How to Understand the New Testament-Part 4

Many people think that Yeshua was against the Pharisees and constantly arguing with them. It is true that he had a lot to say about some of their teachings, but those were the ones that did not agree with the Torah. But, what people need to realize is that the disagreements seen in the gospels are “classic” arguments between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel, the two mains schools of thought among the Pharisees, althought there were other Pharisaic groups that were less popular. Yeshua’s responses almost always agreed with the School of Hillel.

Now, if you were to ask someone if Yeshua agreed with the Pharisees, they would say, “No.” However, that is not an accurate picture. He nearly always agreed with the Pharisees, most of the time the School of Hillel. He agreed with the School of Shammai on divorce. These are not endorsements of their behavior, but one of the keys to understanding the gospels and epistles is that the arguments we see in the gospels are classic Jewish arguments between these two schools.

The 18 Edicts have a tremendous bearing in the Book of Acts, especially in Acts 10 and 11, Acts 15, Acts 21 and the Book of Galatians. Now, these 18 Edicts, or measures, came out about 20-10 BC and were designed to separate Jews from Gentiles. Shammai was a scholar who founded a school which became a tremendous force when it came to setting halakah in the Jewish world of the first century. Yeshua and Shammai knew each other and was one of the leaders of the Sanhedrin.

As we have said in Part 3, a meeting was set at the upper chamber of a religious leader, who was the son of the founder of the Zealot movement, Hezekiah Ben Gurion. The name of the son was Hananiah Ben Hezekiah Ben Gurion, who was a respected scholar. There was a vote and the 18 Edicts were passed. A list of them do not exist anymore, but the content was discussed in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 13b to 17a. These edicts covered how Jews who follow the Torah were to relate to non-Jews. The School of Hillel believed that they were to go out into the world and teach the Gentiles the Torah and encourage them to accept the Noahide Laws. If they did, they were called “Yiray Shamayim” or “Godfearers.” In Greek the word “phoubemenoi” was used for these people. Another word, “sebemenoi” was also used for the same people, which meant “devout ones.”

Biblical Archeology Review did an article about the Godfearers a few years ago. All of these terms are found in the Scriptures. These “righteous Gentiles” were going to be included in the resurrection and have a place in the Olam Haba, or “world to come.” Shammai was also aggressive in their outreach to Gentiles, but taught that the “Yiray Shamayim” were “on the road” to salvation but needed to become a Jewish proselyte, become circumcised, and then they would be resurrected (saved). This becomes the reason for the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and the underlying problem in the Book of Galatians. This is a critical key to understanding the gospels and epistles. The 18 Edicts did not survive the years. After 70 A.D. the halakah of Shammai was deemed “unconstitutional” by those who survived the Roman destruction of the city and temple. Why? Because most of those survivors were Pharisees from the School of Hillel! Why did that meeting take place in the upper chamber of Hananiah Ben Hezekiah to begin with? The School of Hillel was trying to “reach out” so they met in Beit Avtinas in the Temple, which is in the south. They were trying to heal the “bad blood” between the two groups. Their arguments were explosive at times and it was the same thing here at this meeting.

Menachem the Essene, who was Av Beit Din of the Sanhedrin (vice president), departed after the meeting with his talmidim from the School of Hillel and may have went to the Essenes at Qumran. As a result, Shammai now becomes the Av Beit Din around 20-10 BC. Some say he may have usurped control via a “coup” when Zealots killed a number of Hillel scholars prior to the vote on the 18 Edicts (Bible Searcher.com on Hananiah Ben Hezekiah Ben Gurion.

