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More dialogues with "counter-missionary" Jews

Jewish comment:

The Refiner's Fire has espoused the following: After the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, there were no priests, prophets and kings, and that's when the gathering at Yavneh decided to replace the priests, prophets, and kings with their rabbinic leaders (rabbis). Yochanan Ben Zachai was the first one who suggested replacing the sacrifices with salvation good deeds - which was one form of replacement theology.

Anyone who thinks Jews believe in salvation by works alone should flip through an Orthodox Jewish prayer book and count the times we beg the Almighty to forgive our sins. One such plea comes to mind: "Our Father, our King, be GRACIOUS to us and answer us, for NOT IN US ARE GOOD DEEDS; do with us charity and KINDNESS, and save us."

The Talmuds were put together AFTER those years mentioned above, and the effects of Zachai and his groups had been felt/agreed upon by then. And they all believed it was good - they had to because if the Torah was so good by itself, why would they bother to clarify and codify all this?

It is accepted as axiomatic that every word and every letter in the Tanakh is there for a purpose. Nothing is there because Moses or whichever prophet simply had extra ink in his quill. If something is said more than once, or in more words than seem necessary, it is because something extra is being taught. The Oral Law tells us how to interpret these extra words and letters. The Oral Law (Mishna/Talmud) was in fact in existance in Oral form from the time of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. It was codified into the Talmud because Roman persecution created the danger that it would be forgotten, G-d forbid. To say that we believe in "the Bible and the Talmud" is a misconception; to us, it is all the Bible.

Your site also espoused: The Jews are letting history (Crusades, Inquisition, Holocaust, etc) anesthetize them by becoming humanistic and secular - or going totally rabbinical, as evidenced by the many "anti-missionary sites that serve to me as PROOF of this. It's commendable that the rabbis tried to protect their people from history and to tell them that the way to heaven was by good deeds, but it's simply NOT Biblical....

I believe you are making the same error as the Christians who accuse Messianic believers of being "under the Law". They see you keeping Torah to the best of your ability, and they conclude that you think that's what your salvation depends on, but of course that's not the case. Neither is it the case for us. We too believe in "salvation by grace", though we don't generally use those exact words. True repentance by definition produces good works as its fruit, but we don't think for a second that good works alone are sufficient. On Yom Kippur, the majority of the prayers simply beg G-d to be merciful with us and forgive our sins.

The Netzarim Response:

There is no question that many Messianic and traditional Jews recognize that "works" alone can never compare to truly giving your heart to God. The Messianic position, however, posits that within traditional Judaism, there is an overemphasis placed on ritualistic works as a means of finding salvation (We're not saying this applies to all traditional Jews). The danger, from the messianic perspective, is that when one gets lost in the minutia of following rules, the rules become more important than the relationship with God.

The question is, what rules constitute minutia and what do not. "Thou shall not kill", we would submit, is not minutia. Nor is a rule like "Thou shall not steal." By sharp contrast, as an example, a traditional Jewish friend who distinguishes between their kosher and non-kosher ice cream scoops may be a tad lost in the minutia. Our traditional Jewish friend considers this to be a good deed for which God will reward him. That is, he is properly adhering to kosher tradition. This is an excellent candidate for the minutia category....As are those who refuse to get out of bed on Shabbat for fear of being guilty of "work."

One must ask himself, "When I meet God and the time for my potential salvation is at hand, will He really ask about the ice cream scoops?" There are dozens of rules like these that traditional Jews adhere to and believe bring them closer to God. Many orthodox Jews can tell you everything about ritualistic good works expressed through kosher tradition, but they cannot tell you how their love for God and non-ritualistic prayer helps shape the course of their lives.

The traditional Jewish response is that ritualistic good works help identify Jews as a people. Moreover, they provide for a shared tradition to be passed down to our children. From this perspective there can only be blessing. No Messianic Jew would dispute that keeping our traditions and passing on a shared heritage is a blessing. Messianic Jews simply suggest that heritage means less if what one passes down focuses on minutia and not on a personal relationship with God – a contention I'm sure you would agree with. Messianic Jews suggest that salvation and true good works come from living the way Yeshua (not conservative preachers from the south!) interpreted our Torah and Haphtarah. We believe there can be no greater tradition to pass down to our children than a belief in our Jewish Messiah. At the very least, we submit it brings greater meaning than picking the kosher ice cream scoop.

