IN THIS ISSUE ...
OPENING TWO ``BLACK BOXES''
I am writing this introduction to our latest issue three weeks after an exceptionally joyful fall festival season. Our family had the opportunity to spend the Feast of Tabernacles this year with the family of fellow Grace and Knowledge editor Jared Olar. The Wards and Olars have built a close ``cyberfriendship'' via electronic mail over the past three years, and it was a great thrill for Sherry and me to finally meet Jared and Christina and their new baby Alex. We also enjoyed the added bonus of meeting and sharing two meals with Jeff Smith (a frequent contributor to Grace and Knowledge )and his family.
This year we had the privilege of worshiping with our Worldwide Church of God (WCG) brethren in Davenport, Iowa; with the Gates of Eden Messianic congregation in Marquette Heights, Illinois; and with the Church of the Messiah in Dayton, Ohio. The Dayton celebration on October 1-2 was a special blessing for us, as over 500 people from various denominations packed Kirkmont Presbyterian Church for two of the most inspiring worship services we had ever experienced, along with a special Bible study and seminars.As I reported in Issue 3 of Grace and Knowledge (p. 1), Christians from many backgrounds are discovering the joy of Christ-centered celebration of the annual festival days, and the gathering in Dayton was a prime example of this exciting trend.
While many believers are exploring the Hebraic roots of Christianity, it is also true that Christianity as a whole, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel, has been reexamining its relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people. To give our readers some added perspective on this historic development, we are reprinting in this issue of Grace and Knowledge an article by historian Robert Wilken (``The Jews as the Christians Saw Them,'' p. 14).which originally appeared in the excellent magazine First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life . We believe that you will find it to be very thought-provoking and informative.
In considering its relationship with Israel, the Church has wrestled for centuries with several difficult questions, including: What is the future role of Israel in God's plan? Has the Church replaced Israel? What is the nature of the New Covenant, and how is it related to the Sinai covenant? Today these are also among the most fundamentaland controversial questions facing the WCG, and it is vital that we understand what the Bible has to say about them. In part one of his series `` `Has God Cast Away His People?' Why the Church Has Rejected`Replacement Theology' '', beginning on p. 4 of this issue, Jared Olar clearly presents the biblical teaching on these questions.
|Discovering an Ancient Tradition|
A familiar proverb of Solomon admonishes,``He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.''(Prov. 18:13, KJV) I have had much occasionlately to think about how often we tend to disregard Solomon's advice, usually without even realizing it. In particular, we may hold certain prejudices and stereotypes, perhaps acquired in childhood, that we rarely stop to examine or question. Such stereotypes lead to errors in thinking that can be major impediments to us in our search for truth.
In studying theology and history over the past few years, I have been forced to confront some of my own religious prejudices and misconceptions. Until rather recently, one blind spot of mine-a blind spot shared, unfortunately, by millions of other Christians-has been a disregard for Jewish tradition.
As we know, Jesus came over 400 years after the last book of the Hebrew canon of scripture was written. The Jewish tradition that began to develop after the return of the House of Judah from Babylonian exile has been for most of us a sort of ``black box''-a thing that we know exists, but whose details are largely a mystery to us. Without actually having examined the contents of this ``box,''I had always assumed that it contained little of value to me. I imagined that its contents consisted largely of things like picky Sabbath regulations and the kinds of ``commandments of men'' which Jesus condemned in Mark 7:7.
Since first looking inside this box a few years ago, I have found many surprises. One surprise is the sheer volume of the box and the breadth of its contents. Included are a wealth of instructive stories and parables, fascinating biblical commentary and theological and philosophical discussion, and much wisdom, history and legend. To be sure, there is much there that is not relevant for us, including the picky regulations, but even these become much more comprehensible when seen in context. They originally arose out of a reverence for God and a sincere desire to obey Him rather than from a motivation of self-exaltation and exclusiveness.
