Vocabulary Matters

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If your life is not in jeopardy for what you believe, you’re probably on the wrong side!

An Introduction to the
Vocabulary Used on This Website[1]

by
Ari benLevi[2]
ThM, ThD, DMin, MBA, CNHP

Greek vs. HebrewTorahIsrael Gentile Jew/JewishMessianic
Christian/Christianity Church SynagogueBeliever
Messianic Community or Messianic Israel Must/Should/Have To
Personal Names

vocabulary, n. pl -laries

  1. all the words that a person knows

  2. all the words contained in a language

  3. the specialist terms used in a given subject

  4. a list of words in another language with their translations

  5. a range of symbols or techniques as used in any of the arts or crafts: the building's vocabulary of materials, textures, and tones[3]

matter(s), n.

1 a : a subject under consideration … d : the subject or substance of a discourse or writing

2 a : the substance of which a physical object is composed

intr.v. mat·tered, mat·ter·ing, mat·ters

To be of importance: “Love is most nearly itself/When here and now cease to matter” (T.S. Eliot).

As indicated by the title, this page is about matters having to do with vocabulary; it also about the fact that vocabulary really matters.

Throughout most of my professional career, which has now spanned over 50 years, and which has almost always involved detailed extremely technical communication, I have come to the conclusion that vocabulary is of the utmost importance. In fact, I have come to believe that if we can modify a person’s vocabulary, we can actually change the way that person thinks.

Although most people are not aware of it, in the United States there is a language known as Standard English, which may be defined as “the variety of English that is held to be ‘correct’ in the sense that it shows none of the regional or other variations that are considered to be ungrammatical, colloquial, ‘politically correct,’ or non-standard English.” Standard English is the language that is contractually required to be used for all documentation that is prepared in accordance with Military Specifications and Standards for the U.S. Department of Defense, and it holds that every word in the English language has one, and only one, primary meaning. Every word used in Military Standard documentation must be used with that one primary meaning; if an alternate meaning is to be intended, the appropriate word for that meaning must be used.

And so also should it be when we attempt to communicate our theology, whether to others or only to ourselves. (And no, “theology” is not some lofty esoteric concept; it simply means “what we think about God.”) If we strive to use our vocabulary, especially our “theological” vocabulary, so that we always choose the word whose primary definition we intend to convey, our communication will be clear, concise, and precise, and the likelihood that we will be misunderstood will be significantly diminished.

We should also attempt to use this same principle whenever possible as we attempt to interpret Scripture. If we accept the idea that “all Scripture is God-breathed,” verbally inspired by Ruach HaKodesh (which means that He specifically inspired the writers of Scripture as to the very words they were to use to convey God’s message to His people, then we must also assume that we should interpret each word in Scripture by its primary meaning, unless some other meaning is clearly intended (such as poetry, allegory, etc.).

For each class that I teach (whether in person, by email, by correspondence, or in a chat room), or for which I have written the study guide, or for articles that I post on either this website or my own, I will always attempt to use the definitions which are given in this document. In order to provide the clearest possible communication in our discussions (and those with others), I strongly suggest that you get in the habit of using these same definitions.


Greek vs. Hebrew

A significant challenge Westerners encounter when trying to interpret Scripture or develop a theology is the great disparity between the mindsets and vocabularies of Eastern and Western cultures. English is a totally Western language being derived primarily from the Latin and Greek languages, whereas Hebrew, Aramaic, and the other Semitic languages are distinctly Eastern.

