If I Ascend to Heaven … Paul’s Journey to Paradise

James Tabor on Various Understandings of Ascension

This article was originally published on Dr. James Tabor’s popular Taborblog, a site that discusses and reports on “‘All things biblical’ from the Hebrew Bible to Early Christianity in the Roman World and Beyond.” Bible History Daily republished the article with consent of the author. Visit Taborblog today, or scroll down to read a brief bio of James Tabor below.


 

Paul’s Ascent to the Third Heaven by Nicolas Poussin.

I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago, on “Paul’s Ascent to Paradise” under Jonathan Z. Smith, Robert M. Grant, and Bernard McGinn. Its focus was the celebrated passage where Paul reports his extraordinary experience, as a “man in Christ” who was taken to the “third heaven,” and then into Paradise (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). I completed the degree in 1982 and published the dissertation as a book, Things Unutterable: Paul’s Ascent to Paradise in its Greco-Roman, Judaic, and Early Christian Contexts (Brown University Studies in Judaism) in 1986. It is long ago out of print but I plan to make an e-book or PDF edition available soon for free downloading.

Paul is not the only one in antiquity reported to have experienced such a “heavenly journey.” In my latest book, Paul and Jesus I discuss the implications of these claims of Paul to extraordinary revelations and how they created both conflict and controversy in what I call the “battle of the apostles.” What few readers of the New Testament might not realize is that the phenomenon of the “heavenly journey” is a rather common one in Paul’s time, and stretching back several hundreds years before him. What follows here is a rather thorough study and analysis of the various reports we have of figures, both legendary and historical, who are said to have ascended to heaven. As you will see, there are several types of such journeys, each with its own specific meaning, context, and implications. Paul’s report fits into a certain genre which helps us to understand the implications of the claims he is making.

 


 
In the free eBook Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, learn about the cultural contexts for the theology of Paul and how Jewish traditions and law extended into early Christianity through Paul’s dual roles as a Christian missionary and a Pharisee.
 

 

The motif of the journey to heaven is a vitally important phenomenon of ancient Mediterranean religions. There are five figures in the Bible who, according to standard Jewish and Christian interpretation, are reported to have ascended to heaven: Enoch (Gen 5:24); Elijah (2 Kgs 2:1-12); Jesus (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9); Paul (2 Cor 12:2-4); and John (Rev 4:1). There are also four related accounts in which individuals behold the throne, or heavenly court, of Yahweh: Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel (Exod 24:9-11); Micaiah (1 Kgs 22:19-23); Isaiah (Isa 6:1-13); and Ezekiel (Ezk 1, 10). Finally, there is the scene in which an otherwise unidentified “son of man” comes before the throne of God in an apocalyptic vision of Daniel (Dan 7:11-14). This notion, that mortals enter into, or behold, the realm of the immortal God (or gods) undergoes various complicated developments from the Ancient Near Eastern into the Hellenistic period. It is closely related to a number of other topics such as the descent or journey to the underworld of the dead, the heavenly destiny of the immortal soul, the apotheosis or divinization of selected mortals (rulers, philosophers, divine men), and aspects of Greco-Roman, Jewish and Christian mysticism. Sorting through this complex conceptual web, and trying to understand these Biblical texts with their contexts and complicated traditional development, has occupied historians of ancient religions for the past 150 years (Bousset 1901; Segal 1980).

The various types of the heavenly journeys we have reports about can be divided into four basic categories, based upon the fundamental purpose or outcome of the ascent as reported in a given text. Generally speaking, the first two categories are more characteristic of the Ancient Near Eastern, or archaic period, which would include most texts of the Hebrew Bible (OT). The latter two categories are more typical of the Hellenistic period, which reflects the perspective of the NT.

1. Ascent as an invasion of heaven.

In the cosmology reflected throughout most of the Hebrew Bible mortal humankind belongs on earth, not in heaven, and at death descends below to the nether world known as Sheol. Ps 115 expresses this succinctly:

The heaven’s are the LORD’S heavens,
but the earth he has given to the
sons of men.
The dead do not praise the LORD,
nor do any that go down into silence.
But we will bless the LORD
from this time forth and for evermore.

Generally speaking, just as there is no coming back from the dead, there is no idea or expectation that humans can go to heaven, a place reserved for God and his angelic attendants. This means that any report of a human being ascending to heaven would be seen as not only extraordinary, but often even as an intrusion or invasion of the divine realm. In an Akkadian text, Adapa, the son of Ea, attempts to ascend to heaven to obtain eternal life but is cast back down to earth (Pritchard 1969:101-3). A somewhat similar story is told of Etana, one of the legendary rulers of the Sumerian dynasty of Kish (Pritchard 1969: 114-18). A direct protest against such an ascent is found in Isa 14:12-20 (compare Ezk 28:11-19). There the prideful King of Babylon, who wants to ascend to heaven and become like God, is cast down to the nether world of worms and maggots (v 11). The ironic language of Prov 30:2-4 (compare Job 26; 38:1-42:6), though not a tale of ascent, emphasizes the contrast between the human and divine realms. A similar idea lies behind Deut 29:29 and 30:11-14. There is no need for one to ascend to heaven to learn the “secret things” which belong to God (compare Sir 3:21-22). Lucian’s tale, Icaromenippus, though from the Roman imperial period, typifies this understanding of ascent to heaven as an invasion of the realm of the gods.

The accounts of Enoch and Elijah are best understood in this context. First and foremost, they are extraordinary. The normal fate, even of great heroes of the Hebrew Bible such as Abraham, Moses, and David, is death or “rest” in Sheol (Gen 25:7-9; Deut 34:6; 1 Kgs 2:10, cf Acts 2:29-34). Furthermore, both texts, particularly the one about Enoch, are ambiguous. Genesis 5:24, from the P source, in lieu of recording Enoch’s death, simply says “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” Where he was taken, the text does not say. Though the bulk of later Jewish and Christian tradition understood this text as ascent to heaven (Charlesworth 1983: 1: 3-315; Tabor 1989), this was not universally the case (compare Heb 11:5, 13-16). The author might have had in mind a journey “Beyond,” to some special region on this earth (e.g. “Isles of the Blessed”), as in the cases of Gilgamesh’s Utnapishtim or Menelaus in Homer. Such might also be the case with Elijah. Though he is clearly taken from the earthly scene in a chariot of fire that rises to heaven like a whirlwind, the author might well have had in mind his removal or “retirement” to some remote area. If so, “heaven” in this text is equivalent to “sky,” and the author does not intend to imply that Elijah joined Yahweh as an immortal in the heavenly court. This appears to be the understanding of the Chronicler who reports that much later, Jehoram, king of Judah, receives a letter written by Elijah (2 Chr 21:12-15).

 


 
In the DVD Illuminating The Word: New Insights into Biblical Texts, James D. Tabor presents the lecture “The Jesus Dynasty: Why the Royal Family of Jesus Was Largely Forgotten.” Read more.
 

 

2. Ascent to receive revelation.

This type of ascent involves a “round trip” from earth to heaven and back again, or some visionary experience of the heavenly court from which one returns to normal experience (ascent/descent). In contrast to the previous type, the journey or experience is appraised most positively. The earth, not heaven, is still understood as the proper human place, so that the ascent remains a “visit,” though not an intrusion, into the divine realm.

The complex literary traditions surrounding the ascent of Moses on Mount Sinai, now found in Exodus 24, though not explicitly referring to a journey to heaven, are closely related to this category. Moses (or alternatively Moses, Aaron and the seventy elders), in ascending the mountain, enter the presence of God, the realm of the divine. He is given revelation in the form of heavenly tablets, then descends back to the mortal realm. Though he is not explicitly deified or enthroned, he becomes a semi-divine figure, eating and drinking in the divine presence and returning from the mountain with his face transformed like an immortal (Exod 24:11; 34:29-30). In later interpretation this was understood as full deification (see Philo, De vita Mosis 2.290-91; De virt. 73-75; Ezekiel the Tragedian 668-82). The prophetic call of Isaiah is a further example of this same pattern (Isa 6:1-3). Since there is no specific reference to Isaiah being “taken up,” this is a “visionary ascent,” though the distinction between the two types is not always clear (see 2 Cor 12:2-4). He sees “The LORD sitting on a throne, high and lifted up . . . .” (v 1). He is then given a message with a corresponding prophetic commission. As a mortal, he is out of place in the divine realm; he cries out “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips . . . for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v 5). The throne visions of Ezekiel (Ezk 1, 10) should be compared here, as well as the scene before the throne of the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7:14 where a “son of man” is given cosmic rulership over all nations. Micaiah’s vision of the heavenly court also belongs under this category (1 Kgs 22:19-23). In all of these texts the ascent or vision of the heavenly throne serves as a way of claiming the highest and most direct heavenly authority for the message. Such experiences are clearly evaluated as more noteworthy than the epiphany of an angelic messenger or receipt of a prophetic “word of the LORD.” Widengren (1950) has traced this motif of royal or prophetic enthronement (ascent, initiation into heavenly secrets, receipt of a divine commission) into later Jewish traditions involving kingship, prophetic commissions and the revelation of secret heavenly lore. This understanding of ascent dominates one of the oldest sections of 1 Enoch, the Book of the Watchers (chaps. 1-36). The legendary figure Enoch is taken through the heavenly realms and shown cosmic secrets, even appearing before God’s lofty throne. The Greek version of the Testament of Levi (2nd century B.C.E.) draws upon the ascent motif in a similar way, as does the Latin Life of Adam and Eve (1st century C.E.) and the Apocalypse of Abraham. In each of these texts the ascent to heaven functions as a vehicle of revelation, offering divine authority to the cosmological and eschatological lore the authors were expounding.

The closest non-Jewish, or Greek, parallel to this notion of ascent is probably Parmenides’ prooemium, which survives in only a few fragments (Taran 1965). He tells of being taken in a chariot through the gate leading to daylight, where he is received and addressed by a goddess. On the whole, for Greeks in the archaic period, revelations came through epiphanies, oracles, dreams, omens, and signs of various sorts, not by being taken before the throne of Zeus. The fair number of Jewish (and Jewish-Christian) texts which make use of ascent to heaven as a means of legitimating rival claims of revelation and authority is likely due to the polemics and party politics that characterized the Second Temple period. It became a characteristic way, in the Hellenistic period, of claiming “archaic” authority of the highest order, equal to a Enoch or Moses, for ones vision of things.

3. Ascent to immortal heavenly life.

This type of ascent to heaven is final or “one way:” a mortal obtains immortality, or release from mortal conditions, thorough a permanent ascent to the heavenly realms. Broadly, there are two overlapping ideas involved here, both of which have been extensively investigated. First, that a hero, ruler, or extraordinary individual has obtained immortal heavenly existence (Farnell 1921; Guthrie 1950; Bieler 1935-36; M. Smith 1971; Gallagher 1982). Second, the more general idea that the souls of humankind, bound by mortal conditions, can obtain release to immortal heavenly life (Rhode 1925; Bousset 1901; Burkert 1985). The second is not merely a later democratization of the first, rather, the two exist side by side throughout the Hellenistic period. While they are distinct from one another, both are related to a fundamental shift in the perception of the proper human place. Increasingly in this period one encounters the notion that humans actually belong in heaven, with life on earth seen as either a “fall” or temporary subjection to mortal powers (Nilsson 1969: 96-185; J. Z. Smith 1975).

