Epistle of Ya’akov (James) ~ 2:1-13

The Sin of Partiality

This passage is concerned with how Believers, specifically Messianic Jews, treat non-Messianic Jews inquiring about the Brit Hadashah faith. In Isra’el, as in most of the Roman Empire, the rich were oppressing the poor (2:6–7). But the temptation to make wealthy converts or inquirers feel welcome at the expense of the poor was immoral (2:4). The language of impartiality was commonly applied mainly to legal settings. Still, because synagogues served as houses of prayer and community courts, this predominantly legal image naturally applies to any gatherings.

My brothers, practice the faith of our Lord Yeshua, the glorious Messiah, without showing favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your synagogue wearing gold rings and fancy clothes, and also a poor man comes in dressed in rags. If you show more respect to the man wearing the fancy clothes and say to him, “Have this good seat here,” while to the poor man you say, “You, stand over there,” or, “Sit down on the floor by my feet,” then aren’t you creating distinctions among yourselves, and haven’t you made yourselves into judges with evil motives?

Your synagogue is talking neither about a Christian church service nor a gathering of Jewish nonBelievers but a Messianic synagogue. He would not refer to your synagogue and assume his readers were in charge of seating visitors if the Messianic Jews did not control the synagogue. This verse establishes a solid Brit Hadasah basis for modern-day Messianic synagogues, provided they do not exclude Gentile Believers. To do so would raise the middle wall of partition once again, in violation of Ephesians 2:11–16. A Messianic synagogue, while committed to preserving and developing a Jewish rather than a Gentile mode of expressing New Covenant faith, must be open to participation by believing Jews and Gentiles alike, as was Congregation Heart for Isra’el.

Listen, my dear brothers, hasn’t God chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith (see Matthew 5:3) and to receive the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him? But you despise the poor! Aren’t the rich the ones who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name of Him to whom you belong?

Why treat the rich nonbelieving Jews in some particular way when they are the ones who oppress you and drag you possibly into a beit-din, a Jewish religious court, and insult the good name of him to whom you belong, namely, our Lord Yeshua, the glorious Messiah?

If you truly attain the goal of Kingdom Torah, in conformity with the passage that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

Kingdom Torah is not a new Torah given by the Messiah. It does not make the Mosaic Law obsolete, even though, as Galatians 5:14 puts it, the whole of the Torah is summed up in this one sentence: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (See also Romans 13:8–10.) Instead, Ya’akov means that Kingdom Torah is, in essence, nothing other than the Torah of Moses carried out, by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, in conformity with its own passage that says, Love your neighbor as yourself.”Yeshua was pointing in this direction when He said that this is one of the two mitzvot(principles) on which all of the Torah and the Prophets depend (Matt. 22:40).

But if you show favoritism, your actions constitute sin since you are convicted under the Torah as transgressors.

If you show favoritism, your actions constitute sin, no matter how much faith you claim to have.

The Torah condemns favoritism in another context with these words: Do not respect persons in judgment but hear the small as well as the great; do not be afraid of the face of any man, for the judgment is God’s. ~ Deuteronomy 1:17.

10 For a person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all. 11 For the One who said, “Don’t commit adultery,” also said, “Don’t murder.” Now, if you don’t commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Torah.

A person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all, that is, of breaking all the points of the Torah, as illustrated by v. 11. No one can have a right relationship with God apart from Yeshua. But it is not true that once violating a commandment means that one has broken the Torah permanently and is impossible to repair. That is not what this verse is saying. And it is certainly not true that the Mosaic Law as given was unfulfillable.

12 Keep speaking and acting like people who will be judged by a Torah, which gives freedom. 13 For judgment will be without mercy toward one who doesn’t show mercy, but mercy wins out over judgment. ~ Ya’akov 2:1-13 (CJB)

Therefore, speak and act with the knowledge that you will stand before the judgment of Yeshua one day. Everyone who enters our Kehillahs should experience them as environments of mercy and hope. If you don’t show mercy, don’t expect mercy. If you don’t offer hope, don’t expect hope. Confess any partiality in your life and look for opportunities to show mercy, for mercy wins out over judgment.

We will learn more about Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about Faith Without Works Is Dead.

Click here for the PDF version.

Epistle of Ya’akov (James) ~ 1:17-27

 

Testing of Our Trust [1] (Faith) ~ Part 3

17 Every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father who made the heavenly lights; with Him, there is neither variation nor darkness caused by turning.

