Header Image: jewsforjesus.org

I was recently in some discussions/debates online about the nature of God and whether the "Trinity" exists, or if God is purely singular and exists in different forms rather than different persons.

 

This idea that God has different "forms" or "modes" is what is known as Modalism (also sometimes called Sabellianism). This doctrine was condemned as heresy by Tertullian around 213 AD, and later by the bishop of Rome around 262 AD. A more modern sect of Christians, often called "Oneness Pentecostals", still hold to this heretical doctrine today.

Advertisement

Now, to be clear: I do believe in the Trinity and accept that it is the orthodox position to hold. But that doesn't mean I've always fully grasped the concept. This is something Christians have struggled to define for centuries, hence the sometimes confusing and lengthy language of the creeds (see here, here, here and here for example).

So after reading this debate online with some Oneness believers, I decided to look more into the Trinity to try and get my head around it as much as possible.

On my searching and reading, I came across an article by Arnold Fruchtenbaum on the Jews for Jesus website. He had taken the time to really look into the Tri-unity of God from a Jewish/Hebrew perspective to bring some clarity to the issue.

I found the article to be very helpful for my own understanding, and very illuminating to see the plurality of God in oneness hidden within the Hebrew language, something that is often lost in translation to our English bibles.

Advertisement

I'm no Hebrew scholar, so rather than try (and probably fail) to explain the language nuances to you, I sought permission to post a copy of the original article here. I hope that the information provided is as helpful to you as it was for me.

The original article begins below. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


Jewishness and the Trinity

In a recent question-and-answer article, Rabbi Stanley Greenberg of Temple Sinai in Philadelphia wrote:

Christians are, of course, entitled to believe in a trinitarian conception of God, but their effort to base this conception on the Hebrew Bible must fly in the face of the overwhelming story of that Bible. Hebrew Scriptures are clear and unequivocal on the oneness of God . . . The Hebrew Bible affirms the one God with unmistakable clarity. Monotheism, an uncompromising belief in one God, is the hallmark of the Hebrew Bible, the unwavering affirmation of Judaism and the unshakable faith of the Jew.”

Advertisement

Whether Christians are accused of being polytheists or tritheists or whether it is admitted that the Christian concept of the Tri-unity is a form of monotheism, one element always appears: one cannot believe in the Trinity and be Jewish. Even if what Christians believe is monotheistic, it still does not seem to be monotheistic enough to qualify as true Jewishness. Rabbi Greenberg’s article tends to reflect that thinking.

He went on to say, “…under no circumstances can a concept of a plurality of the Godhead or a trinity of the Godhead ever be based upon the Hebrew Bible.” It is perhaps best then to begin with the very source of Jewish theology and the only means of testing it: the Hebrew Scriptures. Since so much relies on Hebrew language usage, then to the Hebrew we should turn.

1. God Is A Plurality

The Name Elohim

It is generally agreed that Elohim is a plural noun having the masculine plural ending “im.” The very word Elohim used of the true God in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is also used in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods (Elohim) before Me,” and in Deuteronomy 13:2, “…Iet us go after other gods (Elohim)…” While the use of the plural Elohim does not prove a Tri-unity, it certainly opens the door to a doctrine of plurality in the Godhead since it is the word that is used of the one true God as well as for the many false gods.

Plural Verbs used with Elohim

Virtually all Hebrew scholars do recognize that the word Elohim, as it stands by itself, is a plural noun. Nevertheless, they wish to deny that it allows for any plurality in the Godhead whatsoever. Their line of reasoning usually goes like this: When “Elohim” is used of the true God, it is followed by a singular verb; when it is used of false gods, it is followed by the plural verb. Rabbi Greenberg states it as follows:

Advertisement

“But, in fact, the verb used in the opening verse of Genesis is ‘bara’ which means ‘he created’—singular. One need not be too profound a student of Hebrew to understand that the opening verse of Genesis clearly speaks of a singular God.”

