Hello! In my opening message, I asked: "Does Isaiah 40:1-2 describe Israel as having made atonement for its own sins by suffering and being destroyed by enemies?"
You responded: "You do realize that the Israel being referred to is the Church, don't you?"
No, I am not sure that Isaiah 40 is referring to the Church as "Israel." First,
Isaiah is talking about Israel, and my understanding is that the Israelites were instructed by God to follow many rules like ritual circumcision. My impression is that at that time there were also many "strangers" living among the Israelites, as I think Ezekiel mentions. While they did not follow many of the rules given to the Israelites like circumcision, they accepted Israel's King and I believe some of them worshipped Israel's God, as in Jesus' time Jerusalem's Temple had an "outer court" for gentile worshippers. So while the Church in my understanding refers to those who worship Israel's God and accept its King the Messiah, it seems to me that Israel in Isaiah's time referred to those who followed the Israelite religious rules like circumcision, which the gentiles didn't. While I am not certain that Israel excluded gentiles who didn't follow the Mosaic rules, I am not sure of this, becase I think some gentiles like Ruth in fact joined Israel.
But still, I imagine that Isaiah could be poetically talking about Israel as Old Testament-era righteous people who are looking to Christ, rather than talking literally about the political tribe of Israel.Second,
Isaiah 40 is talking about Israel being chastened or atoning for its sins. Isaiah elsewhere talks about Israel worshipping false gods. And Hosea, Zechariah, and maybe other prophets like Isaiah describe Israel as being separate from God because of unbelief in Him. My understanding however is that the Church is considered those who have faith in Christ and compose Christ's body, and the teaching is that Christ is sinless. So it doesn't make sense to see the Church as Israel in Isaiah's words about Israel atoning for its own sins, Israel's worship of idols, and the prophets words about Israel being separated from God because of unbelief.
A counterargument I can see is that while the Old Testament Church sometimes acted sinfully like the OT descriptions of Israel, with the resurrection and transformation of Christ's body, the Church became equated with those who believed and followed God's will.
Another counterargument could be that in fact we have a similar contradiction today where the Church as an institution sometimes does bad things like Church scandals, so that it's incorrect to say that the Church is sinless. But still, maybe the Church itself is sinless and those who do the bad acts are spiritually acting outside the Church's spiritual authority even if they abuse its earthly institutions.
A third counterargument I can see is that rather than talking about Israel in Old Testament times, Isaiah is talking prophetically about the Christian Church, when the Old Testament Church will have undergone atonement through Jesus' sacrifice. However, I am doubtful about this because my impression is that Isaiah is talking to his audience, the ancient Israelites, in a sense they can understand, which would be the Old Testament era. Plus, my impression was that there were other times in the Old Testament when the Bible portrays Israel as having been punished enough and then redeemed, like in the Exodus from Egyptian slavery and the return from Babylonian captivity. The latter appears in a way to fit Isaiah 40's words about Israel's punishment being over as Isaiah was writing some time (within a century I assume) after Cyrus restored the Israelites to Zion from Babylonian captivity. If this interpretation is accepted, it seems to me Isaiah could be talking about both the tribe's restoration after captivity as well as making a future poetic prophecy of God's people the Church being restored in the Christian era.I am doubtful that
(a) the future Christian Church and Christ's body contiguous with it and (b) the Old Testament Church are "one and the same"
as you say. Certainly, there is continuation between the two, as people like the apostles who belonged to both the Old Testament Church- i.e. the pre-Christian community who looked to Christ- and to Christ's followers who composed the Christian Church after His coming.
But on the other hand, the two seem to me distinguishable as separate groups to such an extent that they are not simply "the same". For example, Jesus said in the Gospels that John the Baptist was a prophet, but that "He who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist." My impression is that here Jesus is distinguishing between the Old Testament righteous and those who belonged to the New Testament Church, who at the time Jesus was speaking were His followers.I asked:
If you mean that Isaiah 40 is about the Old Testament Church, "do you mean it refers just to those of the ancient Israelites who were righteous and spiritually looked to the Messiah?"
You responded: "No. And why such a qualifier?"I think I agree with your "No."
