Epistle of Ya’akov ~ 5:7-12

Patience in Suffering

We learned in our last post that the oppressors would be punished, but the oppressed have to wait on God rather than take matters violently into their own hands. This exhortation did not mean they could not speak out against injustice; it only forbade violence and personally hostile speech (5:9) as an appropriate solution to injustice. Oh, how we have forgotten this in our society today.

So, brothers, be patient until the Lord returns. See how the farmer waits for the precious “fruit of the earth”—he is patient over it until it receives the fall and spring rains. You too, be patient; keep up your courage; for the Lord’s return is near.

Until the Lord returns, anticipates an end to all exploitation and suffering. Consequently, the oppressed should exercise self-control in their reaction to their oppressors. “Fruit of the earth” is a quotation from the b’rakhah (blessing) said before eating berries or vegetables, “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the universe, creator of the fruit of the earth.” This is the blessing that Yeshua spoke over the wine during the Last Supper.

The fall and spring rains reference the climatic pattern in Isra’el, where the bulk of the rainfall comes between November and March. Harvest here becomes an image of the day of judgment, as elsewhere in Jewish literature. The Lord’s return is near, follows up his remark that this is the acharit-hayamim as we learned in verse 5:3 in our last post.

Don’t grumble against one another, brothers so that you won’t come under condemnation – look! The Judge is standing at the door!  This repeats the warning of 4:11–12.

10 As an example of suffering mistreatment and being patient, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of Adonai.

Most Tanakh prophets faced significant opposition for their preaching, some faced death. Jewish tradition had amplified martyrdom accounts even further; hence no one would dispute Ya’akov’s claim. Virtuous examples were an essential part of ancient argumentation.

11 Look, we regard those who persevered as blessed. You have heard of the perseverance of Iyov (Job), and you know what the purpose of Adonai was, that Adonai is very compassionate and merciful.

The perseverance of Iyov (Job), and you know what the purpose of Adonai was, is reflected in Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” “to justify the ways of God to man.” Iyov’s troubles began when God chose to answer HaSatan’s challenge by permitting him to touch Iyov’s possessions and person, except that he could not take Iyov’s life (Job 1–2). Iyov persevered in the face of all his losses and pains, magnified by the unhelpful advice of his “friends” (Job 3–37). In the end, God vindicated himself and proved to Iyov that only God had the power and wisdom to deal with HaSatan.

12 Above all, brothers, stop swearing oaths – not “By heaven,” not “By the earth,” and not by any other formula; rather, let your “Yes” be simply “Yes” and your “No” simply “No,” so that you won’t fall under condemnation. ~ Ya’akov 5:7-12 (CJB)

Yeshua taught similarly at Matthew 5:33–37. We dare not take an oath if we do not know what tomorrow will bring because it is such a serious commitment. The law required a person to be true to an oath they had taken (Lev 19:12). A person should avoid invoking God’s name in a false oath.

In our next post, we complete our study of Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about The Prayer of Faith.

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Epistle of Ya’akov ~ 4:1-10

Warning Against Weariness ~ Part 1

What is causing all the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it your desires battling inside you? You desire things and don’t have them. You kill, and you are jealous, and you still can’t get them. So, you fight and quarrel. The reason you don’t have is that you don’t pray! Or you pray and don’t receive because you pray with the wrong motive, that of wanting to indulge your own desires.

You pray with the wrong motive. There is a heresy current among Believers, which, feeding off the excessive individualism and greed rampant in popular Western ideologies, purports to give God’s approval to selfish prayer. It beckons: “You are a child of God. He is a loving Father who would deny His children nothing. Therefore, you can pray for anything you want, and God will give it to you. Do you want a new car? A bigger house? Fancy clothes? Just ‘ask, and it will be given to you’ (Lk 11:10).” Besides misusing Scripture, raising false hopes, and making prayer a magic charm indistinct from witchcraft, this teaching ignores the fact that a truly loving father does not give his children whatever they ask for; fathers know better than their children what they need and act accordingly. The present verse refutes this selfish philosophy masquerading as biblical teaching.[1]

We will learn more about Ya‛akov’s scathing condemnation of the arrogant rich when we dig into 4:13–5:6.

You unfaithful wives! Don’t you know that loving the world is hating God? Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy! 