The only candidates for such immortalization in the Hebrew Bible are Enoch and Elijah, though, as noted above, both texts are ambiguous. As early as the Maccabean period (2nd century B.C.E.) Daniel speaks of the righteous dead being resurrected and “shining like the stars forever and ever,” having obtained immortality (12:3). A similar notion is found in the Wisdom of Solomon, where the “souls of the righteous” are promised immortal life (3:1-9). Gradually, in Jewish and Christian texts of the Hellenistic period, the older idea of the dead reposing in Sheol forever is replaced with either a notion of the resurrection of the dead or the immortality of the soul or some combination of the two (Nickelsburg 1972). Both ideas involve the notion of a final ascent to heaven.

The NT reflects this Hellenistic perspective in which mortals can obtain heavenly immortality. Matthew 13:43, reflecting the language and influence of Daniel, asserts that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Eternal life is promised to the righteous throughout the NT corpus (Mark 9:42-48; Q [Matt 10:32-33=Luke 12:8]; Matt 25:46; Acts 13:48; John 3:16; 14:1-3; Rom 6:23; Col 3:1-4; 1 Tim 1:16; Heb 12:22-23; Jas 1:12; 1 Pet 1:4; 2 Pet 1:4; 1 John 5:11; Jude 21; Rev 20). In most cases this involves ascent to heaven and life before the throne of God (1 Thess 4:13-18; Rev 7:9-17). According to the NT, the righteous of the OT, such as Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, are included in this promised resurrection to immortal heavenly life (Heb 11). In the NT the ascent of Jesus to heaven is the paradigm for all those righteous mortals who follow. Just as he was raised from the dead, made immortal, and ascended to the Father, so will followers experience the same at his return (John 14: 1-3; 1 Cor 15: 20-28; Rom 8:29-30). The state of the the righteous souls who have died prior to the time of the end and the resurrection and ascent to heaven is not always clear. Paul seems to prefer the metaphor of “sleep,” which parallels the Hebrew Bible notion of Sheol (1 Thess 4:13; 5:10; 1 Cor 15:18-20). But in two places he might imply that these “souls” or “spirits” depart immediately at death and ascend to the presence of Christ in heaven (Phil 1: 21-24; 2 Cor 5:1-10). In Revelation the “souls of the martyrs” are pictured as under the altar, presumably in heaven, longing for their time of vindication (6:9-11). In distinction to both of these views, the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus, unique to Luke, pictures the Hadean world of the dead, which is below not above, as a place in which rewards and punishments are already being experienced prior to the final resurrection and judgment (Luke 16:19-31). This latter text is more in concert with other Jewish materials of the period which see the “dead” as conscious, but in the Hadean world below, awaiting the resurrection and last judgment (cf. Rev 20:11-15). There is no uniform NT view of this subject of the “state of the dead.”

Surprisingly, an actual narrative account of the ascent of Jesus to heaven occurs only in Luke (24:51, but see textual variants; Acts 1:9). It is assumed in Matthew and Mark and spoken of in John (20:17) and Paul (Rom 8:34). A similar resurrection from the dead followed by bodily ascension to heaven is prophesied for the “two witnesses” in the book of Revelation (11:7-12). They are God’s final prophets before the return of Christ and the last judgment. The contrast between the NT and the Hebrew Bible regarding this expectation of ascent to heaven could not be more striking. Other than the doubtful examples of Enoch and Elijah, it is not until the book of Daniel, which is perhaps the latest text in the canon of the Hebrew Bible, that one finds any reference to mortals ascending to heavenly life (some would include Isa 26:19; Job 14:14-16 is a longing, not an affirmation). The NT is fully a part of the process of Hellenization in which notions of resurrection from the dead, immortality of the soul, and ascent to heaven were the norm rather than the exception.

4. Ascent as a foretaste of the heavenly world.

This type of ascent involves a journey or “visit” to heaven which functions as a foretaste or anticipation of a final or permanent ascent to heavenly life. Though related to the second category, ascent to receive revelation, it is fundamentally different. For example, when Isaiah is taken before God’s throne, though he receives a commission and experiences the glories of the heavenly world, there is no idea that he will return to that realm. He remains a mortal who dies and descends to Sheol with all the other dead.

The earliest example of this notion of ascent is in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), probably dating from the 1st century B.C.E. In chapter 39 Enoch relates how he was taken to heaven. The experience transforms him (39:14) and he is told that he will later ascend to heaven permanently and receive glory and immortal heavenly life (chaps. 70-71). 2 (Slavonic) Enoch also reflects a similar pattern. Enoch’s journey through the seven heavens, which lasts 60 days (chaps. 1-20), is followed by a return to earth. The experience transforms him and functions in anticipation of his final translation to heaven. Christians later took up and elaborated this understanding of ascent from such Jewish models, as seen in texts such as the Ascension of Isaiah. In the NT we have the striking firsthand account of Paul’s own experience of ascent to Paradise (2 Cor 12:2-4). This text provides evidence for the actual “practice” of ascent to heaven in Jewish-Christian circles during this period, in contrast to a purely literary motif adopted to lend heavenly authority to a text. Obviously, Paul’s experience functions as a highly privileged foretaste of the heavenly glorification which he expected at the return of Christ (Tabor 1986).

There are definite links between the language and ideas of these Jewish texts from Second Temples times, the testimony of Paul, and the Tannaitic and Amoraic Merkabah (and later Hekhalot) traditions (Scholem 1960; Gruenwald 1980; Halperin 1980).

There are also examples of this type of ascent to heaven in non-Jewish/Christian materials. Perhaps the clearest is Cicero’s report of the “Dream of Scipio Africanus” in his Republic (6. 9-26). The text was highly influential and functions as a kind of universal declaration of the gospel of astral immortality (Luck 1956). Scipio travels to the heavenly world above and returns with a revelation that all humans are immortal souls, trapped in mortal bodies, but potentially destined for heavenly life above. The gnostic text Poimandres, found in the Corpus Hermeticum also fits this category of ascent. There is also an important text in the Greek Magical Papyri, mistakenly called the “Mithras Liturgy,” (PGM 4. 624-750). It provides the initiate who desires to ascend to heaven with an actual guide for making the journey with all its dangers and potentials. There are Jewish texts such as Hekhalot Rabbati which have strong parallels with such magical materials, showing that we are dealing here with an international phenomenon of late antiquity (M. Smith 1963). It is also likely that the rites of initiation into certain of the so-called “mystery religions,” such as that of Isis, involved such proleptic experiences of ascent to heaven (see Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11 and discussion of Tabor 1986: 89-92).

It is noteworthy that Paul’s testimony in 2 Cor 12:2-4 remains our only firsthand autobiographical account of such an experience from the Second Temple period.

 


 
For a full bibliography, read “If I Ascend to Heaven…Paul’s Journey to Paradise” on James Tabor’s Taborblog.
 

 
Dr. James Tabor is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he is professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism. Since earning his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1981, Tabor has combined his work on ancient texts with extensive field work in archaeology in Israel and Jordan, including work at Qumran, Sepphoris, Masada, Wadi el-Yabis in Jordan. Over the past decade he has teamed up with with Shimon Gibson to excavate the “John the Baptist” cave at Suba, the “Tomb of the Shroud” discovered in 2000, Mt Zion and, along with Rami Arav, he has been involved in the re-exploration of two tombs in East Talpiot including the controversial “Jesus tomb.” Tabor is the author of the popular Taborblog, and several of his recent posts have been featured in Bible History Daily as well as the Huffington Post. His latest book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity has become a immediately popular with specialists and non-specialists alike. You can find links to all of Dr. Tabor’s web pages, books, and projects at jamestabor.com.
 

 

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  1. Paul says

    “My father, the progress that has come to me now and the fore-knowledge, according to the books, that has come to me, exceeding the deficiency – these thing are foremost in me.”
    “My son, when you understand the truth of your statement, you will find your brothers , who are my sons, praying with you.”
    “My father, I understand nothing else except the beauty that came to me in the books.”
    “This is what you call the beauty of the soul, the edification that came to you in stages. May the understanding come to you, and you will teach.”
    “The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth” from the Nag Hammadi Library

  2. Stephen Jerome says

    I would question the use of the word “ascend” rather than was “assumed.” They wouldn’t have gone to heaven under their own power; they would have been “lifted up,” at least as I was always taught. Only Jesus could “ascend.’

  3. Roger says

    I’m interested in the question of the timing of Jesus’ ascension and the understanding of it by early Christians, including the gospel writers.

    In Matthew 28:6-7 we read in the KJV, “…and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee;”
    which uses the Greek “ἠγέρθη,” usually translated as “is risen,” as to get up from bed after sleep.

    But some translate “ἠγέρθη” in the transitive sense, “was raised up,” which would make the resurrection and the ascension essentially simultaneous, in opposition to both Matthew and Luke’s narrative, which suggest resurrection first and then later ascension.

    Could Prof. Taber or other biblical scholars please shed some light on this? Were resurrection and ascension considered separate events in the minds of early Christians, or was this a point of contention and confusion among even the earliest writers and readers?

  4. GEORGE says

    Prof. Taber states, “Though he (Elijah) is CLEARLY taken from the earthly scene in a chariot of fire that rises to heaven like a whirlwind…” I enjoy his writing very much, but doesn’t the scripture (2 Kings 2:12) indicate Elijah was taken up in an ACTUAL whirlwind while the horses and chariot of fire served to separate Elisha from Elijah and the whirlwind that carried him up? I don’t think Prof. Taber’s reading can be found “clearly” as stated. I find most people forget the whirlwind altogether and remember only the chariot of fire and Elijah going up in it. This may be reinforced by Elisha’s exclamation in which he refers to Elijah as the “chariots of Israel” meaning the channel of God’s protection of Israel. Later, King Jehoash made the same exclamation with regard to Elisha at his death. (2 Kings 13:14) Am I missing or overly presuming something?

  5. James says

    Roger, excellent point. I indeed argue in my own work resurrection/ascent to heaven is one and the same in the earliest Christian view of things. See my article http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/14/why-people-are-confused-about-the-earliest-christian-view-of-resurrection-of-the-dead/

  6. James says

    Good point George. I think you are correct. I need to clarify that or expand it somehow. As you know God is often called YHVH of Armies/Hosts…so yes, the chariots are divine Protection…an army. Thanks for this acute observation!

