Is God allowed to update the Torah?

On my last post, a reader going by the name JPH comments:

The resurrection is irrelevant.

God appeared to a nation and gave them 613 commandments. He said they were eternal, everlasting, binding for all generations. There is NOT ONE about worshiping God's son or the Messiah. (Exodus 4:22 says God's son is Israel.) There are horrifying threats for deviating from these commandments in Deuteronomy 28. The thirteenth chapter is devoted to prophets who can perform "signs and wonders" and advocate the worship of gods "whom your forefathers did not know." Their forefathers did not worship Jesus. Deut 13 explicitly grants the possibility of miracles in false traditions and says, "Do not hearken unto that prophet." It says nothing about surviving an execution as an exception or some big standard.

Why do Christians think the resurrection cancels/changes the Torah? According to what standard? (No, the prophets didn't say so: https://prooftexts.wordpress.com Most of these aren't just wrong, they're cringe-worthy. The prophets received their authority from the 5 Books of Moses. Whatever the prophets were saying, it wasn't to subtract from theses books and approach God via some unheard-of intermediary.)

Sabbatai Tzvi, too, was considered by many to be the Messiah. He performed signs and wonders. He had his own St. Paul (Nathan of Gaza) who interpreted his conversion to Islam as some humiliating atonement. He still has followers. So what? Miracles don't cancel the Torah. The only reason to think otherwise is because your Bible already has a New Testament attached.

JPH,
Thanks for your comment.

I.  Matters of Interpretation

First of all, your method of interpretation, which sees very few Messianic prophecies in scripture, and assumes that if there is a literal application there cannot also be a secondary symbolic application, is simply not in line with traditional Jewish rabbinic interpretation.  Why can't some passages refer to both Israel and the Messiah, for example?

Many of these passages were traditionally interpreted as Messianic by Jewish rabbis, until it became inconvenient given the fact that Christians were continually citing them.  See here for a discussion of the Talmud's take on this:

Messiah: The Talmud on Messianic Prophecy

which includes quotations from the Talmud which state that “All the prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah”!  So, unlike the link you provide which keeps stating "not a prophetic prediction" over and over again, it was apparently an accepted view within Talmudic circles that (with some hyperbole) denied the existence of any non-Messianic verses in the Bible!

In any case, there are several passages which are agreed on by everyone to be Messianic, that have this "double fulfillment" aspect.  For example, the central Messianic text is Nathan's prophecy to David, in which he predicts that David's dynasty will last forever, is found in 2 Sam. 17 and 1 Chron. 17.  It is clear that this prophesy has aspects which were fulfilled in the next generation (when Solomon built the Temple) but it also has aspects which speak about David's continuing dynasty, which are ultimately fulfilled by the fact that the Messiah himself will personally reign forever.

Similarly, when the prophet Isaiah talks about Israel returning from captivity under Babylon, he keeps talking about it in terms which suggest that it will usher in the Messianic Era in which there will be peace forever and God will never have wrath towards Israel again.  (A particularly fine example of this is in chapter 54.)  Now we all know that these events did not happen at the same time, but there is a certain allegorical similarity about them which justifies talking about them at the same time.

So, if some Scriptures clearly have both an immediate application to the present day, and also a distant future fulfillment, then there may be double meanings in other Scriptures as well.  (Although in what follows, I will try to confine myself to the plain meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures as much as possible, not because I am conceding the absence of double meanings, but in order to keep the argumentation as clear as possible.)

Now that is not to say that the particular unknown missionary tract that your link is refuting gets everything right.  But, 353 one-liners followed by another 353 one-liners doesn't really seem like the most productive way to engage.  It's a mile wide but only an inch deep. The real debate here is about methods of interpretation--and also the fact that, when the historical evidence is strong enough that God supports something, sometimes one should admit that one's interpretation of Scripture might be wrong!  Also, at least sometimes the Hebrew text is ambiguous (or there are variant manuscripts), so you need to check multiple translations before rejecting the idea that a given meaning could be part of the original text.

So I think the author would have been better off engaging in some work of serious Christian scholarship, rather than some random tract he got in the mail.  (The post you link to doesn't even state the author and publication information!  So I have no idea whose views the tract is supposed to represent.)

II.  Can the Commandments Change?

Secondly, I do get that there are passages in the Torah which may seem, at first sight, to state that the laws of the Torah are eternal and immutable.  (Although the precise translation of these words in the Hebrew can be tricky, as discussed here.)

But when you dig deeper into the Tanakh, I think you will be able to see that there is also significant conflicting evidence, which indicates that parts of the Torah are provisional, if you keep your mind open to the possibility.  For example, the Torah itself explicitly says that:

A prophet will HaShem thy G-d raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou didst desire of HaShem thy G-d in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying: 'Let me not hear again the voice of HaShem my G-d, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.'  And HaShem said unto me: 'They have well said that which they have spoken.  I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.  And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto My words which he shall speak in My name, I will require it of him.  (Deut. 18:15-19)

[This quotation is from the JPS 1917, a Jewish translation.  Note that in this translation HaShem ("the Name") is the standard substitute in order to avoid writing out God's Name, just as many English translations substitute LORD.]

This passage makes it pretty clear that there will be new divine instructions post-Torah; in fact it is 1 of the 613 commandments to obey these new laws!  Regardless of whether the singular term "prophet" is interpreted to refer generically to all later prophets, or specifically to the Messiah, the passage seems to indicate that there will be new commandments revealed at that time.  Note the specific statements that the prophet will be like Moses (who gave the law), it will be like the event at Mount Horeb (where the law was given), and that the people need to "hearken" to the new words, i.e. listen to them and obey them.

And indeed, sometimes the prophets in the Tanakh announce changes to the law, even ones which abrogate old provisions.  For example, Solomon modified various details of the construction of the Tabernacle when he built the Temple, and Ezekiel 40-48 changes a bunch of the rules for Temple worship, while Jeremiah 3:16 states that the Ark of the Covenant would go permanently missing, and that nobody would miss it or ever build a new one.  (For that reason, Zerubbabel's Temple had no Ark in its Holy of Holies.)  This single passage, taken all by itself, makes it clear that a key ritual of Moses' sacrificial system, the Day of Atonement, will never again be celebrated according to the precise rules of the Torah, no not even in the Messianic Age!  So clearly, some of the commandments in the Torah can be changed.

These passages already refute the interpretation of Judaism you are advocating, without any need to discuss Christianity or the New Testament.  If you think the commandments in the Torah can't be updated, then to be consistent you would also need to reject the Nevi'im and Ketuvim, like the Samaritans do.

In life, there is always change.  Even the rabbis have changed many things, extending some commandments and replacing others.  Half the commandments in the Torah became impossible after the Destruction of the Temple, so the rabbis substituted various prayers and other rituals.  The Tanakh itself shows that history is not static, and that what was appropriate for Israel at one stage in her development is inappropriate at another stage.  If the religion of Israel had already reached its perfect form immediately after they entered the Promised Land, then there would have been no need to subject Israel to any of the further developments of the next 3,500 years.  The real question is one of authority: who is in charge of deciding what should change, God or human beings?  It was human beings who were charged not to add to or subtract from the Torah; but the Lord (blessed is he) can do as he likes.  He is allowed to modify the terms of the agreement.

Speaking of modifications, Jeremiah goes on to say that God will make a New Covenant with Israel, in which the Torah will be written on their hearts instead of simply in a book:

Behold, the days come, saith HaShem, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant, although I was a lord over them, saith HaShem.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith HaShem, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: 'Know HaShem'; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith HaShem; for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.  (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

That is an even bigger deal than a change in the rules; it portends a change in how people relate to the whole concept of rules.  It is what Moses wished, when he said “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Num 11:29).  I understand that you are also jealous to protect Moses, but here Moses himself says he is looking forward to something better!  Moses wanted the Spirit to speak directly into people's hearts, giving them individual guidance about what to do, rather than following a list of rules written in a book somewhere.

(In addition to changing how Israel relates to God, this passage also seems to indicate that this New Covenant involves a more universal access to forgiveness than was previously available.  But, we need not argue here about whether this New Covenant is the same one that is described in the New Testament.  Pretend for a moment that you've never heard of Jesus, that you are a Jew reading this passage before Christianity started.  Isn't it clear that any New Covenant, just by virtue of being New, must necessarily imply some sort of changes to the old way of doing things?)

Furthermore, reason also tells us that the Law of Moses has to change with changing circumstances.  I am not just talking about how some of the commandments seem more suitable for an ancient patriarchal tribal society than to a modern civilized society, or the commandments which refer to people and objects which have not existed for thousands of years (although these facts are worth noting).  I am also talking about situations where God himself tells us why he gave the commandment, and we can see explicitly that this reason is no longer applicable.  For example, in Leviticus chapter 20 God states explicitly the reason for the kosher laws, saying that it is to keep them separate from the nations which engage in more serious wicked practices:

And ye shall not walk in the customs of the nation, which I am casting out before you; for they did all these things [e.g. incest, adultery, sacrificing their children to Moloch, etc.], and therefore I abhorred them.  But I have said unto you: 'Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land flowing with milk and honey.'  I am HaShem your G-d, who have set you apart from the peoples.  Ye shall therefore separate between the clean beast and the unclean, and between the unclean fowl and the clean; and ye shall not make your souls detestable by beast, or by fowl, or by any thing wherewith the ground teemeth, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean.  And ye shall be holy unto Me; for I HaShem am holy, and have set you apart from the peoples, that ye should be Mine.  (Lev. 20:21-26)

The logical structure implied by this passage seems to be as follows:

1. The surrounding nations do objectively bad things, like killing their children and having sex with close relatives (listed previously in the chapter).
2. God wants them to be holy like he is, and not do those things.
3. So, in order to prevent them from being corrupted by these cultures, God creates a more trivial rule (don't eat certain kinds of animals labelled as unclean).
4. By obeying this rule, Israel is prevented from fully participating in the life of their pagan neighbors, and also gets some practice in the art of making distinctions between "clean" and "unclean" situations.

But suppose a time were to come when the nations stop doing all of these disgusting things.  Suppose further that God wanted the Gentiles and Jews to join together into one people with common religious rituals.  In that case, the reason for the kosher commandments would no longer apply; in fact the separation would become counterproductive.  Therefore, if this were in fact God's plan, it would stand to reason that the kosher rules would no longer apply to the new situation.

But would God in fact want to make such profound changes?  We do not have to look anywhere in the New Testament to prove that he would.  We need only look at the prophets which are accepted by Jews.  The prophet Zechariah says that there will come a time when there will be ten times as many Gentiles as Jews, who are seeking after the Lord of Israel:

Yea, many peoples and mighty nations shall come to seek HaShem of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favour of HaShem.  Thus saith HaShem of hosts: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, shall even take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying: We will go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you.  (Zech. 8:22-23)

And Isaiah tells us that God will illuminate these converts and extend his salvation to them:

And now saith HaShem that formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, and that Israel be gathered unto Him--for I am honourable in the eyes of HaShem, and my G-d is become my strength.  Yea, He saith: "It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the offspring of Israel; I will also give thee for a light of the nations, that My salvation may be unto the end of the earth."  (Isaiah 49:5)

We need not stop to argue about whether the "servant" described in this passage refers to Isaiah himself, Israel, or the Messiah (or maybe all three!)  The important thing for the moment is that it clearly describes the conversion of the Gentiles to the God of Israel, in fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham that "in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen 12:3).

Another passage (Isaiah 66:18-21) can even be read as saying that God will accept some people from Gentile nations as priests and Levites, which would definitely require a change in the rules, although alternative interpretations of this passage are possible.  Or consider Psalm 87, in which people from all kinds of nations—those which were originally hostile to Israel—are recorded as having been born in the city of Zion.

This sort of thing is a pretty recurrent theme in the Prophets (as is the theme of Israel being rebellious for a long period of time but eventually being reconciled to God).  More examples could be multiplied to prove this point, but I don't think I need to, since I'm pretty sure it's already a standard Jewish teaching that, in the Messianic Age, the Gentiles will also enter God's kingdom.

When this happens, the divinely stated reason for the kosher laws will no longer apply, and so there is no reason for them to continue.

Some strictly observant Jews might be tempted to counter-argue as follows: it is not for human beings to pronounce judgement on the reasons for God's commandments.  God might happen to mention some of his purposes in passing, but regardless of what motivates the commandment, Israel's response should always be unquestioning and unconditional obedience.  But that argument seems to presuppose that what God likes best are ignorant slaves, who obey him without knowing the reasons why.  If Moses and Jeremiah are right that God wants people who are inspired by his Spirit to want to keep his laws, then acting based on our best understanding of God's reasons is essential.

God does not just want people to go beyond the letter of the law in order to reach its true point (although that is of course highly commendable).  Sometimes he even wants the kind of people who break the letter of the law in order to keep its true spirit, as for example when David ate the showbread that was reserved for the priests.  (If God were only interested in legalistic obedience, he would never have made David king in the first place, since his great-grandmother Ruth was a Moabitess (Ruth 4:21-22), and in the Torah the descendants of a Moabite were not allowed into the assembly of the Lord down to the 10th generation (Deut 23:3).)

Of course, since the Torah was divinely inspired, nothing in it simply gets discarded or thrown out.  The written record remains forever to serve as a moral guidepost and a record of God's dealings with humanity.  This is possible even if some commandments stop being followed according to the letter.  There is an important difference between abolishing the law, and fulfilling it.  The former is like burning up an acorn in a fire, the latter is like planting it and letting it grow into an enormous oak tree.  The two are completely different in their degree of respect for the acorn's purpose—but either way, the acorn is gone and it isn't coming back!

So I think I have adequately proven, from the Tanakh alone, that (whether or not Christianity is true) when the Messiah comes we should expect some changes to the commandments.  If you agree with that, then that's probably quite enough progress for a single day!

But there is a major issue raised by your comment which I haven't dealt with yet...

III.  Following Other Gods?

So far, I have left untouched the gigantic stumbling block of Christ's claims of divinity. Certainly I can see why this is a huge issue for you.

Now Christians claim—and I think the link you cite barely scratches the surface of what you would need to do to evaluate this claim properly—that there are hints throughout the Tanakh that:

(a) God, although he is one, also has some kind of plural aspects within his being;

(b) the Messiah, as the king who reigns forever, will be more than just an ordinary human, but plays some sort of mediatorial role, reconciling human beings to God;

(c) and that God himself is going to somehow dwell with Israel or live among them, in a more intimate way than before, in the Messianic era (despite the fact that other passages speak poignantly of being rejected by Israel).

This is a huge topic and it would take a whole additional blog post to provide all the Scriptures for each point, but these passages are there if you look for them honestly, rather than trying to fit everything into a predefined theology.

Instead, let's cut to the chase and ask whether the claim is precluded outright by the Torah?  Between Deut. 18:20-22 (which is right after the passage I quoted) and Deut. 13:2:6 (the passage you made reference to), there are 2 different tests to distinguish true from false prophets.  Somebody can be judged a false prophet if they flunk either test.

The first test is to check whether the claimant's prophetic signs come to pass.  Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead after he was crucified, and the historical record strongly suggests that he did!  So he passes that test.

The second test (which, as you correctly say, applies even if the prophet performs a sign or wonder) is that if a prophet says "Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them", then he is still to be rejected (and executed!).

So this passage does raise a serious issue for Christianity.  But at the risk of maybe sounding a bit pedantic, I would humbly submit to you that Jesus did not tell people to turn aside and worship other gods, gods that the Israelites' forefathers had not known.  Rather he told people to worship the Father—his title for the God of Israel described in the Hebrew Scriptures—and whenever he made striking claims about himself, he never suggested that he was some additional or separate deity, apart from the Father.  (Indeed, in the Gospels Jesus states multiple times that there is only one God and that only God is worthy of worship.)  In the passages in which he claims some sort of divine sounding status, he is always claiming to be the somehow part of the same being as the Father.

In these same passages, he often asserts his radical dependency on the Father, to have no independent will or words apart from him.  To take one example, after healing a crippled man on the Sabbath day:

And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work".

Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

Then answered Jesus and said unto them, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise."  (John 5:16-19)

For this reason, in Christian theology, Jesus is not considered to be a separate god the way that the Greeks considered Zeus and Hera and Athena to be separate gods.  We consider him to be the Incarnation in human flesh of the same God who made covenant with Abraham, and who asserted his unique power over Resurrection long ago when he said to Moses:

"See now that I myself am he!  There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand."  (Deut 32:39)

The claim that Jesus is the meaning of the Torah, is not one that can be assessed simply by taking a giant list of claimed Messianic prophesies, and asking whether there is any way to interpret them in isolation, such that they agree (or don't agree) with similarly isolated New Testament passages.

