Post Title: What the Apostles Knew
In Paul's letter to the Romans, he is addressing a historical church in Rome consisting of a large segment of Jewish believers in Jesus and an equally large segment of gentile believers. To those who are Jewish by birth and then came to faith in Jesus as Messiah, he has just explained how it is that all of these non-Jews have been joined into the family of God without taking on the commandments.
This is remarkable. Not that gentiles came to faith, there were many converts to Judaism in Jesus' day. Judaism itself in that period was very evangelistic (unlike today). It was unprecedented that these large numbers came into faith but were not taking on the commandments, the yoke of the law. And so Paul explains to them that these gentiles have come to God in the way that one has always come to him—by faith.
In chapters 9-11, Paul speaks directly to the gentile believers, Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles. It is true, he reasons, that God through his inscrutable purposes brought all of you former pagans into his family by grace through your faith in his faithfulness. But he cautions them not to be arrogant over those in the family of God who are of Jewish background (11:17-24).
Sad to say, the church has failed from the very beginning to heed Paul's direction. If there is one thing that the historical church has been towards the Jews and Israel, it is arrogant—it has boasted, looked down upon, and rejected them.
Paul provides us with a compelling visual image of a root and branches.
Paul says we gentiles believers are like wild olive branches that have sprung up (Rom 11:17). Someone has gathered and grafted them into a well-established tree whose root is the faith of the patriarchs and the prophets. We have been joined, by the mercies of God, to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).
Sharing the same root means there is a nourishing sap we can partake of, but often we do not. Why? Because the church has rejected its Jewish roots. Yet I have experienced and want you to know that this root provides nourishing sap which can enhance and expand your understanding of biblical faith.
The issue here is one of perspective. When you read and study the Word of God you develop a new perspective, one different from your own which was shaped by the world around you (Rom 12:1-2). The place to start—before we start Bible study—is an awareness that we come with a perspective.
The fact is you are reading in your native language. You bring a background and traditions that condition how you read.
As a teacher, I want you to know that I approach the Bible from a perspective the church has largely ignored and overlooked. It is what I call, the Hebraic perspective. It is, I believe, the worldview of Jesus and the early church. My method is to begin at the beginning. And what is the beginning? It is the first century in Israel, a time scholars call the second temple period.
We begin with a Jewish Messiah, a Jewish church, and Jewish apostles who wrote and compiled a Jewish New Testament. Utilizing trustworthy scholarship, we go back and try—as much as possible—to understand their worldview formed by their sense of who God is and what his purposes are in the world. And if we do this well, we can build upon it as the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom.
A Hebraic perspective can help us branches experience fresh nourishment from our roots.
I am calling this teaching Our Jerusalem Connection, the challenge of which is to recognize our roots are in the fertile soil of first-century Judaism. My premise is this: developing a Hebraic perspective enhances our understanding of Jesus and how he read, taught, and lived the Scriptures. In some cases, we might even find that this approach modifies or corrects our thinking, bringing it more in alignment with the biblical revelation.
Here are three essential categories that help us explore the implications and applications of our Jerusalem connection.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Is Our God
We started this meeting reciting what is called in Judaism the Shema. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut 6:4-5). Jesus combined Deut 6:4-5 with Lev 19:18 and describes them together as the great commandment.
Our Jerusalem connection reminds us that it is Yahweh who is our God and Father. Jesus himself says This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3). Paul, drawing upon the Greek language of the Septuagint, brilliantly responds to the Shema in 1 Cor 8:6. For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
The Jewish Messiah Is Our Lord
I want to remind you that Jesus had a divine appointment in Jerusalem set from the foundations of the earth. And before he went up to that appointment he wept—not for himself, but for Jerusalem. He loved Jerusalem. Even in his final moments on the way to Calvary, beaten and scourged by the Romans and at the point of death, his thoughts were turned to the city of the great king.
As some of the daughters of Jerusalem mourned and lamented he said to them, Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” This enigmatic saying is a remez, an allusion to the prophecy of Ezekiel 20 in which God is going to send a fire upon the south, upon Jerusalem. Weep, says the Messiah, for Jerusalem.
Our Hebraic Heritage in Jesus
This subject has been brilliantly discussed in what has become a classic, bestselling book, Our Father Abraham by Marvin Wilson. Dr. Marv points out that if we trace our heritage we must not begin at Wittenberg with the Protestant Reformation; nor with the church in Rome; nor Antioch. We must go all the way back to Jerusalem, the city of David and home of Israel's temple.
The church—of which we are a part—was birthed there in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was at this house of the LORD, on the Jewish festival of Pentecost (Shavuot), that the promised and prophetic Spirit of God was poured out upon believers in Jesus. It came to rest upon them—even as God by his glory came to rest upon Mount Sinai on Shavuot thousands of years before.
There are clear parallels of what happened at Sinai where God by his Spirit wrote upon tablets of stone, and what happened on Mt. Zion where the Spirit of the Lord wrote upon the hearts of Jesus' disciples. As grafted in branches we must remember that we, birthed in the power of the Holy Spirit, grow by his indwelling presence.
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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 over fifty of his audio and video seminars.