Jewish Comment:

One of the articles on your website asks how the Jews can possibly think that Isaiah 53 refers to Israel. Did the Jewish people (including the men, women and children who died in the Holocaust) die for the sin of gentile nations? And was God pleased to do this? Have the rabbis noted what are they saying?

First, I don't see how YOU can possibly assume that Isaiah 53 is about Yeshua. Theoretically we could all be wrong. However, the Jews who died in the Holocaust indeed died because of Gentile sins. The sin in question was anti-Semitism, and we suffered because of it.

The Netzarim Response:

That statement is true and false, and there's a bigger picture here. Please see our Isaiah 53 article.

Yes, those Jews died at the hands of some sinful Gentiles; however, according to God, ALL have sinned and come short of earning God's praise (Romans 3:23). We could trace all the way back to Adam, the first sinner, and lay the blame on him. We could also lay the blame on the Jews themselves who were "dispersed throughout the nations" because of their disobedience. We could say that if Israel had not been guilty of sinning (as revealed throughout the Old Testament), then the Holocaust might never have happened, as the Jews would still have been under Hashem's protection.

Ezekiel 36:19-21: 19 I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them throughout the countries; I judged them in keeping with their manner of life and actions. 20 When they came to the nations they were going to, they profaned my holy name; so that people said of then, 'These are ADONAI'S people, who have been exiled from his land.' 21 But I am concerned about my holy name, which the house of Isra'el is profaning among the nations where they have gone.

Throughout history the Jews have always suffered and/or died for various reasons - the biggest being that Satan absolutely HATES God's Chosen and has knocked himself out to kill them off. He used that "whack job" Hitler to try to finish off the Jews for good - but God turned it around and used it for HIS glory! Yes millions died - but we have to remember: God allowed it happen; nothing happens without His consent. While this doesn't seem fair, YHWH is God, and we are His creation with whom He can do whatever He chooses. But, because of the Holocaust, the world briefly felt sorry for the Jews which made one of God's prophecies come true in 1948 when Israel was returned to its rightful owners:

Ezekiel 36:8-10 prophesied that Israel would be restored as a nation and repopulated with its people: "'But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown, and I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt." The prophet Ezekiel said that the Jews would return, rebuild and repopulate their fallen cities. In 1948, there were about 600,000 Jews living in Israel. Today there are about seven million, with many more returning each year.

YHWH is in charge! (See also Ezekiel 37:10.)

Jewish Comment:

Your Messianic assertion is: The Orthodox Jews say that YESHUA is not the Messiah because he had no descendants (he shall see his seed, Is. 53:10-12). Perhaps they should read the whole verse: When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, (after he has been killed) he shall see his seed (He will have carnal children? Who can have children after his death?)....It seems to me that these children are spiritual, not carnal children, because is impossible for someone to have children after he has died.

Indeed, after many of us were killed in the Holocaust and other acts of anti-Semitism, the remnant who survived saw seed. The word "zera" in Hebrew always means physical offspring; the word that can mean metaphoric or spiritual children is "ben".

The Netzarim Response:

Reference Isaiah 53:10 - You are perfectly right in saying that His "seed" is spiritual. His "seed"/offspring (as it is referred to in Stern's Complete Jewish Bible) are all those who have accepted Yeshua as Messiah and have "died" and been "born again" in Him. Yeshua had no physical descendants because He was a perfect Being and a virgin. He wasn't supposed to, nor did He NEED to have physical descendants because His purpose on earth was to teach us about YHWH and how to live with each other according to Torah, and then to become the final SIN sacrifice - not to marry and have physical offspring, which would have turned him into just another human being like everybody else. He was YHWH-Come-in-the-Flesh; not simply a weak, carnal being who required sex and offspring!