You unfaithful wives! In the Tanakh, Israel’s unfaithfulness to God her Ba’al (the Hebrew word means both “lord” and “husband”) is often expressed in terms of adultery and whoredom; see Ezekiel 23; Hosea 1–2, 9:1. Yeshua means the same thing when He calls His generation wicked and adulterous (Mt 12:39, 16:4).

Or do you suppose the Scripture speaks in vain when it says that there is a spirit in us which longs to envy? But the grace He gives is greater, which is why it says,

“God opposes the arrogant,
but to the humble he gives grace.”

Do you suppose the Tanakh speaks in vain when it says that there is a spirit in us which longs to envy? Bible scholars have had difficulty interpreting verse 6 since it is not an exact quote from the Tanakh. David Stern opines that Ya‛akov appears to be referring to Genesis 4:7, where God says to Cain, If you are doing what is good, shouldn’t you hold your head high? And if you don’t do what is good, sin is crouching at the door—it wants you, but you can rule over it. All understand this to be speaking about HaSatan, who is the evil impulse in man.

Therefore, submit to God. Moreover, take a stand against the Adversary, and he will flee from you.

Take a stand against the Adversary (HaSatan) who stalks about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour ~ 1 Kefa 5:8–9. Although he is the god of this world (2Cor. 4:4), Yeshua has overcome the world (John 16:33). Therefore, if you use Scripture properly (2 Tim. 2:15, Matt. 4:1–11) and employ the other available means of spiritual warfare (2Cor. 10:3–5, Ephesians 6:10–18), he will flee from you. The verse carries the same message as Genesis 4:7 (see above).

Come close to God, and He will come close to you. Clean your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded people!

Come close to God, and He will come close to you, as in Zechariah 1:3 Therefore, tell them that Adonai-Tzva’ot says this: “Return to me,” says Adonai-Tzva’ot, “and I will return to you,” says Adonai-Tzva’ot. Here the initiative for reconciliation is ours; elsewhere, Scripture places it in God’s hands, as at Lamentations 5:21 and Ephesians 2:4–10. Yochanan 3:16 expresses both sides equally.

Clean your hands … purify your hearts. Compare Isaiah 1:15–16: When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even when you make many prayers, I will not hear—for your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Also, Psalm 24:4(3): Who shall ascend into the mountain of Adonai? Who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.

9 Wail, mourn, sob! Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into gloom! 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. ~ 4:1-10 (CJB)

Verses 9-10 explain what is meant by purifying one’s heart in v. 8.

We will learn more from Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about Warning Against Worldliness ~ Part 2.

Click here for the PDF version.

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

Epistle of Ya’akov ~ 3:13-18

Wisdom from Above

In this post, we learn that there are two kinds of wisdom. That which is worldly, unspiritual, and demonic produces jealousy and selfish ambition, followed by disharmony and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is from the Father, with whom there is neither variation nor darkness (1:17); it is extolled in Proverbs 8:22ff. Also, compare Isaiah 32:17 and Hebrews 12:11.

You may want to go back to Ya’akov 1:5-8 and review what he said about wisdom earlier.

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him demonstrate it by his good way of life, by actions done in the humility that grows out of wisdom.

The Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh, often employs wise and understanding to describe a person who lives following the insight given by God (Deut. 1:13, 15; 4:6). People demonstrate wisdom if their deeds reflect God’s commands. Those who are wise should demonstrate their wisdom by actions done in the humility that grows out of wisdom.

14 But if you harbor in your heart’s bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, don’t boast and attack the truth with lies!

Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are the opposite of true wisdom as characterized by humility. They are also far different from the righteous character of a jealous God (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24), who appropriately yearns for His honor and the loyal devotion of His people, while the envious yearn for what does not belong to them. Selfish ambition is a divisive willingness to split the group to achieve personal power and prestige.

15 This wisdom is not the kind that comes down from above; on the contrary, it is worldly, unspiritual, demonic.

Worldly, unspiritual, demonic describes behavior that progresses from bad to worse, recalling the list in vv. 5b–6. Such behavior is ultimately earthbound, absolutely sensual as opposed to spiritual, and its origin is in the cosmic powers of darkness.

16 For where there are jealousy and selfish ambition, there will be disharmony and every foul practice.

Ya’akov describes the evil consequences of false wisdom. Earthly wisdom leads to jealousy and selfish ambition, culminating in a troubling situation for Messianic communities causing disharmony and every foul practice.

17 But the wisdom from above is, first of all, pure, then peaceful, kind, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

The virtues Ya’akov lists are predominantly non-selfish and non-aggressive; those who practice these virtues show more concern for others than themselves. They are opposite of the vices described in vv. 14–16.

