How old is the religion we call “Christianity”? Let us give Christianity every year that it asks for and for arguments sake assume that Christianity is 2,000 years old. Now Paul tells us that there is only one true faith (Eph. 4:5) and Y’hudah (Jude) (Y’hudah 1:3) tells us that that one true faith was once delivered to the set-apart-ones (). Now this makes Christianity far to young to be this one faith that was once and for all delivered. The one faith that was once and for all delivered was “Judaism”. The New Testament itself, supposedly the founding document of Christianity, contradicts the foundational premise of Christianity. The New Testament does not teach two true faiths, one of which replaces the other, instead the NT teaches that there was only one faith that was given once and for all time. Yeshua therefore came to be the Messiah of Judaism and not to found a new religion. In fact creating a new religion would have been a violation of Torah. Not only did Yeshua not ever violate Torah, but his original followers were Torah Observant as well. None of them violated Torah by creating a new religion.
Now one might ask why we call this Torah-Faith “Judaism”? The earliest known usage of the term “Judaism” is in 2Maccabees 2:21 in which the Maccabees are called “those who strove zealously on behalf of ‘Judaism’” (around 180 BCE). First century writers such as Philo and Josephus used the term “Judaism” to refer to this faith.
Most importantly Paul calls his own faith “Judaism” in Gal. 1:13-14:
For you have heard of my way of life that was from before,
which was in Judaism that I especially persecuted the assembly
of Eloah and was destroying it. And I excelled in Judaism more
than many of my peers who were my countrymen and I was
especially zealous in the teaching of my fathers.
(Some translations have “religion of the Jews” here but both the Aramaic and Greek clearly have “Judaism”)
Now the question must be asked, is Paul comparing his past life in Judaism to his current life in some new religion, or is he comparing his past life in Judaism to his current life in Judaism? Let us turn to other things Paul said to find out:
Neither against the Jewish Torah, nor against the Temple…
have I offended in anything at all.
…I have done nothing against the people or the customs
of our fathers…
…Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees…
Clearly Paul called his own religion “Judaism”.
Finally it is very important that Yeshua is never recorded to have objected to the fact that his own faith, was in his own time, commonly called “Judaism”. Never is he recorded as having said “Ow yea… and would you please stop calling this ‘Judaism’”.
Nazarenes as Pharisees
In the first century Pharisaic Judaism was divided into two major schools or “houses”: the School of Hillel and the School of Shamai. The two schools held differing view on many halachic issues and argued throughout the first century. Eventually the School of Hillel prevailed in these arguments and serves as the foundation of modern Rabbinic Judaism. There are also many important connections between the School of Hillel and the ancient sect of the Nazarenes. There are many significant parallels between the teachings of Hillel and those of Yeshua. For example Hillel said:
Do not to others what you would not have them do to you:
that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof;
go and learn it.
While Yeshua said:
Whatever you would that men should do to you,
do you even to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets.
(Mt. 7:12 = Lk. 6:31)
Whole books have been written about the many parallels in the teachings of Yeshua and Hillel (1).
Not only are there many parallels between the Pharisaic School of Hillel and those of Yeshua, but Paul pulls no punches and actually identifies himself as a Pharisee:
…Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees…
Describing the Pharisees Josephus writes:
The Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many
observances by succession from their fathers, which are
not written in the law of Moses; and for that reason it is
that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we ought
to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are
in the written word, but are not to observe what was derived
from the tradition of our fathers…
(Josephus; Ant. 13: 10:6)
This gives even more meaning to Paul’s words:
…I have done nothing against the people or the customs
of our fathers(2)…
This “tradition of our fathers” is the concept in Pharisaic Judaism of “Oral Torah from Sinai” (There is another kind of Oral Torah which we will discuss later which is not from Sinai). For example the written Torah says that one must not go out of ones “place” on the Sabbath (Ex. 16:29-30). The Oral Torah defines this as the "camp" which was defined by the Oral Torah as a circle with a radius of 2,000 (.57 miles) cubits extending from the center of the Temple (m.Rosh HaShanna 2:5). Now the Mt. of Olives is just outside of this circle and thus the third alter for sacrifices which were to take place "outside the camp" was located on the Mount of Olives (m.Middoth 1:3). Thus Acts refers to the Mount of Olives as being “a Sabbath day’s journey” from Jerusalem (Acts 1:12). Likewise there are many elements in Yeshuas “last supper” that clearly derive from the Oral Law concerning the rituals of the Passover Sader. Many other examples could easily be cited.
