Charles Soper responded to my article “Facing Scripture” http://www.strateias.org/ybcs.docx – here is my open response to him.
I must begin for commending you for the gracious if frustrating tone that you bring to this discussion. There is no need for you to apologize for addressing me by my last name without any titles. I prefer not to be addressed with any titles as I want my words to be weighed on their own merit and not on the basis of any imagined authority.
You missed the point of my response. Scripture clearly indicates that Israel is in possession of a unique piece of knowledge, one that they acquired through the experiences of the exodus and Sinai. Those who seek to remain loyal to those experiences testify to a certain perception of God, a perception that places all of finite existence as His subjects. Over history, many Jews have taken a stance against this testimony. They have exploited the Jewish Scriptures to justify their rebellion but they never claimed that they were following a true tradition that they received from Sinai.
Here are some Scriptures for you to face. Deuteronomy 30:1-10 clearly indicates that a repentance will take place prior to the circumcision of our heart, a repentance of a people with children (not a bachelor). The text clearly indicates that this repentance will be accepted favorably by God and will be the basis for our return to the land.
How do you explain this?
In your response to my article you attempt to face the Scriptures that testify that Israel is in possession of a unique perception of God (Deuteronomy 4:35). You attempt to deflect this Scripture by pointing to people who were born into the Jewish people who accepted your idol. You seem to be claiming that this is the remnant that possesses the “truth.”
I addressed this argument (as well as most of your other arguments) in my article “The Council of My Nation” but for the sake of the readers I will briefly repeat it here. None of those Jews who accepted Jesus did so claiming that they were following a testimony passed on from the exodus and Sinai experiences. The Jews who accepted Jesus quickly lost the covenantal sign of the Sabbath (Exodus 31:16) that God promised will remain with His people. This should tell you that these people are NOT the witnesses that God spoke of in the book of Isaiah.
So will you face the Scriptures that refute your theology?
As a post script I will say that your entire theory about the covenant of Sinai vs. the covenant of the patriarchs is irrelevant to this discussion. The question is simply; who are God’s witnesses?
One more thing. Can you please provide me with an e-mail address so that I can update you with my responses in the future?
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal
And God spoke all these words, saying: I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
An idol is a graven image of things in heaven or on earth or in the waters below, usually made out of wood, stone, silver and/or gold. The one the Christians worship is not a graven image.
If they are right that Jeshua is G-d and we brand him an idol, then that is blasphemy. Then we break this same commandment which we try to uphold, because it also tells us not to take the name of G-d in vain.
Let us be careful about short cuts in our thinking, writing and/or speech.
There are two parts to this commandment:
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make for yourself a graven image.
If you proclaim Jesus as a god, then you violate the first half of this commandment. If you further make icons to represent Jesus, a time-honored tradition in Christian history, then you violate the second half.
You wrote, “Let us be careful about short cuts in our thinking, writing and/or speech.”
That’s true: There are no shortcuts to the truth. So will you hold yourself to your words? Will you learn Hebrew and study the Bible in its original language? Will you try to see it from the perspective of the Jews, the Hebrew Bible’s target audience, who preserved God’s word through fire and water, and who are appointed by God to be His witnesses (Isaiah 43, 44)?
Peace and blessings,
You seem to think that idolatry is worshiping statues. This is simplistic and inaccurate. No one (even in ancient times) was ever stupid enough to make a statue and think the statue was the god. An idol has always been a representation of a god — an IMAGE of a god. Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make ANY graven images or ANY likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath.”
Have you ever seen pictures of Jesus? How about statues of him? These are all representations of Jesus and are idols.
The worship of Jesus (a physical being) as G-d is itself idolatry — because Jesus was himself a “representation” of a god. But bowing down to statues as a representation of a god? 100% idolatry.
“The essential principle concerning idolatry is that people are not to worship anything created – neither angel, planet, star, the elements, or something derived from them” (Rambam, Laws of Idol Worship, Ch.9).
Not to make a graven image; neither to make it oneself nor to have it made by others (Sh’mot / Exodus 20:4)
Not to make any figures for ornament, even if they are not worshiped (Sh’mot / Exodus 20:20)
Not to make idols even for others (Sh’mot / Ex. 34:17; Vayikra / Levtucs 19:4)
So would the Canaanite worship of the son not qualify as “idol-worship” in your dictionary?