For example, if an Easterner (a Christian) is asked to describe God you will be given a list of very specific attributes: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”[4]

When an Easterner (a Jew) is asked the same question, you will be provided a list of things that God is like: “ADONAI is my Rock, my fortress and deliverer, my God, my Rock, in Whom I find shelter, my shield, the power that saves me, my stronghold” (Ps 18:2). “ADONAI is my shepherd…” (Ps 23:1) “ADONAI is a stronghold for the oppressed, a tower of strength in times of trouble.” (Ps 9:9) “ADONAI is my light and salvation; … ADONAI is the stronghold of my life…” (Ps 27:1)

When considering verbs, Greek and English have multiple verb tenses based on the timing and duration of the action being described. Greek has seven verb tenses (present, aorist, perfect, imperfect, future, past perfect, future perfect); English has twelve verb tenses (present simple, present continuous, present perfect, present perfect continuous, past simple, past continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous, future simple, future continuous, future perfect, future perfect continuous). Hebrew has but one verb tense — an “eternal present” — and one cannot determine either the timing or duration of the action being described without considering the entire context. (Hebrew verbs do have, however, either a prefix to indicate a completed action or a suffix to indicate a progressive (ongoing) action; but whether that action was/is/will be ongoing or completed in the past, present, or future must be determined by the context.)

Reading Greek or English is like watching a motion picture: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water.” Reading the same passage literally in Hebrew, however, is like watching a slide show or PowerPoint presentation: “[First slide: set the time reference (before anything)] — [next slide: God] — [next slide: an act of making something out of nothing] — [next slide: multiple heavens] — [next slide: solid ground] — [next slide: same solid ground] — [next slide: absolute chaos] — [next slide: absolutely nothing, total emptiness, a blank black screen] — [next slide: surface of an unfathomably deep body of water] – [next slide: God’s breath (what does breath look like?) hovering over or floating above that water’s surface.]

What Christians erroneously call the “Old Testament” (more on that later) is called the Tanakh in Hebrew. TaNaKh is an acronym for the three main portions of those Scriptures: Torah (the five books written by Moshe [Moses], Navi'im (Prophets), and Kituvim (Writings). Except for about 250 verses written in Aramaic, mostly in Daniel and Ezra, plus a few other places, the Tanakh was written in Hebrew.

While most “authorities” insist that the Apostolic Writings, or so-called “New Testament,” were written in Greek, I personally believe, along with a number of renowned Biblical authorities, that all the Apostolic letters — with the possible (though I think unlikely) exception of Acts and Luke’s gospel — were written in Hebrew, and then were almost immediately translated into Greek for transmission to the Diaspora. [I have presented and defended that argument HERE]

The “bottom line” is that I believe it can be successfully argued that all 66 books of our existing canon of Scripture were written by Jews, to Jews, for Jews, and about Jews, in the Jewish language. Taken as a whole they are all about the relationship between the God of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Ya'akov and the one man Avraham, and with his ancestors and descendants. Thus, if they are to be correctly interpreted and understood they must be interpreted and understood exactly how they would have been interpreted and understood by the original writers and recipients — that is, with a totally Jewish mindset.

As the mindset is always reflected in one’s vocabulary, it then becomes necessary to develop a Jewish vocabulary in order to adequately foster the requisite Jewish mindset to understand the Jewish Scriptures.

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Torah

The Hebrew word hrwt, Torah, translates into English as simply “instruction” and refers to all of God’s divine instruction for His people — all His people. If you are one of God’s people, His Torah, His divine instruction, is for you! Since “all Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living” (2Tim 3:16), the entire Scripture is God’s divine instruction and can therefore be considered as Torah.

The word Torah is used technically to refer to the five books that Moshe wrote in the Wilderness. However, in traditional Jewish thinking, the word Torah is used to indicate the entire body of Hebrew Scripture plus the authoritative writings of the rabbis [Sages]; for example, the term “walking Torah” indicates following all of Jewish rabbinical tradition. Other definitions commonly used include:

• The first five books of the Bible, the Books of Moses (also know as the Chumash or, in Christian theology, the Pentateuch). This is the technical use of the word.

• All Jewish jurisprudence, as recorded in both the Tanakh and the Talmud (the “Oral Tradition” committed to writing). If the “Constitution” of the Commonwealth of Israel is the Torah of Moshe, the Talmud is all of Israel’s “case law.”