No, it is a holistic judgement involving thinking carefully about the whole thing.  It requires meditating on what is God trying to do in the Hebrew Scriptures?  And, where is his Spirit leading you as you try to follow his commandments to love him with your whole self, and your neighbor as yourself?   And then asking whether it the same thing as what God is portrayed as doing in the New Testament.  Jesus himself says:

If I am not doing the works of My Father, then do not believe Me.  But if I am doing them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works themselves, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”  (John 10:37)

In any case, one cannot avoid the conclusion that, false prophet or true, so far it is Jesus whom God has used as his primary vehicle for spreading the message of the Hebrew Scriptures among the Gentiles, just as the prophets said would happen.  I didn't come to Christianity by conversion from Judaism (although my best friend did); I'm a Gentile.  If it weren't for Jesus, I wouldn't even be arguing with you about the Torah!  I guess I'd be off in some forest somewhere, sacrificing to a pagan god.

Of course I am aware that there have been plenty of false Messianic claimants (although giving up on the claim in order to convert to Islam does seem like a pretty convincing refutation).  False Messiahs are a dime-a-dozen.  What I can't imagine though, is how there could be a Real Messiah that is better than Jesus, who showed us how the path of love is strong enough to conquer even the grave.  To me it is obvious that Jesus is deeply good, and that his healing grace and power are in continuity with the best that can be found in Hebrew Scripture.

[Update 8/30/16:  In the 5th to last paragraph of section II, I edited "best guess" to "best understanding", for reasons described in the comments section.]

About Aron Wall

I am a postdoctoral researcher studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my first postdoc at UC Santa Barbara.
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32 Responses to Is God allowed to update the Torah?

  1. JPH says:

    So I think the author would have been better off engaging in some work of serious Christian scholarship, rather than some random tract he got in the mail.

    Let’s look at William Craig on the subject. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s6-21

    “When you look at the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, they give virtually no clue that Messiah isn’t going to be this triumphant warrior king that was expected. This is what was supposed to happen. … [T]here wasn’t any clear concept in the Old Testament that Messiah would come and be humiliatingly executed as a common criminal rather than establishing the throne of David in Jerusalem and throwing off the enemies of Israel and the Gentiles and the Jews would be in submission to this great warrior king, who would be like a new David. That was what I was saying you don’t find in the Old Testament.”

    Right. You find no such thing. You find this: https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/letter-to-sy-about-messiah/ The Messiah will build the Third Temple, gather all Jews back to Israel, usher in an era of world peace, and spread universal knowledge of HaShem. If he doesn’t, he’s not the Messiah. Performing miracles doesn’t change this.

    Isn't it clear that any New Covenant, just by virtue of being New, must necessarily imply some sort of changes to the old way of doing things?

    The covenant specified in Jeremiah states we won’t have to debate these issues anymore. Everyone will simply know them. The fact that most Jews aren’t Torah observant and the earth is teeming with false religions proves we’re not there yet. I know you’re making the case for the transitory nature of Torah, but you’re citing verses that are hostile to Christianity (Like Zech 8:22-23. It must be a Messianic Jew that’s mentioned. Why don’t the ten Gentiles just read Calvin? This is a prophecy about the Noachide movement.)

    God might happen to mention some of his purposes in passing, but regardless of what motivates the commandment, Israel's response should always be unquestioning and unconditional obedience. But that argument seems to presuppose that what God likes best are ignorant slaves, who obey him without knowing the reasons why. If Moses and Jeremiah are right that God wants people who are inspired by his spirit to want to keep his laws, then acting based on our best guess at God's reasons is essential.

    False disjunctive syllogism: either “ignorant slaves” or “best guesses.” Neither Moses nor Jeremiah said anything about the latter. Jeremiah wrote of a future time when all men will naturally follow God’s laws. In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, does David lament his plight at being an ignorant slave? And I shall keep Your Torah constantly, forever and ever (verse 44). Your righteousness is perpetual righteousness, and Your Torah is true (verse 142). I yearned for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your Torah is my occupation (verse 174). David yearned for salvation. To attain it he follows the Torah. Equivalence is drawn between the Torah and perpetual righteousness. A revelation that is temimah (faultless, whole, and complete) precludes paradigm shifts.

    The first test is to check whether the claimants prophetic signs come to pass. Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead after he was crucified, and the historical record strongly suggests that he did! So he passes that test.

    That’s not the only thing he predicted. Matthew 24:30-34, Mark 13:24-30, Luke 21:25-32 are notorious. If “this generation” doesn’t mean this generation then you have a position that’s irrefutable in principle. (And he said he’d rise after three days. Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is 1.5 – not that this is even a Messianic prophecy. Jonah is about Gentiles repenting en masse without sacrifices of any kind!)

    To me it is obvious that Jesus is deeply good, and that his healing grace and power are in continuity with the best that can be found in Hebrew Scripture.

    Just like we disagree about the meanings of “eternal statute,” “HaShem is one,” and “this generation,” the meaning of “deeply good” is open to debate. Christianity threatens eternal torture for those who have the wrong beliefs. You just devoted thousands of words to a Bayesian analysis of something that happened 2k years ago. How can a just and merciful father expect his (mostly stupid, me included) children to crunch all this data and ace the test?

  2. Mactoul says:

    "The Messiah will build the Third Temple, gather all Jews back to Israel, usher in an era of world peace, and spread universal knowledge of HaShem. If he doesn’t, he’s not the Messiah"

    But haven't all these things being accomplished? and the list of Messiah claimants is enough by itself to convince us of Jesus' claims.

  3. Mactoul says:

    JPH,
    "Why do Christians think the resurrection cancels/changes the Torah? "

    The Christians believe in and hold Torah in respect only because of the Church. The Church and the Resurrection that brought forth the Church is primary and the Torah is secondary. Otherwise, the Torah and other Old Testament books are collections of Hebrew fables of little interest to others.

  4. Aron Wall says:

    JPH,
    You raise a lot of issues in your comment, so please forgive me for responding at length.

    It will not be a surprise to any long term readers of this blog that, despite our shared faith in Jesus, I feel quite free to disagree with William Lane Craig sometimes, when I think he is taking the wrong approach. This is one of those times. In fact there are so many references to fulfilled prophecies in the New Testament that some people try to argue that the Gospels were just constructed based on Jewish expectations about the Messiah. St. Craig is trying to argue against the view that the disciples just made up the Resurrection, but I think his approach is deeply misguided here. Yes, the disciples did not expect the Messiah to suffer rise from the dead until after he did so, but once you know where to look, these passages of Scripture really are there. So I do not accept his viewpoint there. Instead I agree with what St. C.S. Lewis wrote, when he said (in Reflections on the Psalms):

    In a certain sense Our Lord's interpretation of the Psalms was common ground between Himself and his opponents. The question we mentioned a moment ago, how David can call Christ "my Lord" (Mark 12:13-37), would lose its point unless were addressed to those who took it for granted that the "my Lord" referred to in Psalm 110 was the Messiah, the regal and annointed deliverer who would subject the world to Israel. This method was accepted by all. The "scriptures" all had a "spiritual" or second sense. Even a gentile "God-fearer" like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27-38) knew that the sacred books of Israel could not be understood without a guide, trained in the Judaic tradition, who could open the hidden meanings. Probably all instructed Jews say references to the Messiah in most of those passages where our Lord saw them; what was controversial was His identification of the Messianic King with another Old Testament figure and of both with Himself.

    Two figures meet us in the Psalms, that of the sufferer and that of the conquering and liberating king. In 13, 28, 55, or 102, we have the Sufferer; in 2 or 72, the King. The Sufferer was, I think, by this time generally identified with (and may sometimes have originally been intended as) the whole nation, Israel itself---they would have said "himself". The King was the successor of David, the coming Messiah. Our Lord identified himself with both of these characters."

    So it is true that Christians accept (in addition to all the passages accepted by Jews) some additional Messianic prophecies as well. But even first century Jews would have read these passages as having an allegorical or second meaning. So this interpretation is not all that far outside the traditional methods of Jewish interpretation.

    Let us suppose for the sake of argument that the Suffering Servant passages refer to Israel. Well, a king should be a representative of his own people (see Deut 17:15), and therefore shouldn't he understand their most important experiences, including their suffering? Certainly that was how it was with King David, as it is written: "HaShem, remember unto David all his affliction" (Psalm 132:1). Israel is continually the target of unjust persecutations, so since the Messiah is to be the King of Israel, then he must also go through the experience of unjust persecution.

    And he said he’d rise after three days. Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is 1.5

    In the ancient Jewish way of counting, "three days" or the "third day" generally refers to an inclusive counting that counts the start day as 1 (unlike Westerners who count the start day as 0). So Friday is the 1st day, Saturday is the 2nd, and Sunday is the 3rd.

    This is the most natural interpretation of 14 out of the 15 passages in the Gospels in which Jesus is said to have predicted the time of his Resurrection in advance. The only somewhat problematic passage is Matthew 12:40, where Jesus compares himself to Jonah and mentions "three days and three nights". There are various possible resolutions to this apparent discrepency---but I don't think this can be a dealbreaker unless you can say to me with a straight face that there are no apparent contradictions in the Torah or Tanakh that require subtle reconciliation... ;-) To me, the impressive part is rising from the dead, not the exact timing! (There is a Jewish midrash that the reason why the Israelites built the golden calf was a mistake about what exactly Moses meant by 40 days! Here God wants to offer covenant with him, and we get distracted by our own off-by-one errors)!

    I agree that "this generation" most naturally refers to the lifespan of those who heard Jesus' words originally. I would explain the apparent discrepency as follows: St. Matthew tells us that, on this occasion, the disciples originally asked him two questions (numbers inserted by me):

    “Tell us,” they said, “(1) when will this [i.e. the Destruction of the Temple] happen, and (2) what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3)

    Since these two events both involve God's judgment, Jesus talked about them together, but he gives two separate answers as to timing (which would seem somewhat inconsistent if taken to refer to the same event):

    (1) "Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." (Matt 24:34) [which is true about the Destruction of the Temple]

    (2) "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matt 24:26) [which is true about his Second Coming]

    Elsewhere (especially in the parables) Jesus emphasizes that his return will take place after an unexpectedly "long time". So I think the best explanation of this data is that Jesus gave the correct timing for both questions, but the disciples who remembered this speech didn't clearly separate out the two answers, and so now they stand together in a somewhat confusing way.

    You are now entitled to object, if you can say with a straight face that the prophecies in the Tanakh never talk about near and far events at the same time, in a way that seems to be confusing and jumbled together. ;-)

    I know you’re making the case for the transitory nature of Torah, but you’re citing verses that are hostile to Christianity (Like Zech 8:22-23. It must be a Messianic Jew that’s mentioned. Why don’t the ten Gentiles just read Calvin? This is a prophecy about the Noachide movement.)

    How is this verse hostile to Christianity? Today, the Noachide movement is tiny fraction of the Gentile population. But it was not always so. At the time of the Roman Empire there were a substantial number of "God-fearers", a technical term for Gentiles who accepted the Hebrew Scriptures without converting to Judaism.

    So what happened to all of them? Well, most of them converted to Christianity, based on the preaching of the earliest Christians, who were of course Jews who believed that the Messiah had come. So that is the fulfillment of Zech 8:22-23, and it happened a long time before St. Calvin came along!

    The covenant specified in Jeremiah states we won’t have to debate these issues anymore. Everyone will simply know them. The fact that most Jews aren’t Torah observant and the earth is teeming with false religions proves we’re not there yet.

    Let's suppose you were right that in the Messianic Era, everyone will know God's laws and obey them naturally because they want to. (Similar to what Christians say will happen in the New Heaven and New Earth.) Then, since people have stopped sinning, is it not obvious that there cannot any longer be any Temple sacrifices for sin? Because, the reason for them being offered (people sinning) would never happen. So on your own premises it follows that certain commandments in the Torah will become out of date, never to be used again, once we reach the Messianic Era! You can't radically change everything about the world (removing war, death, the existence of other religons etc.) and still say that a set of commandments written for a culture in c. 1500 BC, which presuppose the existence of these things, still apply exactly as written!

    And you seem to be assuming here that every aspect of the Messianic era has to come at the exact same time. But this seems like a very dangerous assumption given that prophecy in the Jewish scriptures has a tendency to be talking about multiple times at once. (I gave some examples of this in my main post.) Leaving aside the various prophecies of his birth, life, death, and resurrection, I have already pointed to two specific Messianic Era prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus: (a) Mass conversion of the nations, (b) a New Covenant which includes the giving of the Holy Spirit to change the relationship between God and Man. These events are described by the Prophet Joel:

    And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of HaShem come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of HaShem shall be delivered. (Joel 2:28-32)

    When it says that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on "all flesh", this seems to mean a large number of people of every condition (regardless of their gender, age, social class, or ethnicity). But, because he goes on to specify that God will deliver those who "call on the name of the Lord", the text seems to imply the existence of other people who do not call on his name. Thus, when the Holy Spirit is first given, it seems that there can remain (for a time) false religions, confusion, and some wicked people.

    Now, as you know, during the time of the Tanakh, the Spirit of God was not given to everybody. It was only given to very special people like prophets, heros and kings, who by virtue of their office had a personal relationship with God. For example, King David received the Spirit starting from the time that he was anointed by Samuel (1 Sam 16:13, Psalm 51:11).

    Since Judaism no longer has prophets or kings, that kind of personal relationship with God is not available in Rabbinic Judaism. But Christians receieve the Holy Spirit when they believe in Jesus, which means that each one of us, no matter how ordinary, has the Holy Spirit inspiring us to love God and to keep his commandments. For this reason, the New Testament teaches that we are God's Temple, that what God really wants is to dwell in the human heart, not in an inanimate building (cf. Isaiah 57:15).

    My best friend Yoaav (named after David's military commander) converted to Christianity, in part because the personal relationship with God that Christians have, seemed so much more like the ideal of the Hebrew Bible, compared to the indirect, impersonal relationship with God which is all that Rabbinic Judaism can provide. (It was a very difficult step for him to take because he had good reason to think that his father might disown him---although happily this did not occur!)

    I love Psalm 119, and I'm glad you do as well. But, if you do not have the Holy Spirit living in your heart, your relationship with God and his commandments cannot possibly be the same as that of King David, because that was a critical aspect of his relationship with God.

    Regarding "best guesses", that was a very misleading phrase on my part (and I have edited it to "best understanding" in the main post). My argument---which I don't think you've otherwise responded to---was that we can deduce from the text of Leviticus that kosher laws were given for a particular purpose, and since it seems like that purpose would no longer apply during the Messianic age, even a practicing Jew might reasonably guess that the kosher laws will be abolished at that time.

    However, now that the Messiah has in fact come, Christians do not need to "guess" about what God requires from us, because we have the Holy Spirit who guides us concerning the heart of God, as we love each other. (He may leave us to guess about the lesser issues of theology, perhaps to test to see if we can still love each other even when there are theological disputes, but to everyone who really who seeks him, he clarifies the meaning of the most important commandments, which are to love God and other people, as they come up day-by-day in our own lives.)

    A revelation that is temimal (faultless, whole, and complete) precludes paradigm shifts.

    God told Abraham to "Walk before Me and be perfect." (Gen 17:1) Yet that did not preclude a paradigm shift (Mount Sinai) at the time of Moses. Everything that God does is perfect and beautiful, in its time. (How could it be otherwise?) But that does not mean that new revelation cannot occur in the future. Especially given all those prophecies I mentioned which explictly state that this will happen!

    Finally, the issue of final judgement. You write:

    Just like we disagree about the meanings of “eternal statute,” “HaShem is one,”

    Have you done a word study on the Hebrew words translated "eternal" and "one"? That would involve looking at all the other places in Scripture the same Hebrew word appears, to see whether the possible range of meanings might be.

    and “this generation,” the meaning of “deeply good” is open to debate. Christianity threatens eternal torture for those who have the wrong beliefs. You just devoted thousands of words to a Bayesian analysis of something that happened 2k years ago. How can a just and merciful father expect his (mostly stupid, me included) children to crunch all this data and ace the test?