Before You accuse me of taking short-cuts I would suggest that you read what I wrote on this issue – there is a category on this blog entitled “The Ultimate Truth” – you could begin there
When did I accuse you?
My response was an invitation to open a door behind the filters of reasoning.
A light will shine through this door which can differentiate truth, biases and assumptions, also in the blog you referred to.
Yashar, that can happen if we actually have a discussion. You can begin by responding to my challenge.
There was a man who went on a journey in a foreign country. While traveling on one of the roads he was stopped by a large cage in the middle of the road. He went to look and behold there was someone inside it! The person called out, “Come in, join me, it is good in here.” The man looked. He thought, “I have seen better places to dwell.” Besides that, on the door of the cage there was a sign which when you looked carefully said, “Warning, if you enter, you can not get out unless you have the key.”
Now the man was in possession of the key that opens all locks. After talking with the person inside for a while they got into quite a pleasant conversation and the person convinced him that he should come in. He thought, “Why not?” He went in, let the door shut behind him and he had a wonderful time with the person inside. There was good food, music and the person inside seemed to have much eloquent and persuasive knowledge.
After quite some time, the person said to the man, “You have found such a good place in here and I’m enjoying your company. I would be devastated if you were ever to go. Besides that, out there it is just not good for you. Why don’t you throw away the key?”
After much dialogue and many convincing and persuasive arguments, one fateful night the man decided to follow the person’s suggestion and he threw the key far into the darkness where it could be no longer found.
They were happy for a number of years, but when the excitement of this new place and the new friendship died down, the man remembered that this place was really just a cage and started wondering how the two of them would ever get out.
You are not serious, and you are not yashar.
Have a good day,
Who then is “Righteous”? Who then will free us from this trap? Who will give us the key?
All we like sheep did go astray, we turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all.
But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed.
Yashar, I don’t know what you’re talking about. State your position and back it with evidence, and then we can have a discussion.
Say it straight, as in yashar, and stop talking in riddles if you want to have a real conversation with me.
Until then, be well,
I assume you recognized that the “riddles” in my previous post were written by the prophet Isaiah.
The prophets often write in “riddles” like this because they cut through the defenses of the human heart and mind. An example of this is when the prophet Nathan confronted David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and got her husband Uriah killed. If we are willing to hear, these “riddles” can help us hear the message G-d wants to speak to our hearts, bypassing the filters of reasoning I mentioned in an earlier post.
Shalom to you too.
Quoting Scripture at each other will get us nowhere, especially when we understand it differently. I do not understand your point in the parable of the man in the cage. I do not understand your point in quoting Isaiah 53 (yes, I did recognize where you were quoting from).
When you make a point backed by Scripture then we can have a discussion.
The Torah says
“[This is what you must do] if your blood brother, your son, your daughter, your bosom wife, or your closest friend secretly tries to act as a missionary among you, and says, ‘Let us go worship a new god. LET US HAVE A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN BY YOU OR YOUR FATHER.’ 13:8 [He may be enticing you with] the gods of the nations around you, far or near, or those that are found at one end of the world or another. 13:9 Do not agree with him, and do not listen to him.” D’varim / Deuteronomy 13:7-8
The key phrase here is LET US HAVE A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN BY YOU OR YOUR FATHER
or gods “YOU DID NOT KNOW” (D’varim / Deuteronomy 11).
When did “our fathers”, present at Sinai, have a spiritual experience with Jesus? Was Jesus “known” to them? Did they pray to Jesus or through Jesus? Of course not! Jesus was unknown to them.
Ergo G-d warned us against both Christianity and Islam — any spiritual experience not known to us at Mount Sinai is false. It is not the Rabbis who have “changed” or turned to avodah zarah — it is those apostate Jews who pray to or through a man and put that man above the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is idolatry for a Jew.
Sophiee, you got it mostly right but your translation is slightly off. “If your brother…will entice you [not “act as a missionary”]…let us go and worship the gods of others [not “let us have a spiritual experience”].
