Encounter with a Real, Live Anti-missionary
First of all… there is something you should know about me. I am a shy person. Yes, I love to write. Yes, you’ve heard me on the radio every week on Tuesday nights for the past year-and-a-half. Nevertheless, the fact is… I’m a shy guy. I hate confrontation. Just the thought of direct conflict makes me queasy. The only sort of provocation I enjoy is provoking people to think more. So, no one was more surprised than I this past week when I suddenly found myself on the radar of a well-known Jewish anti-missionary.
If you are already an old hand at Messianic topics, then you can probably skip the next few paragraphs. But for those who are not so experienced, let me explain a few important terms.
As you may have guessed, this word was coined to described the activity of people who actively seek to refute evangelistic messages about Yeshua being the Messiah. They typically attack traditional Christian doctrine, and ignore the realities of the historical Yeshua and his biographers.
- Jews for Judaism—
An organization founded in 1983 as a response to the well-known missionary group, “Jews for Jesus”. Their mission is to counter any outreach into the Jewish community on behalf of Yeshua.
- Outreach Judaism–Another anti-missionary organization, founded about 2002.
Also known as “B’nei Noach”. This term is rarely heard outside of Jewish circles. It generally indicates a religious direction that takes one away from Christianity, while discouraging full-on conversion and integration into the Jewish community. While there are some followers of Yeshua who identify as Noachides, the majority do not identify with him in any way. Some actually become virulent (though usually ill-informed) haters of Yeshua and the Christian world they left behind.
That gives you the background information you will need to keep up with the story I am about to share.
One day last week, I was reviewing my news feed on Facebook (yes, I know—”news” and “Facebook” constitutes an oxymoron!), when I noticed a posting by a Noachide fellow. I followed the link, and found myself watching a video created by an anti-missionary who has been around a very long time. In fact, I first (briefly) met him back in the mid-1980’s. I wasn’t surprised to see this man’s face, and I was not surprised to see by the title that he was claiming to debunk the Besorat Mattityahu (Gospel of Matthew)—he’s been repeating that line for over 30 years!
Curious, I spun up the video. I knew I wouldn’t agree with the rabbi, but I thought maybe I might learn something. After all, anti-missionaries are always coming up with new arguments to counter the claims of Christians and Messianics (which they regard as being synonymous terms). Over the years, I’ve learned a great deal by listening to anti-missionary arguments, and using them to guide my research into Jewish studies. Perhaps he had come up with a new argument against Matthew 1:21-23…
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua, [which means `ADONAI saves,’] because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this happened in order to fulfill what ADONAI had said through the prophet, 23 “The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him `Immanu El.” (The name means, “God is with us.“)
As I listened to the program, I grew more and more impatient, wondering when the rabbi was going to get to a matter of some real substance. He was chatty, witty, pleasant to listen to… but not terribly informative. Finally, he came to the part I was waiting for! He introduced the passage from Matthew 1, and then he shared the Messianic argument—that Matthew was employing midrashic methodology in his application of the text.
Wow! The rabbi accurately cited my own position, and he still seemed confident that he could destroy the argument. That piqued my curiosity, and I leaned a little closer to the screen.
Suddenly, the rabbi took a giant leap into left field, and never returned to the primary argument again. Instead of giving a proper treatment of Matthew, and demonstrating that he somehow didn’t do what Messianics say he did, the rabbi went off on a tangent. He became fixated on the conservative Christian doctrine of sola scriptura, and started saying that Christians (including Messianics, in his eyes) were not allowed to invoke the use of rabbinic methodology because we allegedly hold to the view that every belief must be explicitly found in the plain text of the Bible. Basically, he said we “aren’t ALLOWED to invoke the concepts of PRDS and midrash because that violates the rule of sola scriptura“!
So, once again, my message has been validated, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve been telling you for a year-and-a-half that the only proper way to understand Matthew is through the lens of PRDS and rabbinic-style midrashic application. The anti-missionaries can’t combat us on an even playing field, and seek to tilt things in their favor by denying us the privilege of invoking this first century methodology.
So, how did I respond to the learned rabbi? See for yourself…
Rabbi xxxxxxxxx, you say, “Matthew, or whoever wrote the first gospel, lied and deceived billions of unlettered people.”
