The New Testament declares very clearly that Jesus is the one who created the Universe and everything in it, and it does so in several places, such as Hebrews Chapter 1 and Colossians 1:15-16. The same New Testament declares that Jesus is God in the flesh. But what influence do Ancient Jewish religious beliefs about God that predate Jesus’ being born on earth have to do with the New Testament? Where did the Apostles and other New Testament writers get their ideas? Was it from Jesus himself? Yes, Did culture and traditional views of God at the time (some of which do not hold sway today), have any impact on the New Testament writers? Yes, of course they did. Also, there was some “Divine Revelation”, and there also was an important Bible study with Jesus after his resurrection in which, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27.
The New Testament doesn’t clarify which Bible translation Jesus used. Was it Hebrew, or Aramaic? Most Messianic Jews today teach that Jesus’ primary language was Hebrew. Most non-Jewish Christians throughout history have held the position that Jesus’ mother tongue was Aramaic.
What if they are both right?
Both Hebrew and Aramaic versions of the Bible were read side-by-side in the synagogues of the day. Maybe it was both? Interestingly, the Aramaic translations actually gave “extra” information that was not immediately obvious to a Hebrew reader.
I recently came across a pastor accusing me of teaching a heresy called, Binarianism (which I don’t, I actually do teach the Holy Spirit and I am not a Cessationist). Binarianism is the teaching that Israel has two Gods. They said that is what I was doing, because in my works I’ve pointed out that the Masoretes–the authoritative Jewish scribal families who put all the dots and dashes (accents, vowels, musical notations and more), in the Hebrew Bible–allowed their own theology to enter into the text (and alter it in several cases–Genesis 2:15 is a notable example). One important point to me that has barely been researched (although there is 40 years of research by some scholars now, like several of those listed below), is that the Masoretes introduced their own historic Jewish Binarianism into the Masoretic Hebrew Text. This is the Masoretic Text which is the basis for scholastic versions of the Bible used in Bible Colleges and Seminaries, and most modern Bible translations). Despite this Binarianism, the Masoretes saw no problem with still believing in One God–Monotheism.
The fact that this Binarianism is in the text means that it must be addressed. The fact that the majority of Christian scholars have not addressed it throughout the last 1800 years of history is not a testimony to it being absent from the text, it is a testimony to a divorce of historic Christianity from its Jewish roots!
Historical Ancient Judaism up to and including the days of Jesus and the Apostles, taught based on Daniel 9 and other texts, that there were two distinct Divine figures in Heaven that were both God, Yahweh. You have the Greater Yahweh that people prayed to and who directed the Lesser Yahweh in his dealings with earth. Then there was the Lesser Yahweh who became known in authoritative Jewish Bible translations called, Targums, as “The Memra” which means, The Word (of the Greater Yahweh).
The Gospel of John starts out speaking to this very Jewish, Targum reading, audience, clearly teaching of this Second Yahweh that, “In the beginning was The Word, and The Word was with God and The Word was God…all things were created by him (The Word)…and The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:1-15).
In other words, the VERY FIRST Gospel that was preached to Jews by the Apostles, taught that the Second Yahweh became flesh and we now knew him as Yeshua/Jesus.
This theme appears matter-of-factually throughout much of the New Testament, because it was part and parcel, or common sense, to the Jewish men and women who were the first ones preaching Jesus. This knowledge of the revelation of the Second Yahweh to earth was common knowledge where the Targums were read in Synagogues all over the Ancient known world. Every Jewish person at the time knew that in the existing theology there was the Greater Yahweh who was an unseen Spirit, and the Second Yahweh who was at times made himself visible, speaking to Adam & Eve, Abraham, Moses, Joshua and many others in the Hebrew Bible– and who performed miracles–all directed by the Greater Yahweh.
What I’ve done in my work is point out the very obvious Masoretic influence on the Hebrew Text in this area, proof from the New Testament that this is exactly how the New Testament authors were reading their Hebrew Bibles, and pointed out how other extra-Biblical texts confirm this Ancient Jewish theology.
Historically speaking, it is factually known that Jewish religious culture at the time expected this Lesser Yahweh to be born in the flesh as The Messiah, to redeem and save Israel, setting up an eternal Kingdom, and ruling as the direct heir of King David.
Jesus spoke into and fulfilled these existing Messianic expectations.
For pointing this out I’ve been accused of being an anti-Trinitarian heretic–and this by one who seems to have divorced themselves from, and seemingly has no value for, important historical religious Jewish texts, culture and traditions–and research on these things revealing their influence on the Koine-Greek New Testament authors.
