Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

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As I observe the endless chatter surrounding nearly every subject these days, I am continuously amazed at how polarized we have become; it has been proven true to me on many occasions that we humans are beings of extremes.  When we observe an excess or an error in one area, we tend to swing, like a pendulum, past the balance of truth in the middle clear to the other side of the issue—and when we reach the apex of that conclusion, having decided we can't stand it anymore, we swing right back to where we started.  It's as if we suddenly lose the ability to think past the narrative.  Furthermore, in our hunger to draw battle lines in our tug-of-war of ideas, it seems that the more 'tolerance' we appeal to in our society, the more vitriolic our speech becomes.  There are subjects that are definitely worthy of scorn and ire; but even in our anger, we shouldn't destroy the house to kill a fly.  I found these things to be true even when reading this very long article by Walid Shoebat about the virtues of the Catholic Church and the Septuagint, compared to what he perceives are the errors of the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, Martin Luther and essentially the entire Protestant Reformation.

Mr. Shoebat's opening claim in the article is, "TO BE MESSIANIC IS TO BE CATHOLIC." (The all-caps are his, not mine.)  By this I believe He is stating the idea that the Roman Catholic Church is the most authentic and/or original form of Christianity in existence; he does subsequently say that "none in the Hebrew Roots Movement or even the Messianic Evangelicals can connect to the true Hebrew Roots."  This is an incredibly broad-sweeping assessment; while the Catholic Church itself certainly claims it is original and that the Orthodox Churches split from them, Mr. Shoebat is apparently forgetting that the Catholic Church did not officially exist as it is until 1054 A.D. at the Great Schism in which the Roman Pope and the Eastern Orthodox churches excommunicated each other. In the centuries before this, the Church was warring amongst itself in factions over varying issues which shaped orthodoxy, eventually spinning off the Oriental Orthodox churches in the sixth century.  Of no small note is the fact that the Church seems to have been relatively unified until Constantine 'the Great', whom Mr. Shoebat defends in his article, became the first Imperial patron of the faith.  Whether one loves him or hates him, nobody can deny that Constantine is the source of major revolution in the Church.

To be sure, Mr. Shoebat addresses some very valid points:

It is true that many within the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements have clung to post-Second Temple Rabbinic Judaism as the standard against which we should measure the Jewishness of our Christian faith.  This is indeed ironic given that the rabbis themselves acknowledge that this form of Judaism is in fact descended directly from the teachings of the Pharisees, the very group that set themselves in opposition to Jesus' teaching—and that the New Covenant text is clear that John the Baptist, Jesus, and the leaders of the early church were not great fans of Pharisaic teaching, either.  This is not, however, because the Pharisees were Jews, nor even because of their theology per se—Jesus and all the aforementioned were themselves Jewish, and many from the party of the Pharisees became followers of Jesus both before and after Jesus' death and resurrection.  Rather, it was the legalism and the self-righteousness of the Pharisees which Jesus and the early church opposed.  It is these values that we should continue to oppose, no matter in which belief system we find them—even our own 'traditional' forms of Christianity.

Contrary to Mr. Shoebat’s position, while modern Rabbinic Judaism no longer completely resembles Biblical Judaism, Christianity does even less so.  It has, in fact, by its own admission, adopted many pagan beliefs, rituals, forms, and concepts of language.  Nowhere in the Scriptures does one find the papacy, the priesthood or even a clergy/laity distinction, doctrines concerning the veneration of Mary beyond simply being 'honored among women', having perpetual virginity, or being assumed into heaven, Purgatory, transubstantiation, the Catholic concept of sainthood, Sunday worship, or the holidays the Church celebrates.  Even the Protestants kept some of these unbiblical practices, not even realizing that they are of pagan origin.

This was done primarily because the Church turned its hatred of legalism and self-righteousness into a hatred of the Jews.  Period.  One only has to read Constantine’s Letter to the Churches surrounding the Council of Nicaea, John Chrysostom’s Adversus Iudaeos, the Council of Laodicea, or Martin Luther’s On Jews and their Lies to get a taste of the venom which has been spewed against the ethnic brothers of our own Lord, the Jewish Messiah.  So, to say that Catholicism is Messianic is utterly ridiculous at best, and an affront to every Jewish person.

What amazes me in my own studies on this issue is how quickly and how far the Church became removed from the understanding that it is no less than God's perfect will that He revealed Himself as a Jew, covenanted Himself to the Jewish people and established His name in the capital of Jewish civilization.  Seemingly overnight somewhere in the third century, the church was transformed from having a Jewish legacy to espousing anti-Semitism.  While post-Second Temple Judaism has moved away from the Biblical center which should be our focus, Romanized Christianity has done far more so in every way except the Gospel story itself; we have a much further distance to walk than does any Jew.  The goal of my own website and book series is to educate the church to traverse this distance in a hopeful return to a Judeo-Christian expression of the faith; and Judaism, even post-Second Temple Rabbinic Judaism, has much to teach us in getting there.

Another related point over which I will not labor is Mr. Shoebat’s defense of the Catholic view of Biblical symbolism.  He argues that the Catholic faith is deeper and richer than Protestantism because it reads into literal events a supernatural or symbolic meaning.  Sometimes we can extract a deeper meaning from the text; in other instances, however, two swords are just two swords (Mr. Shoebat used the story where Peter presented two swords to Jesus on the final night before Jesus’ crucifixion as an example).  What is absolutely certain, however, is that a reading of the text from a Biblically Jewish context is the best way to derive its meaning; the Romanized Church threw away its best tool for understanding the intricacies of Scripture when it rejected the Jewish foundation of Christianity and substituted a pagan context instead—any symbolism in the Bible must be derived from understanding the Jewish idea and applying it to our circumstances—not making semi-educated guesses based on pagan oracles or Greek philosophy.  The Bible was written by the Jewish God for the Jewish people using Jewish hands concerning a Jewish Messiah.  To apply a different context is misguided at best, and heretical at worst.