  7. GEORGE says

    With regard to Roger’s question, if I may chime in again… we read in scripture Jesus said He would raise himself (John 2:19); and afterward it was taught that the “the Spirit” raised Him (Rom 8:11) and that “God” raised Him (Acts 2:24 & Rom 10:9). Peter is quoted as believing Jesus DEscended to Sheol-Hades-Tartarus (Acts 2:31 quoting Psalm 16:8-11 & I Peter 3:18 & 19). From this it appears the early church believed Jesus “descended” at death to the keeping place of the souls of the dead and according to Ephesians 4:8 where (apparently quoting Ps 68:18) we are told that “when he (Jesus) ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” Speculation has been made that in his subsequent ascension He led the righteous dead elsewhere, however the text can be interpreted otherwise. It could be man’s “captivity” to sin, the “flesh” (Paul’s term) or the law that was taken captive and the “gifts (of forgiveness and eternal life) given unto men.” We simply can not know from the text. But, it seems to me that the early believers understood the resurrection and the ascension as sequential events perhaps separated by both the three days of His bodily entombment (and His spiritual descent “to the lower parts of the earth”) plus the forty post-resurrection days when He appeared in bodily form “with flesh and bone” (Luke 24:39). I find it quite interesting that he did not mention blood here, presumably because it had been forever “poured out” for our redemption since “for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” because “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev 17:11). If so, then the resurrected body of Jesus receives it’s life from something else, perhaps The Spirit? From Heb 9:12 we might speculate that the writer believed Jesus somehow presented His atoning blood in “the most holy place” perhaps temporarily ascending into heaven during the three days.
    I’m all over the place with this – don’t wish to dominate the page – but this interests me greatly.

  8. peter says

    James : Ever since I read and re-re -read “The Jesus Dynasty” your research work has amazed me. For which many thanks. Your latest book “Paul and Jesus” is IMHO probably the most important book to have been written in the past few decades – if not centuries Two things have always puzzled me ever since I became a born again Christian in the evangelical sense when at University. One was the fuzziness of the resurrection sightings of Jesus after the crystal clear accounts of the crucifixion week ( not to mention the apparently verbatim discourses during that week recorded in John ) The other great puzzle for me was Paul’s claim to have ascended to the 7th heaven and then back to earth, plus the extraordinary fact – of which he actually boasts – that after his Damascus road conversion he did not do what surely all of us would have done – which would have been to hot foot back to Jerusalem and check out things with the 12 Apostles, not to mention Jesus’s mother and family . To be sure Paul wrote some superb theological copy , but I now see that it was just copy. Thus I have gone back to Jesus and what He taught for The Truth . And finally I believe I have found it

  9. Teah says

    Millions of people have had “near death experiences” which can also be described as ascending, descending, or leaving out of their physical bodies to a realm where time, as we understand it, doesn’t exist. Whether or not they actually died, can be debated. However, the fact is that NDE’ers tend to exclaim that the realm that they went to was heavenly, hellish, or both, if nothing at all. Some of them, Christians and non, have even met whom they’ve perceived to be Jesus and some of his biblical predecessors, and some believe that they’ve even met God. We can either write these peoples’ NDE’s off, or we can listen with faith for words of enlightenment, encouragement and hope. Central to the heavenly experiences of the NDE’ers is the experience of God’s love and forgiveness and how important and essential it is for us to accept it and live it. The same is central to Christianity. The historical Jesus was a Jew and lived his life as a Jew, but his life as quoted in the Bible and other books, was one of love and forgiveness that was made known to us, not kept exclusive to an ethnicity or religion. Whether because of the work of Mary, the mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene, James, Thomas, Paul, John, Constantine, King James, or Peter (“the first pope”), thanks be to God, Jesus is alive and well, and has been, in the hearts and minds of countless lives throughout the past 2000 years!!

  10. Carl says

    Really interesting post. But we need more. What are the “Seven Heavens?” What’ s on each level? Why are there seven? Please give us more!

  11. GEORGE says

    The idea of a “seventh heaven” is found in Islamic and Kabbalistic tradition but not in Scripture or Christian or Jewish orthodoxy. There does seem to be a biblical concept of three “heavens” that separating the visible and spiritual. From Gen. 1:1 the Hebrew word for “heaven” is always plural (שמיים – shamayyim) reflecting this.

  12. Paul says

    A book published almost a century ago, “The Navel of the Earth” by A. J. Wensinck {p.50), mentions the verse from Genesis 1:8; “God called the firmament heaven.” It goes on to quote Psalms 148:4; “Praise Him, highest heavens, and you waters that are above the heavens.”
    “Here we have the firmament as heaven and a still higher heaven. This highest heaven is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. But no third heaven occurs as in later times. 2 Corinthians 12:2 this third heaven is mentioned. Syrians also know of three heavens: ‘God created the heavens as three strata.’ (Lagarde, p.5, 21).”

  13. GEORGE says

    Good info. Though scripture does not name them it describes two heavenly levels different from the Earth’s visible physical heaven, presumably the “highest heaven” of God’s abode and a mid-heaven where perhaps angels (both good and bad inhabit and traverse between us and God. Technically the “ים – eem” plural form in Hebrew normally refers to 3 or more and not to a plurality of only 2. Likewise “Water” is also always plural in Hebrew, (מים – Mayyim) again from it’s first mention in Gen 1 where there are waters on, above and under the earth.

  14. kenny says

    The waters above and below are the clouds (2 Samuel 22:12; Job 26:8, 36:27-28, 37:11, 38:34; Psalm 77:17; Ecclesiastes 11:3) and the oceans. There are three heavens in the Bible. God’s dwelling place, the universe and the atmosphere between the clouds and the oceans, where the birds fly.

    Yes, heavens (shamayim) is always plural, so you must check the context to figure out which one is being refered to. Words that are always plural are often still used in a singular sense.

    I do not know what George meant by “waters under the earth,” but this was a Biblical phrase that meant lower than the land masses. To put it another way, the land masses stand higher than the oceans.

    Yes, in the Old Testament everyone went to Sheol. Hades (N.T.) was the equivalent of the Old Testament Sheol. This was a two compartment holding area. One side was for the unrighteous and one side was for the righteous (Luke 16:19-26). The righteous side is no longer in use. Since Jesus made the full payment for sins, the spirits of the O.T. saints and all who have put their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus have and do go straight to Heaven (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:21-23; Hebrews 11:39-40). Later, there is a physical resurrection at which time they will be joined to their perfected bodies.

    The other side of Sheol/Hades is a place of torment, but is just the “county jail” where the unrighteous await their sentencing at the Great White Throne Judgment. At that time they will go to the “federal penitentiary.” This is what is known as Hell (Gehenna, the Lake of Fire and the Second Death) in the New Testament. The O.T. name for Gehenna was Tophet (Isaiah 30:33). In fact both words refer to the Valley of Hinnom (a place of constant burning 2 Kings 23:10). I do not know which was named after the other, Hell or the valley.

    Hades/Sheol will be cast into The Lake of Fire, the true Hell (Revelation 20:13-15).

  15. GEORGE says

    Kenny, I enjoyed your post and wondered if you or others have thoughts on this which comes to mind by your mention of Hebrew plurals “used in a singular sense.”

    As in certain other languages Hebrew normally requires subject-verb agreement. Yet the bible’s first verse presents an ungrammatical conflict. Where we read “In the beginning God created…” (בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים) the subject, “God” is plural and the verb, “created” is singular. I have wondered if the bible’s first three words do not hint at the Trinity. The writer quotes God further along, “let US make man in OUR image.” I don’t suppose such a hint was intended by the original writer, but perhaps by the One that inspired him.

  16. Annie says

    Annie says I am so happy t read yur article. For many years I have wanted to know more about heavenly visitors espcially since so many pe0pl are writing books on their visits and I wondered if this is Scriptural. Thank you so much for yur article. I can now believe the stories that I read.

  17. Everett says

    Responding to George, there are several nouns in the plural, in Hebrew, that take singular verbs. The whole point of this is that the thing referred to is changeable in its appearances, but one at root: the face, pnim, water, mayim, the heavens, shamayim, and the powers of nature that seem to govern us and that pagans worship as multiple gods but which are all actually merely expressions of the one God, Elohim. When the Torah wishes to refer to the God of nature, it uses the Elohim term, when it wishes to refer to the personal God revealed at Sinai and that governs human history, it uses the YHVH term, whose actual pronunciation has been lost for many centuries precisely because the Ten Commandments forbade its casual use, but which also occurred because God is beyond all names, unlike the Tom, Dick and Harry gods of polytheism. Whenever the Torah refers to YHVH the vowels in the Masoretic text were given not for that word but for Adonai, the “Lord,” which the reader, even if reading it before a synagogue congregation, should say instead. And so readers have done for millenia. The term itself seems to be a condensed form of all forms of the verb “to be,” in its past, present and future tenses. In any case, it is Jewish belief that all terms for God can only be “broken” words, so as to point to God’s utter transcendence. Orthodox Jews today therefore write “G-d,” even in English, and “Elohim” is said in none devotional contexts as “Elokim,” etc.

    There is therefore no polytheistic intention behind the term “Elohim” in the Torah, much less a Trinitarian one, quite the opposite, there is an anti-polytheistic implication: the powers that polytheists think are many gods, elohim, are actually all merely expressions of the One God, just as the various changing clouds and climate of the sky is all the one Shamayim, the changing waters are all one water, mayim, the changing expressions of a face are all one face, pnim. Thus Elohim like them receives for Jews a singular verb.

    Turning to Paul, it is interesting and relevant that Paul ignored the Noahite Covenant teaching of Rabbinic and Biblical Judaism, that as Noah himself shows, anyone obeying the covenant of basic godly righteousness established at the time of Noah (Gen. 9) is assured of salvation in heavenly paradise, that is in the World-to-Come. This applies to all peoples, religions and cultures, according to Torah teachings, which is one of the taken-for-granted points of the Book of Job (Job was a pagan Arab, as the first sentence of the book declares and all later Jewish exegesis states, yet he is a model of righteousness and faith also for Jews, and much loved by God). “The righteous of all peoples have a place in the World-to-Come,” as the Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:2 puts it, and B.T. Sanhedrin 105a indicates that since even a spark of goodness in a person is sufficient for salvation in heavenly paradise, almost all of humanity can be assured of salvation. Such is God’s great mercy, according to Judaism. That means however that Paul’s claim that only through faith in Jesus could people be saved, not through any other religion including Judaism itself, was wrong. The New Testament has two references in passing and without background explanation of the standard Jewish teaching that salvation in heaven was also available to non-Jews: Acts 10:34-35, quoting Peter, and Acts 15:1-29, giving a distorted and unjustly anti-Pharisaic account of the Noahite based agreement by the Jerusalem Council of the new messianic sect to allow gentiles to join without demanding conversion to Judaism. For the Pharisees were precisely the ones who insisted on the validity of the Noahite covenant for all humanity, and who in that very century accepted gentile “God-fearers” into synagogue worship along with many outright converts.

  18. Everett says

    One further point in response to both George’s and Kenny’s posts above regarding the heavens. There is an archaizing quality to the discussion as if it is sufficient merely to take “Old Testament” statements, which often in fact merely skimmed the surface of many taken-for-granted topics, as if they completely summed up Jewish cosmological belief in the Biblical period and even in the post-Biblical late Second Temple period. Misinformation inevitably results. It is stated as if it were simply an incontrovertible fact that ‘The idea of a “seventh heaven” is found in Islamic and Kabbalistic tradition but not in Scripture or Christian or Jewish orthodoxy.’ This is incorrect. Resh Lakish, one of the great Talmudic rabbis, stated that there were seven heavens and describes them at length, in a discussion that is accepted by other Talmudic rabbis and later tradition (B.T. Hagigah 12b). Belief in the seven heavens is therefore characteristic of all later traditional Judaism, and not just Kabbalists. The above erroneous declaration claims that the Kabbalistic tradition is separate from Jewish Orthodoxy. This is not the case. The very term for “Kabbalah” means in Hebrew “the received tradition.” Traditional Rabbinic Judaism had a deeply fervent mystical stream running through it, down through the ages, deriving from Biblical times and such sources as the ecstatic experiences described in the Torah in connection with Jacob, Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel, among others. This mystical stream, highly diverse in itself, was what is now called the Kabbalah. Some rabbis were deeply mystical, others less so, and some were even strongly critical of Kabbalah (since Judaism traditiionally has allowed fairly wide latitude in theoretical outlook), but often the leading rabbis of a generation, the most admired authorities, were Kabbalists. There were no Kabbalists who were not rabbis.

