Temple Update: Sanhedrin Chamber of Hewn Stone Blueprints Revealed

Chamber of Hewn Stone blueprint
Aerial view of the Chamber of the Hewn Stone

Recently, the Temple Institute released the blueprints for the Chamber of the Hewn Stone (the Lishkat haGazit, in Hebrew), the area of the Temple complex in which the Sanhedrin would convene. This is very exciting to see, and makes the possibility of the Holy Temple’s rebuilding somewhat tangible. Even more so is the computer-generated, virtual “fly-through” that they have created as well. You can really visualize what it might be like.

If you’re not familiar with the Chamber of Hewn Stone, it probably because there’s not a great deal of information circulating about it. This chamber was used by the Sanhedrin for judgement. They would hear cases and deliberate upon them in this area.

When Israel became occupied by foreign powers, the Sanhedrin removed themselves from this location as an act of protest, since their power was essentially stripped from them (particularly in the area of capital cases). Although I had thought it took place much earlier, the Jewish Time Line Encyclopedia (p.93) says this took place in 29 C.E.

Some have claimed that this would have been where Jesus would have been taken and tried upon his arrest. However, there are several problems with this assumption, two of which are 1) The Sanhedrin could not try capital cases at night (Sanhedrin 35a-b), and 2) he was not tried by the Sanhedrin proper. He was sentenced before a kangaroo court, which did not legally have the authority to any sentence at all.

Also interesting is the fact that of all of the parts of the Holy Temple which they could have been the initial focus, the Chamber of the Hewn Stone was chosen. Why? According to the Temple Institute,

The Sanhedrin Chamber of Hewn Stone is but a single chamber in the northern wall of the Holy Temple. It was chosen as the initial focus of the blueprint project, not because of its architectural significance, per se, but because of its overwhelming spiritual significance to the world. The seventy elders of the Sanhedrin have been vested with the authority of the seventy elders whom G-d commanded Moshe to appoint in the desert…

These elders are not only judges, but also teachers who task is to ensure that “for out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of HaShem from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3).

But could this also be a dual fulfillment of prophecy? Psalm 118:22 says:

“This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.”

We know this is in fulfillment of Jesus, the Messiah. However, could it also be connected to the Chamber of Hewn Stone, the literal “stone” which was once rejected now becoming the “cornerstone” of the rebuilding of the House of God? Just a thought…

You have heard that it was said… But I say to you – Part 1

Torah Scroll

Over the last few posts, I have been dealing with topics addressed in Oskar Skarsaune’s book, In The Shadow of the Temple. In this post I would like to address another such topic. In order to do so we must first look at the teachings of Jesus which are relevant to this discussion. They are as follows:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22, ESV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28, ESV)

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32, ESV)

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37, ESV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39, ESV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45, ESV)

In each of these teachings from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus makes a contrast between what was said previously (or “to those of old”) and his “new” instruction. There are different thoughts as to what he means by these contrasts, but I should like to address one in particular which has been offered by Skarsaune. He begins by commenting,

Jesus, obviously, never authenticated his teaching the way the rabbis did. He never said “I have received as a tradition”. “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22). Nor did he speak like a prophet. He never made himself a representative of God by using the prophetic messenger formula.

He spoke God’s word, he said God’s Law, in his own name. “You have heard that it was said [by God] to those of ancient times [at Sinai], … but I say to you” (Mt 5:21–22, 27, 31, 33, 38, etc.). For Jewish ears, this must have been shocking. They must have asked, “who are you, to set your own authority above that of the Law?” 1

In Skarsaune’s first statement, he is correct in his observation that Jesus did not validate his teachings as other rabbis. He had no previous authority from which he received his teaching, other than God alone. He taught by his own authority, not in the authority of another.