Heavenly lights … variation … darkness caused by turning – astronomical language: either eclipse or phases of the moon. Ya‛akov’s cosmology was more Copernican than Ptolemaic; the Roman Catholic Church’s condemnation of Galileo (recently corrected) was inconsistent with this verse. The meaning, of course, is that God does not change. [2]

18 Having made His decision, He gave birth to us through a Word that can be relied upon, in order that we should be a kind of firstfruits of all that He created.

Having made his decision of His own free will, by grace and not because He owed it to us, God gave birth to us through a Word that can be relied upon (see Rom. 10:17). The Word of Truth is Yeshua the Messiah; this is taught most clearly by the Gospel of Yochanan (see Yochanan 1:1, 14; 3:5–8; 15:26; 16:7–15; also 1 Yochanan 5:4–8). We are a kind of firstfruits of all that God created, as can be inferred from Rom. 8:19–23, 29; 1 Cor. 15:20, 23.

Ya’akov now turns to appropriate ways to deal with testing (1:2–18). The Zealot-like model, which was gaining popularity in Isra’el and ultimately led to Yerushaliyim’s destruction, was inappropriate. Ya’akov condemns not only violent acts but also the violent rhetoric that incites them.[3]

19 Therefore, my dear brothers, let every person be quick to listen but slow to speak, slow to get angry;

This is one of my favorite verses. I have to be mindful of it every day so I don’t get myself in trouble, which I occasionally do.

Let every person be quick to listen but slow to speak (compare 3:3–12), slow to get angry (compare Ecclesiastes 7:9). [4] Can modern psychology match this advice for improving interpersonal relations? When someone does or says something that would typically provoke quick angry speech, invite him to explain more clearly what he has done or said; listen carefully to him, trying to understand him and his situation; and respond in love, aware that, like you, he was made in the image of God (3:9, Genesis 1:27).

20 for a person’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness!

The history of Judeo-Christian relations is riddled with the sad consequences of Believers’ failure to heed this verse. If Jews have tenaciously refused to trust in Yeshua, it is partly because frustrated Believers have attempted to accomplish God’s righteousness through their anger. It cannot be done. Jews receive God’s righteousness through Believers’ mercy, not their anger, through their humility, not their arrogance.

The overall theme of the remainder of Chapter 1 is having received the new birth through a Word of God (v. 18), we should receive it (v. 21) and do it (v. 22). True religion involves not only hearing but doing (vv. 22–27). The entire letter emphasizes deed over creed, action over the profession, and the usual Jewish approach to religion, morals, and life.

21 So rid yourselves of all vulgarity and obvious evil and receive meekly the Word implanted in you that can save your lives. 22 Don’t deceive yourselves by only hearing what the Word says but do it! 23 For whoever hears the Word but doesn’t do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror, 24 who looks at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But if a person looks closely into the perfect Torah, which gives freedom, and continues, becoming not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work it requires, then he will be blessed in what he does.

Someone who looks at his face in a mirror, who looks at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like – instead of grooming him or herself to face the day – is failing to use the mirror correctly, that is, actively instead of passively. The perfect Torah is the Believer’s perfect, complete mirror; it perfectly, ultimately reflects their ungroomed (i.e., sinful) condition – as Sha’ul puts it,what Torah really does is show people how sinful they are” (Ro 3:20). The Believer uses the perfect mirror’s assessment of his spiritual condition to correct and groom their behavior. As with the bathroom mirror, they continue to use it this way throughout their lives.

26 Anyone who thinks he is religiously observant but does not control his tongue is deceiving himself, and his observance counts for nothing.

Anyone who thinks he is religiously observant. Greek thrêskos in this verse and thrêskeia (“religious observance”) in the next connote zeal in performing religious acts, whether in connection with true religion or false. In Jewish terms, one could say, equivalently, “Anyone who thinks he is “dati” (“religious”) or “frum” (Yiddish, “pious”) or “shomer-mitzvot” (“one who observes the commandments” of the Torah) but does not control his tongue is deceiving himself. [5]

27 The religious observance that God the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world.  ~ Ya’akov 1:17-27 (CJB).

This verse, apparently based on Isaiah 1:15–16 (quoted in Ya’akov 4:8), sums up the burden of all the Prophets, who zealously insisted that true religion must consist not in mere external observances but good deeds flowing from a sound spiritual condition. In reducing the Torah to two commandments – the one urging a practical expression of self-giving love toward those who can offer little or nothing in return, the other concerning the inward spiritual and outward ethical purity prerequisite to right action – Ya‛akov entered a time-honored Jewish tradition of epitomizing the Torah, as is seen from the well-known Talmud passage, Makkot 23b–24a, quoted in Ga 5:14N. This verse, like the book of Galatians, is a warning to Believers who become enamored of specific observances at the expense of the weightier matters of the Torah—justice, mercy, trust” (Mt 23:23).

