How to Understand the New Testament-Part 5

One of the major keys to understanding the gospels and epistles is having a proper concept of the “Basarah” or the “good tidings” or gospel. If you ask most people (believers) what the gospel is they will tell you “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” but there is more to it. The Basarah was preached to Abraham, and to Israel in the wilderness before there was a Yeshua, and it is spoken about in the Tanak. We are going to expand it and show how it involves looking for the Malkut Shamayim, or the “kingdom of heaven.”

Gal 1.6 says that there would be “another gospel” preached and that means it would be different from the Basarah that the Jewish people understood and expected. The Basarah, or “good news” of the Malkut Shamayim is the “kingship of God” (Zech 14.9; Isa 2.2-4; Micah 4.1-4; Jer 23.5-6; Jer 33.15-16; Isa 27.12-13 and John 1.44-51). Here are some aspects of the Basarah as understood by the Jewish people in the first century, when Yochanon and Yeshua preached.

It involved these concepts: it would be the “golden age” of Israel; David’s throne was restored; the Messiah has come; God reigns through him over the earth; peace has come to man and nature has been restored; the resurrection of the righteous has occurred; righteousness reigns in the earth; the Day of the Lord has come; the Torah goes forth to the world; idolatry has been destroyed; the exiles of Israel and Judah have returned to the land; true worship has been restored and the Gentiles believe in the Messiah.

The Messiah is the agent of God, empowered to bring all these concepts into being. His task is to redeem man and nature, a total restoration. We enter into that redemption by emunah (faith). In the mind of the people, they were expecting all these things when they heard “the Gospel.” Anything different than this is “another gospel.”

Now, remember we have two main groups leading the Jewish people in the first century, the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. There will be a third group thrown into the mix, the believing non-Jews. The School of Shammai dominated the halakah (the way to walk in the Torah) for the non-Jews. They said the non-Jews could not be accepted unless they became Jews through ritual circumcision.

The School of Hillel taught that the Malkut Shamayim could be entered into by faith (emunah), either Jew or non-Jew. In Gal 1.6-7 it says that this “different” gospel would “distort” the true gospel. That means that they would add to the grace of God in salvation and redemption, which only comes through a work of God and through the Messiah alone. The word “distort” means to “turn about, pervert, change, corrupt, move or twist.” This “twist” that Paul is referring to concerned the status of the non-Jews coming into the Malkut Shamayim. It was the number one issue during this period.

Salvation and redemption is entirely the work of God. They distorted the Basarah (gospel) by adding to the grace of God alone, by faith alone and Yeshua alone, by saying that the Galatians had to be circumcised according the halakah of the School of Shammai in order to be saved. Paul states that they changed the Basarah, or gospel.

The key to understanding Galatians is getting a proper backround or you are going to be reading it as it as interpreted in the twenty-first century, which is a western, “Hellenized” impression. This “impression” has been influenced by nearly 2000 years of pagan, gnostic and unscriptural changes that have been made. We are going to have to “strip” all that away and get back to a proper Hebraic understanding. This will need to happen for all the New Testament books.

So, there is a major conflict between several groups of Pharisees, the School of Hillel, where Paul came from, and the School of Shammai. Again, this group dominated the Pharisees and halakah until 70 A.D. In the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees dominated until 55 A.D. The Apostle James (Jacob) was most likely from the School of Shammai, based on what he wrote. So, we have two key figures from opposite sides trying to work out what the Lord wanted, especially concerning the Gentiles.

The Kahal of believers has a “nasi”, or “Rosh Knesset” (head of the assembly) in Jerusalem. His name was Yakov (Jacob, or James) from the School of Shammai. Shaul (Paul) is from the School of Hillel. We have already talked about Acts 10.1-35. If you read those verses, you will see that Cornelius was a Yiray Shamayim, or “Godfearer” (“phoubemenoi” in Greek). This was an “official” title given to non-Jews who believed in the God of Israel. They kept kosher, the festivals and the Sabbath. They followed the prayer cycles of Israel and these people were everywhere in the Roman Empire. They were active in synagogues, and even built them.

The purpose of Peter’s vision was “not to call any man unclean” (10.28). This vision was given to refute the 18 Edicts from the House of Shammai. This was a major issue. In Acts 11.1-3, Peter is accused of going to uncircumcised men and eating with them. The 18 Edicts were designed to restrict such intercourse. The bottom line of these verses is that they refute the concept that non-Jews have to become Jewish to be saved. So much for the 18 Edicts in the Messianic community.