The point made, of course, is generally true because the Bible does teach that God is only one God and, therefore, the general pattern is to have the plural noun followed by the singular verb when it speaks of the one true God. However, there are places where the word is used of the true God and yet it is followed by a plural verb:

Genesis 20:13: “And it came to pass, when God (Elohim) caused me to wander [literally: They caused me to wander] from my father’s house…Genesis 35:7: “…because there God (Elohim) appeared unto him…” [Literally: They appeared unto him.]

2 Samuel 7:23: “…God (Elohim) went…” [Literally: They went.]

Psalm 58:12: “Surely He is God (Elohim) who judges…[Literally: They judge.]

The Name Eloah

If the plural form Elohim was the only form available for a reference to God, then conceivably the argument might be made that the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures had no other alternative but to use the word Elohim for both the one true God and the many false gods. However, the singular form for Elohim (Eloah) exists and is used in such passages as Deuteronomy 32:15-17 and Habakkuk 3:3. This singular form could have easily been used consistently. Yet it is only used 250 times, while the plural form is used 2,500 times. The far greater use of the plural form again turns the argument in favor of plurality in the Godhead rather than against it.

Plural Pronouns

Another case in point regarding Hebrew grammar is that often when God speaks of himself, he clearly uses the plural pronoun:

Genesis 1:26: Then God (Elohim) said,”Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.…”

Advertisement

He could hardly have made reference to angels since man was created in the image of God and not of angels. The Midrash Rabbah on Genesis recognizes the strength of this passage end comments as follows:

“Rabbi Samuel Bar Hanman in the name of Rabbi Jonathan said, that at the time when Moses wrote the Torah, writing a portion of it daily, when he came to this verse which says, “And Elohim said, let us make man in our image after our likeness,” Moses said, “Master of the universe, why do you give herewith an excuse to the sectarians (who believe in the Tri-unity of God).” God answered Moses, “You write and whoever wants to err, let him err.”1

It is obvious that the Midrash Rabbah is trying to simply get around the problem and fails to answer adequately why God refers to Himself in the plural.

The use of the plural pronoun can also be seen in:

Genesis 3:22: Then the LORD God (YHVH Elohim) said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us…”Genesis 11:7: “Come, let Us go down, and there confuse their language…”

Isaiah 6:8: Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

This last passage would appear contradictory with the singular “I” and the plural “us” except as viewed as a plurality (us) in a unity (I).

Plural Descriptions of God

One point that also comes out of Hebrew is the fact that often nouns and adjectives used in speaking of God are plural. Some examples are as follows:

Ecclesiastes 12:1: “Remember now you creator…” [Literally: creators.]

Psalm 149:2: “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker.” [Literally: makers.]

Joshua 24:19: “…holy God…” [Literally: holy Gods.]

Isaiah 54:5: “For your Maker is your husband…” [Literally: makers, husbands.]

Advertisement

Everything we have said so far rests firmly on the Hebrew language of the Scriptures. If we are to base our theology on the Scriptures alone, we have to say that on the one hand they affirm God’s unity, while at the same time they tend towards the concept of a compound unity allowing for a plurality in the Godhead.

The Shema

Deuteronomy 6:4: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!

Deuteronomy 6:4, known as the Shema, has always been Israel’s great confession. It is this verse more than any other that is used to affirm the fact that God is one and is often used to contradict the concept of plurality in the Godhead. But is it a valid use of this verse?

On one hand, it should be noted that the very words “our God” are in the plural in the Hebrew text and literally mean “our Gods.” However, the main argument lies in the word “one,” which is a Hebrew word, echad. A glance through the Hebrew text where the word is used elsewhere can quickly show that the word echad does not mean an absolute “one” but a compound “one.” For instance, in Genesis 1:5, the combination of evening and morning comprise one (echad) day. In Genesis 2:24, a man and a woman come together in marriage and the two “shall become one (echad) flesh.” In Ezra 2:64, we are told that the whole assembly was as one (echad), though of course, it was composed of numerous people. Ezekiel 37:17 provides a rather striking example where two sticks are combined to become one (echad). The use of the word echad in Scripture shows it to be a compound and not an absolute unity.

