“Has God said…?”: Ethics of the Interpretive Tradition

“Has God said…?”: Ethics of the Interpretive Tradition

?”Has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?…”

             “God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’ The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!…” (Gen.3:1-4)

Thus we are told the origin of man’s original exile from God’s Divine Presence. Spawned by the “forked tongue” of the serpent, Eve succumbs to the temptation of eating the forbidden fruit. She then gives the forbidden delicacy to the man.

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In normative Christian theology, this is explained as the act which constitutes the Original Sin, or Fall of Man. In Jewish tradition it is often explained as discovered carnality and the beginning of exile. (Judaism does not teach the doctrine of Original Sin).

Perhaps there is a deeper, more profound way to look at this story of origins than just the introduction of base sexuality or a simple explanation of how humanity fell from “grace”.

The serpent knows the words of God, but the story progresses when he interprets, suggesting his interpretation. Interestingly, Moses does the same in the Torah (as we will see). Can we learn something by comparing Moses to the serpent in the Garden? Yes, I believe we can: a very important aspect of biblical interpretive tradition that, when misunderstood, is at the root of nearly all false teaching and division within the body of Messiah.

It is easy to see how the serpent twists and manipulates God’s words of instruction to Eve. Why is it easy? Because we know that the result of the encounter is disaster. Therefore, we also assume that he is misquoting God’s words. But is he?

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The Twinkling of an Eye

The Twinkling of an Eye

“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”(1 Cor.15:52)

This verse, as well as a few others, is used to explain the Rapture Theory. You’ve seen the Left Behind movies, right? One moment, it’s business as usual, and the next, driver-less cars are crashing into each other, clothing is found on the floor (minus the wearer) phone calls are dropped, etc. Sounds like science fiction.

That’s because, largely, it is.

Is the Tim LaHaye dramatization of pre-millenial rapture a fair representation of what Paul is referencing here? What type of change could represent this idea in Jewish thought of the Second Temple period?  Continue reading

Working Out Salvation

Working Out Salvation

    “And He will be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is his treasure.” (Is.33:6)

Verses like the one above are like spiritual divining rods. Our perception of redemption is transformed by their theological breadth and application. “No,” it seems to say to us, “mere belief is just the beginning, not the end. Now, it’s time to get busy.” 

Commonly, we think of “salvation” as a one-time thing. Not a piling up in terms of a form of “wealth”, which implies accumulation. Can “salvation” be acquired like knowledge? Can it become a “wealth”? How do we understand this?

A passage in the Talmud discusses it, actually. Let’s compare what the sages had to say about this verse with the teachings of Yeshua and the apostles.

“Reish Lakish said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “And the faith of your times shall be a strength of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge, the fear of the LORD is his treasure” (Is.33:6)? Faith; that is the order of Zera’im, Seeds, in the Mishna, because a person has faith in God and plants his seeds (Jerusalem Talmud). Your times; that is the order of Moed, Festival, which deals with the various occasions and Festivals that occur throughout the year. Strength; that is the order of Nashim, Women. Salvations; that is the order of Nezikim, Damages, as one who is being pursued is rescued from the hands of his pursuer. Wisdom; that is the order of Kodashim, Consecrated Items. And knowledge; that is the order of Teharot, Purity, which is particularly difficult to master. And even if a person studies and masters all of these, “the fear of the LORD is his treasure,” it is preeminent.” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 31a, Koren Steinsaltz translation, Noe edition)

So the Talmud first informs us that this is a strength of salvation. So the idea is not a “piling up of a wealth of accumulated salvation”, but a strengthening of what you have gained. Let’s look at the order of explanation given.

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