This single statement is wrong on so many levels, I hardly know where to begin.
Let me start by saying I sympathize with the problem of needing to insulate and protect the Jewish community from the current teachings of modern Christianity—teachings that were largely established and developed from 300CE and forward. I agree with you on that point, and spend a great deal of my own efforts encouraging everyone to do their own research into scholarly material that takes into account the realities of Second Temple period Jewish practice and beliefs.
However, I often find—in both Jewish and Christian circles–that people erroneously conflate the accounts of an observant Jewish tanna of the Second Temple period with the error-filled philosophies and the politically motivated Roman commentaries that were developed in the four centuries after his death. This Greco-Roman philosophy defines what we recognize as modern Christianity, rather than the Torah taught by Yeshua and his students. Christianity, at best, should be viewed as a falsified, hijacked Judaism, and it should be taken back.
As I said, I don’t disagree that there is a need to protect the innocent from the current deviations from Judaism that exist in Christianity. However, the solution is not to buy into the errors, and double-down on them. That just results in Christian-style bait and switch tactics. Far better is to acknowledge the fundamental Jewishness of Yeshua and his disciples, and acknowledge that his school of thought was eventually hijacked by people who had no idea how to interpret his teachings outside of a Jewish context.
That said, you asked me to demonstrate that Isaiah 7:14 was regarded by Jewish sages as Messianic. By the nature of that question, I get the impression you did not understand my earlier statement. I don’t find it necessary to find a parallel to EVERY midrashic application Matthew invokes. Just as one today does not require every rabbi’s drash to have existed before he stated it. If that were the case, there could be no innovation or development of new applications. Let’s get out of the “Matthew was a liar” mode, and address his writings as we would take the writings of any other religious Jew. The best way to protect the Jewish community from the falsified Gentile “Jesus” construct is to introduce them to the historical Jewish Rabbi this fiction misrepresents.
That is why I don’t find it necessary to identify a Talmudic parallel to EVERY midrashic application Matthew invokes. Just as one today does not require every rabbi’s drash to have existed before he stated it. What matters is not the individual verse, but the methodology used to expand and apply the Tanakh text.
There is no lie in making an application of a text. It was quite apropos that, in writing an infancy narrative of one Matthew believed to be the awaited “ben David”, he should invoke a sign to “beit David” regarding a significant birth.
My only question is how you can possibly ignore the reality that Matthew’s citation exactly matches the form of any other midrashic sermon illustration. There is no difference between this sort of cite and Sanhedrin 98b:
“What is his [the Messiah’s] name???”
- The School of R. Shila said: ‘His name is Shiloh, for it is written, “until Shiloh come”‘ (Genesis 49:10).
- The School of R. Yannai said: ‘His name is Yinnon, for it is written, “His name shall endure for ever: e’er the sun was, his name is Yinnon”‘ (Psalm 72:17).
- The School of R. Haninah maintained: ‘His name is Haninah, as it is written, “Where I will not give you Haninah”‘ (Jeremiah 16:13).
- Others say: ‘His name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah,for it is written, “Because Menahem [“the comforter”], that would relieve my soul, is far”‘ (Lamentations 1:16).
- The Rabbis said: ‘His name is “the leper scholar,” as it is written, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted”‘ (Isaiah 53:4).
That last line, of course, also demonstrates that application of Isaiah 53 to Messiah was a common idea, as well.
Can’t we just show the intellectual honesty of admitting that Matthew used exactly the same interpretive techniques as everyone else doing Jewish theology, and usually with the same texts? It is the methodology that is at point, rather than whether any particular verse was used by others. You would, no doubt, try to maintain that Isaiah 53 was not messianic, as well!
You beat up on “unlettered” Christians and Hebrew Roots people by ignoring the state of first century Jewish religious discussion. Then you insist on cornering them by restricting their arguments to only the p’shat of the Biblical texts, while you know full well that the texts are quite malleable in the hands of one who understands the application of PRDS and midrash. But that would be the game of a charlatan. A man of integrity would bring out ALL the available information and work towards a resolution that accommodates ALL the facts.
It is easy to do character assassination on people who have been dead for 2,000 years. At least acknowledge, as do many modern Rabbis, like Jacob Neusner, that the Messianic Writings are, “the collected texts of A JUDAISM“.