Advertisement

There is a Hebrew word that does mean an absolute unity and that is yachid, which is found in many Scripture passages,2 the emphasis being on the meaning of “only.” If Moses intended to teach God’s absolute oneness as over against a compound unity, this would have been a far more appropriate word. In fact, Maimonides noted the strength of “yachid” and chose to use that word in his “Thirteen Articles of Faith” in place of echad. However, Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) does not use “yachid” in reference to God.

II. God Is At Least Two

Elohim and YHVH Applied to Two Personalities

As if to even make the case for plurality stronger, there are situations in the Hebrew Scriptures where the term Elohim is applied to two personalities in the same verse. One example is Psalm 45:7-8:

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”

It should be noted that the first Elohim is being addressed and the second Elohim is the God of the first Elohim. And so God’s God has anointed Him with the oil of gladness.

Advertisement

A second example is Hosea 1:7:

“Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen.”

The speaker is Elohim who says He will have mercy on the house of Judah and will save them by the instrumentality of YHVH, their Elohim. So Elohim number one will save Israel by means of Elohim number two.

Not only is Elohim applied to two personalities in the same verse, but so is the very name of God. One example is Genesis 19:24which reads:

“Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens.”

Clearly we have YHVH number one raining fire and brimstone from a second YHVH who is in heaven, the first one being on earth.

A second example is Zechariah 2:8-9:

For thus says the LORD of Hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he that touches you touches the apple of His eye. For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me.”

Advertisement

Again, we have one YHVH sending another YHVH to perform a specific task.

The author of the Zohar sensed plurality in the Tetragrammaton3 and wrote:

“Come and see the mystery of the word YHVH: there are three steps, each existing by itself: nevertheless they are One, and so united that one cannot be separated from the other. The Ancient Holy One is revealed with three heads, which are united into one, and that head is three exalted. The Ancient One is described as being three: because the other lights emanating from him are included in the three. But how can three names be one? Are they really one because we call them one? How three can be one can only be known through the revelation of the Holy Spirit.”4

 

III. God Is Three

How Many Persons Are There?

Advertisement

If the Hebrew Scriptures truly do point to plurality, the question arises, how many personalities in the Godhead exist? We have already seen the names of God applied to at least two different personalities. Going through the Hebrew Scriptures, we find that, in fact, three and only three distinct personalities are ever considered divine.

1. First, there are the numerous times when there is a reference to the Lord YHVH. This usage is so frequent that there is no need to devote space to it.

2. A second personality is referred to as the Angel of YHVH. This individual is always considered distinct from all other angels and is unique. In almost every passage where He is found He is referred to as both the Angel of YHVH and YHVH Himself. For instance, in Genesis 16:7 He is referred to as the Angel of YHVH, but then in 16:13 as YHVH Himself. In Genesis 22:11 He is the Angel of YHVH, but God Himself in 22:12. Other examples could be given.5 A very interesting passage is Exodus 23:20-23 where this angel has the power to pardon sin because God’s own name YHVH is in him, and, therefore, he is to be obeyed without question. This can hardly be said of any ordinary angel. But the very fact that God’s own name is in this angel shows His divine status.

3. A third major personality that comes through is the Spirit of God, often referred to as simply the Ruach Ha-kodesh. There are a good number of references to the Spirit of God among which are Genesis 1:2, 6:3; Job 33:4; Psalm 51:11; Psalm 139:7; Isaiah 11:2, etc. The Holy Spirit cannot be a mere emanation because He contains all the characteristics of personality (intellect, emotion and will) and is considered divine.

Advertisement

So then, from various sections of the Hebrew Scriptures there is a clear showing that three personalities are referred to as divine and as being God: the Lord YHVH, the Angel of YHVH and the Spirit of God.

The Three Personalities in the Same Passage

Nor have the Hebrew Scriptures neglected to put all three personalities of the Godhead together in one passage. Two examples are Isaiah 48:12-16 and 63:7-14.