In Skarsaune’s next observation, however, we hear him speaking aloud the subconscious heart of modern Christian theology. Skarsaune interprets the phrase, “You have heard…” to mean, “You have heard that it was said [by God] to those of ancient times [at Sinai].” Here Jesus states what was spoken in the Law of Moses, and begins to change and to correct these antiquated laws which have become burdensome to the Jewish nation. According to Skarsaune, Jesus is said to set his “own authority above that of the Law.”  He later notes that, Jesus “…can deepen, radicalize, even correct the Torah2

With these statements, Skarsaune reveals an unconscious bias towards the supposed deficiency of the Torah, the Word of God previously given to His people. He sees it as needing correction, change, alteration in order to adapt God’s commandments to a new, Christian era. He doesn’t see the Word of the God being as immutable as God Himself. He assumes that the Torah can somehow be modified.

Theology Today

When asked if Jesus abrogated, repealed, overturned, or annulled the Law, most Christians will chime in with an emphatic, “No!” However, in our teaching, preaching and our daily lives, we state just the opposite. We play word games to try to uphold the Scriptures, while at the same time negating them. Skarsaune does this very thing. He attempts to justify his statements by saying Jesus can “correct the Torah; not by abrogating it, not by doing it away, but by making it complete” (p. 333). But this, along with all other similar attempts, is just a word game.

Although there is no malicious intent, this is the same theology that our pulpits and theological seminaries are producing. Through both our bias and our misunderstanding of the Jewish nature of our Master’s teaching we have unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) interpreted the words of Jesus in a way which contradicts the words of his Father. We translate Jesus’s “fulfill” of Matthew 5:17 to really mean “abolish,” even though we deny such a definition. Yet, when we reduce the meaning down to the practical, it has the same result. Our “fulfilling” really means “abolishing.”

More to come…

  1. In the shadow of the temple : Jewish influences on early Christianity. 2002 (331). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
  2. Ibid. (p. 333).

Engrafting or Replacement – Part 2

grafting image

In my previous post, I began examining where the Gentile dominated church began to ignore Paul’s warning in Romans 11 of becoming arrogant in their engrafting into the covenant people of God.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. (Romans 11:17-21, ESV)

Although Paul had foreseen this problem arising among non-Jewish believers and placed his admonition in writing, his predication became manifest in the church of the late second century, despite his rebuke to the early believers. Oskar Skarsaune notes that during the lifetime of Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 C.E.) this problem had already arisen, and only grew by compound measure in the years following. The increasingly Gentile Christians began to look at themselves as not merely being engrafted into Israel, the covenant people of God, but replacing and superseding her.

Skarsaune reduces the situation to the following:

But whereas in Paul the Gentiles are added to the true Israel of Jewish believers to share in their inheritance, in Justin it is the other way round: the few Jewish believers are added to the church of the Gentiles to share in their inheritance…While in Paul the Gentiles share in the promises given to true Israel, in Justin the promises are transferred from the Jewish people to the church of the Gentiles. This church replaces the Jewish people. It takes over the inheritance of Israel while at the same time disinheriting the Jews…. In this way, Christians of the second century were never able to assert their election in Christ without at the same time lashing out against the Jews. 1

But we must ask ourselves why this line of antagonism came into being. While there were multiple factors involved, I would like to address two. Skarsaune astutely observes that

the Jew had the religious and cultural security of hundreds of years of unbroken tradition. The Christians were newcomers with no prehistory, and they were painfully aware of it. The rabbis handed on a tradition of scriptural exegesis which could claim the authority of generations of excellent teachers, reaching all the way back to Moses on Mount Sinai. They had perfect command of the entire Old Testament, and they could argue their point from minute details in the original Hebrew text. And there was a basic consistency in their approach to the Bible: they not only recognized the Torah as divine, they also observed it.