On one hand, the Church today is those who look to Christ, and it seems to me those who agree with the general principle that they should try to follow God- that is, be righteous. A more restrictive definition, like officially belonging to a canonical Church institution, still would only include those who match the previous sentence's critieria. So it seems like that criteria would still apply in Isaiah's time when the concept of David's Messianic heir existed (as in the prophet Nathan's prediction to David in 2 Samuel, as I remember).
But more importantly, there were other tribes of Israel- the northern ten tribes' Kingdom- that separated from the Jews, who were ruled by David's descendants. Plus, the concept of the Davidic Messiah was not clearly recognized by the Israelites before David's time, although some Israelites may have underestood some prophecies of Him before David's time. Furthermore, Christianity recognizes that sin is part of this world- it is pretty common for us to sin and we continue to refer to ourselves as sinners. So for me it seems hard to separate ourselves in the Church from others outside it based on our own personal "righteousness," although in fact it could be that those who really repented and became righteous are really the ones in the Church.To answer your question "why such a qualifier",
there are a few reasons I can think of:1.
One view in Rabbinical Judaism appears to be that when Isaiah is explicitly talking about God's Servant Israel, he is actually talking only about the "righteous remnant" of Israelites, rather than all of the self-identified political "nation" of Israel. They point to passages such as Isaiah 1:9 "Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah."
The idea is that those who belonged to Israel after the difficulties were the "righteous remnant." So when it is talking about Israel, it is actually talking just about those righteous Israelites. One problem with this explanation as that it actually suggests that so long as Isaiah is talking about the larger group of Israelites before their troubles, he is actually talking about all of Israel, not just the righteous ones.
This explanation addresses a problem in Isaiah 53, where the righteous servant suffers. The problem is that they interpret the righteous servant to be Israel, but Isaiah in the surrounding chapters describes Israel as very unrighteous. So one explanation is that in Isaiah 53 the righteous Servant only refers to righteous Israelites who suffer along with the rest of the people, and who are left after the difficulties.
One problem I see with this view is that in Isaiah 40, Isaiah clearly describes the Israel that existed after the difficulties
as having suffered for its own unrighteousness, when Isaiah says to comfort the people for they received twice-over for what they have done. Now maybe they could say that the Israel existing after the troubles was itself always righteous and was only bearing the sins of other Israelites before the difficulties. But still, Isaiah 59-60 describes all the Israelites as unrighteous.2.
Another motive for the qualifier was the New Testament criteria about the church. St Paul wrote in Romans 9:6 "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel". So St Paul used a qualifier of looking to Christ to determine whether people actually belonged to Israel. Further, Jesus used poetic images, like separating out the sheep at judgment day and the parable of the vinegrowers to show that it was very important for people to actually follow God's word, that is, try to be righteous. I agree with you when you say "The pre-Christian Church",
that is, the Israelites prefiguring and preceding the Church of Christ's time, "did not have 'all the information' yet."
For example, people were expecting Elijah to return before the Messiah, but as the disciples' discussion with Jesus in Matthew 17 about this suggests, they didn't know exactly what form this Elijah would take, Jesus explained to be John the Baptist.I agree with your view
from the perspective of the prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament when you say: "Abraham probably did not realise he was entertaining the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in Whose Name his future spiritual descendants would be baptised. In fact, he probably didn't know a Messiah was coming"
Naturally based on what the Bible tells us he wouldn't have recognized and understood the three separate entities you describe. Based on the Bible, it wasn't until David's time that the concept of a person coming as a Redeeming King Messiah was laid out. It's true that God earlier in Genesis is portrayed as a creator, his Word creating the World is mentioned in a similar place in Genesis, and there also His "Spirit" is described as over the water. So in some form the images of the Trinity are recognizable in places preceding Abraham in Genesis. But not to the extent that it explains God's Son the Messiah.
I also sympathize with your rhetorical question, when you ask: "In fact, he probably didn't know a Messiah was coming, so how could he "spiritually look to the Messiah"?"