  19. Everett says

    Reading Dr. Tabor’s article, I see that he thinks that various figures in the Biblical period, such as Moses, Elijah, Enoch, etc., were fully deified. This of course is not so. None for example are prayed to, there is no cult to them, their presence is not even invoked together with that of God. God is One. There is none like unto him. This is what Moses’ own Torah revelation states, and what the Shema renders into a faith declaration. It is a telling evidence of this that Moses’ burial place is unknown, which according to traditional Jewish commentaries is to ensure that the usual pagan tendency to deify human heroes and make their tombs places of worship would not be possible. Even the traditional Passover seder omits any reference to Moses (there is one reference in passing in the Sefardi version), something one would have thought impossible to achieve in describing the Exodus. It was all God’s work, not that of any man. And the basic Seder procedure and wording goes back into the Second Temple period at least, if not far earlier. There are no deified men in Judaism, whether Biblical or post-Biblical.

  20. Everett says

    On Kabbalah, I should correct myself: there was one Kabbalistic movement that was anti-rabbinic, which was nevertheless led by people who had been rabbinically trained to some degree, which flared up and consumed itself in just one generation: the Shabbatian movement of the 17th century. And I should also add that Hasidism as such, while Orthodox or even ultra-Orthodox, a kind of revivalistic Rabbinic Judaism, is deeply shaped by Kabbalistic teachings that have spread widely amongst their devotees, including those not rabbis.

  21. philip says

    There are five figures in the Bible who, according to standard Jewish and Christian interpretation, are reported to have ascended to heaven: Enoch (Gen 5:24)….

    This might be the standard modern interpretation at a popular level, but in fact Ge. 5:24 merely says that Enoch was “taken” – it doesn’t say where to.

  22. Everett says

    That is correct, Philip. The traditional Rabbinic midrashic interpretation of the Torah reference to Enoch, in fact, is that Enoch was “taken” not at all because he was a sublimely lofty man, but quite the contrary, in order to stop his frequent false accounts of the heavenly realms, so as to prevent even more schismatic and heretical ideas spreading. And this “taking” consisted of his perishing in one of his trances. Behind this was perhaps the mainstream Judaic repudiation of some of the numerous “revelations of Enoch” and other Biblical figures (even including Moses) that schismatic groups were producing in the first centuries BCE and CE to validate their own non-Judaic and sometimes anti-Judaic views. The so-called Books of Enoch (there are two main variant versions) that we have today are cases in point. They are clearly anthologies, composites written by many different authors with very different writing styles, some of them openly contradicting each other in general views and in technical esoteric matters too, even within the same “Book of Enoch.” This is behind the standard Rabbinic declaration that prophecy ceased with Zechariah; there were many marginal sectarian and sometimes even anti-Jewish and gentile groups flourishing in late antiquity that drew on Jewish sources and claimed that their newly produced texts were ancient “underground” prophetic revelations supplanting mainstream Judaism, especially in Egypt but also in Judea and elsewhere. The Nag Hamadi Gnostics provide extreme instances of this, with their frequently highly demonized view of the Jewish scriptures and God, despite their central use of Biblical literature and “prophetic revelations” of heavenly secrets.

  23. kenny says

    George,

    You are correct. “Let US make man in OUR image, according to OUR likeness…God created man in HIS image, in the image of God HE created him…” God refers to Himself as both plural and singular. Other O.T. references to at least two members of the Trinity are (Gen. 1:1-2, 3:22-24, 11:6-9; Job 33:4; Psalm 2, 45:1-7, 104:30, 110:1, 139:7; Proverbs 30:4-5; Isaiah 42:1-9, 48:16-17; Daniel 7:13-14, etc).

    In case this comes up, there was no use of a plural of majesty (respect) until after the classic Roman and Greek periods. This means that God is referring to Himself as more than one in persons. The Trinity is one nature and three persons “one what, three whose.” This is not three whats, i.e. not three gods.

  24. kenny says

    Everett,

    You have been lead astray. There is a difference between what men practice and what the Scriptures teach. There is a difference between the words of the Almighty and the words found in commentaries (Talmud).

    “Turning to Paul, it is interesting and relevant that Paul ignored the Noahite Covenant teaching of Rabbinic and Biblical Judaism, that as Noah himself shows, anyone obeying the covenant of basic godly righteousness established at the time of Noah (Gen. 9) is assured of salvation in heavenly paradise, that is in the World-to-Come.”

    What are you talking about? The only covenant in Genesis 9 has to do with not wiping out all humanity and the animals associated with them, by a flood, ever again (Gen. 9:8-17). There is nothing about universal salvation. Maybe you should give us the quote you are referring to.

    “One further point in response to both George’s and Kenny’s posts above regarding the heavens. There is an archaizing quality to the discussion as if it is sufficient merely to take “Old Testament” statements, which often in fact merely skimmed the surface of many taken-for-granted topics, as if they completely summed up Jewish cosmological belief in the Biblical period and even in the post-Biblical late Second Temple period.”

    Quite frankly, I’m not worried about what men thought, but what God’s word to us teaches. By the way, those rabbis you quote lived long after Biblical times. If you cannot give me Scriptural references to 7 heavens, then I’m not interested. The O.T is full of times when the Jews strayed from the teachings of God to follow the teachings of man.

    “‘The righteous of all peoples have a place in the World-to-Come,’ as the Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:2 puts it, and B.T. Sanhedrin 105a indicates that since even a spark of goodness in a person is sufficient for salvation in heavenly paradise, almost all of humanity can be assured of salvation.”

    Salvation is available to all people, but each person must come to put their faith in the one true God. No one in the Old or New Testament received salvation apart from belief in the one true God of the Judeo/ Christian faith. The entire New Testament shows that salvation is available to all people. God has always taught this, but He has also been clear on what basis salvation will be granted (faith and repentance).
    Isaiah 45:20-22, 49:6; Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8, 8:26-39; Romans 1:16-32; Revelation 5:9-10. Luke who wrote one of the Gospels was a gentile (non-Jew) and most of the N.T. was written to churches made up primarily of gentiles.

    Was Job righteous? Yes, he placed his faith in the one true God (Job 1:1, 13:15, 19:25-27). Other Gentiles did this as well, Egyptians (Exodus 12:37-38, see Ex. 9:20), Ruth (Ruth 1:16-17) and King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:34-37). This is a short list of people who worshipped other gods, but turned and placed their faith in the one true God.

    Man is basically evil, not good (Gen. 8:21; 1 Kings 8:45-46; Isaiah 64:6; Jere. 17:9).

    God declared in the O.T. that He would send a redeemer. That Redeemer is Jesus. Being religious will not get anyone into Heaven. “Good” works cannot get anyone into heaven. Sin has caused a great gulf separating us from God. Only a perfect, sinless, substitutionary sacrifice will satisfy God’s justice. Jesus, God in human flesh, made this payment and only by placing your faith in His death and resurrection, as substitution for you, can you be made righteous in God’s sight. When you do this, God will give you mercy, instead of justice.

    Will religious belief get you into heaven?
    James 2:19 “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”

    John 6:27 “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal.”
    28 They said therefore to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
    29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

  25. Paul says

    “All the days of Enoch came to 365 years” (Genesis 5:23). There appears to be a similarity between “Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam” (Jude 1:14), and Enmeduranki, the seventh antediluvian king mentioned in the Sumerian kings lists. Enmeduranki’s city was Sippar which was home to the sun-god Shamash, and the 365 years of Enoch’s life corresponds to the 365 days of the solar year (Enoch and the Growth of an Apocalyptic Tradition, by James Vanderkam pp.23-45). The god Shamash is also associated with the divination of oracles and omens.
    It was the Priestly writers who composed Genesis chapter 5 and it was their aim to convey that the descendants of Adam were also created in the image (zelem) of God. “The zelem is the principle of individuality with which every single human being is endowed, the spiritual configuration or essence that is unique to him and him alone” (Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem p.158). In the Book of Zohar this “image” acts as a mediator between the physical body and the soul. We find the word “zelem” expressed as “shadow” in Psalm 39:7; “Man walks about as a mere shadow.”
    “A man’s days exist through the image, and are dependant on it This is the meaning of, ‘For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow’ (Job 8:9) – .our days” are literally ‘a shadow.’ In other words, the shadow (zel), which is an omen for the length of a man’s life, is none other than an external manifestation of the zelem” (On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, by Gershom Scholem pp. 251-319).

  26. B. says

    The reference to the “Third Heaven” is most likely to the Sphere of Venus. Paul lived at a time when the Earth was thought to be the center of a series of concentric spheres:

    1. the Moon
    2. Mercury
    3. Venus
    4. the Sun
    5. Mars
    6. Jupiter
    7. Saturn
    8. the Stars
    9. the Primum Mobile

    The third heaven (of Venus) is distinguished by the then-popular idea that the Earth’s cone-shaped shadow came to a point in this sphere, thus indicating that above this level all earthly imperfections had vanished.

  27. Everett says

    Responding to Kenny, the passages in which he finds references to “at least two persons in the Trinity” do not bear that meaning in Biblical Hebrew (e.g., ruach Elohim, the breath or wind of God, does not refer to a distinct person in God any more than it does if applied to Kenny’s own breath), just as the plural noun with singular verb for “water,” “face,” “heavens” and “God” does not signify the trinity as George suggested earlier (why just three-foldedness? Why not five and a half foldness, or eight-foldness? etc.) — the plurals …im (masc.) and …ot (fem.) in Hebrew are like the plural in English: they signify no specific plural number. No trinitarianism is implied.

    As for the passage in Gen. 1:26, “Let us make man with our image and likeness,” again the trinitarian interpretation is arbitrary and anachronistic. Much more persuasive is the traditional Rabbinic interpretation, which also happens to be the general modern non-Jewish interpretation too, that here we have to do with what Nahum Sarna calls (in his JPS Torah Commentary Genesis, p. 12) “a heavenly court in which God is surrounded by His angelic host.’ He continues: ‘This is the Israelite version of the polytheistic assemblies of the pantheon — monotheized and depaganized. It is noteworthy that this plural form of divine address is employed in Genesis on two other occasions, both involving the fate of humanity: in 3:22, in connection with the expulsion from Eden; and in 11:7, in reference to the dispersal of the human race after the building of the Tower of Babel.’