• The Tanakh (the “Jewish Bible” which consists of the Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings).

• The Covenant which God gave to Israel through Moshe at Mount Sinai (because it contains many individual teachings, or “torahs”).

• Any teaching from the Books of Moses.

It is really tragic that that virtually all English Bibles translate Torah as Law. The human spirit just naturally resists the idea of law. Just ask any driver who feels a compulsion to drive two or three miles an hour over the posted speed limit just because it seems the necessary thing to do. Or what about when the police officer stops you for speeding and your immediate thought is, “Why is he bothering me instead of chasing real criminals?” Yes, the Torah contains both criminal and civil law for the Commonwealth of Israel, but that law is but a tiny fragment of God’s divine and loving instruction for His people.

In traditional rabbinical thinking, there are two Torahs: written and oral. When most rabbis speak in these terms, they refer to the written Torah as the Chumash, which was written down by Moshe as he received it from HaShem on Mount Sinai and as Israel traveled through the “wilderness.” They claim, however, that there was a second Torah that was given to Moshe which he did not write down, but transmitted it orally to Israel and that it has been handed down orally through the centuries. This oral material was finally written down, starting around the year 200 CE under the direction and authority or Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Judah the Prince). Since then there have been many additions under the supposed authority of Deuteronomy 17:8-12 (as interpreted by the rabbis), which are considered as authoritative and as having also originated at Mount Sinai. The capstone of this Oral Tradition is the Talmud, which consists of the Mishna of R. Yehuda HaNasi and its authoritative commentary, the Gamarah.

I personally do not refer to the Talmud as “Torah” because Exodus 24:4 says, “Moshe wrote down all the words of ADONAI,” and the Oral Tradition is claimed to be words of ADONAI which Moshe did not write down. One must consider, however, that the original interpretation of the specific mitzvot (commandments) must have come from Moshe to the original Elders of Israel. One mitzvah (commandment) of Torah, for example, is to “do no work” on Shabbat (the Sabbath). Surely it could not have taken very long for someone to pose the question, “What forms of work does God prohibit on Shabbat? What constitutes “work” as far as the mitzvah is concerned?” Logic dictates that the Elders would have posed that question to Moshe, and that he would have provided them with an explanation. There is nothing written in Scripture, however, that indicates that Moshe went back to God with the question and got a verbal explanation from Him that Moshe did not write down.

While I do not consider the Oral Tradition as Torah, do not believe it is the product of divine inspiration, and do not believe that it has spiritual authority for Believers in Mashiach, I do, however, believe that there is undeniably great value in reading and studying the Talmud and other rabbinic writings, just as there is great value in reading and studying any of the great biblical commentaries that have been written down through the centuries. But more specifically, studying the writings of the rabbis gives us great insight into the way the Sages have thought, reasoned, and come to their interpretation of the Scriptures.

One must also carefully consider the fact that is obvious from the Gospel accounts and Acts that Yeshua and the Shliachim (Apostles) walked in the Tradition of the Elders, and Yeshua taught that is appropriate to do so. He said, “The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. Therefore do whatever they tell you and observe [it]. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach” (Matt. 23:2-3, NASB)

I personally use the word Torah in three ways:

(1) to refer to the Chumash specifically, the five books of Moshe, which will be the most frequent use of the word;

(2) to refer to specific teachings within the Chumash; or

(3) to refer to the entire body of Scripture, including the Tanakh and the Ketuvei HaShalichim, or Apostolic Writings.

Earlier I made the statement that I believe if we can modify a person’s vocabulary, we can actually change the way that person thinks. There are two terms that I wish each of you would permanently erase right now from your vocabulary: those two terms are “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” The word “old” usually indicates something that has diminished value because of its age, and the word “new” frequently means that which replaces something “old.” The Tanakh is certainly ancient, but its value will never diminish, and though they are certainly newer than the Tanakh, the Apostolic Writings supplement and complement, not replace, the Tanakh. [A theologian colleague of mine used to be fond of saying, “There are only two pages in the Bible that are not inspired by God: one says ‘Old Testament’ and the other says ‘New Testament.’”]