    The doctrine of eternal rewards & punishments is also found in the Tanakh (as acknowledged by classical rabbinic Judaism), most clearly in this passage:

    And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence. And they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn the many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. (Daniel 12:2-3)

    And New Testament also teaches that there will be a Resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, at which time everyone will be judged according to their works:

    “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29)

    "I believe everything that is laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God that they themselves cherish, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." (Acts 24:14-15)

    "God `will repay each person according to what they have done.' To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism." (Romans 2:6-11)

    It is a fundamental teaching of the Bible that God will judge the world with perfect justice. So, it follows that God will not send anyone to Hell who is honestly mistaken about Jesus and just trying to serve God the best they can. Jesus himself said that the people who spoke against him would be forgiven, and that the only unforgiveable sin is to resist the Holy Spirit when he makes the truth clear to you. I, looking on the outside, cannot tell whether the Spirit is testifying to your heart or not. I pray that he is, not because I want you to be condemned but because I want you to know the glories of the riches of his presence in your life, that are symbolized by the various provisions of the Torah.

    So what about all those passages in the New Testament talking about the importance of faith in Jesus? It does not mean, as some ignorantly think, that God arbitrarily throws people in Hell based on whether they identify as Jew or a Christian! Rather it means, that God is offering through Jesus the chance to be transformed from an selfish person to a loving person, and so be found righteous on the last day. That, we should not think of salvation as something that we can "earn" by following a set of rules and doing good deeds, but rather as an act of love and mercy whereby God forgives repentant sinners, and restores them to fellowship.

    So when properly understood, I don't think that Christianity shows salvation to be the results of passing some kind of doctrinal test, even though what we believe is obviously important insofar as it determines what kind of person we are. I'm a mathy person so I've chosen to dress up some historical facts I consider pretty obvious in mathematical language, but it doesn't matter whether you want to think about it in that way!

    It does matter what you think about Jesus, but I can only try to communicate the best ideas I have about what holiness means (doubtless I have also been stupid about many things) and leave God to fill up the deficiencies in my presentation. May you be blessed.

    Well, that was a very long comment and I don't expect you to necessarily have time to respond to all of it! But I would like to hear your answers to these very specific questions:

    1. Do you believe that some commandments are more important than others?

    2. Do you agree that passages such as Jer 3:16 (and the others I mentioned) imply that at least some Torah observances will not be followed in the Messianic Age?

    3. Do you accept my interpetation of Lev 20 (that God says he is giving the kosher rules in order to keep Israel separate from the other nations)?

    4. Do you think that in the Messianic Age, there will be any need for a separation between Jews and Gentiles?

    5. Do you believe that God wants everyone to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you believe that you, as an individual, have the Holy Spirit living inside of you? If not, is this something that you earnestly desire and hope for?

  5. JPH says:

    1. Do you believe that some commandments are more important than others?

    I do, but I can’t speak for God. The 7 Noachide laws are binding on all humans. It’s not a “religion” in the sense most people mean by that word. It’s not Judaism Lite or Judaism for Gentiles. It’s moral realism grounded in monotheism, six categories of prohibitions and the obligation to establish courts of law that enforce them. https://asknoah.org/7-commandments/locate-sources

    However, now that the Messiah has in fact come, Christians do not need to "guess" about what God requires from us, because we have the Holy Spirit who guides us concerning the heart of God, as we love each other.

    Note the obvious problems with relying on an inner voice. How do we adjudicate between groups who claim to be inspired? The Thirty Years’ War is far from the only counterexample. Christians find themselves in the position of wondering if they’re really saved or born again (like Luther). How does one know if she’s experiencing this singular experience? Compare this with wondering if you’re engaging in idolatry, blasphemy, theft, murder, adultery, or cruelty to animals. The latter are obvious, with no need for interpretations of inner states.

    2. Do you agree that passages such as Jer 3:16 (and the others I mentioned) imply that at least some Torah observances will not be followed in the Messianic Age?

    One of the 13 principles of Judaism is the immutability of the Torah. In addition to any instrumental meaning, the commandments contain some intrinsic purpose. The debate between Rambam & Ramban is outside my salary grade: https://www.ou.org/jewish_action/12/2014/whats-truth-korbanot/

    3. Do you accept my interpetation of Lev 20 (that God says he is giving the kosher rules in order to keep Israel separate from the other nations)?

    In a manner of speaking, ALL of the commandments (above and beyond the Noachide 7) are given to Israel for this purpose. They are a nation of priests. Gentiles have the same moral realism Noah did. God is not a multiculturalist. The arrow of History soars toward a time when all Gentiles will follow them and all Jews will observe the Torah. It won’t be a time of miracles: http://www.chabad.org/library/moshiach/article_cdo/aid/101744/jewish/Laws-Concerning-Kings-and-the-Messiah.htm

    5. Do you believe that God wants everyone to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you believe that you, as an individual, have the Holy Spirit living inside of you? If not, is this something that you earnestly desire and hope for?

    "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." God is not a person or anything comparable to things in my everyday life. The via negativa of Maimonides is an essential corrective to personal conceptions: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides/#GodViaNeg

    Regarding Psalm 110:

    The question we mentioned a moment ago, how David can call Christ "my Lord" (Mark 12:13-37), would lose its point unless were addressed to those who took it for granted that the "my Lord" referred to in Psalm 110 was the Messiah, the regal and anointed deliverer who would subject the world to Israel.

    In Hebrew, the 'Lord’ and ‘lord’ from Psalm 110 are two different words. Capitalizing both is misleading (to put it gently). The first is the Tetragrammaton. The second refers to people (Genesis 32:4 says “… speak unto my lord Esau”). David made preparations for the temple, including the services. The Psalms were songs intended for the Levites. “The Lord (God) said to my master (King David) ‘Sit thou at my right hand…’" makes sense when someone else is singing it. https://jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/answers/jewish-polemics/texts/psalm-110-a-jewish-perspective/

    So what happened to all of [the God-fearers]? Well, most of them converted to Christianity, based on the preaching of the earliest Christians, who were of course Jews who believed that the Messiah had come. So that is the fulfillment of Zech 8:22-23.

    If and only if Christianity is the true religion, otherwise this verse remains unfulfilled. You can’t cite it as evidence for Christianity.

  6. Robert Childress says:

    Aron, I had a question about your interpretation of Matthew 24:3. Does it make sense to think that the "coming" inquired about by Jesus's audience would have been understood as a "second" coming? Was his audience expecting a departure followed by a return?

    I've heard some others interpret the "coming" to be a question about the kingdom (and judgment) of God -- in terms of Danielesque language of "coming" with the clouds of heaven, and so on. If so, it's perhaps arguable that this did happen within the lifespan of that generation (in a "now but not fully yet" sense) with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the destruction of the temple, and so on. I think it's a kind of preterist view.

    For what it's worth, I found this post and some of the ensuing comments quite clarifying with regards to Christian claims of fulfilled prophecies, so I appreciate the discussion.

  7. Robert Childress says:

    JPH, I think the point about Psalm 110 has to do with the implied double interpretations of passages of Hebrew Scripture more so than the particular word used for Lord. I don't doubt that Jesus and his audience in Mark 12:35-37 would have had a conventional interpretation of what the meaning was in its historical context -- and perhaps it was much like what you've explained. But the conclusion reached by Jesus would have been incomprehensible to his audience unless there was also a second kind of interpretation commonly understood to be running alongside it -- namely, that the "my lord" with the little 'l' was understood by Jesus's audience to be a reference to the Messiah.

    Or to put it another way, with a divinely inspired human work such as the Hebrew Scriptures David may well have been authoring Psalms for the Levites to sing and God may well have been using those Psalms to tell us something about the Messiah. That appears to have been the understanding of Jesus's audience, at least.

  8. Aron Wall says:

    JPH,
    Thanks for giving your answers to my questions. I appreciate it. Some very brief replies to each point:

    1. I can understand why a nonreligious person might be skeptical of an "inner voice" (if that is really the right way to think of the Holy Spirit, see here), but inspiration by the Holy Spirit is already part of the Jewish religion, mentioned in the Tanakh. And there we see that even those who have the Holy Spirit sometimes sin or do stupid things (e.g. Jephtheh's rash vow that resulted in sacrificing his daughter, David committing adultery and murder, etc.) So if it turns out that Christians sometimes sin even when they have the Holy Spirit, well this is compatible with the Tanakh. It is also possible to say that any supposed Christian who hates and despises other Christians (or Jews!) proves that they never had the Holy Spirit (see 1 John 4:20).

    Anyway, it is the Tanakh that says that the Holy Spirit providing inner guidance is a characteristic of the Messianic Age. If you have a problem with that, you should take it up with God, not with me!

    2. If even Rambam, the formulator of the 13 principles, couldn't agree with himself about whether there would be animal sacrifices in the age to come---because there are passages which seemingly point both ways---then it seems that both opinions must be regarded as legitimate interpretations of Judaism, and when the Messiah comes it will become clear which is the case. If you are unwilling to take one side in this dispute, then you should be open to the possibility that you are wrong about what the "immutability of the Torah" implies.

    3. Your link seems to be arguing that because a particular false Messiah (Bar Koziba) did not perform miracles, and a certain respected sage (Rabbi Akiva) followed him, that therefore the true Messiah will not perform miracles? REALLY???? A deluded person following a deluded person takes precedence over all the passages in the Prophets about the Resurrection of the Dead and so on?

    Also, a priest is appointed for the sake of the people, not the other way around. God's promise to Abraham, that all nations would be blessed, shows that the purpose of choosing Israel was to benefit all people. So all the nations returning to God is not some kind of side-note, it is the main kaboom. God is a multiculturalist.

    5. God is indeed very different from a person, or any created thing, but it is still possible to have a relationship with him as all the Scriptures testify.

    I am of course aware of the distinction between the Tetragrammaton and the term Adoni, and the presence of both terms in Psalm 110. (Had I been explaining this Psalm myself, instead of quoting somebody else, I expect I would have mentioned this explicitly.) But the important point in the Lewis quote is that, in the time of early rabbinic Judaism, it was uncontroversial that the second "Lord" [Adoni] refers to the Messiah. This was based on the fact that the psalm was written by David, and that he says "my Lord" (singular) instead of "our Lord". As well as the fact that the rabbis accepted that almost every passage in Scripture had some Messianic implication, as I've explained above. (Robert also makes some good points.)

    If and only if Christianity is the true religion, otherwise this verse remains unfulfilled. You can’t cite it as evidence for Christianity.

    Because the meaning of most prophecies is ambiguous, it is always going to be possible to interpet any given passage in an anti-Christian way (especially when one interprets them with the aid of oral traditions not found in the Tanakh, some of which even developed after Christianity, and therefore partly in response to it).

    So, whenever you come to a passage that can be interpeted in more than one way---or which might or might not have been fulfilled, depending on one's beliefs about other matters---you need to hold both possibilities in your mind until making your final determination based on all of the data. That isn't circular reasoning; it's just fair-mindedness.

    If a prophecy has multiple possible interpretations---but then through a very suprising turn of historical events, one of those intepretations gets fulfilled---then that is itself evidence that that is the correct intepretation. For, if it were not the correct interpretation, you wouldn't have expected the surprising set of events to happen.

    Robert,
    No, I don't find that kind of preterist intepretation of Matthew 24:3 particularly plausible. Too much of the passage sounds like the final judgement. And, the parables that refer to the master being away on a long journey have always been interpreted by the Church as being about the Second Coming (aside from a few moderns like St. N.T. Wright).

    Nor is it necessary to suppose that the Jewish audience had any kind of expectation of a departure followed by a Second Coming. As I have been arguing to JPH, it is allowed for the teaching of Jesus to contain new information. He wanted to make sure that his disciples knew about his departure and return.

    On the other hand, I think that Mark 9:1, Matt 16:28 and Luke 9:27 DO refer to the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus (which confirmed his kingship) and to his founding of the Church (which involved the coming of the Holy Spirit with power).

  9. Aron, you and JPH have had a very interesting discussion. Here are a few additional, hopefully divergent, comments. I’m sure I’ll inadvertently be repeating some of your views unless I notice them and excise them in time. Some of my views might be seen as a bit heterodox (isn’t that a much nicer word than heretical?), so I may be hearing back more from Aron than JPH. Independent quotes are all JPH’s.

    “God appeared to a nation and gave them 613 commandments. He said they were eternal, everlasting, binding for all generations. There is NOT ONE about worshiping God's son or the Messiah.”

    Even if they are eternal and binding, it does not follow that God could not give any new commands or information.

    “The thirteenth chapter is devoted to prophets who can perform ‘signs and wonders’ and advocate the worship of gods ‘whom your forefathers did not know.’ Their forefathers did not worship Jesus.”

    Deuteronomy 13 is telling them to worship no one other than Ha Shem. What Jesus and his Jewish followers claim God had revealed is that Jesus is God and yet he is in some sense distinct from God such that he can address God and speak of God as his father. The most feasible way to understand this is to see that God was more than one in person but only one in being (one in certain shared attributes like knowledge, will, emotion, and power). This is something the Torah has not revealed because it was not yet God’s time to reveal it. This claim contradicts nothing stated in the Torah. It “changes” or “cancels” nothing in the Torah. It accords with the Shema, “the Lord your God is one God.” One (echod) does not indicate absolute unity any more than Adam and Eve’s unity (they “became one [echod] flesh”) means they were indivisibly one. So we have no evidence that Jesus is different from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We have no grounds to believe that Jesus is a God “whom your forefathers did not know.”

    “Why do Christians think the resurrection cancels/changes the Torah?”

    The resurrection does not cancel or change anything in the Torah. It’s just miraculous verification of Jesus’ claimed identity just as Moses’ miracles (parting the Red Sea, the plagues of Egypt, etc.) verified his identity as God’s chosen leader. We have good evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. I doubt that you can come up with any evidence for Tzvi’s claimed miracles.

    All this talk about Jesus’ deity or God’s triune nature might lead us to overlook an important point. Those who follow Jesus as their Lord (master, adon) and savior do not need to accept that Jesus is God incarnate to be accepted by God. I accept the deity of Jesus because I have good reason to accept his teachings and those of his immediate followers and I have good reason to think this claim of deity is included in those teachings. But it was at least a decade after the crucifixion before his followers believed this. Were those like Stephen and possibly James (Ya’akov) bar Zavdai who were killed early on not really Christians because the full teaching of Jesus’ deity may not have been yet known? Furthermore, those teachings say only that one must trust in Jesus and his atoning death to be accepted by God, not that one must believe he is God incarnate to do so.

    “Whatever the prophets were saying, it wasn't to subtract from theses books and approach God via some unheard-of intermediary.”

    I agree that the prophets never negated anything in the Torah. But Jews have always come to God through an intermediary. This is not “unheard-of” in the Torah, this permeates and is central to the Torah. Animal sacrifices were needed to come to God. (“It is the blood, by means of the life which is in the blood, that makes atonement,” Lev 17.11.) Sin had to be covered, or carried away (Lev 16), before one could be accepted by God. Isaiah 53 speaks of one who will take away the sins of the people in terms of sacrificial suffering and even death (v.8, 12). The meaning of the animal sacrifices is fulfilled in the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. This cannot be Israel since “he” atones for “us.” Who can Israel be but those who are atoned for? Israel has never been sinless and thus can never qualify as a sacrifice without defect or blemish. (Note also, how can the Servant who has died be rewarded by God [v.12] unless he was resurrected?) The New Testament (NT) writers claimed and gave evidence that this prophecy and the messianic prophecies pointed to him.

    Aron cited Deuteronomy 18 which says that anyone claiming to be a prophet must have their prophecies come to pass. The people must judge the claimed prophet as a true or false prophet by the fulfillment of the prophecies. The same must also apply to the greatest of the prophets, the Messiah. But you can’t do that by just listening to the rabbis and traditions which reject any prophetic claimant. One must hear the claims and the evidence those claimants and their followers give.

    “The Messiah will build the Third Temple, gather all Jews back to Israel, usher in an era of world peace, and spread universal knowledge of HaShem. If he doesn’t, he’s not the Messiah. Performing miracles doesn’t change this.”

    Sure, Messiah does have to do this. But when does he have to do this? Immediately upon his first disclosure of his identity? Of course not! If these make up only one facet of the prophecies he has to fulfill, then this facet, say at least the peace and rebuilding, need not come until other prophecies and steps are first fulfilled. There could even be a separation in time between his appearances on earth to fulfill different tasks. There is nothing in the Torah or the prophets that says he couldn’t. Merely proclaiming loudly that if he hasn’t fulfilled it all the first time he came that he can’t be the Messiah doesn’t make it so—it doesn’t provide any evidence that he is not the Messiah. In fact, spreading the knowledge of God to all peoples has been occurring for centuries and the larger regathering of the dispersed Jewish people to Israel for over a century. So we have no good reason to think Messiah has not fulfilled that part of the prophecy as well.