The Gentile Christians were at an obvious disadvantage on all points. In many respects their interpretation of the Bible was startlingly new. They found meanings in biblical verses that no one had found there before. And they could quote no recognized tradition or authority to support them. Worst of all, they had no direct access to the original text, and their knowledge of the Old Testament was often limited to selected passages and proof texts. 2

My first point is what Skarsaune labels as the “inferiority complex of the younger—the much younger—brother.” 3 One can easily see this as a reasonable factor in the antagonism of non-Jewish believers against their counterpart. It is often the case when one person with natural abilities, knowledge or influence is alongside another with inferior abilities, a resentment from the one of lesser abilities often drives them to antagonize the other party in an attempt to prove their equality. They have to reduce the other person in order to boost their own self-worth or esteem. In our historical example, the Jews did have the upper hand over the non-Jewish Christians in relationship to Scriptural knowledge and exegesis. They also enjoyed a command of the actual language of the Hebrew Scriptures (the church fathers would continually enlist Jewish tutors to teach them the Holy Tongue in order to study the Scriptures in their original language) that was far superior to even those who could understand the Hebrew text.

And as far as the Jews were concerned, Skarsaune reminds us that “there was a basic consistency in their approach to the Bible: they not only recognized the Torah as divine, they also observed it.” This is where a contrast began to be apparent between the Jews and the Gentile Christians. Whereas the Jews continued in their living out the precepts of the instructions given to them by the God of Creation at Sinai, the non-Jewish believers, feeling unbound to these instructions in any kind of literal way, began to find contempt for those who adhered to their plain intent. For the act of “doing” had become a spiritualization. To the non-Jewish Christian, the plain meaning of the commandments began to be pushed to the wayside as inapplicable, and a more mystical, allegorical interpretation began to emerge as a seemingly superior one.

It is typically understood that the distinctions of the commandments for the Jewish believers and the non-Jewish believer are clear from both the Jewish (i.e. the “Noahide” laws of Judaism) and the Christian (i.e. the “Council of Jerusalem” in Acts 15) perspectives. However, in Justin Martyr’s dialogue with Trypho, a Jew who does not recognize Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, we get a glimpse of the current Jewish perspective viewing Christianity within its original framework, being a sect of Judaism, rather than a new and separate religion. Trypho reprimands Justin and other Christians by asking, “how is it that you Christians, who claim to worship the God of the Bible, do not observe his law?” 4. Even though Justin and most of his Christian brethren were non-Jewish, Trypho expected to see at least some semblance of the commandments being evident among them. In this we have the first evidences of how the “spiritualization” of the commandments damaging the witness of Christians among their Jewish brethren.

This brings me to my second point. Because of the sheer numbers of non-Jewish believers over Jewish believers pouring into this new, Messianic sect of Judaism, much of the original context of this faith became lost. Therefore, “the church of the second century came to think of itself as essentially Gentile, a non-Jewish entity set over against the Jewish people as such5 At this point, the church begins to lose its original, Jewish identity and creates a new one as somewhat of an antithesis to the Judaism which has been passed from Moses to Joshua, from Joshua to the Prophets, from the Prophets to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, and then from Jesus to his disciples. We begin to have a disconnect between the followers of the Jewish Messiah and the historical biblical faith. Not only do we see this, but we see a new “people of God” claiming their “chosenness” over and above the covenant people of God. We see the development of a theoological system, by which the non-Jewish church claims the covenantal blessings that belong to the Jewish people, while leaving the covenantal curses for the Jews. Rather than remembering that non-Jewish believers have been brought “into” the existing family of God according to Ephesians 2, the predominant concept was that the non-Jewish believers were now the “new” people of God, and had replaced the disobedient, hard-hearted, stiff-necked Jews. This is Replacement Theology, a subtle theological strain which still infects our churches today.

  1. In the shadow of the temple : Jewish influences on early Christianity. 2002 (267-268). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press
  2. Ibid. (p. 265-266).
  3. Ibid. (p. 265).
  4. Ibid. (p. 270).
  5. Ibid. (p.268).

In Righteous Memory: Dwight A. Pryor

Remembering Dwight PryorThis past Shabbat, February 5 (1 Adar, 5771), a beloved co-laborer and spiritual mentor, Dwight A. Pryor, of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, passed from this world into the next.

Following are some of my thoughts about Mr. Pryor and how he impacted my life.