In Eph 2.11-22 it speaks of the “dividing wall” and the “law of commandments.” Many teachers say that this is the Torah, but Paul and the first century believers were Torah observant, so that is an impossible interpretation. The “dividing wall” and the “law of commandments” were the 18 Edicts of Beit Shammai that separated Jews and non-Jews. It was these unscriptural, man-made doctrines that separated these groups that were being torn down, not “doing away with the Torah.”

This was the hottest issue among the Jews, the fact that the Basar was going to the non-Jews (Acts 22.20-22). This issue was so divisive that a council had to be called in Jerusalem because certain men (from the School of Shammai who had become believers) came and taught that that unless you are circumcised according to Moses, you cannot be saved. This was the main issue in the Book of Galatians.

Of course, this was aimed at the non-Jews who were coming into the faith. It was agreed that these Gentiles did not need to become Jewish through circumcision (what Paul was trying to say in Galatians), based on Peter’s testimony and what Paul was doing among the Gentiles (Acts 15.7-12). The council agreed that four minimum standards should be taught to these Gentiles at first, as they were coming into fellowship with the Jewish believers. They are a prohibition against idolatry, immorality, eating carrion that had been strangled, and from blood (murder). The basis for these four can be found in Ezek 33.25-26 and Ezek 44.31, the Noahide Laws and the book of Leviticus. Then they were to go to the synagogues, where Moses was taught, to learn what else applied to them (Acts 15.21).

The big question was whether the Gentiles can have salvation without becoming Jews through circumcision. They determined that they could. This went against what was taught by the School of Shammai, and many believers were from that school of thought. As mentioned before, one of these prohibitions concerned food, and this was an issue in Galatians 2.12.

We have already mentioned that Paul was from the School of Hillel and played a major role in fighting the 18 Edicts and other man-made doctrines that affected the first century believers. Let’s look at his credentials because this will explain what he wrote.

In Phil 3.5-6 it says he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews (means very orthodox and his parents were Orthodox), as to the Torah, a Pharisee (from the School of Hillel), as to zeal, a persecutor of the kahal; as to the righteousness which is the Torah, found blameless (means he observed the Torah to the strictest level).”

Acts 22.3 says, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up under Gamaliel (Hillel’s grandson and Nasi of the Sanhedrin) strictly according to the Torah of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today.” In Acts 23.6 he says that, “Brethren, I am (present tense) a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.” He described himself as an Israelite and a Hebrew in 2 Cor 11.22. He was a delegated officer of the Sanhedrin in Acts 7.58 at the stoning of Stephen and to arrest Hellenistic Jews in Damascus in Acts 9.1-2; see also Acts 22.4-5 and Acts 22.20. He was a voting member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 26.10).

Now, as a side note, when the Sanhedrin could give a death sentence, it could only be given while the Sanhedrin sat in the Lishkat ha Gazit, or the “chamber of the Hewn Stones” located in the south eastern part of the court of the Israelites. They moved out of there around 30 A.D. in protest against Pilate, so they could not give a death sentence to Yeshua. They moved to the southeastern one third of the Royal Stoa at the south end of the temple complex. By the time of Stephen’s death, they had moved back. Why did that happen? Because the Messiah had to be crucified according to the Scriptures (Psa 22; Isa 53), so the Lord arranged circumstances to force them out of there temporarily, or he would have been stoned. This is another indication as to when the Messiah came in the first century.

Stephen had to be taken “outside of the city” to be stoned. The method of stoning is given in Jewish writings, so let’s recreate what happened to Stephen. A crier goes ahead of him asking if anyone has any additional information on his case. If someone does, he waves to those behind him who were coming in stages, and they go back the Lishkat ha Gazit. This happens every time a creditable witness comes forward. The place of stoning was probably Golgotha. Ten cubits from the place of execution, they stop and ask for a confession (Josh 7 and Achan is the precedent). If he confesses, they go ahead. If not, they move ahead four cubits, they strip him but he is covered in front. The witnesses push him off the side and if it kills him, then it’s over. Remember, they tried to do this to Yeshua in Nazareth (Luke 4.29).

If it doesn’t kill him, then a large stone is thrown down over his heart. If that doesn’t kill him, then all the people throw stones (Deut 17.7). If he is blasphemer, he is hanged afterward. This was probably Stephen’s fate. So, Paul seems to be a voting member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 22.20; 26.10) and also the “shaliach” or “apostle” or “agent” of the Sanhedrin who carried out sentence. We know he had a hand in Stephen’s stoning and also arrested and imprisoned many believers (Acts 22.4-5).

In Part 6 we will pick up here and continue looking into the Book of Galatians and touch on what was really happening there, and then moving on to other concepts, keeping in mind what we have learned, and giving more backround. We are going to bring out many more concepts as this teaching unfolds so that you can better understand the gospels and epistles.

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

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