We will learn a little more about Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about the Sin of Partiality.

Click here for the PDF version.

 

[1] Recall that the Complete Jewish Bible translates the Hebrew word for faith as trust.

[2] Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary.

[3] Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jas 1:19–27).

[4] I really like how frequently Brit Hadashah authors refer back to the Tanakh.

[5] Ibid.

Epistle of Ya’akov (James) ~ 1:1

Greetings

From: Ya’akov, a slave of God and of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.

Ya’akov was not only the half-brother of Yeshua and by now a slave of God and of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah and the leader of the Kehillah in Yerushalayim. We learn in Acts 15:13 ff. that he was also instrumental in sending a letter to the Goyim throughout Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, instructing them to abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will be doing the right thing.

To: The Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora:

Shalom!

Now in his epistle, he turns his attention to Messianic Jewish Believers. The Twelve Tribes refers to Jews and is not merely a metaphor for Christians, as some Christian commentators maintain. This is clear from the style of the letter generally, particularly from the fact that they had synagogues, as we will see in chapter 2. Not that Gentile Believers were excluded from reading it, but that the leader of the Messianic Jewish community in Yerushalayim is addressing fellow Jewish Believers in the Diaspora, outside Israel.

The Diaspora became a technical term referring to Jews living outside the land of Israel. Besides the expulsions from the land by the Assyrians (2Ki 17; 1Ch 5) and Babylonians (2Ki 24, 25; 2Ch 36), many Jews were taken to Rome as slaves when the Romans conquered them around 63 BCE.

Shalom!

Yeshua instructs us: 12 When you enter someone’s household, say, ‘Shalom aleikhem!’ 13 If the home deserves it, let your shalom rest on it; if not, let your shalom return to you ~ Matthew 10:12-13 (CJB). The word shalom means not only peace but also tranquility, safety, well-being, welfare, health, contentment, success, comfort, wholeness, and integrity. Shalom aleikhem means “Peace be upon you” and is a standard greeting, as is Shalom!” Therefore, there is a deeper meaning to Yeshua’s instruction in v. 13 on when to give or withhold shalom, for He refers not only to the greeting but to the whole complex of peace/wholeness/well-being that the Messiah offers through His talmidim and similarly at many places in the Brit Hadashah. [1]

We will learn a little more about Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about the Testing of Our Faith.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary.

Epistle of Ya’akov (James) ~ An Introduction

So, Who Is this Ya’akov?

That is an excellent question. Men named Ya’akov can be found throughout the Tanakh and the Brit Hadashah. Ya’akov has been translated as both Jacob and James. Ya’akov was a prevalent name in biblical times as it is today.

There are four mentioned in the Brit Hadashah:

  • Ya’akov, the brother of Yochanan and son of Zebedee, disciples of Yeshua (Mark 1:19; 3:17; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13).
  • Ya’akov, the son of Alphaeus and also one of the Twelve (Mark 3:18; 15:40; Matt 10:3; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).
  • Ya’akov, the father of Y’hudah (Judas) (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13).
  • Ya’akov, the brother [1] of Yeshua and head elder of the Yerushalayim kehillah (Mark 6:3; Matt 13:55; Acts 15:13).
  • The final option is a pseudonymous (falsely ascribed) letter written under the name of Yeshua’s half-brother but penned by an unknown author. [2]

It is generally agreed that the second and third options are too obscure (they do not take part by name in any action in the Gospels or Acts). Pseudonymity, the fifth option, is a widespread view among critical scholars. However, this line of argument has been overturned in recent years as studies have shown the widespread use of Greek in Palestine and the high quality of many writings.

That leaves two options to choose from: the brother of Yochanan and one of the inner circle of the Twelve (with Kefa and Yochanan); or the brother of Yeshua, chief elder of the Yerushalayim kehillah. The problem with the first is that he was martyred by Herod quite early, about 43–44 CE (see Acts 12), just a bit too early for the writing of this letter. Moreover, Ya’akov, the brother of Yeshua, has been the person associated with this letter from the very start and fits perfectly.