    Craig doesn’t actually say that there is no suffering Messiah in the Hebrew scripture. It’s there but the Jewish thinking at Jesus’ time virtually ignored it, and for good reason. It was hard to reconcile with the conquering Messiah passages. Only a Messiah who would suffer and die but who would come back in the clouds to conquer could fit all of the prophecies. Some attempts were made to reconcile the suffering and ruling passages. For example, some postulated a Messiah ben Joseph (who would suffer) and a Messiah ben David (who would conquer and rule).

    “Matthew 24:30-34, Mark 13:24-30, Luke 21:25-32 are notorious. If ‘this generation’ doesn’t mean this generation then you have a position that’s irrefutable in principle.”

    Gleason Archer argued that “genea,” generation, more likely means race in this context. The Greek more often means generation, but the Aramaic term Jesus likely used more often means race than does genea. Just because someone can’t refute Christianity with this passage doesn’t mean other statements are not available which one might be able to falsify. So this answer does not make Christianity “irrefutable in principle.”

    “Not that this [Jesus’ claim that he would rise in three days] is even a Messianic prophecy. Jonah is about Gentiles repenting en masse without sacrifices of any kind!”

    Jesus never said it was a messianic prophecy. He just said that he would be in the earth for this long just like Jonah was in the fish that long.

    “The meaning of ‘deeply good’ is open to debate. Christianity threatens eternal torture for those who have the wrong beliefs.”

    The NT and the Hebrew scripture both clearly teach that God will be absolutely just (Gen 18.25). That obviously involves a time of punishment for some people. Whether it’s eternal or whether the nature or degree of that punishment will always be the same if it is eternal or whether it will end for some in annihilation are issues Christians differ about. So in fact you are attacking a straw man. It isn’t clear that the NT teaches eternal, conscious, never diminishing torment.

    And Christianity does not say people are condemned for merely having wrong beliefs. People are condemned for rejecting what they know is right and true. Cephas said God showed him that God has no favorites and that all who fear or honor God and seek to do what is right will be accepted by God (Ac 10.34-35; cf. Ecc 12.13, the passage he is essentially repeating). He also said that only through Jesus could one be accepted by God (Ac 4.12). Yohanna said that those who knowingly reject Jesus will be condemned (Jn 3.18). Saul said that all, whether they’ve heard of Jesus or not, will find God if they seek God (Ac 17.27). And Jesus said that anyone who wills to do God’s will shall know that his teachings are true (Jn 7.17). Put all together, anyone who fears and honors God or seeks God (whether they know God is there or not), wills to do God’s will, and seeks to live according their natural moral knowledge will find and be accepted by God. But they will also find that Christianity is true and accept it (so far as they continue to will to do God’s will).

    So according to Jesus and the NT writers, if we will to do God’s will, we will find out that we need to trust in Jesus to be accepted by God. If we knowingly reject God’s will and reject this Jesus, shouldn’t we expect God’s judgment?

    Aron’s work with Bayesian analysis merely gives us evidence in a way it was not seen before. Other sufficient evidence has been available to us in the past. Everyone who seeks God will find whatever information they need to believe in Jesus. Out of God’s mercy, some even find it who do not seek God.

  10. JPH says:

    Even if they are eternal and binding, it does not follow that God could not give any new commands or information.

    How could they be eternal and binding AND, per Hebrews 7:18, “weak and useless”? Where in the Torah does Paul receive the authority to say such things? And how can God’s revealed law about divorce in the Torah remain “eternal and binding” if Jesus reverses it? This is like saying both X and not X are true.

    What Jesus and his Jewish followers claim God had revealed is that Jesus is God and yet he is in some sense distinct from God such that he can address God and speak of God as his father. … So we have no evidence that Jesus is different from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We have no grounds to believe that Jesus is a God “whom your forefathers did not know.”

    GOD IS NOT A MAN, that he should lie, OR A SON OF MAN, that he should change his mind. (Numbers 23:19)

    Moreover, the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind, for HE’S NOT A MAN that he should change his mind. (1 Samuel 15:29)

    Then say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the LORD says: ISRAEL IS MY FIRSTBORN SON.’ (Exodus 4:22)

    For, when Israel was young, I loved him, and from Egypt I called My son. (Hosea 11:1)

    Did the forefathers of those at Sinai worship a god-man who identified as God’s son? Emphatically not. Christians seem astonished the Pharisees weren’t persuaded, forgetting they were ordained by God to be fanatically meticulous in the observance of the Torah. It’s the very purpose of the Jews being set aside as a distinct race of man. You trust their determination that Jonah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah were the real deal, that Ecclesiastes should make the final cut despite no little controversy, but not to figure out whether the Messiah has arrived (or what repentance is, or what the absolute unity of God involves, or what the Torah says)? Such an extreme misunderstanding of their own religion, such catastrophic tragicomic bumbling should cast lethal doubt on any reliability of the “Old Testament.” It’s like trusting Marshall Applewhite about Heaven’s Gate despite his overestimating the significance of comet Hale-Bopp.

    The most feasible way to understand this is to see that God was more than one in person but only one in being (one in certain shared attributes like knowledge, will, emotion, and power). This is something the Torah has not revealed because it was not yet God’s time to reveal it.

    God had decades to go over minutia with Moses like the ark of acacia wood (two and a half cubits in length, a cubit and a half in width, and a cubit and a half its height) but couldn’t find time to say, “BTW, I’m actually three distinct units of consciousness that mysteriously share a common essence. One of these is My son (aka the Messiah & the Son of Man) who will be appearing in 1,300 years to change the focus of your worship and abolish most of what I’m telling you now. Don’t worry, a council of Gentiles will hash this out 300 years later, then Martin Luther will set everything straight 1,200 years after that.”

    According to John 12:37-41, the Jews COULDN'T believe so as to "fulfill" Isaiah 6 ("He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts"). On the one hand their benighted unbelief in the face of so much evidence is condemned; on the other, it's cited as evidence for the truth of what they didn't believe. Please. Does anything not count as evidence?

    God also didn't have enough time to go over what the Koran & Book of Mormon reveal.

    I doubt that you can come up with any evidence for Tzvi’s claimed miracles.

    1) People suffered hardships to follow him. 2) Nathan of Gaza was a renowned Kabbalah expert and he, like Paul, had a dream! 3) Tzvi still has followers: http://isteve.blogspot.com/2006/06/its-borges-borges-borges-borges-world.html 4) Why would they make it up? 5) If Tzvi did not convert to Islam then your faith is in vain. ;o) My point with Tzvi was that miracles aren’t the issue. If anyone were to found a new religion tomorrow via miracles and justify it with some protean theology, Christians would deride it as the work of Satan. Deuteronomy 13 states that some miracles are a test from God to see if Israel will remain loyal to the Torah. Am I under the obligation to examine every claim involving miracles or addendums to the Tanakh? There aren’t enough hours in life!

    Regarding Leviticus 17:11,
    “The Scriptures explicitly state that the forgiveness of sin is achieved through sincere repentance. This teaching is repeated many times throughout the Hebrew Scriptures in a clear and unambiguous manner (Deuteronomy 30:1 10, Ezekiel 18:21 23, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33:11, 14 16, 19, Isaiah 1:16 18, 55:7, Hosea 14:2 10, Jonah 3:10, Micah 6:7, 8, Psalm 51:19). These passages directly address the issue of forgiveness from sin, yet they make no mention of a blood offering. Some of these passages actually preclude the requirement of a blood offering as a necessary component in the process of forgiveness from sin. Yet on the basis of the misinterpretation of one solitary verse (Leviticus 17:11) from a passage that does not directly address the issue of forgiveness from sin at all, Christianity teaches that repentance cannot achieve atonement without a blood offering!” Yisroel Chaim Blumenthal https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/the-elephant-and-the-suit/

    There could even be a separation in time between his appearances on earth to fulfill different tasks. There is nothing in the Torah or the prophets that says he couldn’t.

    Where do they say he could, or that it should be thousands of years apart? Where do they say the Messiah will be God and we must worship him? You seem to be arguing that the Torah and prophets never preclude X, therefore X is distinctly possible. Wouldn’t it be rational to withhold judgment until ALL the evidence is in? There isn’t a mitzvah (commandment) to accept the messiah because when he comes it will be obvious and no “faith” will be required.

    In fact, spreading the knowledge of God to all peoples has been occurring for centuries and the larger regathering of the dispersed Jewish people to Israel for over a century. So we have no good reason to think Messiah has not fulfilled that part of the prophecy as well.

    How is Jesus responsible for gathering exiles to Israel? (Assuming modern Israel is Messianic. Some Orthodox Jews don’t think so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGJg1lHPPZw) The current state of Israel is a response to the Holocaust.

    The people must judge the claimed prophet as a true or false prophet by the fulfillment of the prophecies. The same must also apply to the greatest of the prophets, the Messiah. … Gleason Archer argued that “genea,” generation, more likely means race in this context. The Greek more often means generation, but the Aramaic term Jesus likely used more often means race than does genea.

    This is a can of worms for Christianity. CS Lewis, the Preterists, RC Sproul, and quite a few others thought so: http://www.ecclesia.org/truth/solution.html Does anything constitute evidence against it?

    Where is the Torah apologetics? Good question! http://redneck_rastafarian.tripod.com/apologetics.html

  11. Thanks for such a vigorous response, JPH. I think this will be enjoyable to answer. I'll try to get something out in a day or so. Aron, thanks for letting your readers use your blog space to do some of their own battles. (Not that we don't appreciate anything you have to add.)

  12. JHP, I said, “Even if they [the Torah laws] are eternal and binding, it does not follow that God could not give any new commands or information.”

    To this you responded, “How could they be eternal and binding AND, per Hebrews 7:18, ‘weak and useless’?”

    Notice that I did not say that they are eternal and binding, but “if they are” that God could still give new information. A better translation of the Hebrews passage is, “weak and ineffective” given other statements made in the book. The law of Moses is not useless, it does have a purpose. But it’s weak and ineffective because “it made nothing perfect” or, as one paraphrase puts it, it “did not bring anything to the goal.” If you insist we keep the translation “useless,” we could do so as long as we understand that it is useless in bringing us to the goal of bringing us to God.

    For example, the animal sacrifices do not bring us atonement in themselves but as they point to the sacrifice of the suffering Servant, the Messiah. Thus they both were effective for the Israelites to bring them reconciliation with God because of what they pointed to and yet they were not in themselves effective for this purpose. Obviously, the sacrifices cannot now be carried out because of the destruction of the Temple, but other laws which can still be kept could still be effective so far as they point to spiritual truths. So the laws can be eternal and binding even though they are weak and ineffective in themselves.

    Please notice that I am not here giving any evidence that the above claims are true, that the sacrifices have no power except as they typify the suffering Servant or that the Servant is the Messiah. I’m just answering your accusation. I’m showing how a particular Christian view could say that the law is still eternal and binding while yet being weak and ineffective for a given goal. I think I’ve only once alluded to a line of argument for Jesus’ messiahship. Since you are making your critique, that is primarily what we are responding to.

    “Where in the Torah does Paul receive the authority to say such things?”

    Paul never wrote Hebrews but why do you think the writer of this book must receive authority from the Torah to say this? Just as God gave new information to the prophets so he gave new information to the Messiah Yeshua and to his followers.

    “And how can God’s revealed law about divorce in the Torah remain ‘eternal and binding’ if Jesus reverses it? This is like saying both X and not X are true.”

    Jesus did not reverse it (see Matthew 19.3-9), he merely sided with Shammai against Hillel. “The School of Shammai say a man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her. . . . But the school of Hillel say he may divorce her even if she burns his food. . . .” (Mishnah: Gittin 9:10). The issue revolved around the conditions under which a man may divorce his wife “if he has found indecency in a matter” or what that indecency might mean (Deut 24:1).

    “GOD IS NOT A MAN, that he should lie. . . .”

    But notice that the Torah does not say that God cannot or will not become a man. Such a man would be sinless and thus cannot lie.

    “Did the forefathers of those at Sinai worship a god-man who identified as God’s son? Emphatically not.”

    No, as I said earlier, that God would someday become a man was not revealed to them at that time. They only knew that they worshiped the God who had only to a limited degree revealed himself to them. It’s only after the time of Jesus that it was revealed that this is who they worshipped.

    “You trust their [the Pharisees’] determination that Jonah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah were the real deal, that Ecclesiastes should make the final cut despite no little controversy, but not to figure out whether the Messiah has arrived (or what repentance is, or what the absolute unity of God involves, or what the Torah says)?”

    The early Jewish church included thousands of Pharisees (Ac 21.20). Well, at least a very large number of those thousands “zealous for the law” must have been Pharisees. So there were many Pharisees on both sides of the early divide of followers and opponents of Jesus. And yet you arbitrarily accept the beliefs of one group of Pharisees against another.

    When the “absolute unity of God” became an issue in the early church, possibly more of the Christian Pharisees (certainly not all) and other Christians who followed their traditions would side with the absolutist views. But as we have seen, if we look honestly at the teachings of the Tenakh, and especially the Torah, there is nothing there to indicate that a strong unitarian view is justified. In fact, I’ve shown that the weaker unity-in-diversity view is better evidenced.

    I sense in your words an authoritarianism which I would claim is inappropriate to a thinking person. Because a certain group of people accepted a view, it must be right because they know the scripture better than anyone else. They may know the scripture very well but you and I are able to also learn it and to disagree with them. Again, let me remind you that there were other Pharisees who knew the scripture just as well who disagreed with them.

    “Such an extreme misunderstanding of their own religion, such catastrophic tragicomic bumbling should cast lethal doubt on any reliability of the ‘Old Testament.’ ”

    As a Protestant Christian I do accept generally the Jewish delineation of the content of the Hebrew scripture. But I accept it because I think the logic behind the analysis that determined that content is generally solid.

    The Jews who opposed Jesus were not guilty of “tragicomic bumbling.” They were guilty of some errors but also of some moral deficiencies. Jesus criticized the Pharisees and other scholars as well on both counts and thus made enemies in high places. One error was the belief that a prophet cannot come from Galilee. Because the Galileans were looked down upon by the Jerusalem Jews (they had too much contact with Gentiles up there) and because the scripture doesn’t say anything about a prophet coming from there, they concluded that none could come from Galilee. The scripture emphasized that Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Jesus’ opponents didn’t bother to question where he was born or, if they did, to consider that important compared with where he grew up.

    It may be questioned whether at his trial Jesus actually claimed equality with God, but it appears that that is what the Jewish leaders concluded. That appears to be why they condemned him. He called himself the Messiah, the Son of God, and he identified himself as the exalted, “son of man” of Daniel 7. Of course, it may be that they fully believed that he was not claiming deity but they condemned him by saying that this is what he was claiming. They may have simply been unwilling to let someone they so hated (because he criticized and condemned them) live who would actually claim to be the Messiah and Daniel’s son of man.

    But even if he did claim divinity, this was no grounds to condemn him. Abraham spoke with a human figure whom he addressed as God (Gen 18). If this was God appearing in human form, as it may well have been, would the Sanhedrin have condemned this same person had he appeared to them? Evidently. So even claiming deity should not be considered blasphemous unless one cannot support such a claim. Notice that the Torah does not state that for a person to claim to be God is in itself blasphemy.

    All in all, some errors in the law as it developed at the time of Jesus, not some errors in the Torah itself, plus quite a bit of human jealousy, resulted in Jesus’ condemnation. But these errors were not “tragicomic bumblings.” It wasn’t the beliefs of the Pharisees per se that made Jesus unacceptable to Judaism, because Jesus wasn’t unacceptable to Judaism.

    The relations between the Jewish Christians and all other Jews had some ups and downs until the fall of Jerusalem when it really went down. And it became even worse after the bar Kochba revolt. Before 66 the religious leaders did try to crush the Jewish church but there were many who deeply respected it. Josephus’ account of the death of James indicates that he was so well loved that many Pharisees were quite opposed to and angry with the High Priest who had him killed. All in all, the divide between Christianity and Judaism originated from some bad human laws and some human jealousy and hatred on the part of the Jewish leaders. They (and the leaders who followed them) were able to eventually make the divide uncrossable and make their hatred of Jesus official. The increasingly Gentile church was also much to blame for seeking to remove every trace of Judaism from Christianity and alienating Jewish Christians. But it was hardly anything intrinsic to Judaism or the Tanakh that brought about the final rejection of Jesus by official Judaism.