The answer to the disharmony and every foul practice (v.16) is to seek wisdom from above, which produces character qualities beginning with purity and concluding with mercy (cf. Gal. 5:22–23, where Godly qualities are the fruit of the Spirit).

18 And peacemakers who sow seed in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. ~ Ya’akov 3:13-18 (CJB)

The legacy of those who bring peace rather than conflict is a harvest of righteousness. The fruit that comes from peacemaking in the Messianic community will be the righteous conduct that God will bless.

We will learn more from Ya’akov as we dig into what he says about Warning Against Worldliness.

Click here for the PDF version.

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.

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[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 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).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 38

The Nicene Creed~ Part 24

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 Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church 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 BELIEVE IN ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH ~ The Church.

Recall that I prefer to call the “church” the kehillah, which means “community” in Hebrew. I think that it is much easier to think of “church” as “a community” and not as “a building.” So, I will take some liberty to change the word “church” from now on in this post to kehillah. You will also note that I have used numerous quotes from the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) instead of my “go-to” version of the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). There is a simple explanation for doing so. This year, I am using the CSB for my reading to see what new gems I might discover for my daily devotions this year.

In our profession of faith, we proclaim, “We believe in … the kehillah.” Rufinus explains why in Latin, we say, “We believe the kehillah,” and not we believe “in the kehillah.” He writes:

“We believe the holy kehillah,” not as God but as the kehillah gathered together to God. And we believe that there is “forgiveness of sins”; we do not say “We believe in the forgiveness of sins.” And we believe that there will be a “resurrection of the flesh”; we do not say, “We believe in the resurrection of the flesh.” By this monosyllabic preposition, therefore, the Creator is distinguished from the creatures, and things divine are separated from things human. [1]

Understanding the Fathers of the significance and the nature of the kehillah is grounded on Scripture, especially on the Brit Hadashah. The strong images of Sha’ul support their explanation: the Messianic community as the body of Messiah, as his bride, as a mother. Because she is a bride, she can generate sons and daughters for the Father. Sha’ul, in describing the nature of the Messianic community, introduces the image of the kehillah as the body of Messiah and expounds it in the Pastoral Letters. Messiah is the head of that body: “He is the head of the body, the kehillah.… Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Messiah’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the kehillah.”[2] There is a mystical identification between believers and Messiah, as is shown in the conversion of Sha’ul: “As he journeyed, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”[3]

To belong to Messiah, have a personal relationship with Him, and have union with Him implies the result of union with other believers. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Messiah?… But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.[4] The same faith and love unify individuals in Messiah: “So we, though many, are one body in Messiah, and individually members one of another.” [5] According to Sha’ul, believers are members of a body and are connected, serving different functions. It is not only a visible unity, a society with all members in harmony; the unity is of a higher order. It is not only a social or a moral unity but a mystical body. Mystical does not mean something strange or hidden; it means that Messiah binds, guides, ties, unites us to Himself. It is a reality that is not obvious to our intelligence and is beyond our senses, and involves a unique union of all the members with Messiah, who is the head. John uses the image of the vine and the branches:

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who stay united with me, and I with them, are the ones who bear much fruit; because apart from me, you can’t do a thing. Unless a person remains united with me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Such branches are gathered and thrown into the fire, where they are burned up. “If you remain united with me, and my words with you, then ask whatever you want, and it will happen for you. This is how my Father is glorified—in your bearing much fruit; this is how you will prove to be my talmidim.~  John 15:5-8 (CJB)

The members are bound through faith, love, and sacraments to Messiah, who endows us with His gifts: “holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” [6] In the force of this union, the kehillah is the fullness or complement of Messiah: the Father “has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the kehillah, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.”  [7] It forms one whole with him: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Messiah.” [8] This body is nourished by the Eucharist: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” [9]

The visible kehillah is a human, mixed company, with shadows and spots. It is the visible sign of the presence of the kingdom of God among human beings, sustained by hope, whose soul is the Ruach. [10]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Rufinus Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed. In other words, we believe in God and things divine. We do not believe in things human; we simply believe them.

[2] Colossians 1:18, 24 (CSB)

[3] Acts 9:3-5 (CSB)

[4] 1 Cor 6:15, 17 (CSB).