Thus Eusebius says of the writings of Hegesippus the Nazarene (c. 180 CE):
And he wrote of many other matters, …. And he quotes
some passages from The Gospel according to the Hebrews
and from “The Syriac”, and some particulars from the Hebrew
tongue, showing that he was a convert from the Hebrews,
and he mentions other matters as taken from the oral tradition
of the Jews.
(Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 4:22)
Nazarenes as Essenes
Now while Nazarene Judaism has roots in Pharisaic Judaism, it should also be note that we have deep roots in Essene Judaism as well. The evidence would indicate that Yochanan the immerser (“John the Baptist”) and his community had come from an Essene background (3). The ancient Nazarenes had many qualities in common with the ancient Essenes. Both groups also referred to themselves using the euphemisms “the Way” and “the Sons of Light.” (4). And when Yeshua was questioned by Pharisees about his smikah (authority), he seemed to point to Yochanan as the source of his earthly smikah. (4). Thus while we as Nazarene Jews may point to our roots in the Pharisaic school of Hillel, we may also point to our roots in Essene Judaism as well.
Origins of “Rabbinic Judaism”
After the destruction of the Temple Yochanan ben Zakkai, a Pharisaic Jew of the School of Hillel, obtained permission from Rome to establish a new Pharisaic Sanhedrin at Yavneh. It may be argued that this was the origin of the sect of Judaism we now call Rabbinic Judaism. This Rabbinic Judaism was refashioned to be a new kind of Judaism which would no longer be centered upon the Temple.
Halachic authority is the authority to make halachic determinations interpreting the Torah forbidding and permitting activities based on these interpretations, and resolving matters between fellow believers. The word "halacha" means "the way to walk." Torah observance requires halachic authority for three reasons. First there are matters about which the Torah is ambiguous and must be clarified. For example the matter of what a "bill of divorcement" must actually say is not clarified. Secondly is the matter of conflicting Torah commands. For example the Torah requires the priests to circumcise on the eight day after a birth, but also requires rest from work on the Sabbath. Which commandment holds priority? Finally the Torah requires us to establish courts (see Deut. 16:18).
In the Torah the Halachic authority was originally held by Moses himself (Ex. 18:13) but later a council of Elders were appointed (Ex. 18:13-26; Dt. 1:9-18) These Elders showed men "the way wherein they must walk" (i.e. Halacha) (Ex. 18:20) Their judgments were regarded as the judgment of Elohim himself (Dt. 1:17) and were even called "Torah" (Dt. 17:11) At first these men had authority only in small matters (Ex. 18:22, 26; Dt. 1:17) but later their authority was expanded (Dt. 17:8). This council was later defined as seventy Elders whom Elohim placed his Spirit upon (Num. 11:16-17; 24-25).
The Torah also allowed for the Halachic authority to be held by a King (Dt. 17:8-12; 14-20). Eventually the Elders decided to establish such a monarchy (1Sam. 8:1-7). The throne of these Kings was sees as being "the throne of G-d" (1Chron. 29:23) Their Halachic authority became termed "the key of the House of David" (Is. 22:21-22).
Upon the invasion of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity the monarchy was brought to an end. When the captivity ended and exiles returned, Ezra reestablished the council of Elders (Ezra 7:25; 10:14, 16) which immediately began making halachic decisions (Ezra 10:10-19). According to tradition this council was called the Great Assembly and consisted of 120 Elders.