Because of the significance of the first passage, it will be quoted:

“Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand also has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has stretched out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand up together. All of you, assemble yourselves, and hear! Who among them has declared these things? The LORD has loved him; he shall do His pleasure on Babylon, and His arm shall be against the Chaldeans. I, even I, have spoken; yes, I have called him, I have brought him, and his way will prosper. Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord GOD and His Spirit have sent me.”

Advertisement

It should be noted that the speaker refers to himself as the one who is responsible for the creation of the heavens and the earth. It is clear that he cannot be speaking of anyone other than God. But then in verse 16, the speaker refers to himself using the pronouns of I and me and then distinguishes himself from two other personalities. He distinguishes himself from the Lord YHVH and then from the Spirit of God. Here is the Tri-unity as clearly defined as the Hebrew Scriptures make it.

In the second passage, there is a reflection back to the time of the Exodus where all three personalities were present and active. The Lord YHVH is referred to in verse 7, the Angel of YHVH in verse 9 and the Spirit of God in verses 10, 11 and 14. While often throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God refers to Himself as being the one solely responsible for Israel’s redemption from Egypt, in this passage three personalities are given credit for it. Yet, no contradiction is seen since all three comprise the unity of the one Godhead.

Conclusion

The teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures, then, is that there is a plurality of the Godhead. The first person is consistently called YHVH while the second person is given the names of YHVH, the Angel of YHVH and the Servant of YHVH. Consistently and without fail, the second person is sent by the first person. The third person is referred to as the Spirit of YHVH or the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit. He, too, is sent by the first person but is continually related to the ministry of the second person.

If the concept of the Tri-unity in the Godhead is not Jewish according to modern rabbis, then neither are the Hebrew Scriptures. Jewish Christians cannot be accused of having slipped into paganism when they hold to the fact that Jesus is the divine Son of God. He is the same one of whom Moses wrote when he said:

“Behold, I send an Angel before you, to keep you in the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off.”
—Exodus 23:20-23

New Testament Light

In keeping with the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament clearly recognizes that there are three persons in the Godhead, although it becomes quite a bit more specific. The first person is called the Father while the second person is called the Son. The New Testament answers the question of Proverbs 30:4: “…What is His name, and what is his Son’s name, if you know?” His son’s name is Yeshua (Jesus). In accordance with the Hebrew Scriptures, he is sent by God to be the Messiah, but this time as a man instead of as an angel. Furthermore, He is sent for a specific purpose: to die for our sins. In essence, what happened is that God became a man (not that man became God) in order to accomplish the work of atonement.

The New Testament calls the third person of the Godhead the Holy Spirit. Throughout the New Testament he is related to the work of the second person, in keeping with the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures. We see, then, that there is a continuous body of teaching in both the Old and New Testaments relating to the Tri-unity of God.

 


Footnotes

  1. Midrash Rabbah on Genesis 1:26, New York: NOP Press, N.D.

  2. Genesis 22:2,12; Judges 11:34; Psalm 22:21; 25:16; Proverbs 4:3; Jeremiah 6:26; Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10

  3. ″Personal Name of God of Israel,” written in Hebrew Bible with the four consonants YHWH. Pronunciation of name has been avoided since at least 3rd c. B.C.E.; initial substitute was “Adonai” (“the Lord”), itself later replaced by “ha-Shem” (“the Name”). The name Jehovah is a hybrid misreading of the original Hebrew letters with the vowels of “Adonai.”—Encyclopedic Dictionary of Judaica, p. 593

  4. Zohar, vol. III, 288, vol. II, 43, Hebrew editions. See also Soncino Press edition, vol. III, 134.

  5. In Genesis 31 he is the Angel of God in verse 11, but then he is the God of Bethel in verse 13. In Exodus 3 he is the Angel of YHVH in verse 2 and he is both YHVH and God in verse 4. In Judges 6 he is the Angel of YHVH in verses 11, 12, 20, and 21 but is YHVH himself in verses 14, 16, 22 and 23. Then in Judges 13:3 and 21 he is the Angel of YHVH but is referred to as God himself in verse 22.
Advertisement

 

 Reprinted with permission from Jews for Jesus, from the Jews for Jesus newsletter, copyright 2017

 

Contribute on Patreon

Enjoying this? Consider contributing regular gifts for this content on Patreon.
* Patreon is a way to join your favorite creator's community and pay them for making the stuff you love. You can simply pay a few pounds per month or per post that a creator makes, and in return receive some perks!