Ya’akov was none other than a blood-brother, a half-brother, of the Lord Yeshua HaMashiach. The Gospels mention this fact (see Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). He was at first an unbeliever – His brothers spoke this way because they had not put their trust in him. (John 7:5) However, during the forty days between Yeshua’s resurrection and His ascension, Yeshua was seen by Ya’akov, then by all the emissaries. (1 Corinthians 15:7) Ya’akov is mentioned as being in the upper room in Yerushalayim, praying with his mother and the rest of the disciples (Acts 1:13), and was presumably present when the Ruach HaKodesh descended at Shavu’ot (Pentecost). He had become the leader of the Yerushalayim church when Kefa was released from prison (Acts 12:17), and eventually, he chaired the Council of Yerushalayim (Acts 15:13ff.; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9, 12).

Ya’akov was a “late bloomer,” but he flowered well! Ya’akov knew Yeshua as only a few could. For years he had eaten at the same table, shared the same house, played in the same places, and watched the development of his amazing older brother. And when he indeed came to know Yeshua, his boyhood privilege was not wasted, for he became known as Ya’akov the Just, a man of immense piety. The historian Eusebius records the testimony of Hegisippus that Ya’akov “used to enter alone into the temple and be found kneeling and praying for forgiveness for the people so that his knees grew hard like a camel because of his constant worship of God kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people. So, from his excessive righteousness, he was called the Just.” [3]

Ya’akov had so much going for him, yet merely viewed himself as a slave of God and of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. He could have begun his letter, Ya’akov the Just, from the sacred womb of Myriam, congenital sibling of Yeshua, his brother, a confidant of the Messiah.Ya’akov the Just was also Ya’akov the Humble and so was eminently qualified to author Holy Scripture.

We will learn a little more about Ya’akov as we dig into the first two verses in my next post.

 

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Technically, Ya’akov and his other brothers and sisters were half-siblings of Yeshua as they were products of the union between Myriam and Josef.

[2] Osborne, G. R. (2019). James: Verse by Verse (p. 2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Ibid.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 47

The Symbol (Creed) of Athanasian

In our last post, we examined the third Creed of the Kehillah ~ The Symbol (Creed) of Chalcedon. In this post, we begin to examine the fourth Creed of the Kehillah ~ Athanasian Creed.

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved. [1]

The origin of the Athanasian Creed is involved in obscurity, like that of the Apostles’ Creed, the Gloria in Excelsis, and the Te Deum. It furnishes one of the most remarkable examples of the extraordinary influence which works of unknown or doubtful authorship have exerted. Since the ninth century, it has been ascribed to Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, the chief defender of the divinity of Yeshua, and the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity (d. 373). The great name of ‘the father of orthodoxy’ secured for it an almost ecumenical authority, notwithstanding the solemn prohibition of the third and fourth ecumenical Councils to compose or publish any other creed than the Nicene.

Since the middle of the seventeenth century, the Athanasian authorship has been abandoned by learned Catholics as well as Protestants. The evidence against it is conclusive. The Symbol is nowhere found in the genuine writings of Athanasius or his contemporaries and eulogists. The General Synods of Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451) make no allusion to it whatever. It seems to presuppose the doctrinal controversies of the fifth century concerning the constitution of Yeshua’s person; at least it teaches substantially the Chalcedonian Christology. And, lastly, it makes its first appearance in the Latin Churches of Gaul, North Africa, and Spain: while the Greeks did not know it till the eleventh century, and afterward rejected or modified it on account of the Occidental clause on the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. The Greek texts, moreover, differ widely, and betray, by strange words and constructions, the hands of unskilled translators. [2]

In my next post, we begin to explore the Epistle of Ya’akov (James).

Click here for the PDF version.

 

[1] Historic Creeds and Confessions. (1997). Lexham Press.

[2] Schaff, P. (1878). The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The History of Creeds (Vol. 1, pp. 35–36). New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 46

The Symbol (Creed) of Chalcedon

In our last post, we concluded our exploration of the Nicene Creed. This post examines a third Creed of the Kehillah ~ The Symbol (Creed) of Chalcedon. As I indicated in my last post, I have not been exposed to this creed in my upbringing.

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [coessential] with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of nature’s being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us. [1]

Wow, the whole creed in one sentence.

The Creed of Chalcedon was adopted at the fourth and fifth sessions of the fourth ecumenical Council, held at Chalcedon, opposite Constantinople, A.D. 451 (Oct. 22d and 25th). It embraces the Nicene Creed and the Messianic doctrine outlined in the classical Epistola Dogmatica of Pope Leo the Great to Flavian, the Patriarch of Constantinople and martyr of diophysitic [2] orthodoxy at the so-called Council of Robbers (held at Ephesus in 449).

