David H Stern’s New Testament and the Body of Christ with two stomachs: More Pork Talk

This is a follow-on from Followers of Yeshua keeping Torah: What’s the pork?

David H Stern is a Messianic Jew whose “Complete Jewish Bible” is a unique melange of translation, paraphrase and commentary. “Unique” in the sense that the New Testament part is solely Stern’s, but far from his sole, production. It would be not an exaggeration to say that it is also his soul production.

Stern’s view of the New Testament can be summarised in the following syllogism.

Premise 1. Although Stern will not put his head on a block that the New testament was written in Hebrew, he argues that the New Testament is a book written by Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) for Jewish believers in Yeshua. “Some phrases in the New Testament make no sense unless one reaches through the Greek to the underlying Hebrew expressions” (Jewish New Testament; Introduction; David Stern; p. xvii; 1989). Stern says “some phrases,” which sells, according to his view, the New Testament short, for it is clear that he believes that the whole NT was produced by Jews for Jews.

Premise 2. Jewish believers (in Yeshua) did not cease to practice the whole Torah. 

Conclusion. Therefore believers in Yeshua should continue to observe the “law” (the Torah ) which,says Stern, has been carried over to the New Testament. “I’m convinced, says Stern, that the Torah continues in force.” (David H Stern, Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message for Christians). For Stern, the greatest failing of Christian theology is that it has abolished the Torah. Christianity, of course, has not abolished all of the Torah, but this is not what I want to talk about here. My object here is to examine a few of Stern’s examples of what he considers misinterpretations of Jesus words where Christians claim Jesus abolished the Jewish laws on what goes into your mouth (Kashrut/Kosher). Stern gives two examples; the first from Mark 7:15, the second from Acts 10. Note that in both examples, Stern’s beef (pork?) is not with the English translation of the Greek text but with their Christian interpretations.

Mark 7:15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.

Here is Stern’s “Complete Jewish Bible” translation in clearer, if more prosaic, English: 7:15 There is nothing outside a person which, by going into him, can make him unclean. Rather, it is the things that come out of a person which make a person unclean!”

In Mark 7:1-20, says Stern, Jesus is not talking about “kashrut [kosher] but with ritual washing before meals (n’tilat-yadayim), a practice observed in traditional Judaism today. Therefore when Yeshua “declared all foods clean” he was not declaring non-kosher foods kosher, but saying that kosher food is not rendered ritually unclean when hands not ritually washed touch it. Although in our age it is hard for anyone not an Orthodox Jew to think intelligently about ritual impurity, its importance in Yeshua’s time can be roughly measured by the fact that one of the six major divisions of the Talmud (Tohorot, “Purities”) is almost entirely devoted to this subject. However, the important halakhah [practice – halakh “walk”] for us to note has nothing to do with eating. In this passage Yeshua does not give zero weight to the “tradition of the elders,” as do many Christians. Rather, what he does insist on is that human traditions should not be used to “make null and void the word of God.”

If Jesus had initiated the conversation on the washing of hands, then one could argue that he intended to focus on this washing ritual. But in light of what he says a few verses later, it wouldn’t have been of any import. I find it hard to synchronise Stern’s interpretation with Jesus’ crystal clear explanation in later verses of what he said previously in verse 7:15:

7:17 When he had left the people and entered the house, his talmidim [disciples] asked him about the parable. 18 He replied to them, “So you too are without understanding? Don’t you see that nothing going into a person from outside can make him unclean? 19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and it passes out into the latrine.” [Latin – contraction of lavatrina “washbasin”] (Thus he declared all foods ritually clean.) 20 “It is what comes out of a person,” he went on, “that makes him unclean. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come forth wicked thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, arrogance, foolishness…. 23 All these wicked things come from within, and they make a person unclean.”

Stern says that “he declared all foods ritually clean” means “he declared all unwashed kosher foods clean.” I find such an interpretation difficult to fathom from the context. Verses 18-20 indicate that Jesus wanted to make it absolutely clear what he meant. He used  a mallet to kill a fly. He, of course, knew what the rabbinical mind would do to 15 There is nothing outside a person which, by going into him, can make him unclean. Rather, it is the things that come out of a person which make a person unclean!” And that is probably why we have Romans 14 (Stern’s “Complete Jewish Bible” translation; my emphasis in bold):

 

13 Therefore, let’s stop passing judgment on each other! Instead, make this one judgment — not to put a stumbling block or a snare in a brother’s way. 14 I know — that is, I have been persuaded by the Lord Yeshua the Messiah — that nothing is unclean in itself. But if a person considers something unclean, then for him it is unclean; 15 and if your brother is being upset by the food you eat, your life is no longer one of love. Do not, by your eating habits, destroy someone for whom the Messiah died! 16 Do not let what you know to be good, be spoken of as bad; 17 for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, shalom and joy in the Ruach HaKodesh [Holy Spirit]. 18 Anyone who serves the Messiah in this fashion both pleases God and wins the approval of other people.