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Israel

Unless I state otherwise, when I say “Israel” I am referring either to:

(1) the biological descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov plus all those non-Jewish people who have been adopted or grafted into that family since the time of Avraham, or

(2) the political entity of Israel, either ancient or modern.

When I assert that non-Jewish believers in Mashiach are “adopted” or “grafted” into “Israel”, I am using the term “Israel” to refer to the special part of the Jewish people who are known as “the remnant”; that is, those descendants of the Patriarchs who have come to a saving faith in Yeshua HaMashiach, the Messiah of Israel. The “remnant,” however is still very much a part of “Israel.”

I use the term “Commonwealth of Israel” to refer to the reunified Body of Messiah, consisting of all the physical and spiritual descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov, whether sons and daughters of the covenant by birth (Jews) or by adoption (non-Jews) — the restored twelve tribes plus the “mixed multitude” who, like Ruth, have joined themselves to the people, the covenants, and the God of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov.

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Gentile

The word “gentile” is the English equivalent of the Hebrew “goy” (ywg), singular, or “goyim” (~iyywg), plural, which refers to people of the nations other than Israel, and is sometimes also used of Israel itself. Although Scripture frequently uses the words “goy” or “goyim” to designate a pagan or an unbeliever, this is not always the case, so I will not use it that way. If I mean pagan, I will say “pagan;” if I mean unbeliever, I will say “unbeliever.” However, because some have used the word “gentile” as a derogatory term to refer to a person who is not Jewish, I generally refrain from using the word to refer to a believer in Mashiach who is not Jewish, and simply prefer to use the term “non-Jewish.” I do, however, frequently refer to the “Gentile Church” to make a distinction from Torah-pursuant non-Jewish Messianic Believers.

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Jew/Jewish

This is a much more difficult term to define than one would expect, since even those who call themselves “Jewish” cannot all agree on a definition of the term. In its most technical aspect, the word “Jew” is a shortened form of the word “Judah” (Yehuda in Hebrew, meaning “one who praises God”) and therefore refers to an Israelite who is a descendant of Yehuda ben Ya'akov, or who is a member of that branch of the family through adoption. Some non-Jews insist that the work “Jew” refers only to the members of the tribe of Judah. Conversely, most Jewish people consider all descendants of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Ya'akov to be Jews.

The Orthodox usually define a “Jew” as a physical descendant of Avraham through Yitzchak and Ya'akov. They feel that a Jew must either have a Jewish mother or have been converted to Orthodox Judaism by an Orthodox rabbinic authority. Many Orthodox rabbis hold that a “Jew” must adhere to the tenets of Orthodox Judaism, and many Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reformed, and Humanist Jewish rabbis have even different definitions of the word “Jew.”

The Government of Israel holds that a Jew is a person whose mother is Jewish and who “has not converted to any other religion” — explicitly meaning “Christianity.” It is quite acceptable to the Government of Israel for a “Jew” to be a Secular Humanist, an Atheist, a Buddhist, or even a Muslim, as long as he or she does not believe that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah.

Biologically speaking, and therefore the literal definition of the word, any person whose mother or father is a descendant of Ya'akov is therefore also a descendant of Ya'akov, and therefore biologically Jewish.

[Just as an aside, I personally like the definition used by David Ben-Gurion, the “George Washington” of modern Israel, who reportedly said, “Anyone with the chutzpah to call himself a Jew, is a Jew!”]

Most people use the words “Jew” or “Jewish” and “Israelite” interchangeably, and this is the way I personally use the terms. However, because of the long history of anti-Semitism, it is often considered derogatory for a non-Jewish person to refer to a Jewish person as a “Jew.” So to be on the safe side, unless you specifically know your audience, you are far better off to use the term “Jewish person/people.”