    Rashi, the greatest medieval exegete, and a standard authority, says: ‘The meekness of the Holy One, blessed be He, they [the Rabbis] learned from here: because the man is in the likeness of the angels and they might envy him, therefore He took counsel with them (Gen. Rabbah 8). And when He judges the kings He likewise consults His heavenly council, for thus we find in the case of Ahab to whom Micha said (I Kings 12:19), “I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him …” (etc.)’ This host of heaven consisted of the various angelic powers of nature; Deut. 4:19 tells us that God apportioned the stars, the angelic heavenly host, to the nations of humanity as their guardians, but took Israel as His own. Their indirect worship was therefore acceptable to God, but not Israel’s: that had to be a direct worship without intermediaries. This also impacted on the Rabbinic understanding of the Noahite Covenant: belief in God was required, but intermediaries associated with God were allowed to non-Jews.

    The comments of Aryeh Kaplan to Gen. 1:26, in his translation and commentary The Living Torah, p. 5, are also very relevant: ‘”Let us” … God was speaking to all the forces of creation that He had brought into existence (cf. Targum Yonathan; Ramban). Now that all the ingredients of creation had essentially been completed, all would participate in the creation of man, the crown of creation. Others interpret “we” in the majestic sense, and translate the verse, “I will make man in My image” (Emunot veDeyoth 2:9; Ibn Ezra). “In our image and likeness.” Man is thus a microcosm of all the forces of creation.’

    Kenny tells us that the majestic plural is not used until the Graeco-Roman period. Yet here it is found long before that time, in the Torah itself, either implicitly as explained above, or explicitly expressed. For whether God speaks with the authority of his entire host, or does not, in truth the host has no separate power; all is from God, and only his will is done, whether through the powers of nature or directly. That is not later exegesis. It is stated in the very Torah passage we are talking about. Note that after speaking of making Adam in “our” image, i.e., including contributions from all the powers of nature (which he himself had already created), the Torah then summarizes the whole process, and then uses the singular grammatical forms only Gen. 1:27: ‘So God created the man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.” Thus we see it taught that the image of God is one that includes everything and that points beyond itself to its creator. That is why it includes not only all the powers of nature but also both male and female together in creative union (and is most explicitly replicated amongst humans in fruitful marriage).

    So I would argue that the “majestic use of the plural” is fully present here, both implicitly and explicitly. To prove the opposite, Kenny, can you provide any citations to scholarly studies or sources to justify your claim? It would be relevant to discuss ancient Near Eastern western Semitic literature, such as at Ugarit, Mari, or Ebla, etc. But the usage of other neighbouring cultures would also relevant.

    In regard to righteous non-Jews and the universal availability of salvation through the Noahite Covenant (or Noachide Covenant) to all humanity, and how this covenant was understood in Biblical and post-Biblical Judaism, including in the First Century CE, see David Novak, The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism: An Historical and Constructive Study of the Noahide Laws (1983), and Aaron Lichtenstein, The Seven Laws of Noah, 2nd ed. (1986). They explicitly stated that pagans can be saved. All this is mainstream Judaism. (Scholem’s comments on later Kabbalah are not relevant here.) The precise details of the Noahite commandments may have been matters still of some debate in the First century CE, but everyone agreed then on their general thrust. The point of mentioning this is it shows that the portraits of salvation and of the teachings of Judaism in his own time conveyed by Paul in the NT are simply incorrect.

  28. GEORGE says

    I’m loving reading all this! It reminds me of the brilliant lecturer who afterward asked an attendee what he thought of the lecture. The fellow replied, “You’re probably the smartest man I’ve ever met! I couldn’t understand a thing you said, but I’m sure glad you’re on our side!”

    I’m reminded of some of Jesus “scholarly” discussions with Judean Pharisees in the 1st. c. In their scholarship the Pharisees’ authoritative source list was quite broad but Jesus’ brought them back to the scripture…back to the Ketubim and even further to the original principle revealed in Torah. The discussion on divorce is a case in point: Jesus agreed that Moses (Torah) had granted a writ of divorce but revealed it to be exceptional for, “in the beginning it was not so,” He said, taking them back to what Torah revealed as divine principle in creation which showed Moses’ writ of divorce to be problematic. While observing “the traditions” Himself, Jesus subordinated them to scripture and in a certain sense even subordinated scripture to divine principle as revealed in scripture, as in the case of divorce.

    Both scripture and tradition must be interpreted to be applied. I think the Jewish Messiah is, hands down, the One to look to for interpretation both in His teaching and His life. The sages, the Tannaim, the Amoraim, Hillel and Shammai, Gamliel, Yehuda ha Nasi on down to today…can not give us clear, straight forward interpretation for belief and life application. These great men have given us some wonderful insights and sayings…however, they’ve said way too much to understand and apply. But we can learn from them and “be glad they’re on our side!”
    Please carry on…

  29. GEORGE says

    …in what I just wrote about the Jewish sages being unable to “…give us clear, straight forward interpretation for belief and life application” I should have noted that “us” refers to those of us who recognize the authority of scripture and accept the reality of “sin” and it’s remedy as revealed therein. The rest make up whatever they want to avoid dealing with it. But, what is the Ketubim about if not about “redemption.” Redemption from what? From sin and it’s consequences, right? I don’t wish to preach, but isn’t that right? Much “scholarship,” ancient and modern, serves to confuse this most basic and central scriptural issue. Why? May I give my answer? I say, behind it all lurks the serpent’s same old lie from the Garden of Eden, “you will not surely die!” Now there I go! I’m starting to preach…

  30. Everett says

    Actually, George, the Sages of the Mishnah, Talmud and later writings do indeed give us “clear, straight-forward interpretation for belief and life application,” despite the wide leniency, allowance for diverse perspectives and multi-sided approach to issues characteristic of Rabbinic Judaism generally. Without that clear interpretation for belief and life application, married to humane multi-sided common sense, Judaism would not have been able to survive as a threatened minority faith for over 3 millenia, since Sinai, and in the most diverse non-Jewish cultures This is an unparalleled and amazing testimony to Jewish faithfulness to God. By the way, the Oral Torah that the Talmud presents clearly began at Sinai, since none of the commandments can be applied without interpretation (including any of the Ten Commandments: e.g., what does “work” mean in terms of Sabbath observance?), and in fact it began even before Sinai since the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, reflecting God’s inspiration, their descendants, and the huge number of people who left Egypt under Moses had to have developed practices and customary law which Moses himself adjudicated, with God’s inspiration, even before Sinai, according to the Torah itself (Exod. 18:13-26); the Sinai revelation perfected and unified this, but it still needed on-going oral and God-inspired clarification by Moses (e.g., Num. 15: 32-35, and Num. 36). Deut. 17: 8-11 clearly states that the scribes, priests and judges that in that and later generations interpreted the Torah commandments in even the smallest communities, did so in continuity with and in obedience to Moses’ own instructions and monitoring, and their rulings should be obeyed as if they came from Sinai. Thus the basic continuity of the Oral Torah to the Written Torah of Sinai is asserted in the Torah itself.

    As for the question of evil and sin, do not worry, George, traditional Judaism reflects deep thought on and understanding of these problems. It disagrees with the typically either-or, saved-damned exclusivity of Pauline and later Christian teachings, however. A good brief introduction to the far more monotheistic (i.e., no Satanic god of evil), nuanced and humane approach of the Sages of the Oral Torah can be found in Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: Major Concepts of the Talmud (Schocken Books, 1909, 1961), from Chapter XIV: Sin as Rebellion, to Chapter XVIII: Repentance: Means of Reconciliation, pp. 219-343; and, in terms of its differences from Paul’s teachings in the NT, see E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (SCM Press, 1971, 1973). Humanity has always had a road back from sin and evil into God’s presence, George: it is available to every person, Jew or non-Jew. It is called “repentance,” Teshuvah in Hebrew, i.e., “returning” to God, and doing good instead. As the Torah and prophets constantly insisted, the God of Sinai is filled with lovingkindness and is always eagerly ready to receive back any sincere penitent. This is eternally so; it does not need any special dispensation. God has not been so cruel as to consign to eternal damnation all those, however righteous they may be, who do not know or agree with a particular religion’s messianic doctrine. (Actually, mainstream Judaism so grounds itself on God’s mercy and lovingkindness that it does not even teach eternal damnation for sinners: the very longest most of us will be in Purgatory, according to traditional teachings, is 12 months, and repentance redeems souls even from there to heavenly reward.)

  31. GEORGE says

    Everett, (whoa, here I go again! By now I suppose we’ve forgotten all about Tabor’s article. But we’re at least relating…)

    I find it very interesting that Judaism has embraced a concept of purgatory and an impermanent “hell” and know that to be true. Your erudition greatly exceeds mine. I presume, from your deep knowledge, that you are Jewish yourself. Either that, or like me, you hold the Jewish people deeply in your heart and these matters are very important to you. I’ve enjoyed, and learned much, from reading your posts. Compared to you i am fairly simplistic (I hate to say “fundamentalistic”) in my approach to scripture. Without pretending to understand it all, I do believe it to be authoritative above all else. So far I do not see where any sage or commentator has dealt satisfactorily with the issue of “redemption” when the scripture categorically states that “without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin” clearly requiring the substitutionary giving of a life by exsanguination on the part of the repentant sinner. Lev. 17:11ff and other places in Ketubim refer to this as a principle upon which the whole Israelite sacrificial system is predicated and there is no other “remedy” for sin and it’s consequences offered. Yet, also in a number of places Ketubim tells us the sacrificial system, though still being observed at the time of writing, fails. (cp. Ps 40:6-8, Ps 51:16 Is 1:11 )

    In spite of this I have never heard or read of a satisfactory substitution for the sacrificial system, upon which redemption is conditional..nothing that is given in, or consistant with, scripture. Later, of course, blood sacrifice ceased, but upon what scriptural authority? If redemption depends upon it as the scripture says, then is there no longer any redemption? Could God have thought, “Oh look! The Temple and alter are gone! What shall we [plural:)] do? Well, I guess that cancels everything I said about blood, redemption, atonement and all that. Since they couldn’t help it , I guess now I’ll just have to accept whatever their best thinkers come up with instead.”? I don’t see that as a reasonable belief.

    Hebrews 10:4-10 is the only thing I’ve heard or read that addresses that dilemma in a way consistent with scriptural principle. We can appreciate the various sages’ and writers’ attempts, even be deeply inspired by them. But, in my view, no other proposal satisfies the original, basic principle and requirement that God established with Israel. Obviously, the principle pre-existed Moses and Torah. We see it already in the blood sacrifice of Abel vs the vegetables of Cain, right from the Garden of Eden. It seems that mankind has somehow instinctively known the need for blood sacrifice ever since. To me it’s inconceivable that the loss of the Temple changed the principle and left us (or our sages) to figure it out what was acceptable to God OTHER THAN what He said.

    For my money, Hebrews 10 offers us the only “peep behind the curtain” of this eternal and all-important conundrum we seemed to be left with the day Gen. Titus took over the Temple.

    That is not to say that those who embraced and exemplified t’shuvah got no atonement from Temple offering after Messiah’s vicarious offering of Himself on all our behalf. The believers in Jesus, though they knew this, continued to observe the Temple system, Paul included.

