayers recited says, “May he who answered Abraham on Mt. Moriah answer you and hearken this day to the sound of your cry.”


All of this is part of Paul’s theological matrix evidenced in Romans 8, and this is why he writes so specifically to us in Galatians concerning what Jesus has done. Jesus has, by his sacrifice, freed us from the curses imposed upon us by the Torah due to our disobedience so that we might have favor with God. “If you are Messiah’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”


Paul sees the death of Yeshua, the Lamb of God, as a sin offering that bears the curses which come from the covenantal disobedience of Israel. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. - 2 Cor 5:21


The Son willingly took the sin of us all upon himself so that the Father’s intent to bless, evidenced by promise and pledge, could come to fruition. The Lamb of God bore the cross upon his shoulders precisely so that God could fulfill his promises to Abraham through his seed.


Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. - Galatians 3:13-14

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore his audio seminars.


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