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Messianic/Messianic Judaism

Also it was in Antioch that the talmidim (disciples) for the first time were called “Messianic.” (Acts 11:26, CJB)

The Hebrew equivalent of the English word “anointed” is xyXm, Mashiach, and the Greek equalent is cristoß, Christos. When Dr. Luke originally wrote the letter we know as the Book of Acts, he wrote in Hebrew that the believers in Antioch were called “Messianics,” but when the letter got translated into Greek it came across as Christianos, or “Christians.” Until near the end of the first century, the Jewish sect of Yeshua was known  as “the Way,” and was almost exclusively Jewish in membership. Today, what is known as “Christianity” bears almost no resemblance at all to its first-century ancestor, and is almost exclusively Gentile in membership.

Modern Messianic Judaism is the fulfillment of that which was spoken of by the ancient Prophets: a Restoration Movement of Jewish people who believe that Yeshua of Natzeret (Jesus of Nazareth) is the promised Messiah of Israel, and the Savior of the world. He is the One Whom the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures told us was to come. Messianic Jews have not stopped being Jewish to become “Gentile Christians.” On the contrary, our personal relationship with Messiah Yeshua makes us even more truly Jewish in our identity and life-style. True Biblical Messianic Judaism also welcomes all non-Jewish Believers in Messiah Yeshua who wish to identify with the movement and become full partakers of the people, the customs, the covenants, and the social and moral responsibilities of that movement.

 Unfortunately, just as there are scores of decidedly non-Christian cults that call themselves Christian, there are a significant number of non-Biblical cults that are now calling themselves Messianic Jewish. When I use the term Messianic Judaism I specifically exclude those non-Biblical cults.

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Christian/Christianity

The words “Christian” and “Christianity” are as hard to define as are “Jew” and “Jewish.” In their broadest common usage they refer to the religion whose adherents believe in “Yeshua/Jesus” by whatever individual definition or opinion of Him they may have. In their narrowest usage they refer to only those who view Yeshua/Jesus as HaShem come in the flesh and who place their trust and only hope for eternal life in His completed work of redemption through His death, burial, resurrection, and anticipated return to reign bodily on earth at some point in the future.

There is an additional use of the term “Christian” which is cultural instead of “religious” and refers to anybody who is not an adherent of any other major world religion and who celebrates in any form the holidays of Easter and/or Christmas. To others, since the United States was originally founded as a “Christian” country, anybody born in the United States is considered a “Christian” by virtue of that nationality.

To avoid any confusion, when I refer to a person who has entered by faith into a saving relationship with Yeshua HaMashiach, I almost always use the term Messianic Believer, or simply “Believer.” (See Believer, below.)

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Church

“Church” has become a personally difficult term for me to deal with, as I was born into and raised within “the Church” as the son of a devout Christian minister, and I served in Christian pastoral ministry for something like 35 years before being introduced to the Messianic Restoration movement. Just as there are many definitions of “Christian” and “Christianity,” so also there are many definitions of the word “church.”

When I use the word “Church” (capitalized in my writing) I am almost always referring to what I often call the “Gentile Church” — that is, the entire group of adherents, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, to the religion which believes in “Yeshua/Jesus” by whatever individual definition or opinion of Him they may have (the same as the broadest usage of the word “Christian” as explained immediately above). This would include the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and all the more than 30,000 Protestant denominations. I specifically exclude from that definition all pseudo-Christian cults such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and the like. Some of “the Church’s” members are true “Believers” in the Yeshua/Jesus Who is revealed in the Scriptures; most are not. When I use in my writing the term “church” with a lower-case “c” I am referring to an individual non-Torah-pursuant “Church” congregation.

When I am speaking of those non-Jewish people who have actually entered by faith into a saving relationship with Yeshua HaMashiach, but who reject the Torah and the Sabbath, I generally use the term “Evangelical Christians” or simply “Evangelicals.”