I’m pointing it out because in the service of truth it’s important to be translate as precisely as possible. It’s not always possible to keep all the nuances of language in translation, but we have to try to do the best we can.
Peace and blessings,
Dina, the translation is R’ Aryeh Kaplan (Z”L) The Living Torah. http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=5&CHAPTER=13
Thank you, Sophiee. I wonder why he translated it that way, it’s more like interpretation than translation. Of course, the interpretation follows the plain meaning, but I wouldn’t call it precise translation. But I hasten to add that I am no scholar, and R’ Kaplan zt”l was, so I’m baffled.
Dina, the definition of a missionary is a person sent on a religious mission which is exactly what D’varim 13 describes. Take a look at the Rambam’s list of 613 mitzvot:
36 Not to missionize an individual to idol worship Deut. 13:12
37 Not to love the missionary Deut. 13:9
38 Not to cease hating the missionary Deut. 13:9
39 Not to save the missionary Deut. 13:9
40 Not to say anything in his defense Deut. 13:9
The key is “which neither you, nor your forefathers have known.” Our fathers at Sinai did not “know” Jesus. R’ Kaplan has a footnote referring the reader to his note on Deuteronomy 11:28. “to have a novel spiritual experience
Literally, ‘which you have not known;’ see Deuteronomy 13:3, 13:7, 13:14. To ‘know’ God is interpreted as knowing Him in a mystical sense, especially among the Kabbalists. See 1 Chronicles 28:9. (cf. HaKethav VeHaKabbalah).”
One more thing (another footnote) “to act as a missionary
(Radak, Sherashim; Sifri, from 1 Samuel 26:19). Sith in Hebrew, and one who does it is called a mesith. Or, ‘try to convince’ (Targum; Ibn Janach; Septuagint), ‘try to mislead’ (Targum Yonathan; Sifri), or, ‘give bad advice’ (Rashbam).”
🙂 Many people do not know that the Jewish term for idolatry, avodah zarah, means “strange worship” (or strange work). Pray to or even “through” Jesus (e.g. “in Jesus’ name”) would have been strange and foreign to our ancestors. It wasn’t something we did at Mount Sinai and that makes it idolatry (it has nothing to do with statues, although making an image to pray to or through is likewise a sin).
Things that aren’t idolatry (strange worship) include prayer (B’reshit / Genesis 25:21, Sh’mot / Exodus 9:29) and repenting of our sins and seeking forgiveness (Vaykira / Leviticus 5.5, and 26:40-42) — they ARE biblical and not strange (foreign), but praying to or through an intermediary such as Jesus is foreign to us and thus idolatry.
That is correct, Sophiee. Actually, I had questioned your translation because I knew the Hebrew you were referring to, and it wasn’t how I would have translated it. Although, like I said, I’m no scholar.
Translation is as much art as it is science. No — more art than science! Languages don’t have a one to one meaning (usually). Take the word “sin.” To most English speaking people it means to do something really bad — for some Christians who believe in “original sin” it means an unforgivable thing (without Jesus dying for their sins). Yet the Hebrew word that is translated to “sin” means a missing of the mark. It literally means that a person tried to do the right thing and missed. They made a mistake. It is not an intentional wrong doing and thus is usually minor. I say usually — because one could accidentally kill someone while trying to do the right thing. . .
My point being that translation is tricky, it is somewhat subjective — and Hebrew, in particular, is context based. One must read the words — even the letters — in context for it to make sense.
My brother who lives in NYC has a beautiful but ferocious picture of a street cat at home. It is not my desire to emulate this beauty, nor to provoke any of you to emulate her either. Theology is far too high and precious a subject for brawling over, and every time I come back here my heart aches over this, but truth matters more than anything else, and sometimes it shines from unexpected quarters.
So a few short responses in the time I have:
I agree Deut.30.1-10 speaks of repentance before return, and this evidently took place in the days of Zerubabbel, and a little later with Ezra-Nehemiah, and on other less dramatic occasions. However it seems unmistakeably clear from the passages I listed that the sequence in other passages describing return is sometimes the restoration first then the gift of a fleshy heart indicative of blessed self loathing for sin and washing with repentance, together with a renouncing of idols.