    “God had decades to go over minutia with Moses like the ark of acacia wood (two and a half cubits in length, a cubit and a half in width, and a cubit and a half its height) but couldn’t find time to say, ‘BTW, I’m actually three distinct units of consciousness that mysteriously share a common essence. . .’ ”

    Absolutely! It wasn’t God’s time yet. This was a mystery hidden from ages past, as the NT writers would put it, to be revealed when the time was right. Moses and the Israelites only knew that God had revealed a few things about himself like his goodness and justice and that he shouldn’t be depicted by graven images, etc. They didn’t know whether God was absolutely one in personhood and at that time they didn’t need to know. But think about when God spoke of himself as “we” or when God said “let us make man in our image.” The readers or hearers may have wondered exactly what God’s nature was really like. Might this strange grammatical usage God had allowed to enter the Torah express an understanding of God’s nature which God had simply wanted to hint at? There are secret or hidden things which belong to God, God told Moses, don’t bother with them unless I tell you more about them. It is rather that which God has revealed to the Israelites, he says, which belongs to them (Deut 29.29[28]). If God wants to disclose his secrets, who are we to tell God when he should do so?

    “According to John 12:37-41, the Jews COULDN'T believe so as to ‘fulfill’ Isaiah 6 (‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts’). On the one hand their benighted unbelief in the face of so much evidence is condemned; on the other, it's cited as evidence for the truth of what they didn't believe. Please. Does anything not count as evidence?”

    Other passages which repeat Jesus’ statement (Paul later repeated it as well) point out that it was by the people’s choice that they disbelieved; they blinded their own eyes because they did not want to believe (Mt 13.15, Ac 28.27). There was good evidence then just as there is now.

    “God also didn't have enough time to go over what the Koran & Book of Mormon reveal.”

    If they reveal anything and if the NT reveals anything must be determined by evidence. Again, I’ve not presented any of the evidence for Jesus’ messiahship or teachings or that of his followers. I’ll do that next time if you like. If we are commandeering Aron’s web page too much, we can find another medium to discuss this.

    I doubt that you can come up with any evidence for Tzvi’s claimed miracles.

    “1) People suffered hardships to follow him. 2) Nathan of Gaza was a renowned Kabbalah expert and he, like Paul, had a dream! 3) Tzvi still has followers. . . . 4) Why would they make it up? 5) If Tzvi did not convert to Islam then your faith is in vain. ;o)”

    1) How is this evidence? Christians don’t offer this as evidence for their claims. That those who claimed to have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection suffered while continuing to hold to their claims is.

    2) Paul had dreams but it was a vision which initiated his belief in Jesus.

    3) This is evidence? Flat-earthers still have followers.

    4) Power, money. People want the Messiah to come and bring peace on earth. If the leaders of the new cult think they can get away with it, why wouldn’t they make it up. They get a built in following to adore and take care of them? Only once it gets a little uncomfortable do the false Messiah’s show their true colors.

    5) How is this evidence?

    “My point with Tzvi was that miracles aren’t the issue. If anyone were to found a new religion tomorrow via miracles and justify it with some protean theology, Christians would deride it as the work of Satan.”

    No, we would look at the evidence for the miracles. Okay, some Christians might reject it out of hand, but they shouldn’t. And after investigating we may indeed conclude that some religions are demonic. The moral content and the moral results of the leaders’ lives should be a good indicator. If we have no such indicators and yet we have good evidence from miracles, the Christian (like anyone else) should consider this as good reason to question or modify their own beliefs.

    “Deuteronomy 13 states that some miracles are a test from God to see if Israel will remain loyal to the Torah.”

    Right, so if you run into a miracle claim which contradicts belief in Ha Shem, you should reject it. You should however still evaluate it if you are able to. And of course I’ve claimed that the Christian claims do not oppose belief in Ha Shem.

    “Am I under the obligation to examine every claim involving miracles or addendums to the Tanakh? There aren’t enough hours in life!”

    Since the prophets often added information not found in the Torah, they were certainly giving addendums to it. And Deuteronomy 18 said that anyone, at least any Jew, claiming to have a prophetic word must be heard and tested. A fulfilled prophecy is a miracle. With as few testable miracle claims as are out there and accessible to us, we easily have enough “hours in life” to consider them.

    “Regarding Leviticus 17:11, ‘The Scriptures explicitly state that the forgiveness of sin is achieved through sincere repentance. This teaching is repeated many times throughout the Hebrew Scriptures in a clear and unambiguous manner (Deuteronomy 30:1 10, Ezekiel 18:21 23, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33:11, 14 16, 19, Isaiah 1:16 18, 55:7, Hosea 14:2 10, Jonah 3:10, Micah 6:7, 8, Psalm 51:19). These passages directly address the issue of forgiveness from sin, yet they make no mention of a blood offering. Some of these passages actually preclude the requirement of a blood offering as a necessary component in the process of forgiveness from sin.’ ”

    Deuteronomy 30 is speaking of God returning exiled Israelites to their land if they repent. It says nothing about whether sacrifices must be made. The latter can also be said about Ezekiel 18 and 33 and Hosea 14. Since Leviticus 17.11 says they are necessary for atonement, it should be assumed that these passages also assume it. You don’t need every passage that applies to a particular subject to repeat the obvious if it is clearly stated elsewhere.

    Isaiah 1 and Micah 6 simply say that if there is no change of heart and no attempt to live morally with one another, burnt offerings are useless outward ceremonies and God does not want them. They are clearly not contradicting the Torah teaching of the need for animal sacrifice. Psalm 51 says much the same thing. God wants first of all soul-felt repentance. But then, the psalmist says, he will bring burnt offerings. Notice that the sacrifices are still needed. Yet how easily he could have neglected to have mentioned this since the need for sacrifice was so obvious to him and anyone else who knew the law of Moses. Jonah 3 speaks of God refraining from destroying the Ninevites when they repented and turned from their evil ways. Not being Israelites, God did not tell them they must offer animal sacrifices for forgiveness. I think I mentioned last time a Christian account of how those Gentiles living before the time of Jesus are made right with God. It still indirectly requires blood sacrifice, that of Jesus. So none “of these passages actually preclude the requirement of a blood offering as a necessary component in the process of forgiveness from sin.”

    “ ‘Yet on the basis of the misinterpretation of one solitary verse (Leviticus 17:11) from a passage that does not directly address the issue of forgiveness from sin at all, . . .’ ”

    The entire passage addresses several issue but this verse specifically addresses atonement or forgiveness of sins. There is no misunderstanding of this verse. It couldn’t be clearer.

    “Where do they [the Torah or the prophets] say he could [come to earth more than once], or that it should be thousands of years apart?”

    Luke and Paul talk about the time of the Gentiles. This could be an entire era. We’re told that certain events will follow the time that Jerusalem is trampled underfoot by the Gentiles. It seems entirely feasible that this age or era could separate two major appearances of the Messiah in the Jewish ages since the Messiah is primarily a figure of Jewish import. The Gentiles are graphed into the Israel of God. I’m not sure if the prophets speak of this time but the NT does. If we have good evidence for the NT, this should be enough to see that this could be God’s plan.

    “You seem to be arguing that the Torah and prophets never preclude X, therefore X is distinctly possible.”

    That’s exactly what I’m saying. I’ve simply refuted your arguments that the Torah and prophets are incompatible with Jesus being the Messiah or even God incarnate. We could deal with positive evidence whenever you like. But for now I think it is very clear that there is nothing in the Hebrew scripture to preclude many forms of Christian orthodoxy.

    “How is Jesus responsible for gathering exiles to Israel?”

    If the Messiah is now with God and the process of history is under God’s control, then the Messiah is working with God as history is being manipulated for this purpose.

    “This [Jesus’ purported unfulfilled prophecy of his return during the lifetimes of his hearers] is a can of worms for Christianity.”

    Whether a difficult or easy problem, you still have not shown any problem with my answer. I don’t recall that you were able to refute Aron’s argument either.

    “Does anything constitute evidence against it?”

    Are you telling me that you can’t think of any good evidence against this view so you want me to try to give you some arguments? Well, biblical scholars have some objections. If you can show me that the Aramaic term does not likely mean “race” that would be evidence. I don’t think you can. F. F. Bruce had objections (See the IVP book, The Hard Sayings of Jesus). I’m getting tired of writing though so I’ll leave it to you find it and give it if you think it has force.

  13. Johannes says:

    JPH's position of absolute epistemic insulation of the Jewish people, i.e. that even a resurrection from the dead performed or even undergone by Jesus cannot prove his claim of divinity, is untenable because the resurrection of a human being is a work necessarily performed directly by God. Therefore, assuming that God performs the resurrection of a human being R through the intervention of a human being S (of "Servant") who claims to speak and act in the name of God - like the prophet Elisha (2 Ki 4:32-35), Jesus (Lk 7:11-17; Lk 8:49-56; Jn 11:38-44), and the apostle Peter (Acts 9:36-42) - we can interpret that fact in one of two possible ways:

    A. God, by performing that work that only He is capable of doing, is unequivocally certifying to all witnesses that S has his "seal of approval", i.e. that S indeed speaks and acts in the name of God, so that what S said was true.

    B. God, by performing that work that only He is capable of doing, is setting up a trap to all witnesses, acting directly in order to lead them to falsehood. This is against the very notion of God as Absolute Truth and Good.

    Position B is even more untenable when the work in question is the resurrection of God's servant S himself, which in the case of Jesus is the event at the foundation of Christian faith. Posing that, by resurrecting Jesus to a glorious state, God is not conferring his "seal of approval" to everything that Jesus said and did, is against the very notion of God as Absolute Truth and Good.

  14. Aron Wall says:

    Dennis, [and also JPH, but I found it more convenient to pick a specific person to address]

    You are of course welcome to continue debating this issue here as long as you please. That's part of what the comment sections are here for!

    It is true that some aspects of your post seem to me to be (as you say) heterodox, but I don't feel the need to get sidetracked discussing it. But I don't think it's fair to call the belief that Hell is eternal a "straw man", since this term usually refers to positions that nobody believes, whereas your view is a minority amongst Christian theologians. However, the serious point here is that JPH should spend his energy engaging with whatever version of Christianity he personally believes to be the most plausible. (Which version that is, is up to him to decide, but as I said it is common ground that whatever else God does at the Final Judgement, he will act with perfect justice and not condemn the innocent.) Sometimes the most plausible version of an idea is not quite the same as the one presented to you, so you have to do some of the work yourself; some people call this process "steel manning" the idea.

    For this reason I think his comment that:

    Don’t worry, a council of Gentiles will hash this out 300 years later, then Martin Luther will set everything straight 1,200 years after that.

    is really quite irrelevant to this discussion. The Council of Nicea and St. Martin Luther were either correctly or incorrectly interpreting the New Testament. In the former case, the relevant doctrines are already found in the New Testament; in the latter case their interpretation is spurious and should be rejected. Either way, they are not that important when deciding whether Christianity is true in the first place. Luther wasn't trying to start a new religion, he was a reformer trying to reestablish what he considered to the teachings of the original apostolic doctrines (much like Ezra re-established Torah worship).

    By the way, I wouldn't say that my Bayesian analysis provides any new evidence that wasn't there before. It is merely an attempt to numerically quantify how much evidence different arguments provide. People turned off by math can ignore these aspects of my post, but everyone needs some way to decide which things are the most important. A single apparent contradiction in the New Testament isn't enough to rule out Christianity for the same reason the apparent contradictions in the Torah don't rule out Judiasm. Things are not always as they appear, and some amount of charity when reading ancient texts is always called for.

    The reason why I don't buy the "race" interpretation of the "generation" passage, is that it seems like a somewhat unremarkable thing to say. "Truly I say unto you" suggests that what follows should be some kind of remarkable statement, not just the belief (already implied by the Tanakh) that no one will have succeeded in killing all of the Jews when the End Times come.

    Also, I didn't bring up Lev 17:11 for a reason, because this verse is frequently used by Christian evangelists trying to convert Jews in a manner I consider overly literalistic. Not all of the sacrifices in the Torah involve blood; for example those who were too poor to afford an animal sacrifice were allowed to bring "a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering" (Lev 5:11) to be offered on the altar. The correct Christian theology is not that the sacrifice of Christ meets the technical provisions for a Torah sacrifice, pretty obviously it doesn't since human sacrifice was strictly forbidden (but see Gen 22). Rather, the sacrifices were symbols pointing, in various ways, to the suffering of Christ on the cross as an innocent victim (which is what the requirement that sacrificial animals be without physical blemishes symbolized). Obviously Jesus was not offered on the alter of the Temple by the High Priest as if he were an animal; that would have been an abomination which God would never have commanded. Instead he willingly suffered persecution at the hands of the guilty for teaching the truth--just as many Jews have been martyred through history despite their innocence (which modern Jews consider to be a form of sacrifice, since the term "Holocaust" means a burnt offering.)

    Thus, JPH is absolutely correct that, in the pages of the Tanakh (especially in the Prophets), sacrifice is regarded as inessential compared to what God really wants, which is true repentance. In fact, the number of passages on this theme is so extensive that he missed some of my favorites! Of course, the New Testament teaches the exact same thing, that people must repent of their sins to be forgiven, and that this is far more important than any amount of sacrifice.

    What I don't understand is how JPH can then go on to criticize the Book of Hebrews for saying the exact same thing he is saying. Once you admit that sacrifice is unimportant compared to repentance and obedience, it follows necessarily that (compared to those things) sacrifice is weak and useless. It may be valuable for its symbolism, but not because it has any kind of actual power to make people holy and righteous. So I think that JPH is failing to take seriously the implications of his actual position.

    Of course we also find in the Tanakh (especially in the Torah) many dramatic examples of God changing his mind about punishing people, as a result of somebody offering sacrifices atoning for their sin. To me the most striking example is Numbers 16:41-50 (where even though Moses tells Aaron to make atonement in defiance of God's command, God still listens to them), but this is just one of many examples. Clearly something important is being symbolized by all this atonement business, or God wouldn't keep approving it with dramatic object lessons.

    Superficially, this seems like a contradiction---sometimes sacrifice is treated as super-important, on the other hand it is meaningless in comparison with living a righteous life. But if Christianity is true, this contradiction is resolved. God approved the sacrifices in the Tanakh as a symbol of what was to come (Jesus), but because they were merely symbols, they are no subsitute for righteous living. But Jesus' sacrifice is effective, not because it replaces repentance and obedience (it doesn't) but because it provides the groundwork which enables sinners to truly repent and so be reconciled to God.

    JPH,
    I don't think any of those things you listed for Tzvi counts as a miracle.

    I understand that God becoming Incarnate is a pretty huge paradigm shift, and I sympathize with your sense of surprise given what had been revealed before. If I were a Monotheist living before Christ, and you asked me whether God even could become Incarnate as a human being, my first response would be to say "No!" But if you pressed me, and said "Well God is omnipotent, so he can do anything", then I would have to modify my position to "I don't know." So there you have a point, and the only thing I can say in reply is that there are many hints in the Tanakh (some of them pointed out by St. Dennis) that something like this might be possible.

    But I think this particular argument is extremely weak:

    You trust their determination that Jonah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah were the real deal, that Ecclesiastes should make the final cut despite no little controversy, but not to figure out whether the Messiah has arrived (or what repentance is, or what the absolute unity of God involves, or what the Torah says)? Such an extreme misunderstanding of their own religion, such catastrophic tragicomic bumbling should cast lethal doubt on any reliability of the “Old Testament.” It’s like trusting Marshall Applewhite about Heaven’s Gate despite his overestimating the significance of comet Hale-Bopp.

    The problem with it is that, even according to Jewish tradition, Israel was extremely fallible when it comes to recongizing prophets and rulers. The Jews rejected Moses many times and would even have stoned him to death if God hadn't intervened (Num 14:10). 10 of the 12 tribes rebelled against David's dynasty (the Samaritans don't accept it to this day). Ahab and Jezebel tried to kill Elijah; Jeremiah was mocked, imprisoned and persecuted (some legends say he was killed by stoning); Isaiah was sawed into two pieces (according to the Talmud), and so on! The Tanakh calls the Jews a "stiff-necked" people for a reason. When did God ever say that Israel (or the rabbis) are infallible?

    Of course, there have also been many generations of righteous Jews (for example during the time of Ezra, or the Maccabees), and we Christians are very grateful for their efforts and wisdom in selecting and preserving the books of the prophets who lived in previous generations. (And I am certainly not saying that people are morally responsible for sins committed by their ancestors! Given the history of anti-Semitism, this point must be emphasized very strongly!) My point is not to blame the Jews for everything, just to note that "extreme misunderstanding of their own religion" seems pretty common when you compare to the rest of the Bible.