Subscribe to Updates
Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to:

Have something to say? Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment   Like   Back to Top   Seen 1.6K times   Liked 0 times

Subscribe to Updates

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to free email updates and join over 102 subscribers today!

Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to Blog updates

Enter your email address to be notified of new posts:

Subscribe to:

Alternatively, you can subscribe via RSS

‹ Return to Blog

We never share or sell your email address to anyone.

I've already subscribed / don't show me this again

Recent Posts

Power Cuts and the Fear of God

| 11th November 2019 | Devotional

The other week we had a series of power cuts in our town. It doesn’t happen very often here where I am, but there was particularly bad weather recently which damaged some cables; but sitting in the dark winter evening, my phone low on battery power, it made me realise just how much we rely on electricity for nearly everything these days. We don’t even have a gas supply so we were completely cut off from doing anything! Now it might sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget how dependent we are on modern conveniences until it’s suddenly taken away and you’re sat in the cold surrounded by tiny little tea-light candles. The following Sunday, the sermon at church touched on the fear of God, which got me thinking about how that concept is still kind of strange to me—God is love, He’s our Father, we’re His children… but then we are to also fear Him?  What does this have to do with electricity and power cuts, I hear you say—I’ll come to that in a moment. I’ve often been taught that the word “fear” used in this context actually means “respect”, so I decided to look up the Greek and Hebrew words that are used when we see the words “fear God” in the Bible. It wasn’t exactly what I expected to find. 2 Corinthians 5:11 is where I began, as that was the verse quoted in the sermon. Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are revealed to God, and I hope that we are revealed also in your consciences. I thought I may see a Greek word with a semantic range which includes “respect” or “honour” maybe, but what I found was the word φόβος (phobos) which literally means “alarm or fright; be afraid, fear, terror”. It’s also where we get our English word “phobia” from! So I went forward a couple of chapters to this verse: 2 Corinthians 7:1Having therefore these promises, beloved, let’s cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. But again, the word “phobos” was used, so now I decided to search across the New Testament for this phrase, and the next passage that came up was in Romans. Romans 3:18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is part of a larger passage which ends on this verse about the fear of God (still using the same Greek word), where I saw a footnote to say it had been a quote from Psalm 36:1. Ah, I thought, maybe the Hebrew word used for “fear” will show something different! I thought wrong. This particular verse in Psalm 36 used the word פַּחַד (p̱aḥaḏ), which has a wide meaning such as: a (sudden) alarm (properly, the object feared, by implication, the feeling): — dread(-ful), fear, (thing) great (fear, greatly feared), terror. So again, the type of fear is an actual fear!  A little searching through the Old Testament revealed that the word “fear” has a couple of other Hebrew words which lie underneath the English translations, one of which does also mean “reverence” as well (יָרֵא [yârê], found in Gen 22:12 and 1 Sam 12:14). So maybe there is an element of that understanding in the Greek by the time the New Testament writers came along who meant that ‘fear’ as awe and reverence as well. So this all leads me back to where I was a week or so ago, sat in church listening to a sermon, wondering when my power would be back on. As I thought about all of this, the combination of electricity and the fear of God combined into something that helped me put some perspective on it: the fear of God is like a live, sparking electric cable.  I’ll clarify my thinking—if we saw an electric cable on the ground, flailing around and sparking  everywhere, we should be fearful of that because touching it could kill us! But when electricity is used right, it is good for and to us; it provides power and comfort etc. Without it we lose access to pretty much everything these days and go into darkness—Much like if we lose sight of,...

