How to Understand the New Testament-Conclusion

In this final installment of “How to understand the New Testament” it is important to know that there have always been Gentiles living among the people of Israel. We read about the “mixed multitude” that came out of Egypt with Israel and the Torah divides these people in three categories. First, some were called the “Zar” or “Nokri.” Secondly, there is the “Ger” and finally the “Ger Toshav.” There is some confusion as to how these words are translated in English, but looking at the Hebrew words when they are used will help clear this up. The Zar/Nokri were foreigners who had ties to their homeland and did not want to be permanent residents in Israel. Torah commands that applied to the Jewish people did not apply to them (Deut 23.20). They were not eligible for debt release every seven years (Deut 15.1-3) and were restricted from the Mishkan and Temple worship (Exo 12.43). The Zar/Nokri came to Israel and worked on farms and took temporary jobs, but they were not interested in the God of Israel. If they wanted to stay, they could become Gerim if they believed in the God of Israel and they took on some of the religious rituals and customs of Israel. The next group were called the Gerim and they were in two categories, the Ger T’Shav, which means “stranger in the land” and the Ger Ha Sha’ar which means the “stranger at the gate” who lived outside of the land of Israel. The Gerim accepted certain aspects of the Torah and the God of Israel. By doing this, they could remain in the land of Israel if they wanted to. However, they were not on the path to being a full convert, or proselyte. The Ger T’shav was restricted in worship, they could not eat the Passover (Exo 12.43-45). They could flee to a city of refuge in the case of an accidental death (Num 35.15). Gentiles could also be classified as a “Ger” without being a T’shav or Ha ‘Sha’ar. They were still considered a stranger but could do more things. He could participate in Temple worship, but could not enter the Court of the Israelites or the Court of the Women without being circumcised (Num 15.14-16). They had to participate in the ritual purification laws with the Israelites (Num 19.2,10) and follow the same food laws (Lev 17.10) and could be “cut off” from the people of Israel for not doing so. They kept the Sabbath (Exo 20.8-10) and the festivals (Deut 16.14). They were not permitted to participate in idolatry but to worship the God of Israel only (Lev 20.1-2). If he was circumcised, with his family, they could eat the Passover (Exo 12.48). The Gerim did not own land because it belonged to the children of Israel, so they were placed in a category along with other non-land owners such as the Levites, widows, orphans and the poor. Those that owned the land were required to provide for all these groups from the gleanings of their fields (Lev 23.22) and the fruits from the Sabbatical year (Lev 25.6) and share in the tithe of the third year which was given to the Levitical storehouses at Shavuot and Sukkot (Deut 14.29). God’s intention was to love the Gerim and his desire to have the Israelites interact with them on a fair basis (Deut 10.17-19). They could not be treated with injustice or unfairly (Lev 24.22; Deut 1.16). Circumcision changed the status of the Ger into one who was “like” a native of the land (Exo 12.48). This made the Ger into what would be called in Greek a “proselutos” or proselyte. In Hebrew they were known as a “Ger Tzaddik.” There is one Torah reference to this and it had to do with a non-Jew eating the Passover (Exo 12.43-49). Circumcision also allowed a non-Jew to participate in full Temple worship and was not restricted to the Court of the Gentiles. He was seen as an Israelite and could go to the Court of the Israelites. One of the only restrictions for a proselyte was that he could buy land, but in reality it was only a lease because it reverted back to the original Israelite family that had it at the Yovel, or Jubilee year (the 50th year-Lev 25.10). The only way this could not happen was if the property was purchased in a walled city (Lev. 29-30). Now, there is much more on this but hopefully you have the main idea, and that you should look up the Hebrew words for “stranger” or “sojourner” because they can mean different things. That brings us up to the Gentile believers of the first century, and how they were perceived in the New Testament. There are some terms to know and understand before we continue. A Gentile who believed in the God of Israel was called a “Yiray Ha Shamayim” or a “Godfearer.” The Gentile God-fearer who lived in the land was called a “Ger T’shav” and if they lived outside of the land they were called the “Ger Ha Sha’ar” or “stranger at the gate.” If they went for full conversion, they were called a “Ger Tzaddik” or “righteous stranger.” The Ger Tzaddikim were the proselytes mentioned in Acts 2.10. When the New Testament was translated into Greek, the God-fearers were called “Phoubemenoi” and this group was also called the “Sebemenoi” which is translated in English as a “worshipper” or “devout one.” In Acts 10 we have the story of the Roman centurion called Cornelius. He is called “one who feared God” or a “phoubemenoi” in verses 2 and 22 and he lived in the land so he was a “Ger T’shav.” In other words, he was a follower of the God of Israel and lived in the land. He and his family (10.2) already kept the Sabbath, festivals, food laws and some of the customs of Israel. His salvation surprised the Jewish believers because they were still under the impression that a Ger had to be circumcised to be saved, or become a Ger Tzaddik (full proselyte). His salvation showed that the Basar (gospel, good news, glad tidings) of the Kingdom of Heaven was open to the Gentiles without circumcision, or becoming Jewish. Up till Acts 10, Gentile believers had to become proselyte Jews, but this changed things. When Peter told his story about Cornelius in Jerusalem to the Jewish believers, they took issue with him and accused him of breaking one of the 18 Edicts that restricted intercourse between Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11.1-3). Peter tells them what happened, and in v 18 they quieted down and glorified God saying that God has granted to the Gentiles repentance that leads to life, implying that this was done without having them circumcised to become Jewish proselytes, or a Ger Tzaddik. Another example of these Gerim in Acts can be found in Acts 16.14 with a woman called Lydia. She is called a “worshipper of God”, or a sebemenoi, and had the same synagogue status as Cornelius. In Acts 17.4 we have Paul and Silas preaching in a synagogue and many “worshipping Greeks” (sebemenoi) joined them in believing that Yeshua was the