As time went on Judaism became fragmented into various sects. These included the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes. As time continued the Sadducees gained more and more control of the Great Assembly. By the first century the centrality of the Halachic authority had fragmented. Each of the various sects had their own Halachic councils with their own Halachic authority.
Now great confusion has been created by the fact that there were at least two Sanhedrins (Great Assemblies) in the first century. One of these was a political body which had become an instrument of Rome. This body is that often mentioned by Josephus and in the New Testament. It was headed by the High Priest (a Sadducee) (Josephus Ant. 20:9:1; Mt. 26:57-27:1;Mk. 14:53-15:1; Lk. 22:66-23:1; Jn. 18:12-28; Acts 4:5-23; 5:22-42; 23:6) and was made up of both Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts 5:22-42; 23:6) . (This may have been the remnants of the original "Great Assembly"). By contrast the Pharisee Sanhedrin was made up of Pharisee scholars only. It had seventy Elders plus the Nasi (m.San. 1:6). This is the body spoken of in the Mishna, Tosefta and Talmuds in tractate Sanhedrin. It was headed by Zuggot (pairs) made up of a Nasi and an Av Beit Din (m.Hag. 2:2). Hillel and his descendants served as Nasi of this Sanhedrin (m.Hag. 2:2; b.Pes. 66a; b.Shab. 15a; t.San. 2:6; b.San. 11b) who were descendants of King David (b.Ket. 62b; Gen. Rabba 98). Whereas Gamliel was Nasi of the Pharisee Sanhedrin (t.San. 2:6; b.San. 11b) he was only a member of the Political Sanhedrin (Acts 5:22-42). Both of these sanhedrins were abolished at the destruction of the Temple, though the Pharisaic Sanhedrin was recreated in Yavneh.
The Qumran community, who are believed to be Essenes, also held their own Halachic authority. They saw themselves as the "sons of light" and all outsiders as "sons of darkness" (Man. of Disc. I,9; II, 24). The "sons of light" did not go to the "sons of darkness" to tell them how to walk in true Halacha. Their Halachic rule was headed by the Mevakker (Overseer) (Dam. Doc. xii, 7-9). The community also had panels of Judges as described in the Manual of Discipline:
In the deliberative council of the community there shall be twelve
laymen and three priests schooled to perfection in all that has been
revealed of the entire Law. Their duty shall be to set the standard
for the practice of truth, ... and how one can walk with all men with
the quality of truth and in conduct appropriate to every occasion.
(Man. of Disc. viii 1ff)
Thus the Qumran community had its own Halachic authority apart from the rest of Judaism.
Now we must address the issue of Halachic authority among the ancient sect of the Nazarenes. As I have shown the Nazarenes were a coalition of Essenes and Pharisees. It is apparent that the Nazarenes also had their own Halachic authority.
In Mt. 16:18-19 Yeshua says he would give "the keys of the Kingdom" to Kefa and his students:
And I also say to you that you are Kefa,
And upon this rock I will build my assembly,
and the gates of Sheol shall not prevail against it.
And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
This passage is best understood when compared to Mt. 18:15-20 This passage deals with the law of witnesses (Mt. 18:16 = Dt. 19:15) and refers to an "assembly" (Mt. 18:17) which has the power to "bind" and "loose" (Mt. 18:18) just as does Mt. 16:18-19. Since Mt. 18:16 quotes Dt. 19:15 it is clear that the "assembly" in Mt. 18:17 (and also Mt. 16:18) is the "priests and judges who serve in those days" in Dt. 19:17. This is also clear because this "assembly" has the power to "bind" and "loose." These are two Semitic idioms used in Rabbinic literature as technical terms referring to Halachic authority. To "bind" means to "forbid" an activity and to "loose" means to permit an activity (as in j.Ber. 5b; 6c; j.San. 28a; b.Ab. Zar. 37a; b.Ned. 62a; b.Yeb. 106a; b.Bets. 2b; 22a; b.Ber. 35a; b.Hag. 3b). Thus in Mt. 16:18-19 & 18:18 Yeshua gave his students the Halachic authority which we see them using in Acts 15.