Patristics.info has launched!

| 13th September 2019 | Early Church

Hey everyone, so I’ve launched a new website called Patristics.info to be a new resource for all things early church related. I’ve added a few texts which I already had formatted from my book manuscript, plus other resources like timelines, maps, recommended books etc. I’ll be adding more soon in the coming days. I’ve also created a “topical index” page too which is auto-generated from the tags on the pages to aid with searching, plus I created a word highlighter on each page so you can search keywords in a text and have them highlighted if you’re looking for particular things. If anyone would like to be involved to contribute resources or blogs, or have any book you’ve written which you’d like linked/advertised on the site then just get in touch! I want this to be as useful a tool for people who are interested in this area as much as for people who are new to Patristics (the early church fathers). Features and functionality Much of the site is ready to go in terms of functionality and resources etc for the time being. I’m still working on adding more Early Church texts to the site, but this takes a lot of time as I need to transcribe them from unformatted text into a nicer format for reading, plus inserting all of the footnotes as well (I’m currently half way through 1 Clement now). While I mention the footnotes, I’ve created a feature similar to Wikipedia where if you hover on a footnote number, it will display a popup with the footnote text in it hopefully making it simpler to read the Patristic text and quickly see any additional information from the original translators as you go. This should also work well on mobiles too. Inline footnote hover popups Another new feature I’ve created is the Quote Search page: https://patristics.info/quote-search.html This is an experimental tool at the moment while I still perfect it, but please give it a go and submit any feedback if you can. The page will allow you to search a keyword and bring up a list of contextual quotes from within the Church Father texts where that word is mentioned. As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing else like this available online in this format so I hope it will prove useful for study! Example quote search for the word “baptism” I hope that you enjoy the site and find it a useful tool. Please share it online etc. and if you want to get involved with creating blogs or resources just get in touch, or if you feel so inclined, you can support this project financially via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/LukeJWilson Go and explore the site today: Patristics.info !...

Should Christians get tattoos, and is it Biblical?

| 31st August 2019 | Tattoos

I was in a discussion not so long ago about tattoos, and I was asked about the historical view on this practice. It wasn’t something I had looked into before from a Church Fathers point of view, so it was an interesting topic of study. In my searching, I found this article from a Catholic site which seems to give a pretty interesting overview of some of the views about tattoos in the earlier centuries. The following is a quote about a Church Council in the context of native Britons, who still practiced tattooing at that time for pagan ritual, something which Tertullian also gives a fleeting reference to around 213 AD in his On the Veiling of Virgins, ch. 10. In the 787 Council of Northumberland — a meeting of lay and ecclesial leaders and citizens in England — Christian commentators distinguished between religious and profane tattoos. In the council documents, they wrote:“When an individual undergoes the ordeal of tattooing for the sake of God, he is greatly praised. But one who submits himself to be tattooed for superstitious reasons in the manner of the heathens will derive no benefit there from.” But, contrasted with Basil the Great of the fourth century, who supposedly (I say “supposedly” because I can’t find an original source for this quote, nor the quote above, though many other books and websites cite both; see end note) said: “No man shall let his hair grow long or tattoo himself as do the heathen” — it highlights that the views of this practice have been wide and varied over the centuries; as over in Egypt, the Coptic Church has been marking themselves with tattoos since the sixth or seventh century, even up to present times. All of this debate stems from one seemingly clear verse in Leviticus: Leviticus 19:28 (WEB)You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you. I am Yahweh. In the manner of how Hebrew works, the clause “for the dead” is applying to both phrases. The cuttings and the marks are not to be “for the dead”. Those Hebrew phrases which seem to repeat a similar thought are generally connected and are saying the same thing in two different ways to emphasise the point (just look at the Psalms for many examples of this). Not to mention that the word “tattoo” didn’t exist until the 17th century, prior to that it was translated as “marks on the skin” or something similar, which has much different connotations than the word “tattoo” has in our contemporary society. An ancient, obscure word is translated as “tattoo” in one place, and we impose our modern thinking of what that word implies onto Scripture making it anything but clear and moving us a little farther away from the original intent. This verse is more than likely admonishing against copying the surrounding pagan practices of the time than being a blanket rule against any form of “tattoo”. Arguably there are passages that say that Jesus’ body was “marked” in some way, as in the book of Revelation which some see as a reference to a tattoo of sorts: Revelation 19:16 (WEB)He has on his garment and on his thigh a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Or in the Old Testament, Isaiah speaks of God in a similar manner as having “engraved” the names of his people on the palm of his hand — a word with a much stronger and more violent visual than simply tattooing ink into the skin. Possibly even a nod towards what Jesus would eventually do for us when he would literally have his hands “engraved” (or “hacked” as this root word can also mean) for us on the cross! Isaiah 49:16a (WEB)Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Similarly, a couple of chapters previously to this one in Isa. 44:5, it speaks of the people writing the name of the LORD of their hands in celebration, and a similar, but less violent, word for “engraving” is used here too. Going back to the passage in Leviticus, the word ...