The greatest point of merit in Mr. Shoebat’s article is his treatise on the Septuagint, a Greek translation from the original Hebrew that was done in-between 300 and 250 years before Jesus’ birth.  It was reportedly created for the Library of Alexandria when Israel was a part of the Ptolemaic Empire after the death of Alexander the Great; most likely it was done because the vernacular of the day was Greek—and more and more Jews were speaking and writing in Greek during this time period.  It stands opposed to the Masoretic Text, a Hebrew version of the Tanakh compiled by post-Second Temple Jewish rabbis around the end of the 1st century A.D. mostly in reaction to the Christian use of the Septuagint and their success in arguing from it.  The Septuagint is obviously older than the Masoretic Text, although it is around 400 years older, and not 1000 years older as Mr. Shoebat claimed in his article.  It is indeed the version (or an excellent translation of the version) of the Scriptures from which Jesus and the Apostles quoted authoritatively.

When the Masoretes (obviously the group of rabbis who created the Masoretic Text) compiled their edition, they knowingly altered some minor points of the text to further the Pharasaic narrative; moreover, they also excluded several books or portions of books from the canon that were previously regarded as sacred Scripture, such as the books of Enoch and Wisdom, both of which were quoted by New Covenant writers.  This is why, unlike many of my Hebrew Roots, Messianic, and Protestant friends, I do accept the Roman Catholic canon list as primary, and I additionally accept certain books from the Eastern and Ethiopian Orthodox canons as deuterocanonical.  However, Mr. Shoebat has omitted from his article three important truths:

    Mr. Shoebat does explain that Jerome attempted to use the Masoretic Text as his basis for the Latin Vulgate (which he completed in 405 A.D.), but he leaves out the damning evidence that he ignored the advice of his contemporary and friend St. Augustine and actually used the Masoretic Text, only referring back to the Septuagint where segments of Scripture were unclear with regard to the translation; so the Roman Catholic Bible still in use today is largely derived from the same manuscript as many of the Protestant versions which Mr. Shoebat disdains--only the Orthodox Bible remains based on the Septuagint (along with a few others like the World English Bible).

    Aside from those points the Masoretes deliberately changed—which are indeed significant in their implications, the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text differ very little anyway, with the exception of the natural differences between Hebrew and Greek; a comparison side-by-side of the majority of content in these manuscripts reveals a negligible change in meaning, and nothing of grave theological importance.  So if one leans on the Septuagint as primary, understanding that the Masoretic Text was composed in reaction to the Christian message and was adapted to preserve the Pharasaic Jewish cultural narrative, one loses nothing, and instead gains a Hebrew cultural understanding of the text that may have been lost when the Septuagint was translated—which was the reason Jerome used the Masoretic Text in the first place.

    When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, they pointed to an even earlier proto-Hebrew source from which both the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text sprang, validating points of each rather than discrediting one or the other.  My opinion is that the Dead Sea Scrolls should be used as the textual basis of comparison, followed by a reliance on the Septuagint, and finally looking at the Masoretic Text for any Hebrew meaning that may further illuminate the text.

While it is true that there are modern-day Ebionites among us (Ebionites were an early group who believed Jesus was the Messiah, but believed Torah was the way to salvation; they denied the Trinity and Paul's writings)—and we most definitely should counter any heretical message among us by educating people with Biblical truth, I was shocked by the overall tone of Mr. Shoebat’s scathing article.  Not all persons aspiring to connect to their Hebrew Roots are ‘sacred namers’ or legalists looking to reduce the Christian life to the dutiful observance of petty rabbinic mitzvot; and I am not sure where Mr. Shoebat obtained the statistic that 80% of all Messianic congregations deny the Trinity—I know such congregations are out there, but I don’t personally know any Messianic Jews that believe anything other than that Jesus is God the Word made flesh.  Even Mr. Shoebat’s stance toward Martin Luther and Calvinism is dripping with gall; and he insults the majority of my ancestry by saying that Europeans have essentially corrupted Hebrew by virtue of 'having difficulty' pronouncing the Hebrew letter ayin as a guttural stop.  I don't know—I'm pretty good at picking up language patterns.  Perhaps Mr. Shoebat should demonstrate so that we handicapped Europeans can give it a try...

I understand that things make us angry from time to time, and that occasionally we just lose it—I am just as guilty as Walid.  Generally speaking though, the Bible proclaims that our speech needs to be "full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (Colossians 4:6) This is not just having the right answer; it is understanding how to approach people with our words.  Proverbs 15:1 declares, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."  I would appeal to all my Jewish and Christian friends, no matter what 'camp' they fall into, to consider the Scriptures and history for themselves, and to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal truth rather than lining up behind a battle line.  I actually agree with many points that Mr. Shoebat was attempting to make in this article; but there's no way he will convince a Hebrew Roots person with this kind of attitude.  Particularly when it comes to those who are part of the Body of Messiah, we should appeal first, rather than to blast and ask questions later.  We each have positions, and the truth is out there; I realize we're just trying to proclaim what we believe God has revealed to us.  But let's all do a little bit better to try and get along, yeah?