[5] 1 Cor 6:15ans 12:5 (CSB)

[6] Colossian 2:19 (CSB)

[7] Eph 1:22–23 (CSB)

[8] 1 Cor 12:12 (CSB)

[9] 1 Cor 10:17

[10] Di Berardino, A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2010). We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (Vol. 5, pp. 1–3).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 37

The Nicene Creed~ Part 23

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 He has spoken through the Prophets 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.

HE HAS SPOKEN THROUGH THE PROPHETS

In 2 Kefa 1:21, we read, for never has a prophecy come as a result of human willing – on the contrary, people moved by the Ruach HaKodesh spoke a message from God. From the earliest days of the kehillah, the Ruach has been known as the one who spoke through the prophets and writings of the Tanakh. The Ruach is the giver of revelation. Yeshua refers to David as one inspired by the Ruach, as does Kefa. Elizabeth, Simeon, and Zechariah were all filled with the Ruach when they spoke the words recorded in the Gospels. Yeshua, quoting Isaiah, spoke of the Ruach being on Him and anointing Him to preach good news to the poor. He also told the emissaries that when they would be called to speak, it would not be they who speak but the Ruach that He would give to them. Shavuot (Pentecost) and the subsequent life of the kehillah testified to the fulfillment of the prophecy in Yo’el that the Ruach would descend on the kehillah enlivening it and its message. Sha’ul speaks in his first letter to the Corinthians of his preaching, and words have come from the Ruach. Kefa refers to Sha’ul’s writings as difficult to understand and sometimes being twisted out of context, as also happens to the other Scriptures, no doubt including Sha’ul’s writings in what was considered the Scriptures. Here, as well as in what Sha’ul has to say about those who spoke in tongues, we begin to get a picture of the kehillah and its leaders struggling to get a handle on which prophecies and writings were to be understood as authoritative since some claimed the Ruach. Still, neither their words nor their actions were enlightening for the kehillah. Not everyone who claimed inspiration was necessarily received by the kehillah. A sifting process began by which the kehillah decided what was normative for the kehillah’s faith and life.

The challenges of Gnosticism and the teaching of such heretics as Marcion made it all the more important to confess that the Ruach by whom Yeshua was conceived and who was operative in the ministry of Yeshua and the Gospel message was the same Ruach who acted in the Tanakh. Messianic writers from very early on, however, emphasized the normative role of the Ruach and the rule of faith in revelation. At times, the Ruach made itself known in extraordinary ways, such as speaking in tongues as the apostles did at Shavuot. The kehillah, such as the one in Corinth, continued to utilize. These tongues and other signs were viewed as a witness to unbelievers, and they continued as long as there was a need for them in the kehillah. After a time, however, most, although not all, early Messianic writers believed this gift slowly ceased to exist. (I happen to be in the group that does not believe that speaking in tongues has ceased as a gift of the Ruach.) But the work of the Ruach continued and continues to live and work in the life of the kehillah.[1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp 266–267).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 35

The Nicene Creed~ Part 21

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 who proceeds from the Father and the Son 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.

WHO PROCEEDS FROM THE FATHER AND THE SON

It would be placing far too great a burden on the Creed confessed at Constantinople in 381CE to say that the holy fathers gathered to establish the dogma of the procession of the Ruach HaKodesh in all its precision and fullness. In their writings, the Cappadocians had noted that the Ruach was distinguished from the Father and the Son by his procession. Thus, the Creed uses the language of John 15:26, which speaks most directly of the procession of the Ruach from the Father: When the Counselor comes, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of Truth, who keeps going out from the Father – He will testify on My behalf. (CJB) The phrase, who keeps going out from the Father distinguishes the Ruach from the Father and the Son, even as the following phrase of the Creed demonstrates that the Ruach is to be worshiped and glorified along with the Father and the Son. Thus, the present phrase provides a distinguishing scriptural characteristic while also tying the Ruach’s procession to the Father.

To a certain extent, both Eastern and Western traditions have emphasized what is known as the Father’s monarchy in speaking of the Ruach’s origin. The Father’s monarchy implies that the Father is the source, principle, cause of the Ruach HaKodesh and the Son. One might even note that both the Son and the Ruach are spoken of as proceeding from the Father in our English Bibles and Latin ones. However, this was part of the problem between East and West that arose beginning around the fifth century, when working in both Latin and Greek was not as expected. In Greek, the origin of the Ruach HaKodesh from the Father is based on the Greek word ekporeuetai, which alone is used of the Ruach HaKodesh in John 15:26. The Greeks acknowledge the Latin Church that the Son too is spoken of as proceeding from the Father. But this does not occur with the Greek word ekporeuomai but the Greek word proiēmi – an important distinction that Latin does not make. The Father was unbegotten, the Son was begotten, which was a procession from the Father, but not the same as how the Ruach proceeds.