Jewish Comment:

Your Messianic assertion is: 12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong. The rabbis are saying that this verse is about Israel. If this supposedly applies to Israel, this passage is saying the same thing that Hitler said to justify his criminal intentions: that the Jews (Israel, instead of MESSIAH) will rule the world. Have the rabbis truly noted what are they saying?

The Jews will indeed rule the world. Messiah, a Jewish king, will be ruler over all the nations (Zechariah 9:9-10), and all the nations will go up to Jerusalem every year on Sukkot [Feast of Tabernacles] (Zechariah 14). But these Jewish aspirations cannot even be compared to Hitler's because we believe this will occur miraculously and not because of our actions.

The Netzarim Response:

Zechariah 9:9-10 - 9 Rejoice with all your heart, daughter of Tziyon! Shout out loud, daughter of Yerushalayim! Look! Your king is coming to you. He is righteous, and he is victorious. Yet he is humble - he's riding on a donkey, yes, on a lowly donkey's colt. 10 I will banish chariots from Efrayim and war-horses from Yerushalayim." The warrior's bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. He will rule from sea to sea, and from the [Eurphrates] River to the ends of the earth.

You quote Zechariah 9:9 and can't see that this describes Yeshua? (Click here to see other dead-on prophecies He fulfilled!) According to Daniel, there would be 483 years between the decree to rebuild the wall and the city of Jerusalem in troublesome times before Messiah would be cut off for the sins of the people. Exactly 483 years after the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its walls, Yeshua of Nazareth offered himself to the nation of Israel. He rode into the city on a donkey to the rejoicing of the people, just as the prophet Zechariah had predicted! He was humble, He was righteous, He was everything the Tanach foreshadowed. And He WILL rule from sea to sea to the ends of the earth when he returns to defeat the antichrist at the battle of Armageddon: See Endtime Questions.

According to mathematician Professor Peter Stoner, the prophecies Yeshua fulfilled are "dead-on" accurate and that the probability of at least 48 OT prophecies about Yeshua being fulfilled in one person is the incredible number of 10^157 power. Quote from Stoner:

For example, what's the likelihood of a person predicting today the exact city in which the birth of a future leader would take place, well into the 21st century? This is indeed what the prophet Micah did 700 years before the Messiah. Further, what is the likelihood of predicting the precise manner of death that a new, unknown religious leader would experience, a thousand years from now - a manner of death presently unknown, and to remain unknown for hundreds of years? Yet, this is what David did in 1000 B.C.

Again, what is the likelihood of predicting the specific date of the appearance of some great future leader, hundreds of years in advance? This is what Daniel did, 530 years before Christ.

If one were to conceive 50 specific prophecies about a person in the future, whom one would never meet, just what's the likelihood that this person will fulfill all 50 of the predictions? How much less would this likelihood be if 25 of these predictions were about what other people would do to him, and were completely beyond his control?

For example, how does someone "arrange" to be born in a specific family?

How does one "arrange" to be born in a specified city, in which their parents don't actually live? How does one "arrange" their own death - and specifically by crucifixion, with two others, and then "arrange" to have their executioners gamble for His clothing (John 16:19; Psalms 22:18)? How does one "arrange" to be betrayed in advance? How does one "arrange" to have the executioners carry out the regular practice of breaking the legs of the two victims on either side, but not their own? Finally, how does one "arrange" to be God? How does one escape from a grave and appear to people after having been killed?

Indeed, it may be possible for someone to fake one or two of the Messianic prophecies, but it would be impossible for any one person to arrange and fulfill all of these prophecies.

So, if you feel Yeshua did NOT fulfill all the OT prophecies, who are you waiting for? Someone who fits YOUR interpretation of Messiah? Or perhaps you're hoping that Rabbi Schneerson will miraculously raise from the dead after all these years? Did he ride a donkey or fulfill all the OT prophecies?