The biggest surprise that I have found in this box is the extent to which its contents can enhance our understanding of the New Testament. In hindsight, this probably should not have been so surprising. After all, the New Testament was written by Jewish believers who were part of the Jewish culture of the Second Temple period, so it only makes sense that the more we know about that culture, the better we will understand their writings. However, our blind spots can often hinder us from making such seemingly ``obvious'' connections.
Of particular interest is the fact that many of the teachings of Jesus have close parallels in Jewish literature.Much of the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), for instance, can be found in the Siddur, the traditional prayer book of Orthodox Judaism. Another example is the Golden Rule of Matt. 7:12:``Therefore all things whatsoever that men should do to you,do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.''A very similar statement is credited to the famous teacher Hillel the Elder (c. 70 BC-c. 10 AD). When asked by someone for a brief summary of all of Torah, Hillel replied, ``Do not unto others what you would not like them to do to you. The rest of the Torah is commentary, which you should now study.''
The many similiarities between Jesus' words and the teachings of the Jewish sages suggest that Jesus was not an ``outsider''who came to denounce and destroy all of Jewish tradition.It is much more accurate to describe His ministry as that of an itinerant rabbi who sought to reform and recenter that tradition. To say that Jesus was in some ways a typical first-century rabbi is not in any way to diminish Him. Jesus' uniqueness lies in who He is-God in the flesh-rather than what He taught, which was in continuity with God's previous revelation(see e.g. Matt. 5:17-18). It also makes sense that Jesus would have taught in a way that would have been most effective for making and training disciples in the culture of first-century Judea.
We provide one example of the relevance of Jewish tradition for New Testament study in this issue of Grace and Knowledge. In the article ``Rivers of Living Water''(p. 22), I demonstrate how a knowledge of first-century festival customs can give us a deeper insight into the meaning of our Savior's words in John 7:37-38.
|Discovering Another Ancient Tradition|
In our research for Grace and Knowledge, we make use of a wide range of sound Christian scholarship.I would never have imagined conducting this sort of research just a few short years ago, when, generally speaking , I would have hesitated to work with sources from outside our own sabbatarian adventist circles. Much of the Christian tradition that developed after the first century A.D. was to me, and perhaps to many of us, another black box. Although we actually relied on this tradition in a number of ways-e.g., for our very knowledge of which writings constituted the New Testament-I was wary of it. I associated this box with the Inquisition,with the persecution of those whose beliefs were like mine, and with teachings and practices skewed by the influences of paganism and Greek philosophy. Because of these associations, I rejected large parts of the box's contents without ever having really examined them.
However, over the last few years I have begun to explore Christian tradition in more detail. Here, too, I have found much inspiration, wisdom, and insight into the scriptures. One of the surprises in this ``box'' is the amount of common ground that I have shared with many other Christians all along. Another surprise is a wonderful trend to which I alluded above: More and more, Christians and Christian denominations are repenting of past antijudaic attitudes and theologies.As a result, Hebraic forms of Christianity are becoming much more prevalent and commonly accepted than in previous times. Remarkably, leaders and scholars from the Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions-two of the worst offenders in the past-have been among the pacesetters in these reforms.
In this issue of Grace and Knowledge, valuable teaching from the Christian tradition is given in part four of Jared Olar's series on the Apostles' Creed (p. 28). This latest installment covers the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, and the Two Natures of Christ. Included is a fascinating discussion of the prophetic role of Mary, a topic not familiar to many Protestants but about which Catholic and Orthodox biblical scholarship has much to offer us.
We at Grace and Knowledge are dedicated to investigating both the Christian tradition and its Jewish foundations. In each of these ``boxes'' are problems and errors, to be sure-that is always the case when God works through fallible human instruments. But to completely grasp what God has done and is doing in the world, and to comprehend the place of our own tradition in the Body of Christ, we must go beyond familiar stereotypes about these boxes and understand their realities. We hope that you find Issue 5 to be stimulating and edifying, and we welcome your comments and contributions.