Let us turn to another of Stern’s examples, the famous sheet floating down from heaven, Acts 10:9-17 (Stern’s “Complete Jewish Bible”):

The next day about noon, while they were still on their way and approaching the city, Kefa (Peter) went up onto the roof of the house to pray. 10 He began to feel hungry and wanted something to eat; but while they were preparing the meal, he fell into a trance 11 in which he saw heaven opened, and something that looked like a large sheet being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals, crawling creatures and wild birds. 13 Then a voice came to him, “Get up, Kefa, slaughter and eat!” 14 But Kefa said, “No, sir! Absolutely not! I have never eaten food that was unclean or treif.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time: “Stop treating as unclean what God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and then the sheet was immediately taken back up into heaven.”

Kefa (Aramaic) ended up, as they say in Arabic, no kafir (cockroach of an unbeliever).

Peter, says Stern, had a vision in which three times he saw unclean animals being lowered from heaven in a sheet and heard a voice telling him to “kill and eat.” Unlike those interpreters who instantly assume the passage teaches that Jews need not eat kosher food any more, Peter spent some time “puzzling over the meaning of the vision.” Only when he arrived at Cornelius’ home did he get the pieces of the puzzle put together, so that he could state, “God has shown me not to call any person unclean.” The vision was about people, not food. It did not teach Peter, who had always eaten kosher, to change his eating habits, but to accept Gentiles equally with Jews as candidates for salvation. For it must be remembered that the sheet lowered from heaven contained all kinds of animals, wild beasts, reptiles and birds; yet I know of no Bible interpreters who insist that eagles, vultures, owls, bats, weasels, mice, lizards, crocodiles, chameleons, snakes, spiders and bugs must now be considered edible. God specifies in Leviticus 11 what Jews are to regard as “food.” Even if there were a secondary message in this vision about eating, it would not totally overthrow the dietary laws but would state the same rule we found above in Galatians 2:11-14, that preserving fellowship between Jewish and Gentile believers supersedes observance of kashrut [kosher laws].”

Stern’s “I know of no Bible interpreters who insist that eagles, vultures, owls, bats, weasels, mice, lizards, crocodiles, chameleons, snakes, spiders and bugs must now be considered edible.” Tell that to the rural millions in Africa, Asia and South America for whom many of these items are part of their regular diet. For example, Mopane worms are a staple in Zimbabwe (where I lived for six years) and Botswana.

Mopane worms

Mopane worms

Two observations, the first to do with ritual purity:

God pronounces all foods and the goyim “clean,” and thus the laws on these matters are done away with. Must I say this three times to many Messianic Jews as God said three times to Peter: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Alas, expect to be shouted down with a salvo of “not one jot not one tittle.” These Messianic Jews will say that when God said “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,” He couldn’t have included pork or He couldn’t have been referring to food. If not food, what’s with that sheet: beddy byes?

The second observation, which follows from the first, is that Gentile converts (Cornelius here) do not have to follow the ceremonial laws of Torah. (Much of these laws were to be done away with when sacrifices ceased four decades later after the destruction of the second temple, and with it lots of jots and oodles of tittles). What about Jewish followers of Jesus, did they still have to keep kosher, keep the (ceremonial) law? If you say yes, isn’t three times enough? “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (For further discussion on See Followers of Yeshua keeping Torah: What’s the pork?

Here are a few pertinent (arguably impertinant as well) remarks from Stern’s Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message for Christians):

Originally [the] Jewish form [of the Torah] was contextualized for Gentiles – this was Paul’s great contribution to evangelism. But then, as the early Messianic Jewish communities fell on hard times and disappeared, the Jewishness originally present in the Gospel also vanished, so that a Gentile-contextualized Gospel deprived of its Jewish substratum was the only Gospel there was, a Procrustean bed in which the Jewish believer was forced to lie. Recently this Gospel-at-one-remove (from a Jewish standpoint) has been reworked, contextualized, to make it “seem” more Jewish. But the double adaptation is not the same as the original. Looking at a person’s mirror reflection reflected in a second mirror is not the same as looking at him.”

What is required, continues Stern, is an Evangelism that is “not a Gentilized Gospel contextualized for Jews, but a restoration of the Jewishness which is in fact present in the Gospel but which has become obscured. Moreover, Gentile Christians too need aspects of the Gospel which a restoration of its Jewishness will bring them.”

If Stern’s reworking (inworming?) of Matthew 7 and Acts 10 are anything to go by, his adaptation far outstrips Procrustus, by cutting Messiah not only down to size but to shreds, in order to make the New Testament an extension of Torah. In the process, the New Testament loses, ending up as a tyrannised torahnised lackey.

Why all this fuss over kashrut (food laws) in the Gospel? What is the root of the Gospel? What is it that unites followers of Yeshua/Jesus? Here is, very briefly what the New Testament means to the true Christian.

We have to brought down to the dust, reduced to our utter sinfulness and helplessness; see ourselves compared to God. The Jew thinks the law saves; it doesn’t, it condemns: “for what the law was not able to do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, His own Son having sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, did condemn the sin in the flesh.” (Romans 8:3 Young’s literal translation).