Friday, January 28, 2011

Week Three: What did Jews expect from a Messiah?

              After discussing messianic expectations in both Biblical Worldview and New Testament, it seems that there were about as many messianic expectations as there were Jews. Just as people have vastly different expectations of leaders today, Jews expected many different things from a Messiah. Ultimately, Jesus disappointed many people when he did not live up to their messianic expectations (Brenneman 1/26/11). Many Jews expected the Messiah to be a political leader, specifically a king in the line of David. Jeremiah prophesies about this Davidic king, proclaiming that God will “cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 33.15 NRSV). Jews hoping for a political Messiah also hoped for a king who would help them regain control of the Promised Land. Ever since the Babylonian exile, the Jewish people had been living under Hellenistic rule, and not being in control of the land they had been promised by God led many to feel like God had forgotten the covenant (Brenneman 1/28/11). Thus, many Jews hoped that the Messiah would be a political ruler— a Davidic king— and that he would make things right politically, once again regaining Jewish control of the land.
            Many Jews also expected the Messiah to be a religious leader. Many Jews believed that the temple system was incredibly corrupt and hoped that the Messiah would serve as a temple reformer (Brenneman 1/28/11). Hebrews’ use of the title “high priest” to describe the ministry of Jesus is a good example of the religious expectations that some Jews had for the Messiah (Heb 5.5). Jesus’ ministry did have many religious facets; he certainly spent time in the temple (Luke 2.49, Matt 26.55) and confronted the corrupt power within it (John 2.14-16). Jesus also engaged in dialogue with the religious leaders of his day (Mark 12.13-34), often speaking out them (Matt 16.6). But ultimately, Jesus did not claim the role of high priest in the temple, and instead of reforming temple-based Judaism, Jesus’ ministry began a movement that transcended (and still transcends) the walls of the temple. Thus, for many Jews hoping for a temple reformer as the Messiah, Jesus turned out to be a great disappointment. Perhaps this explains why at the end of Jesus’ ministry, it is the religious authorities who arrest him (Luke 22.54) and begin his trial (Luke 22.66-71).
            Exploring the different political, religious, social, and economic expectations (Brenneman 10/26/11) people had for the Messiah has given me a better understanding of my own expectations of Jesus as the Messiah. Early in my faith journey, I had the messianic expectation of Jesus as a warrior, much like the imagery in Revelation (Rev 19.11-21). Due to the influence of a particular ministry that emphasized spiritual (and other) warfare, I expected Jesus to be a brave warrior, defeating the powers of evil with force and violence. However, thankfully, my messianic expectations have shifted greatly. Today, my understanding of Jesus as Messiah is shaped by the enemy love embodied in Christ’s life and teachings. This life of enemy love ultimately ends with Christ being led to his death like a silent, nonresistant lamb is led to the slaughter (Is 53. 7). My messianic expectations have shifted completely, from the expectation of Jesus overcoming evil with violence to Jesus overcoming evil with nonviolence and enemy love. This dramatic shift has been the result of one thing: encountering Jesus, the Messiah, especially in the words called gospel, which have indeed been good news for me! Ultimately, to believe in Jesus as the Messiah is to meet Jesus on his own terms— not our own— and to let go of our expectations and follow his unexpected lead.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Week Two: How should Christians think about Jewish scriptures and traditions? Are they equivalent to the New Testament?

As a Christian who is fascinated by Judaism, I think about this question often. While I am not comfortable making any definitive statements about how all Christians should think about Jewish scriptures and traditions, I am excited to think more about the way I have come to understand them. Personally, I have found great meaning in the Hebrew Bible as well as learning more about Jewish traditions. Having the opportunity last semester to study the Hebrew Bible in two classes allowed me to explore the meaning of the Jewish scriptures in the Christian context. Looking back on that experience, I agree wholeheartedly with Van Voorst that “the birth of Christianity cannot be understood without an understanding of Judaism, nor can the New Testament be understood without a basic knowledge of the Hebrew Bible” (51). Because the New Testament is a continuation of God’s work in the Hebrew Bible (Van Voorst 4), as a Christian, I consider the Hebrew Bible to be equivalent to the New Testament. However, I must clarify that while I view the Hebrew Bible as equally authoritative to the New Testament, as a Christian I read the Hebrew Bible through the lens of the New Testament. Specifically, I read the entire Bible through the lens of Christ’s life and teachings. I view the Hebrew Bible primarily as a narrative history of God’s covenant relationship with God’s people, continued in Christ in the New Testament. I consider myself part of that ongoing community and ongoing covenant. Thus, the Jewish scriptures for me are equivalent to the New Testament in the same way as history is equivalent to current events— both are equally important, but read and applied differently and in light of one another.
Things get a bit more confusing for me when I begin to think about Jewish traditions. In the Christian tradition we do not celebrate the Jewish feasts and festivals such as Yom Kippur (Van Voorst 77), even though God commands God’s people to celebrate these festivals in the Hebrew Bible (Lev. 16.1-34). I have never understood why we as Christians do not celebrate these Jewish holidays, since Jesus himself celebrated them. However, in other ways, Jewish traditions have profoundly shaped Christian practice. One such example is the “basic structure of the [worship] services,” which has “varied little through the centuries to the present time” (Van Voorst 79). As I read Van Voorst’s outline of a typical Jewish service, I was struck by the similarities to the Christian services with which I am familiar. So, although some Jewish traditions are no longer practiced by Christians, many others impact the Christian church to this day.
In many ways, the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is a complicated one. Sharing the same history, reading the same scriptures, and worshiping the same God are three reasons (of many!) why Jewish scriptures and traditions are important to me in my Christian faith.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Week One: Why would some people call the New Testament the Christian or the Second Testament? Which do you prefer?

        Some people refer to the New Testament as the Christian or Second Testament because they believe it is a more accurate description of the truth contained in its pages. These new titles for the New Testament have surfaced recently; they depict the separation of the New Testament from the Hebrew Bible, which is a new concept brought about by the modern Christian notion of separation between Judaism and Christianity (Van Voorst 8). The title Christian Testament emphasizes the life and ministry of Christ, which is positive, but it is also “misleading because [it suggests] that the Jewish Bible is not a part of the Christian scriptures” (Van Voorst 8). Second Testament also runs the risk of these misconceptions, and it also seems to me that it would carry an inferior or negative connotation of not being “first.” Both Christian and Second Testament also fall short of the traditional title New Testament, as “they suggest that…early Christianity can be understood apart from Judaism” (Van Voorst 8). This is an unfair assumption in light of the context in which the New Testament texts were written; in the time of early Christianity, the life and ministry of Jesus was understood as “a continuation and fulfillment” of God’s relationship with God’s people as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible (Van Voorst 4). In fact, the title New Testament was meant to depict God’s “fresh, definitive” action in the life of Christ (Van Voorst 4). Jesus himself described his life and ministry in relation to the Hebrew Bible, saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5.17 NRSV). Christ came not to establish a new set of Scripture, but to be the living, breathing representation (and reinterpretation) of the existing Scripture—the Old Testament. Thus, to describe the New Testament in a way that separates it from Old Testament is to separate Christ from his context.
        Personally, I have a strong preference for the traditional title New Testament. I understand how even this title could be misinterpreted, especially in relation to the Old Testament. However, given the choices of New, Christian, or Second Testament, only New Testament conveys the sense of excitement that God was, is, and will continue to be acting in new ways through Christ.