Jewish Comment:

The above seems to be suggesting, as the Apostle Paul does in 1 Corinthians 7, that the highest ideal is celibacy. Judaism teaches the opposite. The first commandment given to mankind, before the sin with the Tree of Knowledge, was "be fruitful and multiply". This commandment was repeated to Noah and his family when they emerged from the ark. Leviticus 16:6 says that the High Priest on Yom Kippur must make atonement first for himself and his household, and only afterward for the congregation, from which the Sages learn that the High Priest must be married with children, because only a father would be capable of feeling the requisite compassion to function as High Priest on Yom Kippur. (There was even a "deputy High Priest" who served as a stand-in in case the High Priest's wife died just prior to Yom Kippur.)

The commandment to teach G-d's commandments to our children is given twice (Deuteronomy 6:7 and 11:19), to include one's own offspring as well as one's students (metaphoric children), from which we may derive an obligation to procreate.

The Netzarim Response:

This highlights another popular misconception traditional Jews and Catholics have about Yeshua. Celibacy is not the ideal, and never was. Throughout the New Testament, one can find text relating to the virtues of procreation during marriage. People often forget that as God in a man, Yeshua did not need sex the way normal men do. God's mission as Yeshua's was not to procreate and, as a result, there is no evidence Yeshua had relations with another woman.

Yeshua's mission was to: (1) proclaim the Kingdom of YHWH and bring divine interpretation to His Torah (Luke 4:43); (2) to martyr Himself in human form as the Final SIN Sacrifice; and (3) be resurrected to illustrate that striving to live the way He did can bring salvation and a triumph over a carnal death. None of these goals have anything to do with procreation and, as a result, Yeshua had no need for sex. Remember, YHWH tells human beings to be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1:21 – 1:23.) As YHWH-Come-in-the-Flesh, this rule obviously does not apply to Yeshua.

Your example of the Jewish High Priest needing to atone first for himself and his household, and only afterward for the congregation, is an excellent example. As you wisely point out, only a father would be capable of feeling the requisite compassion to function as High Priest on Yom Kippur. However, because Yeshua literally is the word of God in a man - that is, YHWH-Come-in-the-Flesh; then Yeshua is the ultimate realization of a father. He was the vessel YHWH chose = a human with a divine qnoma (Nature) so that all of Israel would truly understand His Torah. Because YHWH is the creator of all things – including fathers – Yeshua had no need to physically become one Himself.

Jewish Comment:

Your Messianic assertion is: Matthew 4 gives us an idea about how hard Satan tried his best to appeal to Yeshua's human nature, but failed miserably! Yeshua NEVER succumbed to sin of any kind....

The apostle James (James 1:13) says, "G-d cannot be tempted", whereas Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:13, and Luke 4:1-2 all say that Yeshua was tempted by Satan. Was Yeshua divine, or wasn't he?

The Netzarim Response:

The scripture provides that Satan tempts Yeshua when Yeshua's humanity hungers for food. This is entirely distinct from a contention that Yeshua experienced temptation.

Let's say I had no money, and then, one day, you approached me on the street and said, "If you kill the next person who walks by, I'll give you a million dollars." You'd be attempting to tempt me. However, I would never experience the temptation because I would never kill another human being – even if I needed money. The same logic applies to Yeshua. The scripture indicates that Yeshua experienced hunger, but there is no language indicating Satan's efforts to tempt Him led Him to experience temptation.

Jewish Comment:

Your Messianic assertion is: Old Covenant prophecies were fulfilled in the New Covenant and prove that Yeshua alone COULD and DID fulfill the Messianic prophecies.

Even if you are correctly interpreting the prophecies, the only evidence that Yeshua actually fulfilled them is the testimony of the New Testament itself. The open-minded skeptic - the person who is willing to consider the possible divine authorship of the NT, but not willing to take it on faith alone - cannot be expected to take the NT's claims at face value, any more than the Koran or the Book of Mormon (both of which claim to be part of a contiguous whole, along with the OT and the NT). For instance, how do we know that Yeshua was born of a virgin, was despised and rejected, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, etc.?