While the first Council of Nicea had established the eternal, pre-existent Godhead of Yeshua, the Symbol of the fourth ecumenical Council relates to the incarnate Logos, as He walked upon the earth and sits on the right hand of the Father. It is directed against the errors of Nestorius and Eutyches. They agreed with the Nicene Creed as opposed to Arianism but put the Godhead of Yeshua in a false relation to His humanity. It substantially completes the orthodox Messianic theology of the ancient Church.[3]

In my next post, we examine the Athanasian Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

 

[1] Historic Creeds and Confessions. (1997). Lexham Press.

[2] A person who maintains that Yeshua has two natures, one divine, and the other human.

[3] Schaff, P. (1878). The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The History of Creeds (Vol. 1, pp. 29–30). New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 45

The Nicene Creed~ Part 31

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase and the life of the world to come in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

AND THE LIFE OF THE WORLD TO COME ~ Yeshua’s Return, the Judgment, and Eternal Life

Both the second and third articles of the Nicene Creed conclude with eschatology. In this second section, commenting on the life of the world to come, we expand on the themes found in the second article in light of the life that is yet to come. The final section of the second article of the Nicene Creed includes the themes of Messianic eschatology, namely, Yeshua’s glorious return to earth, the final judgment, and eternal life. Numerous factors influenced the reflection of the Fathers. In fact, the patristic reflection on eschatology takes shape following historical-cultural shifts, which in turn are influenced by the expansion of the Messianic movement, so that new times and new situations led Messianic thinkers to formulate eschatological beliefs in a renewed way, even though they remained substantially faithful to the biblical spirit. New questions constantly arose concerning the final or last realities, thanks to the meeting of the Messianic movement with the Greco-Roman pagan culture, to the influence of Gnosticism and the different Messianic heretical movements, and the dramatic experience of persecutions.

There are four thematic kernels presented here: the glorious return of Yeshua, the final judgment, the intermediate state, and eternal life. The Parousia, or Yeshua’s second coming in glory, is the horizon within which all the final events of history find their position, so that history, according to the teaching of Sha’ul, assumes a global meaning that includes the victory of Yeshua over sin and death, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment.

The theme of the final judgment is closely connected to the Parousia, which is presented both as a universal and individual event, even though it mostly appears to be universal and final. The judge is Yeshua, who will separate the good from the bad, destining the former to life and the latter to eternal damnation.

In the context of the end of the world, the Fathers do not neglect questions concerning the individual’s destiny. They face the theme of the so-called intermediate state. The souls of the dead are in a condition of waiting before the final resurrection when they will be reunited with their bodies and will fully receive their due reward. In particular, Augustine supposes a specific judgment for the individual immediately after death, which involves a particular reward. However, it is not the definitive one, and without precisely describing the location of this reward.

Eternal life with God brings an incomparable blessing: communion with God amid the communion of the saints with God and with all who reflect God’s, holy love. This community embraces both the living faithful and the faithful departed who now enjoy eternal life with God. There is a unique union between the faithful on earth and in heaven, enabled by their mutual communion with the one Head and each other, a communion sustained by prayer, faith, hope, and love. The community or fellowship of the saints is a recurrent theme of the Brit Hadashah that points to communion with God and communion with all who share God’s life. The Son prayed to the Father that the whole community of faith may be one, as we are one.

The general scriptural term for the final state of the blessed is eternal life. This life is transformed into a future life of glory that does not reach full expression until the general resurrection, final judgment, and the final destiny of the faithful. The living God permits the new life with God to continue without ceasing. Eternal life brings to completion the work of grace begun in this life, where one is delivered from sin, its roots, and consequences, fulfilling God’s purpose in creation, redemption, and consummation. The transformation begun in faithful baptism does not come to nothing but lives on. The spiritual life begun in penitent faith is imparted in spiritual rebirth, grows by sanctifying grace, and lives on by completing grace. The characteristic feature of eternal life is the complete and unending enjoyment of life with God.

In Messianic teaching, heaven is both a place and a condition of eternal rest and joy in the Lord. It is to be present with the Lord. Heaven is where the blessed clearly see God and incomparably enjoy the blessings of divine glory. Heaven is represented as a secure lodging of unutterable glory, joy, and peace. Its most prominent features are tranquility, holiness, light, beholding, happiness, and the presence of the Lord. What happens in heaven is complete and endless participation in God’s goodness and happiness. Those whose names are written in heaven have come to God. They are the spirits of righteous men made perfect. Yeshua promised his disciples: I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.[1]

This post concludes our study of the Nicene Creed. I had no idea it would take us through thirty-one posts to examine it. I hope and pray that you have enjoyed learning more about what some of us have recited every Sunday for years.