In other words, it isn't reasonable to expect Abraham to spiritually look to the Messiah, since he didn't have a clear understanding, if any, of this concept. But I am not sure I agree with your rejection of Abraham's looking forward to the Messiah, especially because I added the qualifier "spiritually". In other words, while Abraham might not have consciously foreseen a King who would come from the people and redeem the multitudes, his spirit may have looked to this.
For example, in preparing to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22, he may have understood at some level the concept of substitutionary atonement. He may have felt a need for this motivating the preparation. Of course, God told Abraham to stop the sacrifice of Isaac. And I can see a view from a Christian perspective that Abraham was right, when He told Isaac God would provide a lamb. He was incorrect that God provided a lamb at that point since God actually provided a ram when Abraham looked up and saw the ram. But it also happens to be the case that Jesus was like a lamb God provided centuries later.
So in conclusion, Abraham felt a spiritual need for substitionary atonement, and it appears that his sacrifice of the ram he saw, perhaps provided by God, played a foundational role for other animal sacrifices the Israelites performed that Christianity considers a prefigurement of Christ. Thus, in performing the animal sacrifices in substition of sacrificing their sons, they may have looked toward God's sacrifice in a spiritual way, at least in a poetic, emotional sense.I would agree with your
"No. I don't think so" to Volnutt's
question "You don't think he knew the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head?"
I am not sure whether Volnutt means (A) Abraham knew of God's words to Adam about the serpent being crushed, or (B) Abraham knew a Messianic meaning in those words. It isn't clear because although Volnutt is just repeating the saying about the serpent, he is doing so in the context of our discussion of whether Abraham looked to the Messiah, and a traditional Christian view sees this saying as Messianic. If Volnutt merely means (A), then I am doubtful about your response.
Based on the Bible, one could assume that God's words in Genesis about the Seed of the woman crushing the serpent's head was passed down to Abraham. But I don't think Abraham understood it as a Messianic saying, as Volnutt could be implying as a response to your suggestion that Abraham couldn't have spiritually looked to the Messiah.
I don't think Abraham would've understood it as Messianic, since I myself didn't understand it that way when I was a little child and heard Genesis. That is, like Abraham, I too hadn't heard a Christian interpretation that this referred to the Messiah, as the text in Genesis doesn't explain the saying this way. Rather, I understood this as just a general, simple saying about the way of the world, like would-be Native American legends about how it happened that different animals acquired different features. I simply understood God's words in Genesis 3:15 "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."
to mean that as a matter of nature, in the wild people and snakes have a bad relationship, where people kill snakes and snakes bite people.Kind Regards to you
Volnutt,I am not sure what you mean
when you say that the idea that "the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head... probably existed as oral tradition."
It seems to me you could mean just that this saying in Genesis 3 about the serpent probably existed in oral tradition. In that case, it would make sense based on the Bible that the saying in Genesis would be passed down through generations and have existed in the oral traditions of Abraham's tribe. But on the other hand, this could be a saying that was lost by Abraham's time and then revealed to Moses or other compilers of Genesis.
On the other hand, you could mean that an oral tradition existed that gave a Messianic meaning for this saying, since we are discussing whether Abraham looked to the Messiah. If that is what you mean, I would be highly doubtful of your view. I think it's unlikely that Abraham would've understood this saying in clear Messianic terms because the concept of the King Messiah was only clearly laid out centuries later with King David.Health and Happiness to you, Volnutt.
Dear Xenia 1918,
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience!
I partly agree and partly disagree with you when you write: "The "rabbinical" view that Isaiah 53 refers to national Israel stems from Rashi, a French rabbinic sage in the Middle Ages. ANCIENT rabbis believed that Isaiah 53 spoke of the Messiah that was to come.