I never refer to Torah-observant Messianic Believers or their congregations as “the Church.” To do so, I believe, would be a significant insult.

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Believer(s)

This is also a more difficult term to define than one would imagine at first glance.

Most people claim a belief in “God,” however they may define Him.

Most Jews believe in the God of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov. The twelfth of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Jewish faith says, “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. How long it takes, I will await His coming every day,” so most Jews believe in the Messiah. Most just don’t recognize Yeshua as the Messiah.

Nearly all “Christians,” by definition, believe in “Jesus,” but most have an extremely warped understanding of Who and what He really is. Many who identify themselves as “Christians” do not believe in His deity, and only recognize HIm as a good, moral teacher. Very few people who identify themselves as “Christians” acknowledge Yeshua as the Torah-observant Rabbi that he was, and some actually refer to Him as “the first Christian.”

To refer to any of these individuals as an “unbeliever” would simply not be accurate.

However, I reserve the word “Believer” to refer to an individual who believes that Yeshua of Nazareth is the living Son of God, Who is God come in the flesh, Who lived a perfect and sinless life, Who was crucified for the sins of the world and Who arose from the grave and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, and Who will return to earth to rule and reign. Additionally, in order for me to refer to that individual as a “Believer” he or she must also claim to have entered by faith into a personal, saving relationship with Him.

When referring to a person who meets all of the criteria of a “Believer” and also acknowledges Him as the Jewish Messiah Who lived a completely Torah-observant life without ever ceasing to be Jewish, and who also identifies themselves with the Torah, the covenants, and the people of Israel, I almost always use the term Messianic Believer.

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Synagogue

My use of the term “Synagogue” (capitalized) refers to the entire body of Judaism, both Messianic and non-Messianic, as in: “Torah belongs to the Church as well as to the Synagogue.” The word “synagogue” with a lower-case “s” refers to an individual Jewish house of worship, whether Messianic or non-Messianic.

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Messianic Community or Messianic Israel

I use the terms “Messianic Community” and “Messianic Israel” interchangeably to refer to all those elect people of all ages, both ethnically Jewish and ethnically non-Jewish, who have through faith entered into a covenant relationship with Yeshua HaMashiach. This, I believe, is the correct meaning of the Greek word ecclesia — the “called-out” ones.

This group includes all the physical descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov of all ages who have placed their faith in the atoning work of Messiah, and who depend upon Him, and Him alone, for their eternal destiny (the “faithful Remnant”), plus all of the people of earth of all ages who are not physically descended from Ya'akov (all the people of all the “Gentile nations”) who have placed their faith in the atoning work of Messiah, and who depend upon Him, and Him alone, for their eternal destiny, and are through their faith in Israel’s Messiah thereby adopted into the family of Ya'akov and grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel.

Image of overlapping circles

In this illustration, Circle A represents all the physical descendants of Ya'akov (“all Israel”). Section B is that portion of Israel who have placed their faith in the atoning work of Messiah (the “faithful Remnant”). Circle C represents all of the people of all the “Gentile nations.” Section D is that portion of all the Gentile nations who have placed their faith in Israel’s Messiah. Section E, then, represents all of the people of the earth, of all ages, who constitute “Messianic Israel.”

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Must/Should/Have To

I do my very best to avoid using terms like “must,” “should,” and “have to,” as I believe that for the most part they are inappropriate when dealing with matters of faith. The use of such words can lead to legalism at best and spiritual tyranny at worst. As a Torah teacher, it is my responsibility to teach you what the Word of God says and to teach you how to interpret it for yourself with the help and guidance of Ruach HaKodesh. It is not my responsibility to tell how you how you “should” or “must” interpret Scripture or to apply it to your own life. Where and when appropriate, I will tell you my opinion or my interpretation, and I will even sometimes tell you how I personally apply it or even how I wish that you would interpret or apply Scripture. But what you do with what you learn is between you and HaShem.