    But once that system ended…what? It makes scriptural sense to me that God had already made provision for all repentant souls before that system went down. (Like replacing a computer system and running the old and new parallel for awhile) It makes sense. Knowing from the start the “system” would fail, God would come and give Himself as an eternally durable atonement requiring nothing else but t’shuvah. Belief (faith) is implicit in t’shuvah. I totally agree with you, “God has not been so cruel as to consign to eternal damnation all those, however righteous they may be, who do not know or agree with a particular religion’s messianic doctrine.” I don’t think one has to know that Yeshua was עִמָּנוּאֵל (immanuel) or know of him at all. One might know nothing of Christian or Jewish doctrine but, if truly walking in t’shuvah, I believe he will respond rightly to whatever light God has given him in his particular time, place and circumstance and forgiveness and atonement will be his, regardless “knowledge.” Pursuit of God-likeness through that “tree” created the whole problem. I believe Messiah is the “tree” of Life. I don’t believe one has to know any of that, be a Jew or a Christian. I believe any person who wants to be “right with God” (if that can be our definition of t’shuvah) will be precisely because of what Messiah has done. If we are not “redeemed” it’s because we don’t really want to be. We don’t believe it. We choose to go it alone. We reject God. Someone once said, “No one can go to Hell unless they choose it.” That could be right in my view.

    I think the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel is very much more loving and gracious than the “turn or burn” approach to redemption might suggest. While neither God nor the scripture may be as “flexible” as the sages (and many of us) suppose or want it to be, the provision He has made for our redemption in Messiah is infinitely more ingenious and pervasive than we or the sages can fathom. Isaiah knew this (see 55:9). The Apostle Paul knew it too (see Rom. 11:33).

    Bronze was said to typify Gods judgements. The scripture gives a careful inventory of the weight or quantity of all that went into the building of the Temple and it’s furnishings…except for the bronze. 2 Chron. 4:18 says the weight of the bronze, (like God’s judgements it represents) “could not be calculated.”

    The sages are wonderful teachers, but without blood sacrifice they were trying to calculate for us what couldn’t be calculated. Your closing statement, “repentance redeems souls even from there to heavenly reward” comes close in my estimation. But without the blood it falls short of what God decreed and has never changed.

  32. kenny says

    Everett,

    It is not just Paul, but Jesus and all of the N.T. authors which tell of the requirements for salvation. Again, do not give me the traditions of men, written long after the Bible, give me scripture.
    Isaiah 64:6 “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

    Also, where in the Biblical text did you find this?
    “Noah himself shows, anyone obeying the covenant of basic godly righteousness established at the time of Noah (Gen. 9) is assured of salvation in heavenly paradise, that is in the World-to-Come.”

    I see that there is a lot of confusion on this subject. When the plural of majesty is being referred to, it is the “Royal WE.” This is when one speaks of themselves in the plural, using plural pronouns.

    All of your references about the inclusions of angels and creation disqualify them from being identified with the “Royal WE.”

    Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let US MAKE MAN in OUR IMAGE, according to OUR LIKENESS; 27 And GOD CREATED MAN in HIS OWN IMAGE, in the IMAGE OF GOD HE CREATED HIM; male and female HE CREATED THEM.
    5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when GOD CREATED MAN, HE MADE HIM IN THE LIKENESS OF GOD.
    9: 6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the IMAGE OF GOD HE MADE MAN.

    Genesis 3: 5 “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be LIKE GOD, knowing good and evil.”
    3:22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become LIKE ONE OF US, knowing good and evil;

    Genesis 11:5 “And the LORD CAME DOWN to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built… 7 ‘Come, LET US GO DOWN and there CONFUSE THEIR LANGUAGE, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ 8 So the LORD SCATTERED them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD CONFUSED THE LANGUAGE of the whole earth; and from there the LORD SCATTERED them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

    Show me, from the above verses, why I should believe that God is not speaking of Himself.

    “To begin with, the possessive ‘our’ in ‘our image’ should refer to the same person(s) as the ‘us’ that is the subject of the verb: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ Then God carries this out in Genesis 1:27, ‘God created man in His own image’; that is, only God is the subject of the verb, and only God is the referent of the possessive. In fact, man is only said to be in God’s image, not in the image of another heavenly being (as also Gen. 5:1). Second, the verbs make and create have only God as their subject throughout this account: no one joins Him in the work. Third, we have a parallel in Genesis 11:7, where the Lord says, ‘Let us go down and confuse,’ with its fulfillment in Genesis 11:8, where the Lord is the only actor.”
    (Dr. C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4, A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary)

    “1. Genesis 1:26 quotes God (‘elohim) as saying, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness” (NASB). This first person plural can hardly be a mere editorial or royal plural that refers to the speaker alone, for no such usage is demonstrable anywhere else in biblical Hebrew. Therefore we must face the question of who are included in this “us” and “our.” It could hardly include the angels in consultation with God, for nowhere is it ever stated that man was created in the image of angels, only of God. Verse 27 then affirms: “And God ['elohim] created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male female He Created them” (NASB). God–the same God who spoke of Himself in the plural–now states that He created man in His image. In other words, the plural equals the singular. This can only be understood in terms of the Trinitarian nature of God. The one true God subsists in three Persons, Persons who are able to confer with one another and carry their plans into action together–without ceasing to be one God.”
    (Dr. Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties)

    Dr. John Ankerberg held a debate on “The Concept of God in Islam and Christianity”
    Representing Islam were Dr. Jamal Badawi, Chairman of the Islamic Information Foundation, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Dr. Hussein Morsi, Director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Chicago, Illinois.
    Representing Christianity were Dr. Anis Shorrosh, a Palestinian Arab Christian who received his Ph.D. from Oxford Graduate School and Dr. Gleason Archer who holds degrees from Princeton, Suffolk University and received his Ph.D. from Harvard. Dr. Archer is currently professor of Semitic Languages and Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

    Archer:
    “In verse 26 of Genesis 1, we read in connection with God’s creation of man, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ Now, this could not possibly refer to angels joining with God in the matter of furnishing a model for man. It does seem to imply a plurality on the part of the one God. Now, of course, it is true that in later times, certainly in Koranic times, the first person plural pronoun ‘we’ was frequently used in a majestic way. Allah is quoted very often in this fashion. But the thing that is important to observe is that in no ancient language of the B.C. period do you find such usage. If a person means I, he says I, he does not say we. Therefore, on historic linguistic grounds we are forced to say that there is an implication of plurality in the Godhead in this account of man’s creation.”

    Hussein Morsi:
    “No where does ‘we’ mean trinity. If we say ‘we’ it means plural. Anyone that is familiar with the semitic language like Greek, Hebrew and Arabic will know that there is a plural of respect and there is a plural of number; that we and the us that is mentioned in the Old Testament and in the Koran refers to the plural of respect of God Almighty. Even the Queen of England, John, says we and it does not mean that there is multiple Queens there.”

    Archer:
    “Yes. Well, first of all, I apparently did not communicate successfully to these gentlemen the fact that there is no recorded use in any ancient language in the B.C. period or in the classical Roman or Greek period where the pronoun ‘we’ is ever equivalent to ‘I.’ Therefore, the only honest thing you can do in the interpretation of language is to recognize the fact that when the Hebrew used ‘let us make’, it was talking about more than one.”

    Gleason L. Archer was an undergraduate classics major who received training in Latin, Greek, French and German at Harvard University. At seminary he majored in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic and in post-graduate study became involved with Akkadian and Syriac, teaching courses on these subjects. He has had a special interest in middle kingdom Egyptian studies and at the Oriental Institute in Chicago he did specialized study in Eighteenth Dynasty historical records as well as studying Coptic and Sumerian. In addition he obtained a full law degree and was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. He has also traveled to the Holy Land where he visited most of the important archaeological sites and spent time in Beirut, Lebanon for a specialized study of modern literary Arabic. He holds the B.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary and the Ph.D. from Harvard Graduate School. He was fluent in 15 languages.

    Dr. Wayne Grudem agrees with the above.
    (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Biblical Doctrine)

    Two are called God and Lord

    Psalm 45:6 THY THRONE, O GOD, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Thy kingdom. 7 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness; THEREFORE GOD, THY GOD, has anointed Thee With the oil of joy above Thy fellows.

    Psalm 110:1 THE LORD SAYS TO MY LORD: “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.” (See Matthew 22:41-46)

    Hosea 1:6 Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And THE LORD SAID to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I should ever forgive them. 7 “But I WILL have compassion on the house of Judah and DELIVER THEM BY THE LORD THEIR GOD, and will not deliver them by bow, sword, battle, horses, or horsemen.”

    Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I AM GOING TO SEND MY MESSENGER, and HE will clear the way before ME. And THE LORD, whom you seek, will suddenly COME TO HIS TEMPLE; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, HE IS COMING,” SAYS THE LORD OF HOSTS.

    God has a SON

    Psalm 2:2 “The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against THE LORD and against HIS ANOINTED, saying, 3 “Let us break THEIR bonds in pieces And cast away THEIR cords from us.” 4 HE who sits in the heavens shall laugh; THE LORD shall hold them in derision…. 6 “Yet I have set MY KING ON MY HOLY HILL OF ZION.” 7 “I will declare the decree: THE LORD HAS SAID TO ME, ‘YOU ARE MY SON, Today I have begotten YOU. 8 Ask of ME, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for YOUR possession. 9 YOU shall break them with a rod of iron; YOU shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ 10 Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. 11 SERVE THE LORD with fear, And rejoice with trembling. 12 KISS THE SON, lest HE be angry, And you perish in the way, When HIS wrath is kindled but a little. BLESSED ARE ALL THOSE WHO PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM.”

    Proverbs 30:4 “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? WHAT IS HIS NAME, and WHAT IS HIS SON’S NAME, If you know?”

    Isaiah 9:6 “For a child will be born to us, a SON will be given to us; And THE GOVERNMENT WILL REST ON HIS SHOULDERS; And HIS NAME will be called Wonderful Counselor, MIGHTY GOD, ETERNAL FATHER, PRINCE OF PEACE. 7 There will be NO END TO THE INCREASE OF HIS GOVERNMENT OR OF PEACE, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, TO ESTABLISH IT AND TO UPHOLD IT with justice and righteousness FROM THEN ON AND FOREVERMORE. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”

    God’s Spirit has attributes of a person, not a wind or force.

    Isaiah 48:16 “sets forth all three Persons in the work of redemptive revelation and action: ‘Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret; from the time it took place [i.e, the deliverance of God's people from captivity and bondage], I was there. And now the Lord Yahweh has sent Me, and His Spirit.’ Here we have the God-man Redeemer speaking (the one who has just described Himself in v.12 as ‘the First and Last,’ and in v.13 as the one who ‘founded the earth and spread out the heavens.’) He now says here in v.16 that He has been sent by the Lord Yahweh (which in this case must refer to God the Father) and also by His Spirit (the Third Person of the Trinity). Conceivably ‘and His Spirit’ could be linked up with ‘Me’ as the object of ‘has sent,’ but in the context of the Hebrew original here it gives the impression that His ruah (‘Spirit’) is linked up with ‘adonay YHWH (‘Lord Yahweh’) as an added subject rather than an added object. At any rate, the Third Person is distinguished from either the First or the Second, so far as these verses are concerned.”