In my next post, we begin to look at two final Creeds of the Kehillah that I am not familiar with. We will at least start to unpack the Symbol of Chalcedon.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Di Berardino, A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2010). We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (Vol. 5, pp. 214–216).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 44

The Nicene Creed~ Part 30

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase and the life of the world to come in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

AND THE LIFE OF THE WORLD TO COME ~ Blessedness and Condemnation

Both the second and third articles of the Nicene Creed conclude with eschatology. In this second section, commenting on the life of the world to come, we expand on the themes found in the second article in light of the life which is yet to come. The final section of the second article of the Nicene Creed includes the themes of Messianic eschatology—namely, Yeshua’s glorious return to earth, the final judgment, and the kingdom of Yeshua. In this final section of the commentary on this last phrase, we may observe how the complexity of ancient Messianic eschatology makes any attempt at schematization quite tricky. Numerous factors influenced the reflection of the Fathers. The patristic reflection on eschatology takes shape following historical-cultural shifts, which are influenced by the expansion of the Messianic movement. New times and situations led Messianic thinkers to formulate eschatological beliefs in a renewed way, even though they remained substantially faithful to the biblical spirit. New questions constantly arose concerning the final or last realities, thanks to the meeting of the Messianic movement with Greco-Roman pagan culture, to the influence of Gnosticism and the different Messianic heretical movements the dramatic experience of persecutions.

We will also notice the variety of language, symbols, and images used by the Fathers, at least up to Augustine. He was the first to give an organic arrangement to the eschatological questions, influencing most future reflections in this regard. The primary reference of patristic teaching is centered on the Yeshua event, with all its anthropological and soteriological reflections. Yeshua appears to be the hermeneutical key to any eschatological speech, the crucial element that resolves all questions.

The thematic kernels presented here are four in number: the glorious return of Yeshua, the final judgment, the intermediate state, and eternal life. The Parousia, or Yeshua’s second coming in glory, is the horizon within which all the final events of history find their position, so that history, according to the teaching of Sha’ul, assumes a global meaning that includes the victory of Yeshua over sin and death, the resurrection of the dead and the judgment. From this point of view, the passages from the Fathers reflect the complexity of the envisioned event, sometimes highlighting its most spiritual aspects, sometimes those which are more sensational and grotesque.

The theme of the final judgment is closely connected to the Parousia, which is presented both as a universal and individual event, even though it mostly appears to be universal and final. The judge is Yeshua, who will separate the good from the bad, destining the former to life and the latter to eternal damnation. We will notice that the Fathers linger on certain particularly terrifying elements of the judgment they indulge in graphic detail. These reflections offered them the opportunity to call the sinners to a worthy way of life and deter the believers from a sinful existence.

In the context of the end of the world, the Fathers do not neglect questions concerning the individual’s destiny. They face the theme of the so-called intermediate state. The souls of the dead are in a condition of waiting before the final resurrection when they will be reunited with their bodies and willfully receive their due reward. In particular, Augustine supposes a specific judgment for the individual immediately after death, which involves a specific reward. However, it is not the definitive one, and without precisely describing the location of this reward.

By presenting specific constant motifs in the early church’s heritage of faith, such as Yeshua’s glorious return, the final judgment, and the individual’s survival after death, this chapter reveals the Fathers’ efforts to comprehend faith in the first centuries of the Messianic age. Despite their disagreements, in the end, the comfort it afforded to those who look forward to that life that is yet to come cannot be overestimated.

Eternal life with God brings an incomparable blessing: communion with God amid the communion of the saints with God and with all who reflect God’s, holy love. This community embraces both the living faithful and the faithful departed who now enjoy eternal life with God. There is a unique union between the faithful on earth and in heaven, enabled by their mutual communion with the one Head and each other, a communion sustained by prayer, faith, hope, and love. The community or fellowship of the saints is a recurrent theme of the Brit Hadashah that points to communion with God and communion with all who share God’s life. The Son prayed to the Father that the whole community of faith “may be one, as we are one.”

