Dr Joseph Shulam presents pharisees as precursors to the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century1. If you are a Christian who believes that the individual believer has the right and responsibility to interpret the Word of God for themselves you have this in common with the pharisees. If you believe in active prophecy, gifts of healing and miracles, the existence of good and evil spirits, and the resurrection from the dead… you and the pharisees are on the same page. Dr. Shulam calls the pharisees the “first protestants”. It is interesting that Paul refers to himself as a pharisee in the book of Philippians and we know that many pharisees were among the first followers of Jesus. Since most Christians think of the pharisees in a negative light, it is interesting to think that Paul may have continued to self identify as a pharisee after his conversion.
When we Christians read Paul’s epistles we see the narrative of a battle between the apostle and a legalistic sect that sought to make gentile converts submit to the mosaic law. This is definitely the case. In spite of this, according to Dr. Shulam, Paul can still be considered to be the greatest “judaizer” of all, envisioning the one new synagog for all nations, expressed in Ephesians:
“ For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” (Eph. 2:14-16).
Although Paul clearly taught that gentile believers should not be submitted to the mosaic law, he did see them as being brought within the community of God’s people, whose root is the jewish nation. We are grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel:
“For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and [d]fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Rom. 11:16-18).
By Dr. Harvey’s research, the number of Jewish believers in Jesus as Messiah is only .05%. This is a great mystery as we contemplate the promises and purpose of God for the Jewish people in biblical prophecy.
I’ve often heard Christians comment that they prefer the word of Jesus to Paul because Jesus was patient and kind whereas Paul was stern and belligerent. Dr. Harvey conveys the opposite perspective. In his perspective Jesus’ discourse was much harsher because He was urgently warning the Jewish people regarding the consequences of collectively rejecting their Messiah. Think of the warnings of fiery judgement that followed many of Jesus’ parables. We know that in 70 c.e. the prophecies of Jesus regarding the destruction of the temple and an ensuing time of great suffering for the Jewish people did in fact occur.
In comparison, according to Dr. Harvey, Paul’s letters to the predominantly gentile churches are focused on laying the foundation of God’s grace. The gentiles had nothing of the background knowledge of God, His justice and purposes that Israel possessed. Dr. Shulam also suggests that it is probable that the judaizers Paul combats in the epistles were mostly gentile proselytes. Being in the minority initially, these gentile believers were drawn to the practices and demands of the mosaic law. This could naturally occur as they felt the pressure to demonstrate their spirituality in spite of not being born into the spiritual inheritance of the jews.
Lastly, Dr Harvey interprets Peter’s vision in Acts regarding clean and unclean animals as referring to accepting communion with gentiles in the church. He believes that the gentiles were clearly not required to obey the mosaic law. However the Jewish believers understood that obedience to the dietary laws was still part of their faithfulness to God’s covenant with the nation of Israel. How this perspective takes into consideration the definitive sacrifice of Christ for sin is something I still have not been able to comprehend completely in my study of messianic jewish teaching.
But as a gentile Christian raised in the church I find that listening to Messianic Jewish teachers brings new perspectives and questions I have never considered. This is intriguing and thought provoking, something I would not necessarily recommend for a new believer. However, I do believe that there are key understandings that we gentiles have missed because the practice of the church has largely been divorced from it’s Jewish context. Without comprehending this cultural-societal context there is much we misunderstand and misappropriate. In my humble opinion 🙂
- Dr Joseph Shulam: https://youtu.be/RzEXU5dzTxw
- Ibid. : https://youtu.be/Z7vn3ypuqZo
- Ibid. : https://youtu.be/-cVzihhZ4nQ