10 March 2015

If a "faithful Jew" would agree with my OT sermon, have I failed?

by Dan Phillips

It isn't too uncommon to hear in our circles that some preaching on OT passages falls short, because it contains nothing that a Jew might not agree with.

Here's the way Trevin Wax put it. He says a Christian preacher should ask himself: "As I preach from the Old Testament, is there anything in my sermon that a faithful Jew could not affirm?" Trevin then adds this comment:
  • This question reminds me to consider whether I am approaching the Old Testament from a distinctly Christian perspective. It increases my desire to show the congregation how the gospel is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.
The intent clearly is the laudable aim of being true to passages such as Luke 24:27 and 44, among others. Insofar as Trevin's point is that a Christian sermon should not be mistakable for mere travelogue, history lecture, or moral pep-talk, I'd unreservedly agree.

However, the question as phrased was, "Is there anything in my sermon that a faithful Jew could not affirm?"

To that, my own response is, "Goodness, I hope not!"

Trevin said faithful Jew. I take that to mean believing Jew. That being the case, why would I want to break faith with a faithful Jew? Why would I want to imply to a believing Jew that the God's words to Him were not perspicuous, were coy, or perhaps were even borderline deceptive?

Was this Jesus' approach? Hardly. To pick just one very telling interchange, hear our Lord's words to his opponents:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39–47)
faithful, believing Jew, Jesus says, would have been led by Moses' writings to faith in Him. In fact, He said that Moses himself would accuse anyone who did not follow that progression. How could Moses accuse his readers for not finding a meaning in the text that was not, in fact, in the text? How could he accuse them for not understanding what he himself would never have understood? (This argument is made, and this hermeneutic developed, more fully by Michael Rydelnik. See also the specific application to Proverbs in Appendix Four of God's Wisdom in Proverbs.)

If Moses' writings did not actually point to Christ, the Lawgiver must instead rise and say "You know, I can't really blame you for not seeing Christ from what I wrote. I didn't see Him, myself!" But this is not what Christ claims, is it?

In my preaching Christ from OT Scriptures, I must be true to the OT Scriptures. I will be able to point to fulfillments which the original authors and readers could not know (because they had not yet happened). But those fulfillments will be in line with the words of the text — or, as we've often said in response to postmodernism, the text is plastic, the text no longer is the control, the text itself has no authority, and the author is dead.

Which, I'd argue, no Christian should want to affirm.

This question can lead (and, in many cases as we all know, has led) to reading in meaning not resident in the text, as well as minimizing the content of the text. The challenge — and it is a challenge — is to remain true to the text as given, in context, and show in what ways it points forward to Christ.

Perhaps what Trevin meant was, "Is there anything in my sermon that an apostate Jew could not affirm?"

That would make for a more useful question to ask myself.


Dan Phillips's signature


21 comments:

Andy Chance said...

I can't help but think that you're (willfully?) misreading the statements's intention.

In context, any ordinary reader (without a bone to pick) would read "faithful Jew" as a Jew who was faithfully committed to Judaism and without a personal faith in Jesus as the Christ.

Please don't discredit the valuable work that Pyromaniacs does with nitpicking.

"[T]he Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness."--2 Timothy 2:24-25a

DJP said...

No I didn't; if so, he shouldn't; thanks, I won't; and please re-read the article. Your objection was anticipated and answered.

Michael Coughlin said...

Aren't all the words of Jesus supposed to be in red? Don't try to change the Bible.

Now THAT'S nitpicking. 😃

DJP said...

I thought someone might ding me for that. BUT WHY YOU, COUGHLIN? WHY YOU???

Kerry James Allen said...

Michael likes his nits and gnats well strained.

jmb said...

Good points.

As a Jew, I would say that something like "Jewish believer" would be less ambiguous than "faithful Jew." The latter is too much like "devout Jew," which is usually taken to mean "rabbinic Jew," i.e. a non-believer in Jesus.

todd wilkinson said...

Thank you Dan! I don't know if you follow MC Cheyene reading plan but Luke 24 was today and this was right on time. Another scripture that comes to mind is 2nd Tim. 2:8 where Paul mentions Jesus Christ risen from the dead and a descended of David. Obviously the scarlet thread throughout scripture is important and I am thankful you highlighted this text as aided my devotions. I do agree I Trevin misspoke and that was not his intention. This is an honest observation and please don't take it as an attack but there seems to be some underlying antagonism between teampyro and TGC. Their faults are referenced regularly but let me be clear never uncharitably. I'm praying for both parties. Either way, thanks again and if you have any recommendations for Biblical Theology Books, please share!

todd wilkinson said...