The question remained to be asked: What is the relationship of the Ruach to the Son in this procession, since Scripture, especially the Gospel of John, speaks of the Ruach of the Son, the Son giving the Ruach, breathing out the Ruach, etc.? This the Creed did not answer. As noted, at least up through the fifth century but even beyond, all the way to the time before the great schism of 1054, the dominant patristic understanding is that the monarchy of the Father is what binds and grounds the Trinity in its unity. And so, more often than not, the question of the Ruach’s procession is first of all addressed in the sense of His procession from the Father. But in no way does this exhaust all that the fathers had to say about the procession. The doctrine of the Ruach HaKodesh and His procession is not limited to His relation to the Father. Still, it is extended to His relation to the Son in a way that is not always so easily distinguished or held distinct from that of the Father.

One can distinguish different emphases or tendencies between East and West on the Ruach’s procession even as there are also areas of overlap. The later addition in the West of the Ruach’s procession from the Son began locally in Spain at the Council of Toledo in 589CE. However, it is preceded as early as the third century by writers such as Tertullian and then later with Marius Victorinus, Ambrose, and Augustine. The addition eventually received papal authority and became the standard creedal confession in the Western Roman Catholic and later Protestant traditions. The East has always considered it as a unilateral addition to the Creed without ecumenical consensus. But it is worth asking why the West perceived the phrase and the Son as a necessary addition in the first place? From the Western perspective, if the Ruach proceeded from the Father alone, this could appear that the Son did not have everything the Father had. Thus, the Son would appear as a subordinate being – especially to the new converts coming from barbarian tribes in the hinterlands of the West who had been heavily influenced by Arian Christology, which tended to subordinate the person of the Son. Thus, the original purpose of the addition was to protect the Son against such subordination by establishing the procession equally from Father and Son. And so, it is not surprising that the phrase filioque began to appear in the Creed spoken in the liturgy of the church. How the church worships is an expression of its faith. However, a change in something as basic as the ecumenical Creed shared by all the faithful was inadvisable – even if the doctrine itself, charitably and adequately understood, was true. It did not help that the West had no vocabulary for distinguishing the different types of the procession as the East had, even though theologians such as Augustine did speak of the Ruach proceeding principally from the Father. Thus, misunderstandings were inevitable. But neither East nor West was interested in denigrating the Godhead of Father, Son, or Ruach HaKodesh.

Rather than speaking of the Ruach as proceeding from the Father and the Son, the East spoke in terms of the Ruach proceeding from the Father through the Son, in effect guarding against any understanding that the Ruach HaKodesh derived his existence from the Son which would thus cause Him to appear as a lesser being. Perhaps it is an oversimplification to describe the emphasis in the East as that of safeguarding the Ruach’s full divinity. At the same time, the West emphasized a concern to guard the Son’s full divinity. No doubt other issues such as authority, both of popes and councils, are intertwined in these discussions and have complicated ecumenical discussions far beyond the issue of the Ruach’s procession. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp 217-220).​

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 34

The Nicene Creed~ Part 20

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 the giver of life 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.

THE GIVER OF LIFE ~ In Sanctification

Sanctification is made up of two Latin words: Sanctus, meaning Holy, and the verb Facere, meaning to make. The primary work of the Ruach HaKodesh in the Trinity’s interaction with the world is to make us Holy, that is, sanctified. From its inception, the ancient church was concerned with the Holiness of the Believer. Clement of Rome, for instance, lauds the Corinthian congregation for its Messianic piety and character while also calling on the congregation to persevere in Holiness in the face of division. Polycarp exhorts the Philippian congregation to Holy living, good works, and a faith that remains steadfast. Holiness as a way of life was considered so important that, should the baptized depart from it, there was a minimal possibility for return. Baptism was the point of entry into the life of faith and Holiness, leaving behind sin and being conformed to the divine image. With its considerations as to whether one could sin after baptism and still be called a child of God, one might get the impression that the early church believed in salvation by sanctification, or, more concretely, salvation by good works. This would, however, place a sixteenth-century dichotomy onto the texts of the early centuries of the church they were not meant to bear.