The Netzarim Response:

There are eight factors one should consider when evaluating the accuracy and credibility of the New Testament. Because it would be too lengthy an exercise to go through the entire New Testament, we will focus solely on the Gospels; for the analysis that applies to them largely applies to the New Testament as a whole.

The first factor to consider is the intention of the writers. This test seeks to determine whether it was the stated or implied intention of the writers to accurately preserve history. One should begin with the Gospel of Luke, which reads very much like prefaces to other generally historical and biographical works of antiquity.

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophillus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."

Luke is clearly saying he intended to write accurately about things he investigated and found to be well supported by eyewitnesses. It's true that Mark and Matthew don't have this kind of explicit statement; however, they are close to Luke in terms of genre, and it seems reasonable that Luke's historical intent would closely mirror theirs. Consider the way the gospels are written – in a sober and responsible fashion, with accurate incidental details, with obvious care and exactitude. It is quite apparent that the goal of the Gospel writers was to attempt to record what had actually occurred.

The second factor to consider is the ability of the writers to accurately and reliably record history. That is, how can we be sure that the material about Yeshua's life and teachings was well preserved for 30 years before it was finally written down in the Gospels?

One must first remember that the New Testament was written in foreign land in a distant time and place and in a culture that had not yet invented computers or even the printing press. Books – or actually, scrolls of papyrus – were relatively rare. Therefore education, learning, worship, teaching in religious communities – all this was done by word of mouth.

At that time, Rabbis also became famous for having the entire Torah and Haphtarah committed to memory. Thus, it would have been well within the capability of Yeshua's disciples to have committed much more to memory than appears in all four Gospels put together – and to have passed it along accurately. This is difficult for us to imagine today, but the time of the Second Temple was an oral culture, in which there was great emphasis placed on memorization. To be fair, Reverend Oral Roberts who is alive today memorized the entire Torah, Haphtarah and New Testament. It is also important to note that Yeshua's words were originally in poetic form. This doesn't mean words that rhyme; this means words that have meter, balanced lines, parallelism, and so forth. This structure could only serve as an excellent memory aid for the disciples.

Along these lines, it is significant that 10 to 40 percent is consistently the amount of variation among the gospels on any given passage. Why? Because a lot of the similarities and differences among the Gospels can be explained by assuming the disciples committed to memory a lot of what Yeshua said and did, but they felt free to recount this information in various forms, always preserving the significance of Yeshua's original teachings and deeds.

The third factor to consider is the character of the writers. This considers whether it was in the character of these writers to be truthful. That is, this factor considers whether there was any evidence of dishonesty or immorality that might taint their ability or willingness to transmit history accurately.

The reality is that there is no evidence to suggest that the writers of the Gospels were anything but people of great integrity. Specifically, we see them reporting the words and actions of a man who called them to as exacting a level of integrity as any religion has ever known. They were willing to live out their beliefs even to the point of ten of the eleven remaining disciples being put to grisly deaths.

Thus, in terms of honesty, in terms of truthfulness, in terms of virtue and morality, these individuals had a track record that should be envied.

The fourth factor to consider is the consistency of the gospels. After all, aren't they contradictory with each other? The answer is yes. It is through these contradictions, however, that the Gospels gain – not lose – credibility. Ironically, if the Gospels had been identical to each other, this would have raised charges that the authors had conspired among themselves to coordinate their stories in advance, and that would have cast doubt among them. That is, people would then say there really is only one testimony that everybody else is just parroting.

Professor Simon Greenleaf of Harvard Law School, an author of an influential treaties on evidence, studied the consistency among the four Gospel writers. He offered this evaluation, "There is enough of a discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction."

From the perspective of a classical historian, German scholar Hans Stier has concurred that "agreement over basic data and divergence of details suggest credibility, because fabricated accounts tend to be fully consistent and harmonized." This reasoning clearly applies to the Gospels as a historical account written by four different men.

The fifth factor to consider is whether the authors of the gospels had any bias that would color their work. Put simply, one cannot underestimate that these individuals loved Yeshua. They were not neutral observers; they were his devoted followers. However, it is for this exact reason that the authors of the gospels were not biased. When people so love and so honor someone, its prompts them to record their life with great integrity. That's how they show their love for them.