I will not even tell you in my classroom (whether literal or virtual) that you “must” live a Torah-pursuant life-style (though I highly recommend it.) There is much heated debate within the Messianic Jewish Community itself as to what level of Torah observance is required of a non-Jewish believer in Messiah. There are factions within the Messianic Movement which hold that non-Jewish Messianic Believers are required to observe every single halakhic provision of not only Biblical Torah, but also of the entire Oral Tradition. Some teach that non-Jewish believers are obligated to obey every aspect of Biblical Torah but are not obligated to observe the Oral Traditions. Still others teach that they are obligated to only the “Noachide Laws” which they say are “binding upon all mankind,” and that they are free to take upon themselves as much or as little of the “yoke of Torah” they desire. There are even those within Messianic Judaism who go so far as to say that non-Jewish Messianic Believers are not permitted to observe even all of the Biblical Torah provisions; “Torah,” they say, “is only for the Jews.”

As with all matters of strenuous debate, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I have studied the matter at great length, and I have come to a position on the subject with which I am comfortable, for myself, at least for now. But it is not my place to impose my opinion upon you. That is a subject that will undoubtedly be discussed at great length in the classes you will study in this Beit Midrash, and one for which you will ultimately “have to” decide for yourself as you learn Torah and grow in faith.

Since you asked (you did ask, didn't you?), I will share my current opinion. I believe that there is one, and only one, “standard of righteousness” by which all mankind will be judged, and that is the Torah of God as recorded in the entire body of Scripture (Torah, Nevi'im, K'tuvim, and Apostolic Writings), but I believe specifically the entire body of mitzvot (commandments) contained in the Torah (the Books of Moses) are binding for all who claim a covenant relationship with the God of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Ya'akov.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (Luke 12:48)

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works;” show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:18 NAS) [“works” = mitzvot = obedience to the commandments of Torah]

I believe that Yeshua HaMashiach is God Who walked in Eden in the cool of the evening with our first parents, Who appeared in bodily form to the Patriarchs at various times and places, and Who verbally delivered the Torah to Moshe and literally inscribed the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) with His own finger in the tablets of stone that Moshe brought down off the mountain. I believe that when He said, “If you love Me you will keep My mitzvot (commandments),” He was referring to the Torah He gave to Moshe. Yeshua faithfully kept all the commandments, and if we love Him, we will want to walk as He walked.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15 NAS)

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10 NAS)

Furthermore, while I do not believe or teach that salvation is either obtained or enhanced by Torah observance, we should consider the fact that on the two occasions reported in the Gospels on which Yeshua was asked what was necessary to obtain eternal life, His response was quite simple and direct: obey Torah!

A man approached Yeshua and said, "Rabbi, what good thing should I do in order to have eternal life?" He said to him, "Why are you asking me about good? There is One who is good! But if you want to obtain eternal life, observe the mitzvot." (Matthew 19:16-17, compare Mark 10:17-21)

An expert in Torah stood up to try and trap him by asking, “Rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?” But Yeshua said to him, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read it?” He answered, “You are to love ADONAI your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your understanding; and your neighbor as yourself.“ “That’s the right answer,” Yeshua said. “Do this, and you will have life.” (Luke 10:25-2)

“So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot (commandments) and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:19).

I personally do not wish to be called “the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

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Personal Names

I read. I read a lot. I have spent over 30 years of my life in school, from kindergarten through graduate school and continuing education, and at one time I had over 5,000 books in my personal library, all of which I have read at least once. Out of all that reading there is only one single literary work that I have found in which all personal names have been converted from their original ethnic form into their English equivalent, or arbitrarily changed altogether to English names — the English Bible.

Have you ever read a novel, written in Spanish, about two men named Juan Rodriguez and Diego Gonzolez that was translated into English, changing the names to John Rogers and James Gardner? Or a story about a Russian named Pavel Ivanovitch that gets translated into English as Paul Johnson? Then why in the world do Bible translators find it necessary to convert all Hebrew names to English names?