Messiah. In Acts 17.17 Paul was in Athens preaching to the Jews and the “those worshipping” were the Greek “sebemenoi” who were in that synagogue. There is not one Scripture that says that these God-fearers were told to stop following the Torah as it applied to them. The only difference was that they did not have to become full proselytes, or a Ger Tzaddik, to be saved. This was the issue in Acts 15.1 and the Book of Galatians. They had already left paganism and attended synagogues, observed the Sabbath, festivals, food laws and customs. However, there were problems that developed between the Jews and the God-fearers that the Lord was now bringing together. As we have said before, there was a separation between these two groups. Paul’s writings brought out these issues and laid down guidelines to heal this separation. Faith in Yeshua was widespread among the Jews in the first century, and even more so among the Gentiles. As time went on, the Gentiles outnumbered the Jews in many congregations. Certain events began to happen that changed the Faith into one that hardly resembles the Faith which existed in the first century. The Apostles warned of this and said that false teachers would come and destroy the Faith. What is out there today is not the Faith that we see in the New Testament. Paul died in the year 66 A.D. and in that same year Israel revolted against Rome. By 70 A.D. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. Yeshua had warned that this would happen and told those who believed in him to flee when certain events began to happen, and they did. As a result, congregations in the Empire went through drastic changes. To support the Jewish people or the Torah was seen as “unpatriotic” to Rome. As more and more Gentiles came into those congregations, their numbers made a difference in their anti-Jewish sentiments. At the same time, Jews were still believing in Yeshua and this threatened Rabbinical Judaism that was developing. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the Pharisees were the only group that continued to exist in strength and influence among the Jewish survivors. Their Rabbis redefined what “Judaism” was and created what is known as Rabbinical Judaism in their own image. By the end of the first century, Jewish believers in Yeshua were being driven out of the synagogues. Pressure was now coming from three fronts against Jewish believers. First, the non-believing Gentiles hated anything Jewish. Second, the non-believing Jews feared that their power and influence was being threatened among the people. Third, the new Gentile believers were adversely affected by their anti-Semitism and pagan backround, and this influenced how the congregations went forward. Another war broke out in Egypt around 116 A.D. between the Jewish people and Rome. The Jews were nearly destroyed there and the Jewish believers, as well as anything Jewish, was weakened further. A final war broke out in 135 A.D. between the Jews and the Romans in Israel. Jewish believers joined in with their non-believing Jewish brethren against Rome. But, a famous Rabbi named Akiva declared the leader of the revolt Messiah. Jewish believers were not going to support a false messiah, and left the army. The unbelieving Jews said they were traitors and the Jewish believers were permanently separated from the rest of their people. The Roman Emperor destroyed the Jewish army and the land. Because of these wars, being anti-Semitic was considered patriotic to Rome and congregations turned from anything Jewish. By the fourth century, the “faith” was unrecognizable from the first century. The Roman emperor Constantine called a church council in Nicea, and the heads of the Christian community gathered, leaving out every Jewish leader. Laws were enacted forbidding the Jews to follow the Torah and teach it to their children. The Jewish believers were being forced to stop being “Jews” and to live in the Empire as “Gentiles” in all aspects. As a result, the Jewish believers “disappeared” and so did the God-fearers, the “phoubemenoi” and the “sebemenoi.” The Torah and the faith of Israel among believers was now replaced by a different religion which is known today as Christianity. Greek and western concepts replaced the Hebraic thought that was the backround of the New Testament, and the faith was now a Gentile religion. In the first century, the believers who were Jewish and the God-fearers understood the Torah and its teachings relating to the doctrines taught in it. They understood the biblical eschatology taught in the festivals and the Sabbath. They understood the Hebraic idioms, phrases and concepts. They knew that the Spring festivals taught Yeshua’s first coming and the Fall festivals taught about his return. They knew that the Day of the Lord and the catching away of the believers was going to happen on a Rosh Ha Shannah. They understood the “blueprint” on eschatology that the Lord gave in the Torah, and how the New Testament reinforced that blueprint. But, even though the many did not follow nor understand these things, the Lord always had a remnant that carried on with these things and brought them out to whoever would listen. That is what we are attempting to do in this teaching about understanding the New Testament, but that is also our goal in every teaching on this site. Do we have the whole truth and full knowledge of all things? No, but hopefully we are pointing out things that will encourage you to put some of the things you may have learned on the shelf for awhile and honestly evaluate where you are as far as knowing what the Scriptures are really trying to say. To do this, one must ask “How was the New Testament understood by the writer and by those they wrote to.” The New Testament is a Jewish record. The names, the places and the concepts are Jewish. Believers today need to return to the ancient understandings that are contained in the New Testament in order to understand what is going on, and that is the goal of this site and the teachings contained in it. These teachings are not written to confuse anyone, but they are given to restore the meanings that were once understood in the New Testament.

Sources for this study include:
Various tape series, Hatikva Ministries
Strong’s Concordance
Judaism in the First Century Christian Era by George Foote-Moore
Palestinian Judaism in Time of Christ by Joseph Bowservin
Galatians by Steve Salter
Jesus the Pharisee by R. Harvey Falk
Jewish Encyclopedia
Babylonian Talmud on Hananiah Ben Hezekiah
The Messiah Texts by Rafael Patai
Christology of the New Testament by Oscar Cullman
The Temple Institute

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Understanding the New Testament

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