Thank you Dan! I don't know if you follow MC Cheyene reading plan but Luke 24 was today and this was right on time. Another scripture that comes to mind is 2nd Tim. 2:8 where Paul mentions Jesus Christ risen from the dead and a descended of David. Obviously the scarlet thread throughout scripture is important and I am thankful you highlighted this text as aided my devotions. I do agree I Trevin misspoke and that was not his intention. This is an honest observation and please don't take it as an attack but there seems to be some underlying antagonism between teampyro and TGC. Their faults are referenced regularly but let me be clear never uncharitably. I'm praying for both parties. Either way, thanks again and if you have any recommendations for Biblical Theology Books, please share!

DJP said...

I continue to object to the tacit acceptance that the word "Jew" means "Christ-rejecter." Speaking with a coworker years ago, I mentioned in passing a "Jewish Christian" friend. She (an apostate Jew) became incensed, and told me there was no such thing. I asked, What do you think the apostles and first believers were? Mexicans? Californians?

DJP said...

For more on this, btw, see the two-parter starting here: http://bit.ly/tX1gTe

Michael said...

I also once thought Jewish Christian a contradiction in terms. But I came to see how wrong that thought was. However, I think there are too many different ideas of Jesus inhabiting the world of Messianic Judaism. For instance, Jesus is the messiah but maybe not the Son of God, one of the Persons of the Trinity. Maybe it's the internet's fault but it's kind of wacky out there. So if someone says, "Hey, you're a Messianic Jew!" I tell them I'm a Jewish Christian.

rfb said...

Pastor Phillips,

Amen and thank you. I grimace at the frequent attempts to disconnect us from those who went before us, a great cloud of witnesses. We are "those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all."

And like Moses, who said "turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

And of course Jesus said: "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.", and then went and proved it.

Mizz Harpy said...

I also took 'faithful Jew' as someone who follows rabbinic tradition. Sorry. I just started The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim, a faithful Christian Jew. Book 2, chapter 5 covers Jewish expectations of the messiah and there is a corresponding appendix. It will probably take a few days to get through that. One sad thing Edersheim points out is that while the ancient Jews considered Moses's and the Prophets writing to be inspired in practice they put more emphasis on rabbinic writings. They had a messianic hope from the inspired texts but they failed to see Jesus in the texts.

DJP said...

Yes; it's a great irony that the RCC and similar sects, claiming to follow Jesus, have effectively sidelined the NT as Jesus' opponents sidelined the OT.

The wording Trent used has often been used to criticize someone who simply does a decent job of grammatico-historical exegesis of an OT passage. As I say, the two errors to avoid are overlooking the OT's overall Christward-pointing impact on the one hand, and eisegesis on the other.

Mizz Harpy said...

@DJP, exactly.

Craig said...

May I ask how you would respond to a "christian" who insists that much of the OT history is "myth" and therefore not actually true?

Who would further argue that in the John passage you cite, that Jesus referring to the Jewish Scripture and to Moses does not mean that He was affirming the accuracy of what the Jewish Scripture contains?

The argument goes "Because people sometimes refer to fictional events or stories to make a point, it doesn't follow that Jesus wouldn't do the same thing".

I'd appreciate any guidance.

Thanks

Craig

jmb said...

Strongly recommend that this "christian" take a course in basic Bible interpretation.

On a side note to the main discussion, I look forward to the day when people, including journalists and other writers, stop saying and writing "Jews and Christians" and start saying "Jews and Gentiles" when referring to ethnicity. Their mistake perpetuates much confusion.

Craig said...

jmb,

I've tried that, and the gentleman told me that 20 years ago when he was a conservative, that he heard people speak on all of the evidence and that he has no reason to reconsider, because it's all the same old stuff.

semijohn said...

@Craig: Perhaps you've already gone this route, but you could turn it around and say "Well, because people often refer to true/non-fictional events to make a point, it doesn't follow that Jesus wouldn't do the same thing." Then ask him what actual positive evidence he has that Jesus is referring to a fictional event from the text, or if he's just assuming. Perhaps ask him if he can actually disprove the evidence that he heard from conservatives made 20 years ago. (in short, does he actually have good arguments, or is he just making a convenient assumption)

Craig said...

semijohn

His position is essentially that since is not actually making a claim, that he doesn't have to provide proof. He is using "proving a negative" as a dodge. But, yes, I've tried to get him to make a positive case for his view, but no luck.

Kevin said...

I appreciate your clarification. I think I knew what Wax meant before, but this seals the deal.