On June 19, 325, Roman Emperor Constantine opened the Council of Nicea. Approximately 318 gentile bishops from all the provinces were ordered by Constantine to attend, but not a single Jewish bishop was permitted to attend. The primary function of that and subsequent Church councils was the complete “cleansing” and elimination of everything even remotely Jewish from the newly-formed Roman religion that Constantine called “Christianity.” Thus even the Jewish names were expunged from the Bible and replaced with English equivalents or even with totally-unrelated English names, particularly in the s0-called “New Testament.” For example, how is it even remotely possible for the Hebrew name Ya'akov to be rendered as James, or Yesha'yahu to be rendered as Isaiah? And the instructions of King James to the translators of the most widely-used English Bible specifically said: “The names of the prophets and the holy writers, with the other names in the text, [are] to be retained, as near as may be, according as they are vulgarly used” by the corrupt Church of England.[5]

Ever since the Council of Nicea, anti-Semitism has been the rule in Christianity, running rampant in the Church. Granted, in most churches it is far more subtle than that expressed in this letter I received. How is it even remotely possible that those who claim to follow the King of the Jews despise Jews and Judaism? Yet it still exists in nearly every Christian congregation, whether intentional or unintentional. The only way this mindset is ever going to be overcome is if believers in Messiah change their vocabulary, and this is one of the primary reasons that I appreciate the Complete Jewish Bible, which can be read online for free HERE or purchased HERE. It uses the original Hebrew names for people, places, and concepts, using easy-to-read English transliterations.

Why do I think this is so important? I think there are two important reasons that we should use Bible words to talk about Bible things and Bible names to talk about Bible people. The first reason is that we have almost completely lost sight of the critical fact that all of the key people in the Bible were Jews. They were born, lived, and died as Jews. Not a single person in the Bible ever converted to “Christianity,” because Christianity did not exist until it was created by Constantine in 325 CE. The people in the Bible who received Yeshua of Nazareth as the Messiah became associated with a sect of Judaism that was known as “the Way.”

The Bible is a Jewish book written in the Jewish language by Jews, to Jews, about Jews and about the God of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov and His dealings with the Jewish people. God has made five covenants that are recorded in the Bible, and every single one of them was made with the Jewish people, Israel. What most Gentile Christians either fail or refuse to understand is that unless they have been grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel, they have no part in God’s covenants and no relationship with the God of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov. When people who were born outside of the United States come here and become citizens, we expect them to learn enough of the English language to function in American Society. The official language of the Commonwealth of Israel is Hebrew. When we become citizens of that Commonwealth, does it not seem proper that we should have at least a rudimentary understanding of the language of the Commonwealth? I personally believe that when Yeshua reigns over the earth from His throne in Jerusalem, Hebrew will be the official language of the entire world. If that is true, does it not make sense that we should begin learning at least the most important words of that language?

The second reason that I think it is important to refer to Bible people by their real names is just common courtesy. If your name is Robert or Susan, and people insist on calling you Fred or Barbara, would you not think that very discourteous of them? Does not King Yeshua deserve at least that amount of courtesy? What about His friends Mattityahu, Mordachai, Ya'akov, Yehuda, Shimon Keffa, Yochanan? Are they not deserving of that same courtesy? I think they are.

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  1. This was originally developed as a handout for seminary classes I taught in Systematic Theology. [RETURN]

  2. Ari benLevi is the shem codesh (“religious” name) of Messianic Pastor/Theologian Rickard Levitt-Sawyer, ThM, ThD, DMin, MBA. [RETURN]

  3. Collins Essential English Dictionary 2nd Edition, HarperCollins Publishers, 2004, 2006. [RETURN]

  4. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question and Answer 4. [RETURN]

  5. Paine, Gustavus S. Lewis’ History of the English Bible and The Men Behind the KJV. [RETURN]


Page revised on Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Page last updated on Thursday, 27 October 2016 12:46 PM
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