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.