The general scriptural term for the final state of the blessed is eternal life. This life is transmuted into a future life of glory that does not reach full expression until the general resurrection, final judgment, and the final destiny of the faithful. The living God permits the new life with God to continue without ceasing. Eternal life brings to completion the work of grace begun in this life, where one is delivered from sin, its roots, and consequences, fulfilling God’s purpose in creation, redemption, and consummation. The transformation begun in faithful baptism does not come to nothing but lives on. The spiritual life begun in penitent faith is imparted in spiritual rebirth, grows by sanctifying grace, and lives on by completing grace. The characteristic feature of eternal life is the complete and unending enjoyment of life with God.

In Messianic teaching, heaven is both a place and a condition of eternal rest and joy in the Lord. It is to be present with the Lord. Heaven is where the blessed clearly see God and incomparably enjoy the blessings of divine glory. Heaven is represented as a secure lodging of unutterable glory, joy, and peace. Its most prominent features are tranquility, holiness, light, beholding, happiness, and the presence of the Lord. What happens in heaven is complete and endless participation in God’s goodness and happiness. Those whose names are written in heaven have come to God. They are the spirits of righteous men made perfect. Yeshua promised his disciples: I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.[1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: AND THE LIFE OF THE WORLD TO COME ~ Yeshua’s Return, the Judgment, and Eternal Life.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Di Berardino, A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2010). We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (Vol. 5, p. 175).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 43

The Nicene Creed~ Part 29

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase We Look for the Ressurection of the Dead in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

We Look for the Resurrection of the Dead

Questions on the destiny of the individual are closely connected with the looming problems that concern the final things. We have already seen the results of the patristic reflection on this in the previous chapter. In fact, after the description of the end of the universe and history, questions of great anthropological import arise concerning the future and the state of human beings after death. In this regard, the greater part of this section presents how the Fathers viewed the resurrection of the flesh and the immortality of the soul, themes that constitute the center of patristic eschatological [1] reflection.

As we learned in the last post, faith in the resurrection of the flesh was simply attested and needed no particular explanation. Very soon, however, the renewed cultural circumstances in which the faith was transmitted and the problems deriving from certain deviating doctrinal trends, such as Gnosticism, prompted the Fathers to further investigate this theme, especially from an apologetic point of view.

Deriving from Judaism, millenarianism is traced back in antiquity in the Asiatic milieu to Cerinthus and Papias of Hierapolis in Phrygia, while the key representatives of the Messianic millenarianism appear to be Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, who established this belief on the basis of Revelation 20:4–6. In any case, the importance of millenarianism in ancient Messianic eschatology was not destined to last: very soon Origen would radically criticize this doctrine for the excessive literalism that the millenarists attributed to the passages of Scripture that they quoted. The last set of selections related to this section of the creed is devoted to the doctrinal positions of Origen. In fact, if on the one hand Origen and his teachings were an object of admiration on the part of many, on the other they were a cause of scandal to the Fathers through nearly the entire patristic age. In particular, his conception of the end of the world, namely, the final apokatastasis (“recapitulation”), which suggests the idea of universal salvation and therefore does not admit the eternity of hell and its punishments, was definitively condemned together with other conceptions defined as Origenist by the emperor Justinian in 543. In spite of the contrasting judgments on the figure and the work of Origen, it was impossible to prevent, for instance, the profession of the doctrine of the apokatastasis by other thinkers of antiquity as well, as in the case of Gregory of Nyssa, who interpreted the final apokatastasis as a restoration of the original condition of the creatures, according to which all the creatures, namely, angels, human beings and demons or spirits, will harmonize one day in goodness.

In conclusion, the passages from the Fathers that are gathered in this section bring to light certain problems inherent in any discussion of eschatological questions. In this regard, a modern Messianic eschatology cannot help but take into consideration, or at least examine, these abundant and valuable sources. [2]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: AND THE LIFE OF THE WORLD TO COME ~ Blessedness and Condemnation

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] A branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world of humankind.

[2] Di Berardino, A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2010). We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (Vol. 5, pp. 139–140).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 41

The Nicene Creed~ Part 27

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, w continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase We Acknowledge One Baptism in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

WE ACKNOWLEDGE ONE BAPTISM

Messianic baptism (which means “immersion”) goes back to Yeshua because it is administered because of His mandate. It is distinct from other previous types of baptism in use among the Hebrews. Regardless of who officiates in baptism, it is considered that it is always Yeshua who baptizes: He will immerse you in the Ruach HaKodesh and in fire. In the letter to Titus, baptism is defined as the mikveh [1] of rebirth and the renewal brought about by the Ruach HaKodesh (Titus 3:5b ~ CJB). Already in the Brit Hadashah, there exists a rich theology about baptism as rebirth, regeneration, and purification by the Ruach; as seal of faith, as union with Yeshua in death and resurrection; and as forgiveness of sins and as a condition for entering the kingdom of God.