One of my earliest exposures to the Jewish roots of my faith came from hearing four Christian scholars at one conference (the Jerusalem Conference, hosted by Dr. Moseley) back in 1998. This was an event I was to attend repeatedly in the subsequent years. The scholars who taught those first few years were:

Did you notice anything about that list? All of the men held a doctorate, but Mr. Pryor. All of the men were authors, except for Mr. Pryor. But these things didn’t make Mr. Pryor any less of a scholar, or of any less caliber than any of these other men. In fact, Mr. Pryor received great respect from all who knew him. In many ways, these other scholars owe their achievements in some part to Mr. Pryor. He was a mentor to Dr. Moseley, and helped Dr. Wilson with the publication of his book. He also helped with the publication of the joint effort of Dr. Blizzard and David Bivin, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus: New Insights From a Hebrew Perspective.

I always thought of him as a gentle giant (in more ways than one). He was a tall man, but soft spoken and deeply respectful to everyone with whom he came in contact. And although I didn’t know him personally, he held a dear place in my heart since the moment I briefly met him. He was truly an inspiration. One of the things that inspired me most about Mr. Pryor was that he had so many challenges in life, yet he overcame them through the grace of Yeshua. He had many reasons to complain and loath in self-pity (the loss of his first wife nearly 20 years ago to cancer, losing the use of his hands due to severe arthritis, etc.), yet he was continually full of joy, so much so that it was contagious. One could not help but feel inspired after hearing him speak.

Yesterday, Boaz Michael of First Fruits of Zion, posted the following:

In Chasidic thought, it is an auspicious sign when a person dies on a holy day. On Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar, 5771, (the new moon of Adar), my spiritual mentor and teacher, Dwight A. Pryor (זצ״ל), passed into the world of truth. He died on a Shabbat, and more than that, he died on the new moon of Adar. According to the Talmud, “Joy increases in Adar.” In this case, joy may have increased in heaven, but those of us still wrapped in this mortal coil lament the loss.

How true of such a great man as Mr. Pryor.

When we first learned about his passing through yesterday’s FFOZ blog post, my wife and I wept. I commented that you know a person has impacted you deeply when you weep at their passing, even though you do not have a personal relationship with them. Mr. Pryor was a luminary in our lifetime and will be greatly missed. The void of his presence will be felt.

May his memory be for a blessing.

In Heaven As It Is On Earth?

Recently, fellow Messianic (& prolific) blogger Derek Leman posted an article highlighting what is typically known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” He details a few issues surrounding this prayer (the differences between Matthew’s record and Luke’s, the connection of disciples with the prayers of their rabbi, use of liturgy, etc.), and also introduces us to Vine of David’s upcoming DHE (Delitzsch Hebrew-English) Gospel translation, which I was fortunate enough to be on the review team (I intend on posting more about this resource soon).

At the beginning of his post, however, he links to Roman & Alaina, a messianic music group who have created melodies for the Avinu (the “Our Father”) in both Hebrew (based on the DHE) and English. As I listened to the sample of the English version I heard the following:

Our Father, Who is in Heaven
May we sanctify Your Name
Your Kingdom come
As Your will be done
In Heaven as it is on earth

Unfortunately, we see a problem immediately. The last line takes poetic license, and reverses the phrase from “On earth as it is in Heaven,” to become, “In Heaven as it is on earth.” I am definitely one for poetic license, but not when it reverses the sense of the text. So, now, rather than the will of the Almighty coming in perfection from His throne in Shammayim (“Heaven”) and bringing Ha’aretz (“the Earth”) into its submission, this top-down approach put forth by Yeshua has been turned on its head. In this version we see the will of Heaven submitting to that of Earth.

I see where they may have tried to work around this by changing a few of the conjunctions, but overall it has the same end result: the will of (perfect) Heaven being transformed into the image of what is done on (imperfect) Earth.

This goes against the entire mission and teaching of our Master. I would encourage Roman & Alaina to consider re-working the English version, even though they have probably sold many copies of their CD already, in order to maintain the integrity of the teachings of our Master