Yeshua and Shammai were on a collision course of religious ideas that would include these 18 Edicts. Some of these edicts said that a Jew could not enter the house of a Gentile (Matt 8.8), they could not eat food from a Gentile, nor eat with a Gentile (Acts 11.3; Gal 2.11-12). In Acts 10 we read about Cornelius and his house. He was a Godfearer, a “phoubemenoi” and the house of Hillel would have ruled him a “righteous Gentile.” Of course Cornelius receives the Holy Spirit and Peter is astonished. In Acts 11 he tells the story and everyone is shocked because they thought that could only happen to converts (to their brand of Judaism. As you can see, there were many “Judaisms” in the first century), and Cornelius was not even circumcised. Where it says in Acts 11.3 “You went into the house of an uncircumcised (not a convert) Gentile” is one of the 18 Edicts. These edicts forbid any interaction between Jews and Gentiles, unless they were converts. This was the issue in Acts 15.1 where it says “And some men came down from Judea, teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised (become a Jew) according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'” These were people from the School of Shammai teaching some of the 18 Edicts to other believers. Paul runs into the same problem in Galatia. In Acts 10 Peter sees a vision three times. He goes to Caesarea (home of the Tenth Legion, where you would expect to find a centurion).

In Acts 10.25-28 we read about one of the 18 Edicts. Peter evidently was following them, until now. This was one of the hottest issues of the time. In Acts 21.15-26 we have the story of Paul who was coming out of a Nazarite Vow (Num 6), and he had cut his hair in Acts 18.18. He goes to Jerusalem to offer the required korbanot after coming out of the vow (Acts 24.17) and in the process proves that he follows the halakah and the Torah (v 23.24). Paul is accused of allowing a Gentile into the temple (v 28) and gives his defense in Acts 22.1-22). He tells them about Yeshua as the Messiah, and they didn’t object. But, when you get to v 22 they get upset when he tells them that he was sent to the Gentiles!

One of the most misinterpreted books of the Bible is the Book of Galatians. This book is taught verse by verse on this site, so we will not go into it in detail now. But, let’s look at a few things from it. It was written in Hebrew by Paul and it must be understood using Hebrew concepts. Paul is an agent of the Lord, working under the authority of Yeshua and the Father. The congregations were called a “kehilat” (root is “kahal”=assembly) and not “churches” as some believe. Also, Yeshua did not establish “the church” as it is known today, the “ecclesia” was established long before Yeshua (Acts 7.38; Shavuot is called “Yom Kahal” or “day of the Assembly”-Deut 18.16. The word “kahal” is used there and the Greek is “ecclesia” and it means “congregation, assembly of called out ones”).

Yeshua did not institute the Lord’s Supper or Baptism either. A Lord’s Supper was done before Yeshua and called the “Seudah Elohim” and were also called meals consecrated to God and they were done on festivals, Sabbaths and special events like weddings. Baptism is called “tevilah” and these date back to at least Mount Sinai, if not before that. The problem with using “church” is we think of Gentile Christianity and we need to see these people as who they were, following a Jewish framework for the faith. When Yeshua came he continued what had already been established as far as the kahal. We read about the “Basar” or “gospel” and this word needs to be defined. The people were looking for the Malkut Shamayim, or “kingdom of heaven.”

Zech 14.9 talks about when the kingship of God is established on the earth. That is the first part of the Basar (for more on the “Basar” see the article on this site for more concepts related to it). This term “basar” is used many times in the Tanak. You will not see anyone asking in the gospels and epistles what the “gospel” was. They knew the concept (Gal 3.8). The “good news” or the gospel is mentioned in Isa 40.9; 52.7; 61.1; Nahum 1.15 and Heb 4.1-3. John 4.19-24 says that the Jewish people of Yeshua’s time knew what the gospel was. What we need to research is what were the people expecting in the first century. This will help us in determining what the true gospel is.

In this teaching, we are going to challenge everything we think we know as we go from here. A misunderstanding of the concepts we have just discussed has damaged believers for nearly 1700 years. The Book of Galatians is one (of two) the worst interpreted books in the New Testament. As we have said before, go to “The Book of Galatians” on this site for a verse by verse study on this, but we are going to touch on a few things in this teaching because it will help in understanding the gospels and epistles.

In Part 5, we will pick up here with the “Basarah” (feminine for “good news, glad tidings, gospel”) and define what it is with a brief list, and we will discuss what the people in the first century looked for when they heard that the “gospel” was being preached. Why is this important? Because then you will know what Paul was referring to in Galatians 1.6 by “another gospel.” From there we will continue with the keys to understanding the gospels and epistles.

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

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