    Genesis 1:2 “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
    The term for hover (rachaph) is used in Deuteronomy 32:11 in the sense of guarding or watching over. Winds do not do this. Therefore, it refers to God’s Spirit, a caring person of the Trinity. Also, the Spirit’s position becomes the observational point of view in Genesis one. In other words, it is from His perspective that the account is being told. This is most clearly seen on days 4 and 5. The lights can only act as signs from the viewpoint of an earthbound observer. Likewise, when it says that the birds fly “above the earth, across the face of the sky (expanse of the heavens),” this is from an earthbound viewpoint. The “face of the sky,” is the cloud layer as seen by the observer below it.

    1 Samuel 16:14 “Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him.” The Spirit leaves and is replaced by another spirit.

    2 Samuel 23:2 “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue.”
    The Spirit speaks.

    Isaiah 40:13 “Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, Or as His counselor has taught Him?” The Spirit is full of wisdom.

    Isaiah 63:10 “But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them.”
    The Spirit can be grieved.

    Ezekiel 11:5 “Then the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and He said to me, ‘Say, ‘Thus says the LORD,’ So you think, house of Israel, for I know your thoughts.”
    The Spirit speaks.

    Micah 2:7 “Is it being said, O house of Jacob: ‘Is the Spirit of the LORD impatient? Are these His doings?’ Do not My words do good To the one walking uprightly?”
    The Spirit can perform actions and has personality.

  33. Everett says

    George and Kenny, thank you for your earnest and sincere responses: I appreciate them and respect your views. I would really not wish to argue you out of them insofar as they relate to the sacred relationship you have to God. So please forgive me if I do not respond in detail to each of your points; in such a case, anyway, it would require far too much space. But I do feel obliged to point out a few things that relate explicitly to the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Judaism based on them, that are wrongly understood in much Christian writing.

    First of all, George has made some points about sacrifices, saying that the Torah requires the shedding of blood for redemption of sins, and he cites Lev. 17:11ff., which does seem on the face of it to support this idea. I have indeed met with many Christian affirmations of the same thing, especially when discussing the Epistle to the Hebrews. But as we shall soon see, a closer look at George’s cited Leviticus text does not support that conclusion. In fact, there is no mystique to the blood in Judaism; it possesses no magical cleansing properties at all. Such ideas are actually alien and highly discordant within the Jewish context.

    I should point out that in those very books of the Torah that deal with sacrifice it is made plain that such sacrifices were chiefly required in regard to sins between a person (or community) and God, such as in ritual matters, whether inadvertent or not, and also as expressions of gratitude (“peace offerings”), etc., not for ethical sins nor crimes against other persons. It is a fundamental halakhic rule (i.e., of established Jewish law, but based on the Torah, for example Lev. 51ff , 5:20ff, and elsewhere), that sacrifice cannot atone for inter-personal sins until proper atonement had been made to the victim(s), including relevant restitution, and to society, via fines or other punishment, as stipulated in the normal civil laws given in the Torah.

    Furthermore, if the offering was for a sin, whether ritual or not, sincere repentance was crucial to the efficacy of the sacrificial rites, and if this intention was not present the sacrifice was of no effect. So the shedding of blood itself was neither here nor there, or rather was a sin in itself, killing a living creature, added to the sin of unrepentant error. And finally, bloody sacrifice was not actually necessary to effect atonement, even in these matters in the Tabernacle and Temple cult. If the person was poor, instead of cattle, sheep or goats, birds like doves could be offered, and if these were also too expensive or difficult to get, then at least for some categories of sacrifice meal-offerings were acceptable substitutes (e.g., Lev. 5 as such). The key point is that blood per se was not essential as an atoning medium.

    However, it should be understood that this was a farming and pastoral society, and almost everyone had some animals which therefore constituted much of their wealth, and sacrifices to be meaningful in such a context had to involve offering up to God what was valuable to oneself, and acknowledging that all that one had came from God and belonged to God first of all. This is the logic behind the entire sacrificial system. It is what the Shema declared (Deut. 6:4-8), that one is to love the Lord our God with all our heart (the Hebrew word signified consciousness, mind, mental capacities), all our soul (nefesh, our life-force), and all our “might” (meodecha, possessions, things that strengthen, enlarge and extend us, including for farmers their livestock). All this comes from God, still belongs to God, and we as custodians should see them as directed to God.

    In effect, George, as Lev. 17:3-6 and Deut. 18:4-5 actually say, this meant that every time one intended to slaughter an animal for food, one was obliged to offer it up first at the Tabernacle, to indicate God’s ownership of it, and then one received it back from God sanctified and could use it for food (except for those parts that were set aside for the priests). And it is in this context, actually, that the Lev. 17:11 passage you cite about the sanctity of the blood was written and must be understood. The passage does not state that only blood sacrifice serves as an atonement for sin, not at all. It does not even mention sin-offerings. Instead it starts by saying in Lev. 17:10 that it is forbidden to eat food with the blood still in it: that instead the blood must be offered back to God, the source of life, and when this is done, it atones. What does it atone for? “For your lives” (Lev. 17:11).

    But what does that mean and how can it be? Gen. 9, dealing with the Noahite Commandments, explains it. The teaching about blood is even the basis there for one of the standard Seven Noahite Commandments for the whole of humanity. While vegetarianism was the rule before the Flood, when it was of course wantonly violated, God now after the Flood, due to his mercy, allowed meat-eating to humanity. But there still has to be some restraint and reverence for life in it. So, Gen. 9:4 says, literally: “You may not eat flesh whose blood is in its soul,” or, more loosely, “You may not eat of a creature that is still alive.” There is a prohibition on eating living creatures, creatures in which the blood still flows, for the blood is the life of a creature. So really righteous Noahites drained at least some of the blood out of their slaughtered animals, pouring it on the ground, according to Rabbinic exegesis. More generally understood, basic kindness to animals is one of the Seven Noahite Commandments given to all humanity. That is one of the measures of the righteousness of any person.

    Gen. 9:5 goes on: “Only of the blood of your own lives will I demand an account.” The prohibition of murder is therefore another one of the Seven Commandments. And since an account is demanded for murder, this implies that courts of justice must be set up and supported, and so this is yet another of the Seven Commandments: accepting courts of justice and the rule of law.

    But for those in the Mosaic covenant, of course, the prohibition on bloodshed goes deeper than in the Noahite covenant — even for the life of animals killed for food, there must be an accounting, that is, there must be an act of atonement and reverence for the life in it that was lost, for that life belongs to God: its blood is forbidden to be eaten.

    So now it is clearer what the “atonement” is that Lev. 17:11 refers to. The blood-offering on the altar is to atone for the sin of killing the creature and eating it. Otherwise, God symbolically demands some kind of reckoning from Israel’s own lives for the lives that were lost. So henceforth, this has become an essential part of kashrut, Jewish dietary laws: a meat cannot be considered kosher, even if it is of the right species, if it has not been killed painlessly and all of its blood drained as an offering to God. This offering can be merely a brief prayer by the ritual slaughterer, but it too is essential. It does not need a Temple or Tabernacle setting. And in addition there should also be prayer of gratitude to God for this food by those who eat it, the blessings recited in homes before and after meals that are amongst the most ancient of all blessings in the Jewish liturgy. Those blessings convey the sanctity of the Tabernacle into the home itself.

    It should be obvious simply from historical considerations that bloody sacrifice in the Tabernacle or Temple cannot have been understood in either Biblical or post-Biblical Judaism as necessary for atonement of sins, because even early in the Biblical period it became impossible for many Jews to make such offerings at the Tabernacle or Temple for their daily food. For many, even special festival occasions or in atonement for signal sins was impossible: they simply lived too far away from the Temple. Some even lived abroad, well before the Babylonian Exile, and certainly after it. Some could only come on pilgrimage to the Temple, when it still stood, once or twice in their entire lives. But most could not even do that. By the late Second Temple period, very many millions of Jews lived outside of Judea, including millions outside the Roman Empire itself. Synagogue worship had already developed, and religious life of course went on vigorously in the Diaspora. “The Service of the Heart” replaced and equated to and symbolised the Temple service, as the Talmudic rabbis finally famously summarised the process. Especially Yom Kippur and Sukkot liturgy described the Temple devotion of the priests in vivid terms, with the whole congregation bowing to the ground at certain points when the High Priest prostrated himself, and this participatory description itself infuses worshippers even in our own generation with the sense that they are still there in ancient Jerusalem and are present in the holy Temple. This symbolic participation is taken as being, by God’s grace, as fully efficacious as was the original service. Above all, the repentance and solemn but joyous “returning” to God that is so central to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, along with charity and prayer, serve to atone for sins just as well as the Tabernacle service did, as a frequent chant during those holy days says. As mentioned, blessings at the family table meals were also considered imitations of the Temple offerings. So when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, catastrophic as it was, little actually changed in Jewish religious worship either in Judea or in the Diaspora. Judaism has managed very well without any sacrificial rituals per se for 2,000 years.

    However, references to the Temple service and hopes for its renewal fill the daily prayers recited by Jews even today, and it is considered in fact that Israel as a whole are a priestly people whose good deeds, daily prayer and service of the heart still together act as an atonement for the whole of humanity.

    I have spent too much time on this, trying your patience I am sure. Please forgive me. But it actually serves to answer some of Kenny’s questions, too in regard to the Noahite Commandments and giving some idea of how they were derived without distortion of the sense from the actual Torah text by the scribes and priests of Biblical times and later. The Book of Job, as mentioned already, shows as vividly as possible that salvation, that is, God’s blessings and ultimate vindication however that is understood in any particular Biblical age, is available to all humanity, including pagans. This makes sense only in the light of the Noahite Covenant, which teaches us that a heritage from Noah of teachings of godly righteousness still lies deep in every later culture, even if it has been outwardly forgotten by many in them. So the Oral Torah concerning Noahite salvation is confirmed by the existence of the Biblical Book of Job itself, along with many other references to righteous gentiles; it is not extraneous to the Tanakh as Kenny thinks.

    Kenny still thinks that the Oral Torah is “the traditions of men, written long after the Bible,” and not scripture. Perhaps he has not read the passages in my earlier post citing the statements in the Torah itself that explicitly validate the Oral Torah, and that show that the Sinai revelation was accompanied from the start, and even before it, by divinely inspired oral teachings (Torah means “Teaching”). The Oral Torah preserves the Written Torah, and vice versa. This is ensured by the fact that the entire people down through the centuries had scribes, priests and judges even on the local level who were fully learned in Torah and could apply it, which provided cross checks for the authenticity of any claimed schismatic interpretation. It meant that the entire Jewish people were witnesses to its continuity and authentic interpretation in each generation. Many of them knew it by heart (the widespread highly developed power of memorization in those generations was astounding by our standards). This provided a protection for the authentic preservation of the Written Torah itself over the centuries. Oral Torah does not mean inauthenticity at all, quite the opposite in the case of Judaism.