Mark and Matthew begin their Gospels with the baptism of John and conclude with the command of Yeshua to baptize all. The Gospel of Mark ends with the command of Yeshua: As you go throughout the world, proclaim the Good News to all creation. 16 Whoever trusts and is immersed will be saved; whoever does not trust will be condemned. Kefa, on the day of Shavu’ot, encourages the people to receive baptism for the remission of sins: Turn from sin, return to God, and each of you be immersed on the authority of Yeshua the Messiah into forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh! (Acts 2:38 ~ CJB) Thus, the forgiveness of sins and receiving the gift of the Ruach are closely united. Yeshua, however, did not need a baptism of repentance. The connection between the Ruach and baptism also emerges from the baptism of the centurion at Caesarea, when Kefa affirms that if God gave them the same gift as He gave us after we had come to put our trust in the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who was I to stand in God’s way?(Acts 11:17 ~ CJB).

The Didache, a document that came from the countryside of Syria, from the second half of the first century, describes the rite as follows:

“Concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having first rehearsed all these things, baptize, ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit,’ in running water; but if you have no running water, baptize in other water, and if you cannot baptize in cold water, then use warm water. But if you have neither, pour water three times on the head ‘in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,’ and before the baptism let the baptizer and him who is to be baptized fast, and any others who are able. And you shall bid him who is to be baptized to fast one or two days before.”

In the normal rite, baptism consisted of a triple immersion: each following the response of the candidate to the minister who asked questions on the trinitarian faith. The Apostolic Tradition describes the central rite as follows:

Then after these things, let him be given over to the presbyter who stands at the water. And let them stand in the water naked. And let a deacon likewise go down with him into the water. As he goes down to the water, let him who baptizes lay hands on him, saying thus: Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? And he who is being baptized shall say: I believe. Let him immediately baptize him once, having his hand laid on his head. And after this let him say: Do you believe in Yeshua, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified in the days of Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose the third day living from the dead, and ascended into the heavens, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead? And when he says: I believe, let him baptize him the second time. And again, let him say: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit in the holy church and the resurrection of the flesh? And he who is being baptized shall say: I believe. And so let him baptize him the third time.

The whole ceremony ended with the kiss of peace on the part of the whole community.

In the fourth century, these rites tended to expand in number, extension, time, and dramatic power. The more significant number of candidates led to some of the rites being anticipated on Good Friday. One rite acquired a solid spiritual and social significance: the newly baptized wore a white garment for the whole week following the baptism.

Present research on the baptism of infants has come to a complete stop. It is believed that the practice existed from the apostolic period. However, we have explicit evidence only from the following centuries. Baptism of infants becomes more and more common beginning with the fifth century. An adequate period of preparation for baptism is something that caught hold only slowly: we find it fully developed only in the third century, and it reached its high point in the fourth century and then began to decline because of the spread of infant baptism. Several reasons pointed to its necessity and influenced its development: the numerous heresies, the conscious decision to break with the pagan world, the weakening of initial enthusiasm, and apostasy in times of persecution.

In the New Testament, much importance is given to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the newly converted. In the case of the centurion Cornelius, that outpouring comes before baptism, but this is an exceptional case. In general, the outpouring of the Ruach comes after baptism and by the imposition of the hands by the apostles, and it is a gesture that is necessary for the completion of baptism. When the emissaries in Yerushalayim heard that Shomron had received the Word of God, they sent them Kefa and Yochanan, 15 who came down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Ruach HaKodesh. 16 For until then, he had not come upon any of them; they had only been immersed into the name of the Lord Yeshua. 17 Then, as Kefa and Yochanan placed their hands on them, they received the Ruach HaKodesh. ~ Acts 8:14-17 (CJB). In fact, to be a full member of the new community, both were necessary, the immersion (ablution) in water and the imposition of hands. Very soon, the rite became one continuous process, with no intervals in between the various parts. All the components ultimately were included together under the one name of baptism.[2]

Creating this post has been a real eye-opener for me. I was sprinkled as an infant and had hands laid on me when I was twelve. In later years, I was immersed years later after I had prayed for the infilling of the Ruach.

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Acknowledge One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Bath or pool with a flow of freshwater; used in Orthodox Judaism to this day for ritual purification.

[2] Di Berardino, A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2010). We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (Vol. 5, pp. 87–90).