Spiritual Disciplines of the Early Church: Ancient Practices for the 21st Century

| 17th June 2019 | Early Church

I was asked not so long ago what kinds of things Christians did in the Early Church (first to fourth century) as a form of spiritual discipline, on a personal level as well as a corporate one. Though the concept of an individual “personal spiritual life” would have been quite foreign to first century believers as faith and Church was very much a corporate venture that had personal implications, rather than the other way around as it can often appear to be thought of today. Much of what made Christianity structured, disciplined and set apart from society, has largely been lost in practice, or forgotten and relegated to the annals of history by many practicing Christians today. With that said, let’s take a look at what the most common practices were of the ancient Church.   Reading/Memorising Scripture Memorising Scripture – specifically the Psalms and Gospels Singing/praying the Psalms as worship to God Both of these principles are based on Psalm 1:1–3 and Colossians 3:16. “Every Psalm brings peace, soothes the internal conflicts, calms the rough waves of evil thoughts, dissolves anger, corrects and moderates profligacy.” Commentary on Psalm 1, Basil the Great (4th century)   Prayer and Fasting Another common practice that was expected of believers was regular fasting, since Jesus had said “when you fast”, not “if”. Typically, fasting was done every week on Wednesday and Friday, based on Matthew 6:16–18, and also to honour the days of the Passion and crucifixion in later tradition. “But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; … but fast on the fourth day (Wednesday) and the Preparation (Friday). … [But pray] as the Lord commanded in His Gospel (the Lord’s Prayer) … Thrice in the day thus pray.” Didache (c. 50 – 70) Alongside fasting, praying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (morning, noon, evening) was a common discipline. From around the third century, liturgy and prayers in a church service would start to face East as that was seen where God’s glory arose, and in baptism ritual turning East was a sign of turning away from the devil towards Christ (Jews similarly prayed facing Jerusalem). This is also why many old church buildings are cross-shaped and have the alter end pointing Eastward. For it is required that you pray toward the east, as knowing that which is written: ‘Give ye glory to God, who rideth upon the heaven of heavens toward the east’ (Ps 67.34 LXX [Ps. 68:33 – 34]). Didascalia, Ch. XII (c.250) The various spiritual benefits to fasting are marked throughout the Church Fathers' works on the subject, but I find this quote from Augustine sums it up succinctly: “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself.” Augustine; Sermon, On Prayer and Fasting, LXXII (c. 393–430) Fasting was also not just total denial of food all day, but often only until sundown (or evening meal), and would comprise of bread and water with some oils to dip the bread in. Some may be more like a vegetarian diet, but with no oil, fish or alcohol either. Meal times should be replaced with prayer, and in all times during the fast (as well as generally also), to bear in mind the true fast that is pleasing to the Lord as seen in Isaiah 58:6–9. “Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen: to release the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Isn’t it to distribute your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh?” Isaiah 58:6 – 7 (WEB)   Signing the Cross Another ancient custom is making the sign of the cross over yours...