    But if we assume that Scripture must be above all uniform and only literally understood as written, without any human interpretation, what are we to make of the very many literal contradictions within the N.T. itself, even within specific gospels or between the Epistles of James and those of Paul, whether authentic or attributed? Paul’s teachings also differ from Jesus’s, as James Tabor has shown, so that it can be said that Jesus’ own religion was radically different from that of Paul, just as his was different from James’, etc. The Gospels are four, because they come from different communities and their testimonies and view of Jesus also differ. There are even different genealogies of Jesus himself. Only Christian later interpretations can “reconcile” these manifest literal obscurities and self-contradictions. Thus it appears that authoritative interpretation and clarification has been essential to Christianity from the start. The distinction that Kenny wishes to make cannot even be sustained for his own faith. He too relies on what he regards as the authentic aboriginal oral tradition explicating his written revelation.

    On the “royal we,” I think that Kenny and I will also have to agree to disagree. I do not think that his cited authorities are persuasive. Most secular authorities I have read affirm the reference to angelic powers at the creation of Adam. None talk of the Trinity, even in Christian commentaries I have consulted, so I must conclude that the authorities that Kenny has cited are not representative of modern exegetes and probably too strongly pre-committed to specific Christian theological positions to rely on, in these matters.

    As for the very extensive attempt to prove that the prophets were secret Trinitarians, I really do not want to get into that. I too could present many quotes, especially from the same Isaiah he often cites. To me, it is quite sufficient just to cite 43:11: “I am the Lord (YHVH), and besides me there is no saviour.” So YHVH, according to Christian Trinitarianism a term referring to “God the Father” revealed to the Jews at Sinai, is explicitly the only Saviour of Israel, and this role is therefore not filled by the “Son of God” called “Christ” as asserted in Christianity. How can this be reconciled with Trinitarianism? But there is no point in multiplying such quotations. We really do have to do with matters of faith here, and I hesitate to disturb it. Indeed, I respect the fervour of devotion implied by it, and believe that Christianity has despite everything greatly raised the level of humanity, so I do not wish to attack it.

    Yet the hesitation does not seem to be matched on the other side. Merely to present the correct and actual Jewish teachings is taken as an attack on Christianity, and there are constant attempts to refute Jewish teachings about its own scriptures, and Judaism as such, and to show that Judaism is really Christianity, but only as a very deficient, primitive and even negative shadow. Christianity can and must dictate to Judaism the meaning and content of Judaism itself, taking over the religion and removing it from the Jews. The Jewish Shema faith declaration, for example, amounts merely to a falsehood, or contains a coded Christian secret Jews are too blind ever to have grasped. For centuries, even millennia, God evidently misled the Jews with his well-disguised cryptic references to Christian ideas in Scripture, waiting for all that time to pass and those generations to suffer error, abandonment and hellfire, before revealing his true salvific personhood to a break-away sect, invalidating all the faith that went before and that continued after. Jewish ages-old and continuing monotheism is merely a veil for Christian Trinitarianism, for those who really KNOW. This displacement theology unfortunately requires a radical appropriation and distortion of another religion and negation of its people. This is the tormented conundrum that lies at the very heart of traditional Christian displacement theology; it stands or falls on what is not its own to start with. So a true portrait of Judaism just by itself seems to threaten the foundations of Christian faith and is taken as a frontal challenge. I wish it were not so.

    But this gives rise to a further theological problem for Christianity, which potentially undercuts and contradicts what I have just written. If the Trinity of Christianity is already actually present in the Jewish revealed Scriptures and prayers, as Kenny’s authorities earnestly try to prove despite the texts themselves and all later Jewish understanding of them, then Paul is again wrong, for it follows that (unless God is really not good at all) Jews do not need to become Christians to be saved as he claims. They already have actually known the Trinity in their own religion even if they address it solely and “defectively” as One. They only need to be pious and devout Jews, in precisely the way they have always been. For according to Kenny, by worshipping the God of Sinai who also spoke through the prophets, Jews have evidently already fully related to the Christian three persons of Savior, Creator and Spirit. Christianity then is redundant. Salvation was already available without it. But if this is really so, then the common Christian claim that Christianity alone knows the true God, and alone forms the true Israel according to the Spirit, must be a serious error of past generations and of the N.T. itself, and it becomes possible to conclude that Christianity may possibly err as well about other religions. No doubt a sufficiently ingenious encoding of the Christian doctrine can be found in any of these religions, too, making them defective forms of Christianity only waiting to be purified by the Gospel (as a historian of religions I have read many such Christian evangelical claims). That being the case, just as Judaism says concerning the Noahites, the people of any religion know the true God to some degree, and, since God is truly merciful and forgiving of human error, can attain to sufficient righteousness within their own cultures to be saved. Let us hope for such a Christian outcome.

  34. Everett says

    Perhaps I should add, to Kenny, after looking over his post just before my last one, and in regard to his quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures which I confess I really did not look at closely before, that my refusal to discuss the pros and cons of these quotations by no means should be understood as my acceptance of the interpretations given to them in your Christian context. To get those meanings, the passages must be denatured and removed from their actual contexts and Hebrew meaning. They are, in short, “proof-texts” ripped from their setting, and as such, as old proverbs say, anything at all can be “proven” from the Bible or any other extensive writing of any civilization. But for the actual meaning, I would suggest that Kenny might want to consult JEWISH exegetes of Jewish scriptures, down through the ages.

  35. GEORGE says

    I have never understood the blood of the sacrifice to have a “cleansing” effect. My understanding is that, because it contains the nefesh, the “life” of the flesh it belongs to God who alone gives life. The idea, as I understand it, is that the sacrifce of a life (by pouring it out in the blood) is symbolic of the life of the one offering it in recognition that his life belongs to God. Indeed there were other offerings that did not involve blood (grain, wine, etc.) but they were thank offerings and not sin offerings.

    Sin death was the penalty of any sin (“the soul that sins shall die.” Ezek 18:20) from the first transgression (tree of knowledge…) in the garden. The sin offering required a life (in the blood) to be given. Again, the sinner was granted the option of pouring out the life of the animal rather than his own to God in order to “redeem” or buy back his own life from the death penalty imposed by sin. Note too, that the poor man’s pigeon was still a blood offering. BTW, there’s also a non-sin blood offering to “redeem” the first born because that also, like the “life of the flesh” in the blood, belongs to God.

    We can defer to the various commentaries, interpretations and opinions rendered throughout post biblical history but in the end none of them is authoritative. The best interpreter of scripture is itself. That IS authoritative. Belief and practice change, God does not. Neither does the scripture. All else is the work and wisdom of man…his best guess at the time. Kenny I’m glad you put the quotes in when you quoted the old saw that anything can be “proven” by the bible because you and I both know that just anything can not really be proven by scripture. I would say anything CAN be proven by the mis-application or mis-use of scripture. Also by the ignorance of scripture. Also by the “proof texting” you mentioned, where a text can be misrepresented to say something it is not actually saying when taken in the light of context, especially the context of the whole bible. Those who choose unbelief can find plenty of “seeming” errors, contradictions and difficulties to justify the choice. Those who’ve chosen to believe can find the resolution to all biblical “problems” within the scripture itself though sometimes a little knowledge of Hebrew idiom is also needed. I’m not talking about differing reports of weights and measures and such but those are also not difficult to resolve with a little knowledge of the times and surrounding cultures.

    I think there’s much we can learn from Jewish and Christian exegetes but we must not expect them to agree. They even contradict themselves and change opinions from time to time. God does not. Neither does the scripture.

    I have no patience with “Christian” supercessionism…”replacement” theology. It’s not Christian at all. Neither Jesus nor any NT writer believed it. It’s not found in the gospels or elsewhere in the NT. Every NT mention of “Israel” or “Jew” has exactly the same meaning as in the Hebrew scriptures with only two exceptions, both by Paul where he further restricts the definition of Israel or Jew to only those within the Israel that “really” have and demonstrate biblical faith (Galatians 6:16 and Romans 2:28-29). Paul clearly is not re-defining Israel or Jew. He uses those terms 41 more times in Romans alone and in every instance with the same meaning as in Ketubim.
    No, Jews are Jews and Christians are Christians. However, Jews owe Christians nothing.

    But Christians owe Jews a lot! Without the Jews there are no patriarchs, no prophets, no scriptures (OT or NT) and no Messiah. Jesus never ceased to be Jewish. He still is. He speaks Hebrew! Proof text? Acts 26:14. The one time he spoke from heavens he was speaking Hebrew! The NT writers were all Jews or converts (Luke) and hebraic thinkers. The thought and speech of the gospels is hebrew couched in Greek words. The difficult saying of Jesus make far more sense when understood in hebrew. (Here I will heartily recommend a book: “Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus” by David Bivin)

    Without Israel and the Jewish people there would be no salvation from sin. We Christians would have nothing to believe and nothing hope for beyond going for all the gusto possible in this present world. Everything we hope for as believers in a Jewish Messiah we got from the Jews and it’s all dependent on God making good on his promises to Israel.

    For many years I led tours in Israel. I used to tell my Christian groups, “if there’s anything in your Christianity you didn’t get from the Jews it’s probably no good.”

    For Christians who don’t like Jews and think they’ve replaced them I’ve got news: the Big Jew is coming back and he’s never changed his mind about blessing those who bless Israel and cursing those who slander her (Gen 12:3). There’s been a lot of Christian “slander” of Jews not to mention the crusades inquisitions, pograms and the holocaust. If he cast away Israel for her sins, as Christian supercessionism teaches, then he’s also cast away the church and Muslims may be the latest “chosen.”

    Oh well. I’ve had my say. I wish we could just “hear God” speak to us what he wants us to hear from scripture. The commentators, sages, exegetes, interpreters, expositors, et al…mean well but they mostly try to understand God in a way he can not be understood. He is not a man. He is not cultural, historical or humanly logical and can not be fully understood or explained through “knowledge.” He’s done all the talking that needs to be done. We just need to listen. Selah

    Them’s my sentiments and I’ve enjoyed kibbitzing with you guys. Thanks for your thought and work here. I’ve learned and grown from it and hope we will meet in the “olam ha ba” when we will finally know what we’re talking about. The way we’ve been going on & on, only in eternity will we find the time to properly conclude. Oh? What’s that? There IS no time in eternity? Oh dear!

    George

  36. Susan says

    Ezekiel is obviously a pseudonym for a misogynistic jerk and was probably not a real person. The “facts” of his life are highly suspect. There seems to have been some controversy over canonization of this book. Too bad it was not voted down. Even modern Rabbis think it should have thrown away.

  37. Aiden says

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  38. Lou says

    Dr.James, there are Christian Beleivers today who are having unusal experiences of being transported to Heaven/Paradise as the Apsotle Paul’s ascension to the the Third Heaven.. I wote a book about the many visitations I have had with the Lord, including a trip to Heaven/Paradise where my body or spirit was transported to Heaven……it was a fantastic experience..I wrote a book about it and the many visitations I had with the Lord……….and it’s on amazon.com the title of the book “Who is this Alien? This Higher Power

    LouBarreto

Continuing the Discussion

  1. love quotes for your husband linked to this post on May 2, 2014

    love quotes for your husband

    If I Ascend to Heaven…Paul’s Journey to Paradise by James Tabor – Biblical Archaeology Society

  2. pligg.com linked to this post on May 5, 2014

    If I Ascend to Heaven…Paul’s Journey to Paradise by James Tabor – Biblical.

    If I Аscend to Heaѵen … Paul’s Journey to Paradise


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