    I also don't think the Deut 30 prophecy cuts in quite the direction you'd want it to. First of all, the whole passage has already been fulfilled once, when the Jews were sent into Exile for 70 years for abominable sins such as oppression, idolatry, child-sacrifice etc. Dozens of prophets warned them again and again, but they wouldn't listen. Then, after they repented God restored the Temple and their nation, and reformers like Ezra taught them to "obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today" (30:2).

    But, both Jewish and Christian tradition seem to allow the possibility of a second fulfilment of the prophecy, this time associated with a second judgement of Israel (when their Temple and Nation were again destroyed, and eventually they went again into Exile). This period of exile lasted for at least 1800 years or so (depending on whether one thinks Modern Israel counts as a restoration). Now the Jews were only exiled for 70 years for things like sacrificing their children to Moloch. So what could trigger an exile for thousands of years? Funny how this time there were no prophets of any kind to warn the Jews about what specifically they were doing wrong and to urge them to repent (unless Christianity is true, in which case there would be John the Baptist, Jesus, and the preaching of the Apostles for 40 years).

    Let's see if we can figure out what the triggering event was. The Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. I'm not sure that all the stories in the Talmud are historically reliable, but it is interesting that it states that there were signs of God's displeasure with the Temple for 40 years prior to its destruction. So that means that whatever this something was, it probably occured around 30 AD. Can you think of any candidates for that event? I can only think of one...

    In any case, Jewish tradition admits that the Jews must have done something to displease God at around that time, in order to be sent into Exile (even if it identifies a different candidate for the triggering sin). So, why should we trust the exact same generation who committed that sin, to say who is (or is not) a true prophet sent by God?

    Although St. Dennis also makes a good point that many of the Jews did accept Jesus, it's just we started calling that group of Jews (and their converts) "Christians".

    Johannes,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree, although it is still necessary to explain what is going on in Deut 13 passage when God speaks about testing people. How is that compatible with God being the Truth?

    (I think I would argue that it's not that God actively performs fake miracles in order to try to fool Israel, rather he allows the situation to happen naturally and then providentially uses it as a test. But that would imply that if the miracle is big ENOUGH, so that it would be extremely unlikely to be a fake, and disproportionate for a mere test, then we should reconsider whether the prophet might still be teaching the truth, especially if it is controversial whether it really contradicts Monotheism.)

  15. JPH says:

    “Did the forefathers of those at Sinai worship a god-man who identified as God’s son?”

    No, as I said earlier, that God would someday become a man was not revealed to them at that time.

    Then they are forbidden to worship Jesus and everyone else whom their forefathers didn’t know. Game over. Do not pass go. This is the standard of idolatry. http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=5&CHAPTER=13
    The Hare Krishnas make the same argument you do, saying that the Israelites didn’t know they were really worshiping Krishna: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaudiya_Vaishnavism Anybody can make this claim! The Torah anticipates this maneuver: “Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.” (Exodus 23:13) I am under no obligation to investigate everything under the sun to see if God’s standards of idolatry have been updated (or that maybe it was someone else and He had to temporarily fly under a different name).

    They only knew that they worshiped the God who had only to a limited degree revealed himself to them. It’s only after the time of Jesus that it was revealed that this is who they worshipped.

    Limited!?

    The Lord would speak to Moses FACE TO FACE, as one speaks to a friend. (Deut 33:11)

    And there was NO OTHER PROPHET who arose in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew FACE TO FACE. (Deut 34:10)

    Christians cite Deut 18 as evidence for Jesus. What does Deut 34:10 say about the hierarchy of prophets? No prophet is greater than Moses and there’s an end of it. No one had his access to God. There was nothing "limited" about it!

    But notice that the Torah does not say that God cannot or will not become a man.

    Descendants of Jacob, I am the LORD All-Powerful, AND I NEVER CHANGE. (Malachi 3:6)

    But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. (1 Kings 8:27)

    So whenever God says X it’s only true at the immediate instant He says it? (If that’s true about Deut 5:18 I need to make a few calls.) Necessity is the mother of bad theology. This is what Christians have to say. Why wouldn’t the Almighty simply have said “God is not YET a man”?

    Such a man would be sinless* and thus cannot lie.

    That’s not what God is saying through Balaam. Rather, he means that ALL humans lie and ALL humans need to repent. That’s one reason God can’t be a man.

    Paul never wrote Hebrews but why do you think the writer of this book must receive authority from the Torah to say this?

    Because the Torah is the only self-authenticating revelation in human history: http://www.mesora.org/god/ God wrote the Torah. Moses was His stenographer. The prophets do not have the same status. They were written under the spirit of nevu’ah (prophecy). Notice how NONE of them say that someday the Torah will be “fulfilled.” He would have been put to death and his writing would not have been canonized by the ‘Anshei-HaKeneset HaGedolah. Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Bahai, and Mormonism are piggybacking on the self-authenticating evidence http://ohr.edu/special/books/truth.htm of the Torah and claiming they have the last word. The Torah is THE Revelation. The NT does not have the authority to reinterpret it unless the Torah says so. (If you want to hang your hat on Deut 18, don’t forget Deut 34:10.)

    I sense in your words an authoritarianism which I would claim is inappropriate to a thinking person.

    Thank you! It’s tough being a conservative surrounded by radicals. ;o) If it's new, it ain't true.

    I think I mentioned last time a Christian account of how those Gentiles living before the time of Jesus are made right with God. It still indirectly requires blood sacrifice, that of Jesus. So none “of these passages actually preclude the requirement of a blood offering as a necessary component in the process of forgiveness from sin.”

    You can’t assume the truth of your conclusion as a premise. The Book of Jonah says the Ninevites repented and God forgave them – without any sacrifices of any kind whatsoever. This is evidence against Christianity. You can’t assert the Christian account as an argument for Christianity. How is this supposed to convince me?

    “How is Jesus responsible for gathering exiles to Israel?”

    If the Messiah is now with God and the process of history is under God’s control, then the Messiah is working with God as history is being manipulated for this purpose.

    Again, you can’t assume the truth of your conclusion as a premise. You cited Israel as EVIDENCE for Christianity. When I asked you to enlarge on your position you assert a conditional: IF Jesus is the Messiah THEN history is being manipulated for this purpose. So if your conclusion is true, it follows that your conclusion is true.

    “Where do they [the Torah or the prophets] say he could [come to earth more than once], or that it should be thousands of years apart?”

    Luke and Paul talk about the time of the Gentiles. … I’m not sure if the prophets speak of this time but the NT does.

    You can’t assume the truth of your position as a premise. Of course the NT says this. IT HAS TO.

    I doubt that you can come up with any evidence for Tzvi’s claimed miracles.

    Evidence seems to be in the eye of the beholder. (The ten tribes of Israel were spotted, he walked through a cloud of fire, Elijah appeared, etc.) I’m not even tempted by these claims. He didn’t fulfill the Messianic prophecies and he tried changing these: http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm Game over. Post hoc protean theologies don’t change anything. Tzvi makes Christians uncomfortable because the difference is one of degree, not kind.

    Whether a difficult or easy problem, you still have not shown any problem with my answer. I don’t recall that you were able to refute Aron’s argument either.

    How would I refute this without a time machine? Why wouldn’t Jesus' followers be more meticulous with (arguably) the single most important prediction he made? (I should have chosen Matthew 10:23 as an example.)

    *I don’t mean this to be disrespectful but your position invites these queries, part of why it’s unfathomable that God is/was a human. If Jesus was truly a man did he ever have lustful thoughts? If not, he wasn’t a man. That’s part of the package, intrinsic to the misery & joy of being human. A huge chunk of waking life consists in an endless barrage of lustful thoughts. Per Jesus’ standard (Matt 5:28) this is as bad as adultery. How do you square this triangle? If Satan tempted him with food, why not other drives?

    If our discussion is reaching the point of diminishing returns, this is my choice for the single best living proponent of Torah Judaism: http://redneck_rastafarian.tripod.com/ and he’s a Gentile.

  16. Johannes says:

    Aron, you raise a very good point, which I had already addressed in the blog I linked to my comments in this thread. Therefore I will just paste the text that addresses it.

    Thesis 11: The signs or wonders that can be performed by a magician, a false prophet, a false christ, an antichrist or "the" antichrist, as support for an instigation to go after false gods, or to disobey God, or to deny Jesus Christ, are not performed directly by God. Rather, they are performed by an evil angel, whom God has permitted to do it, by his own power.

    It is clear from the Bible that an angel, either good or evil, can affect the material world by his own power if God permits him to do it. Job 1:6 - 2:7 describes some of the signs or wonders that an evil angel can perform if permitted by God: fire falls from the sky, a great wind blows, Job is struck with loathsome sores. Paul describes the antichrist thus:

    "Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." (2 Thess 2:8-10, quoted from NASB)

    Thesis 12: A sign from God is distinguishable from a sign from a false prophet, a false christ, an antichrist or "the" antichrist, on two levels: degree of power and wisdom displayed by the agent, and character of the sign.

    Focusing first on the degree of power and wisdom displayed by the agent, clearly the resurrection of a human being stands on top. This is evident at the physical level since, in order to bring a dead body, human or animal, back to biological life, the acting entity must rearrange all atoms and electrons in the body ("restore the photo") and immediately restart the coordinated "motion" of all those atoms and electrons ("restart the movie"). Doing that requires an extremely high degree of power and wisdom, the higher the more complex the organism to be resurrected is, with the complexity being maximum in the case of human beings due to the development of their central nervous system. It is highly doubtful that a non-divine entity can do just that.

    But to bring a dead human being back to human life, not just biological life, the entity must also infuse to the resurrected body a spiritual soul, which could in principle be the same soul that had left that body at the time of death, the soul of another dead person, or a new soul created out of nothing. Otherwise the result of the resurrection would not be a human being with intellectual capabilities but the metaphysical, cognitive and behavioral equivalent of a Neanderthal, if biblical Adam was y-chromosomal Adam, or a Homo Habilis, if biblical Adam was a Homo Antecessor or Ergaster, which I strongly doubt, or, to use a literary figure familiar to Jewish readers, a golem. And infusing a spiritual soul to a human body is a work that can be performed only by God, who is also the only One who:

    - can create a soul out of nothing, a point relevant in the case of the conception of a new human being, and
    - has in his hands the souls of the departed (which is obvious but also explicitely stated in Wis 3:1), a point relevant in the case of a resurrection.

    Thus, the resurrection of a human being is a work necessarily performed directly by God, who by that work would be unequivocally certifying in the eyes of the witnesses that the servant through whose intervention God is performing that work has God's "seal of approval", like the prophet Elisha (2 Ki 4:32-35), Jesus (Lk 7:11-17; Lk 8:49-56; Jn 11:38-44), and the apostle Peter (Acts 9:36-42). Thus, if Jesus, by performing resurrections, shows to have God's seal of approval, then what he said was true. Therefore if Jesus claimed divinity, He is God.

    Clearly the maximum "seal of approval" that God can confer to a servant of His, as Christians believe He did to his Servant par excellence, Jesus, is to resurrect him to a glorious state. We will not take this event into consideration here because we are dealing primarily with the epistemic situation of the members of the Sanhedrin at the time of Jesus' trial.

    Focusing now on the character of the sign, there is a basic difference between the signs of the Christ and the signs of a false prophet or antichrist, which is evident in the passages when Jesus refuses to perform a sign requested of Him.

    First, when tempted in the desert after his baptism in the Jordan. Jesus refused to command stones to become loaves of bread or to throw Himself down the pinnacle of the Temple (Mt 4:1-7), either possibility being a sensationalistic exhibition that would be an easy way to gain followers.

    Second, when the Pharisees, on one occasion with the scribes (Mt 12:38-40) and on another with the Sadducees (Mt 16:1-4), asked Jesus to give them a sign from heaven. Mark describes the reaction that the request elicited in Jesus' spirit:

    The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation." (Mk 8:11-12)

    Actually, the "sign from heaven" that the Pharisees asked Jesus to provide was precisely the kind described in Job 1:16. Thus, it would not have been proof that Jesus had come from God but rather the opposite.

    What these passages have in common is that Jesus consistently refuses to give a sign which is primarily a sign and not a work of God in itself. And what are the works of God that Jesus performs? The works that show God's merciful and compassionate love towards man, in Hebrew hesed or rahamim, as Jesus replied to the disciples of John the Baptist: "the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the good news preached to them" (Mt 11:5). And when Jesus did multiply the loaves of bread to feed the people, He did that after having fed them with the word of God by teaching them for hours (Mk 6:34-25). Thus Jesus performed the works of God described in Is 26:19, 29:18, 35:5-6 and 42:7, and in Ps 146:7-9. And therefore He can justly say to all men, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles:

    "If I do not do the works of my Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father." (Jn 10:37-38).

  17. Johannes says:

    @JPH: the two passages that you quoted in your last comment to disprove Dennis' assertion "that the Torah does not say that God cannot or will not become a man" do not actually disprove that assertion. Moreover, the apostle James states the same as Malachi 3:6 in different words:

    "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." (James 1:17)

    The key is to distinguish between the divine nature or essence and the divine Persons. Each of the divine Persons Is eternally the divine nature or essence (in different modes of Being), but one divine Person can assume a created nature by an act ("Incarnation") that does NOT change the divine nature!

    At this point one could ask what "assume" really means, or in other words why Jesus' created human nature is not a human person like your human nature. This would amount to describing the mystery of the Incarnation (if considered in fieri) or the Hypostatic Union (if considered in esse) in philosophical terms. Which is actually possible if you hold the real distinction between essence and act of being ("actus essendi" or "esse", commonly referred to as "existence"). Note that this real distinction is a purely philosophical issue.

    While every created being is a composite of an essence and a contingent act of being different from the essence, in the case of God, because of absolute divine simplicity, the divine essence is the Subsistent Act of Being Itself ("Ipsum Esse Subsistens"), so that each divine Person is the Subsistent Act of Being (in different modes). Therefore, the assumption of a human nature by a divine Person means that such human nature exists, from the moment of its creation, by the Subsistent Act of Being which that divine Person eternally Is. And that's why the created human nature of Jesus is not a human person: because it does not exist by its own contingent act of being, like your human nature, but by the Subsistent Act of Being of the Son, or even better, by the Subsistent Act of Being which the Son eternally Is.

    Note 1: I try to capitalize the verb "to be" when referring to Subsistent Being.

    Note 2, to Christian readers: the distinction of the divine Persons by their mode of Being (tropos hyparxeos) is a notion from the Cappadocian Fathers (specifically from St. Basil of Caesarea and his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa), and has nothing to do with the modalist heresy which held that Father and Son were just modes of appearing of the only divine Person.

  18. Aron Wall says:

    JPH,
    1. Isn't the most obvious interpretation of Deut 34:10 that no prophet had yet arisen like Moses, during whatever period of time that particular verse of the Torah was written down? That would make it similar to 1 Kings 8:8 and Joshua 4:9, which describe things that were true when they are written, but are no longer the case.

    (It seems obvious to me that the account of Moses' death must have been written by somebody else, perhaps Joshua, after he died. I know that many Jews believe that Moses wrote literally everything in the Torah himself, but that seems quite unlikely. There is certainly nothing in the Torah itself that states that every single letter was written down by Moses, and this particular chapter reads like a historical retrospective, not a future prophecy. Unlike several other parts of the Torah, which do sound like prophecies.)

    In any case, the verse cannot possibly mean that a prophet like Moses will never arise in Israel, because Deut 18 quite explicitly states that the prophet it refers to will be like Moses (at least, in certain respects). Your interpretation of Deut 34:10 would make the Torah contradict itself on this point.

    2. Obviously, the most important prediction of Jesus is his own Crucifixion and Resurrection, not Matthew 10:23 whose meaning is relatively obscure (it is not even clear that this verse refers to the Second Coming). As for the Second Coming, Jesus also said fairly explicitly that nobody would be able to predict that time, not even himself (Mark 13:32). Obviously, this means it cannot be used as positive evidence for Christianity, but it also cannot be used against it. One must accept or reject it on the basis of other arguments. As the book you gave me to read says:

    On the other hand, some of the portions of the descriptive content of the Torah cannot be investigated directly: what happens to the soul after death; all predictions still to be fulfilled in the future, for example, there will be a Messiah one day, haven't occurred yet. Those that can be investigated directly, we will investigate. What about the ones that cannot be investigated directly?

    The answer here is as follows. We have a single coordinated body of information. Whenever you have a coordinated body of information, some of which you can test directly and some of which you cannot test directly, if the portion that can be tested directly tests true, then that gives credibility to the rest.