How do we know this is true in the case of Yeshua? The reality is that the disciples had nothing to gain except criticism, ostracism, and martyrdom. They certainly had nothing to gain financially. If anything, this would have provided pressure to keep quiet, to deny Yeshua, to downplay Him, even to forget they ever met Him – yet because of their integrity and love for Him, they proclaimed what they saw, even when it meant their own terrible suffering and death.

The sixth factor to consider is whether the authors of the Gospels covered up any details that didn't help make the case that Yeshua was God in a man. The answer is they did not. Quite the opposite. For example, Mark 6:5 says that Yeshua could do few miracles in Nazareth because the people there had little faith, which seems to limit Yeshua's power. Yeshua's mikva (baptism) is another example. You can explain why Yeshua, who was without sin, allowed himself to be baptized, but why not make things easier by leaving it out altogether?

Here's the point: If the disciples didn't feel free to leave out material when it would have been convenient to do so, is it really plausible to believe that they outright added and fabricated material with no historical basis?

The seventh factor to evaluate is whether the events described in the Bible can be corroborated. Often such corroboration is invaluable in assessing whether a writer has a commitment to accuracy. Applied here, the longer people explore the issue of corroboration, the more the details get confirmed. Within the last hundred years archaeology has repeatedly unearthed discoveries that have confirmed the specific references in the Gospels.

Let's take the Gospel of Luke for example. In Luke 3:1, he refers to Lysanias being the tetrarch of Abilene in about A.D. 27. For years scholars pointed to this as evidence that Luke didn't know what he was talking about, since everybody knew that Lysanias was not a tetrarch but rather the ruler of Chalcis half a century earlier. If Luke couldn't get that basic fact right, how can anything he wrote be trusted?

That's where archaeology steps in. An inscription was later found from the time of Tiberius, from A.D. 13 – 37, which names Lysanias as tetrarch in Abila near Damascus – just as Luke had written. It turned out there had been two government officials named Lysanias! Luke was shown to be exactly right.

Another example is Luke's reference in Acts 17:6 to politarchs (city officials) in the city of Thessalonica. For a long time people thought Luke was mistaken because no evidence of the term politarchs had been found in any ancient Roman documents. However, an inscription on a first-century arch was later found that begins, "In the time of the politarchs...." One can go to the British Museum and see it in person. And then, lo and behold, archaeologists have found more than thirty-five inscriptions that mention politarchs, several of these in Thessalonica from the same period Luke was referring to. Once again the critics were wrong and Luke was shown to be right.

The eighth factor to consider is whether adverse witnesses were present at the time these texts were composed. This factor evaluates whether people in the time of Yeshua contradicted or corrected the Gospels because they were distorted or false. In other words, do we see examples of contemporaries of Yeshua complaining that the Gospel accounts were just plain wrong? After all, many people had reasons for wanting to discredit this movement and would have done so if they could have simply told history better.

Yet look at what His opponents did say. In later Jewish writings Yeshua is called a sorcerer who led Israel astray – which acknowledges that He really did work miraculous wonders, although the writers dispute the source of His power. This would have been a perfect opportunity to say something like, "The Jews who follow Yeshua will tell you He worked miracles, but we are here to tell you he didn't." Yet that's one thing we NEVER see His opponents saying. Instead they implicitly acknowledge that what the Gospels wrote – that Yeshua performed miracles – is true.

Remember, this fragile movement of Jews that believed Yeshua to be our Jewish Messiah could NEVER have taken place in Jerusalem – in the very area where Yeshua ministered and was crucified, buried, and resurrected – if people who knew Him were aware that the disciples were exaggerating or distorting the things He did. If critics in the time of Yeshua could have attacked the movement on the specific basis that the gospels were full of falsehoods or distortions, they would have. But, that's exactly what we don't see.

In sum, if one takes these eight factors together, you emerge with a picture of one of the most reliable sources of text on the planet.