The Nazarene Halachic authority, that is the Nazarene Sanhedrin, is documented in Acts 15. Here we are shown a Halachic court which has worldwide authority and which seems to be led by Ya'akov HaTzadik (James the Just) as Nasi and Kefa (Peter) as Av Beit Din. But how did this body get the Halachic authority? For the answer we must turn to the teachings of the Messiah himself.
There are preserved for us five fragments from an ancient Nazarene Commentary on Isaiah in which the fourth century Nazarene writer makes it clear that Nazarenes of the fourth century were not "following Pharisaic Rabbinical Halakhah." The following is taken from the Nazarene commentary on Isaiah 8:14:
And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling
and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel…
The Nazarenes explain the two houses as the two houses
of Shammai and Hillel, from whom originated the Scribes
and Pharisees… [they Pharisees] scattered and defiled the
precepts of the Torah by traditions and mishna. And these
two houses did not accept the Savior…
And the Nazarene commentary on Isaiah 8:20-21 has:
The Scribes and the Pharisees tell you to listen to them…
answer them like this: "It is not strange if you follow your
traditions since every tribe consults its own idols. We must not,
therefore, consult your dead [sages] about the living ones…."
So it is clear that the ancient Nazarenes rejected the halachic authority of Rabbinic Judaism.
I must cite the following from The Dead Sea Scrolls an New Translation by Wise; Abeg and Cook (p. 34):
For Jews, the Qumran texts say, "Our family was larger than you knew."
The watchword is diversity. Modern Judaism comes from Pharisaism,
but in the first centuries B.C.E. and C.E. there were also other kinds
of Judaism, and it was not obvious that the Pharisees would be the ones
still standing at the end of the day. Understanding the world of the first
century C.E. now means understanding the fact of diversity, and the
scrolls have helped cultivate a sense of the historical complexity of
the matrix of Judaism and of early Christianity. The scrolls teach,
indirectly, a message the scroll writers themselves would have repudiated;
that is, that there are different ways of being authentically Jewish. Any
effort to "reclaim the scrolls for Judaism" must acknowledge that truth.
The Talmud and Rabbinic Judaism
To begin with it must be recognized that the Talmud does not claim to be inspired. The Talmud itself says:
Our Rabbis taught: Since the death of the last prophets,
Haggai, Zechariah and Malachai, the Holy Spirit [of prophetic inspiration] departed from Israel; …
(b. Sanhedrin 11a)
as Jacob Neusner writes concerning the Mishna (which is the core of the Talmud):
The Mishnah does not claim to emerge from a fresh encounter
with God through revelation… the Holy Spirit is not alleged
to speak here…
(The Mishnah; An Introduction page 5)
The Talmud does make a record of the Oral Torah as understood by Rabbinic Judaism. Thus contained within the Talmud is a record of the Oral Torah from Sinai, Halachic rulings made prior to the first century, and halachic rulings made within Rabbinic Judaism after the first century. As Nazarenes our reaction to each of these is different.
That which seems to be Oral Torah from Sinai must be subjected to objective examination and discernment to determine if it accurately preserves Oral Torah from Sinai.
That which claims to be a halachic ruling made prior to the first century must be critically examined in light of the Scripture as well what we know of Pharisaic Halachah, Essene Halachah and Sadducean Halachah to determine if it accurately reflects Nazarene Halachah.
Finally those things which are halachic rulings made within Rabbinic Judaism after the first century must be critically examined as well. In these cases we must examine the hermeneutic and reasoning behind the halachah to determine if the conclusion is correct in the context of Nazarene Judaism.