As to Israel’s unique witness to the Unity, I still struggle to see the weight of this point – I agree Israel has historically been the source and preserver of this truth, and that it will serve this function again soon, when the Gentile nations have sunk even further into sin, but that this repository lies in rabbinic Judaism or the Hellenising tendencies of the Great Eagle
The Sabbath is indeed an extremely important, and frankly mysterious matter. It is by far the most profound change in the Law for Gentiles and Messianic Jews alike. I don’t propose to enter this now, except to indicate that the highest and holiest Sabbath of all is now the emptiest day of all in Israel. Some Christians (notably the big confessions) believe that the Day of Resurrection is the New Sabbath, that day on which Redemption is remembered – this is only partly true and an insufficient explanation, the matter is far greater than the observance of a day of rest.
I’m responding now just to your first paragraph, because my experience on this blog is so very different from yours. I find that the process of truth seeking is not beneath me, nor does it cause heartache. Instead, it exhilarates me. Sharpening my sight as I gain greater clarity brings me great joy.
I wish the same for you.
Peace and blessings,
What is mysterious about the Sabbath? That’s number one.
Number two, it is not right to draw conclusions about traditional Jewish observance from the largely secular state of Israel. Rather, look to the righteous remnant of Israel, the ones who actually observe the laws of the Torah. Among them you will see that the Day of Rest is not only not empty, but it is a deeply spiritual day. I cannot describe the experience of observing the Sabbath. It is a powerful spiritual experience that repeats itself every week and never gets old. I look forward to it all week and am sorry when it’s over.
As for rabbinic Judaism, does it mean nothing at all to you that the only Judaism that God has chosen to preserve from generation to generation is rabbinic Judaism? Today there are no physical, traceable descendants of the first Jewish followers of Jesus, of the Sadducees, of the Hellenists. And we see this happening all over again with Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and other non-Orthodox branches. Within a few generations they are completely assimilated.
God chose the nation of Israel to be His witnesses, and yet the one remnant that is loyal to Him and His Torah, the one remnant that has survived every attempt to force it into extinction–this is the group that you want to reject as God’s witness to the truth.
Why does that make sense to you?
I should add one other point.
The covenant issue is important, in my view the foundational difference between us lies here – how can we acceptably approach God and on what terms will He deal with us. The views I expressed are not my own, but may be found in other Christian writings too.
Charles, you wrote: “How can we acceptably approach God..” This is not a concern of Hebrew scripture. God is the Father of us all, is He not? Does a son worry about how to approach his father?
Hebrew Scripture does not teach us anywhere at all that we need a mediator to approach God. Can you find a clear teaching in the Torah on this? Something like, “And you shall appoint a mediator from your brethren who will bring your prayers to Me”? Doesn’t that strike you as ridiculous?
A few brief examples of necessary mediation:
‘And the LORD was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him: and I prayed for Aaron also the same time.” Deut.9.20
Thus I fell down before the LORD forty days and forty nights, as I fell down at the first; because the LORD had said he would destroy you.
“I prayed therefore unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, destroy not thy people and thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand.
Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; look not unto the stubbornness of this people, nor to their wickedness, nor to their sin:
Lest the land whence thou broughtest us out say, Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land which he promised them, and because he hated them, he hath brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.” 25-28
“Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?
Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it.” Deut.5.25-7
“Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces.
And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the LORD; the plague is begun.” Num.16.45-6
“And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.
And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O LORD my God, be on me, and on my father’s house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued.
Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto the LORD in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
” 1 Chr. 21.16-18
“And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.” Zech.3.1-3
This all backwards. You started with the premise that we can’t access God without a mediator. Then you combed through Tanach and found examples of times when people interceded on behalf of Israel and you offer that as proof of your premise.
All it proves is that sometimes great people prayed to God on behalf of all of Israel. It is not a teaching that you must pray to a mediator to pray on your behalf.
It also undermines your premise, actually, because it means that any Jewish leader is qualified to pray for us. Nothing special about Jesus, then!
But a more serious problem is the fact that you look for passages that are not clear teachings on a specific subject while ignoring the passages that are. The passages that you highlighted are not in the context of “how to approach God.” They are incidental to the story.