Here’s an example of another author who has seen similar things in the Hebrew Bible, Dr. Michael S. Heiser:
Twenty-five years ago, rabbinical scholar Alan Segal produced what is still the major work on the idea of two powers in heaven in Jewish thought. Segal argued that the two powers idea was not deemed heretical in Jewish theology until the second century C.E. He carefully traced the roots of the teaching back into the Second Temple era (ca. 200 B.C.E.). Segal was able to establish that the idea’s antecedents were in the Hebrew Bible, specifically passages like Dan 7:9ff., Exo 23:20-23, and Exo 15:3. However, he was unable to discern any coherent religious framework from which these passages and others were conceptually derived. Persian dualism was unacceptable as an explanation since neither of the two powers in heaven were evil. Segal speculated that the divine warrior imagery of the broader ancient near east likely had some relationship.
In my dissertation (UW-Madison, 2004) I argued that Segal’s instincts were correct. My own work bridges the gap between his book and the Hebrew Bible understood in its Canaanite religious context. I suggest that the “original model” for the two powers idea was the role of the vice-regent of the divine council. The paradigm of a high sovereign God (El) who rules heaven and earth through the agency of a second, appointed god (Baal) became part of Israelite religion, albeit with some modification. For the orthodox Israelite, Yahweh was both sovereign and vice regent—occupying both “slots” as it were at the head of the divine council. The binitarian portrayal of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible was motivated by this belief. The ancient Israelite knew two Yahwehs—one invisible, a spirit, the other visible, often in human form. The two Yahwehs at times appear together in the text, at times being distinguished, at other times not.
Early Judaism understood this portrayal and its rationale. There was no sense of a violation of monotheism since either figure was indeed Yahweh. There was no second distinct god running the affairs of the cosmos. During the Second Temple period, Jewish theologians and writers speculated on an identity for the second Yahweh. Guesses ranged from divinized humans from the stories of the Hebrew Bible to exalted angels. These speculations were not considered unorthodox. That acceptance changed when certain Jews, the early Christians, connected Jesus with this orthodox Jewish idea. This explains why these Jews, the first converts to following Jesus the Christ, could simultaneously worship the God of Israel and Jesus, and yet refuse to acknowledge any other god. Jesus was the incarnate second Yahweh. In response, as Segal’s work demonstrated, Judaism pronounced the two powers teaching a heresy sometime in the second century A.D.
The following items are important works with respect to the Jewish background of the exalted Christology of New Testament theology — Jesus as the second Yahweh, the second Power in heaven. Their inclusion here does not speak to a complete endorsement of their content.
Barker, Margaret. The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God. Louisville, KY: Westminster / John Knox Publishers, 1992
Bauckham, Richard, “The Throne of God and the Worship of Jesus” Pages 43-69 in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus. Edited by C. Newman, J. Davila, and G. Lewis. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999
Bauckham, Richard, God Crucified: Monotheism & Christology in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998
Boyarin, Daniel. “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” Harvard Theological Review 94:3 (July, 2001), 243-284
Boyarin, Daniel, “Two Powers in Heaven; or, The Making of a Heresy,” Pages 331-370 in The Idea of Biblical Interpretation: Essays in Honor of James L. Kugel. Leiden: Brill, 2003
Fossum, Jarl E. The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1995
Gathercole, Simon. The Pre-Existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006
Hannah, Darrell D. Michael and Christ: Michael Traditions and Angel Christology in Early Christianity. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 109. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1999
Hurtado, Larry W. “What Do We Mean by ‘First-Century Jewish Monotheism’?” Pages 348-368 in Society of Biblical Literature 1993 Seminar Papers. Edited by E. H. Lovering Jr. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993
Hurtado, Larry W. One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988
Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003
Hurtado, Larry W. “First-Century Jewish Monotheism.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 71 (1998): 3-26
Hurtado, Larry W. “Jesus’ Divine Sonship in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,” Pages 217-233 in Romans and the People of God. Edited by N. T. Wright and S. Soderlund. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999
Hurtado, Larry W. “The Binitarian Shape of Early Christian Worship.” Pages 187-213 in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus. Edited by Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila and Gladys S. Lewis, Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, ed. John J. Collins. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999
Hurtado, Larry W. How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005
Lee, Aquila H. I. From Messiah to Pre-existent Son. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 192. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2005; reprinted Wipf and Stock, 2009
Segal, Alan F. Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977
Dr. Heiser on the Two Powers (May 2013): 1 hr., 21 min.
original link: http://drmsh.com/the-naked-bible/two-powers-in-heaven/
Anyone interested in doing some research?
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