This same approach should be taken with the Dead Sea Scrolls as a record of Essene Halacha. (although none of the Dead Sea Scrolls post-date the first century).
This approach should also be taken in dealing with all of the major documents of Rabbinic literature which contain the Oral Law: The Mishna; the Talmuds; the Midrashim; the Zohar etc.
These documents are very helpful and rich in content for us as Nazarenes. But we do not regard them as a basis for our faith.
The book of Isaiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE saying:
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw
concerning Judah and Jerusalem… Your country is
desolate your cities are burned with fire; your land,
strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate,
as overthrown by strangers… except YHWH of hosts
had left unto us a very small remnant, we would have
been as Sodom, and we should have been unto
(Isaiah 1:1, 7, 9)
This passage of Isaiah is quoted in Romans 9:29 (5) in reference to the Nazarenes. In fact the Ryrie Study Bible (with which I frequently disagree) as much as admits this point saying in a footnote Isaiah 1:9 “Quoted in Rom. 9:29 with reference to Christian Jews.” (more correctly Nazarene Jews).
This remnant are further described in the book of Revelation as follows:
And the dragon was wroth with the woman,
and went to make war with the remnant of her seed,
which keep the commandments of Elohim,
and have the testimony of Yeshua the Messiah.
Thus the remnant are Torah Observant believers in Yeshua as the Messiah who are the remnant of Judah, i.e. authentic Judaism.
In Romans 9:29 Paul makes reference to the remnant. Let us look at this section of Romans to understand how the term is being used.
In Romans 9:24 Paul speaks of those called from the “Jews” and from the “Gentiles”.
In Romans 9:25-26 Paul quotes Hosea 2:23 & Hosea 1:10 to refer to those who are called “My people” and then “not My people” and then later called “My people” again. In context (Hosea 1:11) this group are the “Children of Israel” being contrasted with the “Children of Judah”.
In Romans 9:27 Paul quotes from Is. 10:22-23 (with a close parallel to Hosea 1:10) to speak of a remnant being saved.
Then in Romans 9:29 Paul quotes Isaiah 1:9 to refer to the “remnant” of Judah.
Thus the “Gentiles” of Romans 9:24 are the “Children of Israel” of Hosea 1:10-11 (6) and the “Jews” of Romans 9:24 are the “Children of Judah” of Hosea 1:10-11.
If we move this logic forward to the two olive trees of Romans 11 then the two olive trees represent the two houses of Israel. The wild olive tree represents the House of Israel and the cultivated olive tree represents the House of Judah. Branches are grafted into Judah and told not to boast against the natural branches (natural Jews) and to be fed by the root of cultivated olive tree (Judah). This understanding is supported by the phrase “fullness of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:25) which agrees with the literal wording of the Hebrew of Genesis 48:19 “a multitude of nations”.
This also seems to parallel the two sticks prophecy in Ezekiel 37 (in Hebrew the word for “stick” in Ezekiel 37 is also the word for “tree”. In this prophecy the reunion of the two houses is symbolized by the stick of Joseph being “put with” the stick of Judah.
Another Scripture in this regard is Yochanan 4. In this chapter Yeshua meets with a Samaritan woman who is an Ephraimite (7) and tells her “salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22) directing her to biblical Nazarene Judaism.
Finally we have the prophecy of Zechariah 8:23 in which “ten men… of all the languages of the nations… take hold of the skirt(8) of him that is a Jew, saying, ‘We will go with you: for we have heard that Elohim is with you.” (Note that in the Hebrew here “you” is plural so that “him that is a Jew” refers to the House of Judah and not simply to Yeshua as a Jew.)
These beautiful prophecies are being fulfilled as Ephraimites are being drawn to Torah and joining themselves with the remnant of the House of Judah authentic Biblical Nazarene Judaism (not to be confused with Rabbinic Judaism).
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