Here is a clear teaching:
God is close to those who call on Him, to those who call on him sincerely (Psalms 145:18).
And here is another one:
Seek the Lord while He is found, call Him while He is close (Isaiah 55:6).
Finally, what does it mean to call God the Father if you can’t talk to Him directly? Are we not God’s children? Can a child not approach his father at any time? It would be really odd, wouldn’t it, if my kids asked someone to talk to their father every time they had something to say to him. If you believe God is your Father, then you gotta act like you believe it. A daddy is someone who is always close to you and who loves you more than you can imagine. And that is what our Father in Heaven is.
Exactly. We must not confuse examples of mediation with a necessity for mediation. Much clarity here.
Charles, I just realized something. Your proofs of the necessity for mediation are a distraction.
Rabbi Blumenthal challenged you on Deuteronomy 4 and 13.
In Deuteronomy 4, we are told in no uncertain terms that we are to worship God ONLY according to the knowledge of Him that He imparted to us at Sinai. I encourage you to read this chapter carefully and see that God did not teach us about Jesus or a trinity at Sinai.
Ergo, any worship that does not conform to the Sinai teaching is idolatry. That includes worship of Jesus.
Furthermore, in Deuteronomy 13, the Torah defines idolatry as a type of worship that is unknown to our fathers. Jesus was unknown to our fathers; ergo, worship of him is idolatry.
This is why your citations of the so-called theophanies in Scripture are irrelevant. Even if true, we are still not allowed to worship God as such (although I must emphasize that your interpretation of these events is in error).
Tell me something, Charles. God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. If I were to say that God manifested as a Bush, with a Fire, and I created a trinity of God, the Bush, and the Fire, would that be idolatry? Would it be acceptable to pray to God in the name of the Bush and the Holy Fire, Amen? Why or why not?
So bottom line, you have failed to confront Deuteronomy 4 in a real way. Can you reconcile the teachings of Deuteronomy 4 and 13 with the teachings of the Church?
One more point about your comment on necessary mediation:
In all the examples you provided, the mediator was a live human. Find me one example in Scripture where the people asked a dead ruler to intercede on their behalf. Or where we find a dead ruler pleading for the Jewish people.
If I may add to your question:
Moses talked to God. Abraham talked to God. Jeremiah talked to God. Where was their necessary mediator?
Good point. Why didn’t they need a mediator?
I thought they were mediators. If god chose any of them to be meditators why did he need one?
It’s all well going directly to God, but if He’s angry with us and about to punish us for sin, as all those in the situations above were, all we can expect to find without mediation is a consuming fire. Even the High Priest Joshua, Moses and Aaron (each pictures of such mediation) and David themselves needed a mediator in their times.
God is not our father by nature, but by redemption (Isa.63.16), and the putting away of heart sins (Isa.64.6-8), without which redemption we can only expect His wrathful rejection (Isa.59.1-3).
So where is solid mediation to be found outside of a perfect and sinless example? In Rabbi Schneerson perhaps? I think not.
Jim’s question just reiterates the issue of the identity of the Divine interlocutor which we’ve frequently addressed before. Who was it Who appeared to, dialogued with the Patriarchs and Moses and was prayed to, why is He so often called Messenger, then identified as HaShem, when HaShem in the absolute can never be seen or approached immediately?
Have you also noticed how in each instance the mediation was defective (the remedy being partial or based on the merit of another see Ex. 32.13, Deut.9.27, 2 Ki.19.34, 20.6 as examples) – the only exception being the last, where the mediator is…..you know Who, or at least you should by now.
You wrote a comment in response to mine. Please reread my comments carefully:
I respectfully request that you respond directly to what I have written. Thus far, you have not confronted Deuteronomy 4 and 13. You did not answer my question about a theoretical trinity of God, the Bush, and the Fire (with the Bush acting as the mediator, it occurs to me to add).
I have not had the chance yet to look up your references, but I answered you already on your argument of the so-called theophanies. I argued that the number and force of these theophanies are irrelevant, even if your interpretation is correct, as Deuteronomy 4 teaches us clearly that we are not to worship them. Instead of responding to this argument, you keep citing references to theophanies. I ask you again to respond to Deuteronomy 4.
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