In his “Historic Christianity & Apostolic Judaism: The Core Difference,” Tim Hegg posits – as do many, but not the majority of, “Messianic Jews” – a radical distinction between “historic Christianity (let’s call it simply “Christianity”) and “apostolic Judaism.” Adherents of the latter refer to themselves as “the Branch,” in Hebrew netzer,” which they claim is the root of “Nazarene” (which may be so, but ironically with a perjorative meaning.1); hence they call themselves “Nazarenes,” in Hebrew Notzrim. Jews, in contrast, equate “Notzrim” with “Christian” (Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok, “Yeshu HaNotzri The Man In His Own Words. A Torah View of the Founder of Christianity”).
“(T)he emerging Christian Church, says Hegg, sought for ways to define herself. She did this by presenting herself as distinct (“other”) from the Synagogue, and by adopting a world view quite opposite of her Jewish roots. Caught in the middle of all this was the remnant of “The Way” (cf. Acts 9:2). Still thoroughly Hebraic in her perspective, yet confessing Yeshua as Messiah, the remanant of ‘The Way’ found herself rejected by both of the other groups. Even though ‘The Way’ was thoroughly Hebraic in thought and world view, her acceptance of Yeshua as the Messiah made her persona non grata within Rabbinic Judaism.”
“The Way” is mentioned for the first time in Acts 9:2. It is true that members of “the Way” of salvation (Matt. 7:14; John 14:6) or of the godly life (Acts 18:25–26; see also Acts 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24) consisted initially, with few possible exceptions, only of Jews. It is, however, parlous to claim that subsequent members of “the Way” (Jew and Gentile) remained “thoroughly Hebraic in thought and world view” (Hegg). “The Way” does indeed have Hebrew roots, but to suggest that the whole tree has to be Hebrew is to reject God’s obvious intention to assign an important role to Greek language and thought. For one thing, the original language of the New Testament was written in Greek. (There are some who say some or all the Gospels were written in Aramaic. The burden of proof is on them). For another, if you disagree that Greek is the perfect theological language, what other language than Greek – the language of written discourse at the time – could have done such a marvelous job on the formulation of core doctrines such as the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. Would Hegg be able to describe so clearly, and admirably, John the Apostle’s description of the deity of Jesus (Hegg prefers to speak of the “deity of Yeshua”) in Chapter 1 of his Gospel without his Greek heritage:
“John, in the opening of his Gospel, writes that “In the beginning was Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John is clearly mimicking the words of Gen 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” He intends us to know that in the same way that Moses begins the Torah with God but without any suggestion that God Himself had a beginning, so he begins his Gospel with “In the beginning was the Word,” implying that the Word also had no beginning. Moreover, the Greek literally says “and the Word was to God,” meaning that the Word had an intimate, face-to-face relationship with God, a relationship that bespeaks equality. Then John writes “and the Word was God.” After expressing relationship in the phrase “the Word was to God,” John makes the inexplicable statement that “the Word was God.” In these two statements John expresses both the Word’s distinctive individuality and His absolute oneness with the Fa-ther. Moreover, John leaves us no doubts as to Whom he refers as the Word. In v. 14 he makes gives a clear explanation: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Much, of course, has been written on John’s Prologue to his Gospel, and many have tried to find other ways of explaining John’s words. Some have felt that his statement regarding Yeshua’s divine nature is far too bold to have been even thinkable.”
Hegg believes that all followers of Jesus/Yeshua should strictly adhere to the “law” in the Torah. Here is another follower of “The Way,” Uri Marcus, who agrees with Hegg on this point of Torah, but rejects the deity of Jesus. Here is his view of Christianity [My square brackets]:
“You know what? I think Christianity in its present form today is the result of an invention. It was invented… but not by G-d. It was invented by man. More specifically, it was invented by non-Jewish men [Gentiles, whom Paul calls “Greeks” for obvious polito-cultural reasons] who knew that if this new religion were to stand even the slightest chance of survival, if it were to enjoy any longevity for future generations, if it were to gain power and influence in the world, and offer power and influence to men, it would have to undergo immediate surgery, with a view to cut out any vestige of Jewish Torah-based thought and practice. Otherwise, the religion would fail, and men would return to their former pagan roots, and all hope would be lost for mankind.”