The early church was more fluid in its discussion of sanctification and justification. It did not always use terms consistently. It did not have a well-established order of salvation that consistently worked out the logical sequencing of the various components of salvation. This at times can create misunderstanding or lack of clarity in what the church meant concerning sanctification. It is clear that when it came to the issue of standing before the judgment seat of the throne of God or when they were in trials or tribulations, it was not to their good works that they turned for certainty. When ruminating on the effects of sin or the coming judgment, they put their faith and trust in Yeshua alone and not on the works they had done. But they obviously spoke favorably of good works and the life of sanctification and demonstrated a fear and reverence for God often lacking today. Sanctification was integral to Messianic faith and life. It was not just a series of acts that takes place, nor did it simply imply the betterment of human life or moral improvement – although these will take place in those who are being brought to maturity in the faith.

Sanctification was considered to be the entire process of indwelling by the Ruach HaKodesh by which one is conformed to the image of God, a process that begins in baptism when sin is drowned and left behind so that a new life can begin. That new life grows and matures in people as they are joined to the community of faith centered around Word and sacrament, which were deemed essential to a life of Holiness for its members. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp. 37–38).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 33

 

The Nicene Creed~ Part 19

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 the giver of life 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.

THE GIVER OF LIFE ~ Christ’s Life in Us Through the Spirit – Theosis [1]

The Nicene Creed~ Part 19

is the primary source for the kehillah’s teaching on Justification and its teaching of incorporation and union with Yeshua via the Ruach. Sha’ul often uses the phrase in Yeshua or in Yeshua Messiah to indicate a change in our relationship with God and a change in us through our incorporation into Yeshua. However, it is the apostle Kefa who has provided the kehillah with the clearest text concerning our participation in the divine nature. This concept has been found predominantly in the East, although the selections here will demonstrate that this was teaching in the West. In the first chapter of his second letter, Kefa writes:

3 God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowing the One who called us to His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us valuable and superlatively great promises so that through them you might come to share in God’s nature and escape the corruption which evil desires have brought into the world. ~2 Kefa 1:3-4 (CJB)

Kefa and Sha’ul no doubt took this idea from Yeshua as inspired writers. But what did they have in mind when they spoke of Believers being in Yeshua and partakers of the divine nature? This teaches the kehillah of which many in the West, including evangelicals and some Roman Catholics, are unaware. What follows is an attempt to introduce what this teaching is about and to explore the significant place and influence this teaching exerted in the early kehillah’s understanding of the Ruach’s work in us.

The ancient writers believed that the apostles were speaking of deification. Their choice of such terminology was not cavalier. It was a bold and deliberate move meant to evoke and challenge the pagan language of exaltation. Human beings, especially heroes, sages, and ultimately emperors, advanced to the rank of deity. However, those writers avoided the term deification because it fundamentally transgressed on the divine prerogative, something that some present-day Believers believe occurs in the doctrine of Theosis, although such a transgression could not have been further from the patristic mind. Early Believers chose a polemical term and concept in a deliberate confrontation with the paganism of their day to differentiate what it truly meant to partake of the divine nature of the one true God. They were careful to note that it was not the polytheism of their pagan neighbors they were espousing. Instead, as Athanasius states, “it is as ‘sons,’ not as the Son”; as ‘gods,’ not as God himself that we partake of the divine nature. This is an important distinction since the Greek kehillah emphasized only one God by nature over classical religion with its deified men and women and its anthropomorphic gods and goddesses.

According to the orthodox, scriptural understanding of Theosis, we are given the right to become children of God by grace as we are born of God through the waters of baptism. We thus become sons and daughters of God at our baptism. What follows, then, is an ongoing process of sanctification by which we, through the indwelling of the Ruach, become more and more conformed to the image of our God and Father in which we were created. This conforming process ultimately realizes its full potential as the just receive their promised inheritance in heaven when their own glorious transfiguration takes place in the new heavenly kingdom. It is both a moral and ontological ascent toward the fullness of life and, ultimately, eternal life in communion with the divine, which was God’s original intention for humanity all along. [2]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Theosis is the belief, mostly found within the Eastern Orthodox Church, that a Believer can experience a union with God and become like Him so much that they participate in the divine nature. This concept is also known as “deification.” Theosis does not mean that they become Gods or merge with God but that they are deified. They participate in the “energies” of God with which He reveals Himself to us in creation.

[2] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp. 37–38).