    Your comment about time travel ignores my actual argument. I cited several examples of prophecies in the Tanakh where the same sort of apparent chronological jumbling appears, in a way that is accepted to be true even by Jews. It's important not to have a double standard where you accept all the subtle theories of the rabbis about how to reconcile apparent contradictions in the Torah and Tanakh and Talmud, but reject all of the possible explanations of apparent contradictions in the New Testament out of hand. "Do not have two differing weights in your bag--one heavy, one light" (Deut 25:10).

    3. Traditional Christian theology does not teach that the divine nature changed in any way when God became a man. We believe that Jesus is simultaneously fully God and fully human, and that his divine nature is unchangable. Thus, he added a human nature, but he did not change or modify in any way his divine nature which we (like Jews and Muslims) believe is metaphysically incapable of being changed.

    Regarding lust and other impulses, Christians draw a distinction between temptation (which is not a sin), and voluntarily succumbing to temptation (which is a sin). Jesus had the former, but not the latter:

    For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
    (Heb 4:15)

    Merely having involuntary sexual thoughts, outside your control, does not make you guilty of transgression. But, choosing to gratify lustful thoughts, in a way that violates some commandment of God, is wrong! And this is so even if the deliberate indulgence takes the form of a fantasy taking place entirely in your own mind. This teaching is implied not just by Matt 5:28, but also by the Tenth Commandment of the Decalogue: "Do not covet your neighbor's wife". (Obviously Jesus was not referring to the case of legitimate sexual desire for your own wife, because that would not be adultery even if you actually did it! Although Jesus himself was unmarried, so this would not apply to his own case.)

    Now it is clear that somebody who never sinned sexually would not, for that reason alone, cease to be fully human. For human beings are created in the image of God, and God does not sin. If anything, the sin which so frequently defiles us makes us less human. For humans were not created to be inhuman to each other. If sinning were a necessary prerequisite for being fully human, then we would all be morally obliged to commit at least one sin (since it is God's will that human beings exist). But that would be absurd, since a thing cannot be both required and prohibited.

  19. Johannes says:

    @JPH, regarding the standards of idolatry, it is clear why a Hindu does not worship the true God while a Muslim does [1] [2], and it is not a matter of names. Rather, it is because Hinduism is usually a form of panentheism while Islam is classical monotheism.

    Thus, in the most common Hindu school, the non-dualist Advaita Vedanta, the human soul is identical with the "supreme" being: Atman is Brahman. Clearly a "supreme" being which "drops" parts which then forget that they were really part of the "supreme" being is not the Subsistent Being of classical monotheism. And the Hindu school whose description you linked to, while not being pure monism as Advaita Vedanta, still holds that, in quality, the soul (jiva) is identical to God.

    Now, Christians do not hold that the Son is another deity aside from the Creator, but that He is consubstantial to God the Father. Which is asserted by Jesus both by stating "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30) and by applying to Himself the proper Name of God in the first person revealed in Ex 3:14: Ehyeh, "I Am" (Jn 8:24,28,58 and 13:19). This is particularly evident in the first, second and fourth verses, in which Jesus notes the importance of {believing/knowing} that "He Is", echoing Isaiah 43:10 y 48:12.

    [1] I specifically mention Muslims because there is rabbinic consensus that Islam is not even shituf, much less avodah zarah.

    [2] I suppose that, from the viewpoint of Judaism, Muslims worship the true God in the sense of what God Is, but not in the sense of what God thinks or does in history. Which is the case from the viewpoint of Christianity.

  20. Mactoul says:

    JPH,
    "Christians cite Deut 18 as evidence for Jesus."
    Bible-worshipers may do so. But Christians do not need for the Church is THE witness for Jesus. The argument is not from the Bible to Jesus, rather from the Church to Bible and Jesus.

  21. JPH says:

    There is a LOT to digest here, and I thank everyone for their responses!

    This has been a big week. Ed Feser is (possibly) refuting my favorite argument for theism: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/09/yeah-but-is-it-actually-actually.html This is bad news, even if he's right. The Kalam is so intuitive & plausible. It's easy to follow and tempting to skeptics in a way that Aquinas' version isn't.

    Johannes - I'm a big fan of First Things but I've never read The Trial of Jesus. I look forward to it and your response.

    Aron - I'm haunted by this:

    If it weren't for Jesus, I wouldn't even be arguing with you about the Torah! I guess I'd be off in some forest somewhere, sacrificing to a pagan god.

    No, none of us would be here. History would have gone off in some entirely different direction and our ancestors wouldn't have mingled. Divine Providence is weird!

  22. Aron Wall says:

    JPH,
    It says good things about you that you are willing to jump into the fray and argue with us! My hope and prayer is that God, who is the Truth, will reveal to us his glory, and will gently correct whichever one of us has misunderstood his revelation. That goes for me too, even though I obviously have strong beliefs about this matter.

    There is no shame in taking sufficient time off to ponder these things. And please feel welcome to come back here, either to discuss this issue more, or to talk about anything else.

    If I were a Jew, I think I would also feel pretty weird about most people in the world being primarily familiar with my God and Scriptures via what I consider a heretical and semi-polytheistic offshoot. (I'm trying to imagine how I would feel if I were one of 16 million Nicene Christians living among 2 billion Mormons...) I guess from your point of view, however wrong Christianity is, it seems to be at least in some sense part of God's providential plan to extend his fame to the nations.

    I was reading that kalam thread too. While the universe probably is finite in time, I've never been very impressed by the "no actual infinity" arguments for this premise, given that Cantorian set theory appears to be a consistent way to treat infinite sets without any inconsistencies.

    (At least, so long as the infinite sets have limited cardinality like \aleph_0 or c, rather than being things like the set of all ordinals, for which vicious paradoxes still arise. (This suggests that maybe Aristotle was right that certain infinite classes can only exist "potentially", not "actually", but that the threshold of size for this to happen is much higher than he thought it was!)

    As far as anyone can tell ZF set theory is consistent, although we can't prove it for sure. (In fact, St. Kurt Gödel proved you couldn't prove it was consistent, but you can say the same thing about finite integer arithmetic.) So, in my opinion modern mathematics makes it hard to claim that actual infinities are absurd in and of themselves. (It may still be possible to argue against an infinite past by trying to analyze concepts of causality and explanation metaphysically, but this is a trickier subject.)

    If you're curious, here's my own take on the most plausible form of the Cosmological Argument, and some related issues. (Note that, apart from a very brief digression about the Trinity in part VII which plays no role in the rest of my argument, I am trying to defend the Classical Theistic conception of God which is shared by Jews, Christians, Muslims, Deists, Sikhs etc. and to some extent certain Hindus.)

    Johannes,
    The Dvaita (dualistic) school of Hinduism seems closer to being truly monotheistic, at least insofar as they acnowledge an eternal and absolute distinction between the ultimate deity "Vishnu" and everything else, and see salvation as a matter of having a correct relationship with Vishnu rather than being absorbed into him.

  23. Scott Church says:

    JPH,

    I'm sorry you're having such a hard time with many of these questions... I suppose struggles like these are good for us in many ways, but they certainly aren't fun! Here are a few things to consider...

    First, the arguments of St. Feser's that you linked presume presentism--the claim that only the present actually exists, the past is gone, and the future is yet to be. Presentism is also referred to as the "A" theory of time. This is to be contrasted with the "B" theory of time according to which past, present, and future are equally real, and the appearance of the present moment "flowing" from past to future is a consequence of our perception and the underlying physics (specifically the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics). From a physics standpoint, presentism has numerous difficulties that Aron has addressed elsewhere (for instance, here and here). Now it is possible to make presentism work, and St. Craig and others have argued at length for it. But compared to a B-theory framework the result is kludged and contrary to fundamental principles of relativity, and few if any physicists find it compelling. Dispense with presentism, and Feser's arguments against the kalam viz. actual infinities have considerably less force. Whether "Hilbert's Hotel" arguments are as strong as St. Craig thinks they are and can survive the issues Aron mentioned is another discussion. But I think we can at least say that if they were as easy to dismiss as some folks believe, they wouldn't be getting the attention they have in philosophical circles. [BTW, I pointed all this out in that article's combox. As of this writing, the only response I've received was from a guy who believes the Lorentz boost is a "crackpot equation" that "has in no way been proven." Not much one can say to someone like that... :D ]

    Second, while the kalam argument is fine for what it's worth I have to agree with Aron... there are much better cosmological arguments. In philosophical circles at least, most of the criticism against it has been directed at its first premise--namely, that whatever begins to exists has a cause.--which has a lot more punch from the perspective of a flowing present. In the B-theory framework that's most conducive to physics it's less obvious. This more than anything else, is why it tends to be associated with presentism and St. Craig's often uses the phrase "popping into existence" when defending it. But that said, as St. Feser himself has also pointed out, the kalam argument is not without force. The first premise can actually be derived from axioms underlying the stronger cosmological arguments that he, Aron, St. Thomas Aquinas, and many others have defended at length. IMHO, one of the problems with St. Craig's approach is that he tends to simply assert it as self-evident, which it clearly isn't to his critics, when he could be doing that.

    Perhaps the real value of the kalam argument, and the first premise in particular, has less to do with anything unique in it than with its ability to make the admittedly abstruse axioms of better cosmological arguments more accessible than they would otherwise be. But that accessibility does come at a price. It's at its best when running a three-legged race with presentism... it cannot leverage presentism's strengths without taking on its baggage as well. Ultimately, I'd say fear not... kalam is alive and well! :-) But I wouldn't look to it for more than it can deliver. The stronger cosmological arguments may be less accessible, but they're also a lot more bullet-proof... and they can reinforce the kalam in a way that it cannot do for itself.

    I hope this helps!

  24. Andy Jones says:

    I'm pretty sure that after spending the evening reading this thread and links, some sort of diploma or ordained status is in order? Ironically, and disappointedly, the unacceptance of the messiah (Jesus) by Jews is yet another fulfilled prophecy. Like Aron, it's interesting to imagine I was JPH. On one hand I understand how he'd feel like Christians perverted his religion, much like I see the Mormons. On the other hand, I'd be proud that Jesus was a Jew like myself and that I was part of the original "pasture".
    JPH, just curious. Have you ever read the NT? As in the gospels, Acts and Paul's letters? I'm not looking to argue with you, just wondering if you consider them fakes, lies, or just "the truth" from the perspective of ignorant people? In other words, do you think Mathew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul really wrote the books and thought it was all true but they were wrong or do you think they're forgeries, outright lies, or written by people with other agendas?

  25. Mactoul says:

    Scott Church,
    The B-theory seems just a replacement of the temporal reality by a spatial metaphor, perhaps by taking literally the mystical language of modern physics. To say that "past exists" is really to say that "past exists in the past"-an unexceptional statement of the ordinary. So, present exists in the present and future exists in the future. Temporal reality can not be handwaved away.

    As for the A-theory " things at the present moment of time really exist, really we are saying that anything which is simultaneous to my present experience exists." , I note that the things extend in time, necessarily. It is the physics that can not handle this perdurance.

  26. Scott Church says:

    Mactoul,

    No one is suggesting that temporal reality can be "handwaved away" or that the present moment doesn't exist. On the contrary, B-theory merely asserts that the past and future also exist in the same sense, and our perception of the present "flowing" out of the former and into the latter is illusory. Modern physics treats time as space-like because it is space-like. Space and time are separate aspects of the single metric entity space-time in which ict is fully equivalent to x, y, and z (note that ict has the dimensions of distance). That's not to say it's identical to space... which is why there's an i in it. But we do in fact live in a universe whose history unfolds on a \left ( x, y, z, -ict \right ) manifold, not an \left ( x, y, z \right ) one independent of t. The Lorentz boost and the constancy of c in all reference frames follow directly.

    None of this is a "metaphor." The Lorentz boost, the Lorentzian (pseudo-Riemannian) signature of space-time, and its curvature are all directly observable and have been tested countless times. They're even used in engineering. Believe it or not, the GPS satellite system incorporates special and general relativity in its positioning algorithms. They're why your smart-phone knows your location to within 10-20 feet rather than a few city blocks. :-) All of this is a direct consequence of the fact that we live in a space-time rather than a space that unfolds in time. And in that space-time, the difference between past and future is frame-dependent for space-like separated observers. This is a very real issue for A-theory time--one that as I mentioned, is solvable, but only by kludge.

    I'll leave it at that, as we now seem to be getting off the main topic of this post. Best.

  27. TY says:

    Andy:
    I guess you were just kidding in saying “I’d be proud that Jesus was a Jew like myself and that I was part of the original “pasture” -- September 13, 2016 at 7:13 PM”, which provokes the question: Would Andy be just as proud had Jesus been a gentile? That God chose a Jew to effect the Incarnation is just Divine providence in action and, for this reason, Christianity appeals to all mankind and is preached to all mankind.

  28. Mactoul says:

    Scott Church,
    1) Physics is not competent to pronounce on ontology. It takes temporal flow as a given. Indeed you can not escape it --your statement itself "But we do in fact live in a universe whose history unfolds on a (x,y,z,−ict) manifold". Anything more, "curvature of spacetime, ict (with imaginary coordinates) is mathematical convenience only whose literal meaning is strictly nonsense (CS Lewis in The Discarded Image).
    2) On what basis you call our perception of temporal flow to be an illusion? That basis can not be physics, for the reasons alluded above.

  29. I have some comments here for your post, Aron. More on the way for JPH. I still haven't read your last post or some of the other final ones. Sorry I'm so slow in getting back. I saw an op-ed by Gregory Clark attacking Christianity via a current variation of the problem of evil and I got drawn into the discussion. Some temptations are hard to resist. But that's why I'm so late.

    Aron,
    But I don't think it's fair to call the belief that Hell is eternal a "straw man", since this term usually refers to positions that nobody believes, whereas your view is a minority amongst Christian theologians.

    My thinking in calling this a straw man was that since my own reading of scripture rejects the doctrine of eternal conscious torment (ECT) that this accusation does not apply to me. Those who do accept it are the ones who have to deal with it.

    Years ago when (the late) Antony Flew was an atheist, he would argue that since the greatest of all theologians—Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin—accepted predestination, this should be accepted as the Christians view. He would then point out the injustice of saying that some will be eternally lost who have no choice in the matter. (Of course he also had a lot to say about what being eternally lost might mean.) My response to the argument was always, “I don’t care what these theologians said, the Bible says something else.” I felt no obligation to defend a particular doctrine even if it was a majority view among all Christians. In that sense I thought of it as a straw man. So I’m still not sure that I’m wrong in thinking of the doctrine of ECT as such. However other Christians may respond to ECT, I can just say that the form of Christianity I espouse rejects it entirely. Someone cannot refute Christianity if some form of Christianity still remains which is immune to the defeater.

    (BTW, I saw this great T-shirt I’ve just got to get. On top it has in large letters, “Calvinism”; then below in smaller letters: “Some Lives Matter”.)

    By the way, I wouldn't say that my Bayesian analysis provides any new evidence that wasn't there before.

    I agree. My statement was, “Aron’s work with Bayesian analysis merely gives us evidence in a way it was not seen before” which, I think, is extremely important.

    The reason why I don't buy the "race" interpretation of the "generation" passage, is that it seems like a somewhat unremarkable thing to say. "Truly I say unto you" suggests that what follows should be some kind of remarkable statement, not just the belief (already implied by the Tanakh) that no one will have succeeded in killing all of the Jews when the End Times come.

    That’s a lot of Bruce’s critique as well, which at one time I found to be quite persuasive. But remember that throughout the scripture we hear this fear raised. The high priest said Jesus should be killed so that the Romans don’t come and destroy their nation. Many distinct nations and cultures have in the past been absorbed into the other nations thus essentially wiping out their “race.” This may have been part of Caiaphas’ concern. The Jews are one of the few dispersed nations which have not been totally absorbed.

    If "this race shall not pass away until" means the actual annihilation of the people, this too has always been a great fear. Throughout the Hebrew scripture God reminds the people that though great destruction will come through God’s judgment, still there will be a remnant. It’s like a reminder, given so many times before, that Israel will remain no matter how horrible the persecution for the time being, no matter how effective the Hitlers of the ages appear to be in achieving their agendas. This is certainly a promise which deserves a “truly I say unto you.”