Here is Uri Marcus on John 1:1:
“Yochanan [John] is sitting, dipping his pen for the first time into the ink and getting ready to write the prologue to his Gospel account. He starts to think to himself. “How can I begin to tell this magnificent story, to which I have just been a witness and partaker? Where can I start? How can I communicate in terms of what my people already understand, grew up with, and know in their hearts? I don’t want them to be offended. I don’t want to run them off. I want them to stay until I tell them the whole story. And this story is going to be quite long. I must find a way to move them forward from their present knowledge, into the knowledge that Yeshua came and died for them, and is our long awaited Mashiach. Ok, I’ll start at the beginning. Seems reasonable. I’m Jewish. I’m wanting to tell this message to Jews. I need to start at the beginning. But which beginning? Where did my people first learn about G-d? Where did we first become a nation? In what place, were we commissioned by G-d to take the message of redemption to the world, and bless the world through it? Of course… it was at Sinai. It was there that we received the Torah. I’ll start at the beginning, when we first became a nation, united under the Torah.” Yochanan starts to write… “In the beginning, was the Torah… Yes… our Torah. That was our beginning as a nation right there at the foot of Sinai with Moshe Rabbeinu.” (Uri Marcus – “And the Word was G-d – Yochanan [John] 1:1-3).
No true-blue Jew would be ashamed to invite Uri to his Yeshiva. His fable could have come from the Mishna. With regard to Jesus’ divinity, which Uri Marcus denies:
“To raise the question of Yeshua’s divinity, says Daniel Juster, is to open one of the greatest debates between Jews and Christians. This question leads to the whole debate about the Trinity, since the Messiah is said to be divine as one part of the Triune God.”
Is trinitarianism a Greek concept, and is it foreign to the “Hebraic” mind? No, to both questions. Compare: “the one encircled by the splendor of the three; the three being straightway carried back to the one” (Christianity)” with “a plurality whose action is unified, an unity whose action is pluralised” (Cabala). (See The Christian Trinity and the Unity-plurality of Cabala).
Contrary to Hegg and much of modern scholarship, Juster rejects the view that Hebraic and Hellenistic thought are so different. Recall Hegg’s (“The Way” remained) “thoroughly Hebraic in thought and world view” (Hegg). So, to answer the question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (Tertullian) More than you think. For Juster, Hebrew metaphysic (there sure is such a thing) and Greek metaphysic not only touch but intermingle, “because [owing to the fact] all human beings are created in the image of God, communication and evaluation with regard to metaphysical views is cross-culturally possible.” (Dan Juster 1986:181. Jewish Roots: A Foundation of Biblical Theology. Shippensburg, Penn. In Richard Harvey, Worship and Witness to the Deity of Yeshua).
A Jew would possibly deny that he is mixing hisTorah logic with non-Christian (Greek) philosophy. The Greeks, though, didn’t have a patent on philosophical thought. For example, what could be more Jewish (AND more Greek) than the LOGOS of John’s Gospel (John 1).
I read an interesteing article at the RoshpinaProject which equates Memra (“Word”) with logos. Memra is an Aramaic word used in the Targum:
“The interpretation of the meaning of the words logos and memra shows that Judaism and Christianity hold some of the same theological tenets. The following study, although brief, bears out the fact that both persuasions have followers who believe that these two words mean the Word of God who is a Person.”
Jews are ostensibly very logical and always have been so from the day God called Abraham out of Ur. A Jew will probably say that it wasn’t so much an urge with Abraham but an urgent lucid appraisal of what he was – an idol worshipper, and what he could be – a worshipper of the One True God. Among some of the great promises God made to Abraham and his descendants was this irresistible one: “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3b). To fulfil this role for the nations, claim the rabbis, Abraham had to be not only holy but also wise. And what was the very Jewish (and Greek) supreme maxim of metaphysika? It was that logic is “wisdom of the first kind” (Aristotle), the mother of all wisdom.Alas, my lyrical remains chimerical: first, I don’t agree with the Jewish view that God chose Abraham for his wisdom or purity of soul or any other qualities. He chose him in the same way he chooses anybody or anything, because he wanted to; for reasons only known unto Him – . (The logic of faith: Back to Sinai and the drawing board).
Paul wrote all his epistles in Greek. The Jewish believers had no trouble understanding them. Indeed, I suggest that they would find this discussion, if not amazing, then amusing.
Before I leave, I must say that it’s so Nice a thing that Tim Hegg is a Trinitarian. The Way of Redemption starts from there. Thank you Nicea. Or rather thank you Bible, and thanks Nicea – no, not Constantine, silly! – for getting it right.
1Nothing decisive can be said as to the root origin or real meaning of the word Nazareth. There are two interpretations – one meaning a sprout, a branch; the other meaning a guard. Probably the name Nazareth came from the old Hebrew “Netzer,” which means a sprout, and so was something to be held in contempt. A tree is cut off, hewn down, and left. One morning the passer-by sees just one green sprout coming up from the stump; “netzer.” It is of no use. The tree is gone. And so this little town, high up off the main roads at the foot of the mountains; along which the great merchants of Greece came; along which Roman legions marched, and the priests passed; was held in contempt. There were great movements down in the valley, but Nazareth was so much out of reach as never to be affected by them. And there is that thought in the quotation, “He shall be called a Nazarene”; a Man belonging to the city that is not worth naming; a Man off the highways of life, knowing nothing of the great movements of the world; a Nazarene. (C. Campbell Morgan).