    It also appears to be a time marker. The race of the Jewish people (not a modern idea of race but certainly a very old one) will pass away when all things are fulfilled and God becomes all in all. The very next verse (in all three synoptic gospels) tells us that heaven and earth will pass away but his word will not. The proximity of these verses suggests that even the passing of heaven and earth must take place before the final time marker is set, the end of the Jewish race. The righteous Jews will be fully unified with the righteous Gentiles into the one people of God. Jesus’ statement that we will be like the angels in heaven may even be suggesting that all of redeemed humanity will pass away by becoming one with the angels. Okay, that’s a lot of speculation. But this does show that the genea-means-race interpretation is very possible. And for other reasons as well it seems more likely to me than other interpretations.

    I still have to argue that animal sacrifice was always necessary for atonement in pre-Christian Israel. The meaning of Leviticus 17.11 is just too clear. When the prophets spoke of God desiring repentance or obedience or righteousness and despising the sacrifices, they was using hyperbole. God was so angry at the people’s attitude—sometimes they were planning their next sin, sometimes they were actually doing evil while they were making their burnt offerings—that God spoke as though God never wanted another animal sacrifice. If that was what the prophets were actually saying, they would be opposing the Torah teaching which, as JPH pointed out, a prophet simply cannot do unless he or she were a false prophet.

    Not all of the sacrifices in the Torah involve blood.

    No, but notice that those that are meant for atonement are all tied to the blood. The flour offering which the poor may give instead of an animal sacrifice was taken by the priest and burnt on the alter “on top of the offerings made to the Lord by fire” (Lev 5.12). It was effective as an atoning sacrifice because it was made part of another blood sacrifice.

    The correct Christian theology is not that the sacrifice of Christ meets the technical provisions for a Torah sacrifice, pretty obviously it doesn't since human sacrifice was strictly forbidden.

    True, it was a symbol pointing to Jesus’ atoning death but the point of the Torah teaching is that there can be no atonement without the shedding of blood. Substitution is necessary. The idea of laying hands on the scapegoat and confessing the sins of the people and sending it away into the wilderness shows that the animal takes the people’s sin away as their substitute. And yet this ceremony is also necessarily a part of a sacrificial ceremony. The other goat is killed. Both demonstrate the need for substitutionary atonement.

    In fact, the number of passages on this theme is so extensive that he missed some of my favorites!

    We can look at additional passages if you like, Aron, but I think we will always see some connection with the animal sacrifices or we will see that sacrifices are assumed as necessary to remove sin but simply not mentioned. Some passages often brought up by the anti-missionaries like Proverbs 16.6 aren’t speaking about atonement at all. The Proverbs passage is rather more likely speaking of someone who has been offended being reconciled to oneself through truthfulness and lovingkindness; that is through kindness, through humble and caring words and actions.

    In the pages of the Tanakh. . . , sacrifice is regarded as inessential compared to what God really wants, which is true repentance.

    Not quite inessential. Compared to repentance and living righteously, God did make it very clear that sacrifices were much less important. But the sacrifices were still essential.

    I see one problem in your view, Aron. If you are saying that the shedding of blood is inessential for atonement, for removal of sin (I’m not sure that you are), are you disagreeing with the writer of Hebrews that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin? Are you saying that the Israelites’ sins, say David’s sin of adultery and murder, could be forgiven by repentance alone?

  30. JPH,
    I said, “That God would someday become a man was not revealed to them at that time.” To this you responded:

    Then they are forbidden to worship Jesus and everyone else whom their forefathers didn’t know. Game over. Do not pass go.

    Your “Game over” and “Do not pass go” sound a little desperate, JPH. Kind of like the child who sticks his fingers in his ears and yells out, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!” No, you do need to listen to reasonable arguments that you are reading into the Torah more than it is actually saying.

    To say that Jesus was in the person of the God who revealed himself to Moses is not to say that Jesus was a new God or another God. So Deuteronomy 13 does not apply to this claim or the claim of the Krishna devotee that Krishna was the God who spoke to Moses. Whether Jesus or Krishna was an incarnation of the God of Abraham must be determined by examining the evidence for their claims or the claims of their followers, not by reading into the Torah statements which are not there. Exodus 23 does not deny the possibility that God would incarnate in the person of Jesus since it says that one must not invoke the names of other gods. What is denied is that Jesus is another god.

    The Lord would speak to Moses FACE TO FACE, as one speaks to a friend. (Deut 33:11) And there was NO OTHER PROPHET who arose in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew FACE TO FACE. (Deut 34:10)

    Deuteronomy 34 is only saying that as of this writing no one has arisen equal to Moses. If you accept that Moses wrote the Torah then you should also accept that were some additional comments added to it. For example, Moses certainly didn’t write the part about how he died. If even a much later writer added this part about there never being a prophet like Moses, his statement is only good until his time. Verse 10 definitely does not say, “No prophet is greater than Moses and there’s an end of it.”

    Deuteronomy 18.18 says that God will raise up a prophet like Moses. This may just mean that there will be some with the same ability Moses had to prophesy. But a good case can be made that the clearest meaning of the passage is that a special prophet will come who is greater than all the other prophets except for Moses. This will be Moses’ equal. Whether you accept that or not is no big deal. The fact is that even if God spoke to Moses face to face, God still may have not revealed to him all that God intended to eventually reveal.

    There was nothing "limited" about it!

    Then why did God tell Moses that the hidden things of God belong to God and the things that belong to Israel have been revealed to them (Deut 29.28)? Because there is clearly much that was not revealed to Moses. (Or if it was, God made it clear to him that nothing of this should be given to the people.)

    I said, “But notice that the Torah does not say that God cannot or will not become a man.” To this you responded:

    Descendants of Jacob, I am the LORD All-Powerful, AND I NEVER CHANGE. (Malachi 3:6)

    Certainly God does not change in God’s essential nature. For example, God is good, God can never become evil. Yet sometimes God would do things like take on a temporary human appearance and speak with someone like Abraham. Was God changing when God did so? (Remember that Abraham addressed this person not as an angel but as God himself.) If God is not an absolute unity in person and if one such Person might take on a human appearance (whether for only a few hours or days or by means of an actual human body), then another Person of the Godhead may remain in heaven in a more completely unchanged form. Malachi 3 could be speaking of a more unchangeable nature of the first Person of the Trinity. Nevertheless, even with this, I find it hard to accept that God the Father is absolutely unchanging. That’s why I say that God is unchanging in essential nature. And even with these trinitarian qualifications, God must still change in some sense to take on the appearance of a man to appear to Abraham or as Jesus.

    So you tell me, did God change when God visited Abraham? Did God change when God walked in front of Moses and “changed” from one location to another? Does that count as change or not?

    Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You.

    Then how was God able to take on a human form and appear to Moses? How could Isaiah see God on his throne if God cannot reduce himself from filling the heaven of the heavens? Obviously God does fill the heavens of the heavens and yet can enter the smallest particle. This same God can take on human form and become a man.

    So whenever God says X it’s only true at the immediate instant He says it?

    No, we don’t know if it is true forever unless God says it’s true forever. If God does not say, then we need to be open to the possibility that it will change. But it takes God to change it or to add to it and we need good evidence that it has changed. When God says this covenant is forever, the word used means essentially for as far into the future as the Israelites could imagine or think about. It does not rule out the possibility that it may have an end or that it may not, but it is only God who can tell us if or when it will have an end.

    The command against adultery is a moral law, not a civil or ceremonial law. It’s also one of those laws we all know by nature to be right and, being a moral law, it’s one which has continued through Christian teachings.

    Why wouldn’t the Almighty simply have said “God is not YET a man”?

    Because that would be giving information which God did not want disclosed until the right time. Given your view, what I would like to ask you is, Why wouldn’t God simply say, “God is not a man and will never will become a man”?

    I said that such a man would be sinless and thus cannot lie. To this you responded,

    That’s not what God is saying through Balaam. Rather, he means that ALL humans lie and ALL humans need to repent. That’s one reason God can’t be a man.

    Again you’re reading into the statement claims which are not there. Your stretching it to make it say what you want it to say. Even if all humans inevitably lie at some time, we are not told that God cannot become or even create a human who will not lie.

    You say that the NT book of Hebrews must receive authority from the Torah if anything it says is to be accepted because the Torah is self-authenticating. But your link does not establish this. The miracles of the Exodus could have been made up by a later writer and gradually introduced to the people. The most dominant secular view is that the Exodus never happened and the story was made up around the time of the Exile or after. I agree that it just doesn’t seem likely that such a story could be foisted upon an entire population even somewhat slowly. It is even less likely to be accepted quickly. Nevertheless, the historicity of the Exodus, even without the miraculous elements, is not certain or self-authenticating.

    You keep making statements you cannot support, JPH. No one would be put to death for giving a prophecy of a person or event to fulfill the Torah. If one religion claims to have the last word and another the first word which will never be followed by a later word, which one is right must be determined by evidence, not by suggesting that one is legitimate and the other is not.

    I said, “I think I mentioned last time a Christian account of how those Gentiles living before the time of Jesus are made right with God. It still indirectly requires blood sacrifice, that of Jesus. So none ‘of these passages actually preclude the requirement of a blood offering as a necessary component in the process of forgiveness from sin.’ ” To this you responded:

    You can’t assume the truth of your conclusion as a premise. The Book of Jonah says the Ninevites repented and God forgave them – without any sacrifices of any kind whatsoever. This is evidence against Christianity. You can’t assert the Christian account as an argument for Christianity. How is this supposed to convince me?

    You’ve confused my arguments. Remember that you had first given passages which you claimed show forgiveness can come through repentance alone and that no animal sacrifice is needed. I gave a strong argument that these passages cannot mean that and that animal sacrifice was still needed. Then citing NT passages, I gave a feasible Christian account of how Gentiles prior to the time of Jesus may be accepted by God by means of the shedding of blood. The basic condition of seeking God (for those who do not know God exists as well as those who do), fearing or honoring God (for those who do know), and seeking to live in such a way as to do what is right morally is enough in God’s sight initially. Of course this involves repentance when one has acted in opposition to one’s moral awareness. And sometimes just the convicting word of a prophet like Jonah will be enough to ignite such repentance. At some point after their death and after the time of Jesus, since they had fulfilled the first requirement, they are next given the knowledge of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and the opportunity to accept it. (And one will accept it insofar as one continues to seek God and seek to do God’s will.) Jesus’ death is the fulfillment of the suffering Servant prophecy which in turn fulfills the animal sacrifice requirements of the Torah in this Christian view.

    So the point is this: since it can be shown that a Christian view of the pre-Christian Gentiles being accepted by God through a blood sacrifice fits a feasible view of the Tenakh, you have no grounds to say that the Ninevites definitely did not need a blood sacrifice to be forgiven. Since you were making the claim that the Ninevites were forgiven without blood sacrifice, the burden of proof was on you at that point to support this claim. All I had to do to refute your claim was to give a coherent account which is consistent with the teachings of the Tenakh of how they could be forgiven with a blood sacrifice.

    I said, “If the Messiah is now with God and the process of history is under God’s control, then the Messiah is working with God as history is being manipulated for this purpose.” You responded:

    Again, you can’t assume the truth of your conclusion as a premise. You cited Israel as EVIDENCE for Christianity. When I asked you to enlarge on your position you assert a conditional: IF Jesus is the Messiah THEN history is being manipulated for this purpose. So if your conclusion is true, it follows that your conclusion is true.

    No I did not cite the regathering of Israel as evidence of Christianity. I was very careful of my wording. I said, “So we have no good reason to think Messiah [Jesus] has not fulfilled that part of the prophecy as well.” I did not say, “We have evidence that Jesus fulfilled the regathering prophecy.” I was refuting your claim that Jesus could have nothing to do with fulfilling this prophecy.

    You asked, “Where do they [the Torah or the prophets] say he could [come to earth more than once], or that it should be thousands of years apart?” I answered,

    “Luke and Paul talk about the time of the Gentiles. … I’m not sure if the prophets speak of this time but the NT does.” Your response was:

    You can’t assume the truth of your position as a premise. Of course the NT says this. IT HAS TO.

    One of my last sentences which you had cut out said, “If we have good evidence for the NT, this should be enough to see that this could be God’s plan” (emphasis added) and we have no need of evidence from the Tenakh. My point was that it does not matter if the Torah and the prophets said anything about the Messiah coming to earth more than once with a 2000 year separation. If we have other evidence of Christianity and if the general NT teaching adequately accounts for two appearances and this long of a separation, that’s all we need. I brought up the points about the time of the Gentiles era because it is a common objection that 2000 years is an unreasonably long separation for such elements of biblical prophecy. I also mentioned that the two appearances view does resolve some apparently discordant statements in the Hebrew scripture. But I said this stuff about “if we have good evidence for the NT” because you seemed to be only concerned about whether we can find evidence from the Torah and the prophets. So I did not assume the truth of my position as a premise. I was pointing out that there is other evidence I can refer to if you wish to look at it.

    Evidence seems to be in the eye of the beholder. Tzvi makes Christians uncomfortable because the difference is one of degree, not kind.

    No, Christians offer evidence from messianic prophecies and miracles (specifically the resurrection) and sometimes some other areas like religious experience. The evidence of miracles was the same kind of evidence that identified Moses as God’s chosen leader. So you can’t really ignore it before evaluating it. I took part in a long discussion on W L Craig’s forum page arguing that Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks is strong evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. I know you probably think it doesn’t even speak of the Messiah but you should listen to the arguments that it does. I think it’s very strong. This is only evidence in the eye of the beholder for those who wish to close their eyes to that which they don’t want to see.

    Your position invites these queries, part of why it’s unfathomable that God is/was a human. If Jesus was truly a man did he ever have lustful thoughts? If not, he wasn’t a man. That’s part of the package, intrinsic to the misery & joy of being human. A huge chunk of waking life consists in an endless barrage of lustful thoughts. Per Jesus’ standard (Matt 5:28) this is as bad as adultery. How do you square this triangle? If Satan tempted him with food, why not other drives?

    Remember that other Jewish teachers of the time also regarded lust as bad as adultery. What Jesus said was that lusting after someone was as bad as adultery, not being tempted to lust. He was tempted in all points as we are yet without sin (Heb 4.15). The difficulty, of course, is understanding when the temptation becomes actual lust, when the attraction is contemplated sufficiently that it becomes sin. I’m not sure what the exact dividing line is. Maybe someone else has given some insights. What I would say is that Jesus never did cross that line. Paul spoke as though everyone else does inevitably cross that line even though they may try their hardest not to (Rom 7 & 8). Only as Christians do we have power to resist as God gives us this power.

    I need to qualify an earlier statement I had made. I made it sound as though Jesus was simply taking one of two possible current views of divorce when he sided with Shammai against Hillel. I should have also mentioned that Jesus did consider the law of Moses deficient at this point. He said that God allowed this law condoning divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. He didn’t negate the law but appealed to the original purpose in creation as given in Genesis 2.24 which made the Mosaic law still applicable though more qualified.

    It is important to understand that there may be other Mosaic laws which were allowed because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. If we were to attack another town and the people surrender, should we enslave everyone? Should a virgin who is raped be forced to marry her rapist? These are the kinds of questions critics ask. I saw a recent meme which condemned Christianity as supposedly accepting the latter law and portrayed Satanism as more compassionate.

    I’m also aware that some of these laws can be defended to a degree. At the time, enslaving a captured people (who must be the original aggressors) may have been the only way to ensure no future attacks. This may be a lesser of two evils problem. And of course there is much more to the marry-the-rapist law than I’ve mentioned which could greatly mitigate it. Nevertheless, we should see some laws such as those allowing slavery as having been permitted because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. They should no longer be allowed.

  31. JPH & Aron
    JPH, don’t worry about Feser on the Kalam. He’s right that Craig’s argument against actual infinities may not be sound, but there are other good philosophical arguments for a beginning. I see good evidence by looking at causality but Aron says that’s trickier so I suspect there is much there I haven’t even imagined. Have you gotten into this in any prior topics, Aron? I know we’ve talked about the Kalam before.

  32. myth buster says:

    How can anyone say that the Resurrection is irrelevant? To say that a false prophet could rise from the dead apart from the General Resurrection on the Last Day is to claim that someone other than HaShem has the power to raise the dead, or that HaShem would scandalize the world by appearing to vindicate a false prophet. No, to acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead is to acknowledge Him as being vindicated by God, that though He had suffered the death of a criminal, being hung on a tree until dead, God judged Him innocent, and raised Him up from Sheol, because the one who keeps the Law shall live. If, therefore, you confess that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, you must confess acknowledge Him as a true Prophet, and therefore affirm His claims that He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. If, despite this, He appears to be a sinner, it is your understanding of the Law that is deficient, for you find yourself opposing God's Judgment. If God has acquitted, who shall convict? So then, do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is risen from the dead?

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