It's true that Rashi played a major role in promoting the view that Isaiah 53 refers to national Israel as the Servant, and that rabbis centuries earlier at least within the first few centuries of Christianity saw Isaiah 53 as Messianic, as the Talmud- Sanhedrin 98 as I remember- twice interprets Isaiah 53 in a Messianic way. But on the other hand, it appears that others within the rabbinic tradition at that time also applied Isaiah 53 to national Israel, as Origen, who lived in the 2nd-3rd centuries, describes a discussion he had with Jewish elders where they took this view. I think you are probably right when you say:
"After the coming of Christ/destruction of the Second Temple, the rabbis changed their views on many issues... to prevent Christians from utilizing their Scriptures in reference to Jesus." First of all, Church Fathers in the early Church complained that the rabbis were changing words in scripture for the reason you mentioned. I don't remember what verses they were talking about, if I ever heard what they were in the first place. But it seems likely to me. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls say in Psalm 22 something like "Ka'aru"- that David's hands and feet were dug into. A few Masoretic texts do say this as I recall, but most of them say "Karu"- "like a lion". Since the Septuagint says "dug into", my opinion is that the scribes changed the text after Christianity began, making it less like the Christian interpretation. Further, the situation has apparently changed where many more rabbis see Israel as the Servant of Isaiah 53. They also reject the concept of one person giving up their life for another in atonement, which exists in Maccabees, for example.
Still, I assume the rabbis weren't necessarily acting in bad faith or being intentionally dishonest when they made these changes. "Ka'aru" is considered by scholars a confusing and very rare word, and I don't feel competent to judge other text changes since I don't know what they were. It seems likely the scribes in making the changes felt that they were clarifying a confusing text, rather than changing from the true word to another. Plus, while the rabbinical community has naturally changed its views in the centuries after Christianity, and some of those changes may be a natural negative reaction to Christianity, such as ignoring or rejecting ideas of sacrificing one's life in atonement, it doesn't mean that individual rabbis themselves changed their views. Rather, it seems likely that as people went through religious studies in becoming rabbis, more and more of them had views different from what previous generations may have felt. Further, the changes we mentioned could also be on issues that had a diversity of opinions- maybe there were different views on Ka'aru, on Isaiah 53, and on the concept of substitionary-life-atonement. In that case, there could have been a change from a diversity of opinions to only one established common opinion, but not from an opinion no one held to an opinion all the rabbis held. I am not sure how correct it is to say
"they even changed their Bible from the LXX to the Masoretic." The Masoretic is a transcription of earlier Hebrew copies of the Hebrew Bible, and my understanding is that specifically the Hebrew langauge was the one in which the scriptures were read in synagogues. That being the case, naturally the Masoretic would be the one allowed, and the GREEK LXX wouldn't be read in synagogues. On the other hamd, the LXX was such a widely read Greek translation of the OT scriptures, that the rabbinical community's stopping use of the LXX could be seen as a change. It would make sense for the scale of the use of the LXX among Christians to be a factor in influencing the cessation of using the LXX in the rabbinical community, but there could be other factors like a decrease in the importance of Greek in the mediterranean in the course of several centuries. While I sympathize with your words, I am also not sure how correct it is that "ANCIENT Judaism was much different, and much closer to Christian thought, than modern, post-Exilic, post-Temple Judaism."
Like ancient Judaism, Christianity puts a strong focus on the substitutionary atonement and the Temple rituals. Modern post-Temple Rabbinical Judaism, on the other hand, has reduced its emphasis on the centrality of Temple rituals as a natural result of the Temple's disappearance. But then again, I think other followers of it do emphasize the Temple and think alot about rebuilding it, etc.
Or to give another example, the rabbinical system puts rabbis' rules on many subjects like handwashing on the same level as the Tanakh, calling the former the Oral Law and the latter the Written Law. Both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus, as Matthew 15 shows, had complained about people teaching commandments of men as if they were commandments of God. Yet this suggests that this problem of teaching man-made rules as divine had gone back to the time of ancient Judaism, so perhaps a similar problem existed in ancient Judaism too, if you define it as the people's religion at the time. Plus, Christianity also has institutional rules that aren't written in the Bible, and St Paul's New Testament writings are treated with a degree of respect similar to that given the Old Testament. Granted, in Christian thought the New Testament isn't allowed to grow like the rabbinical rules do.I am not sure that "the Zohar, which is a compendium of Jewish mystical teachings that make up the bulk of the Kabbalah, state that God is triune."
To me, the Zohar is confusing, particularly in its discussion describing God's characteristics. I mentioned on a countermissionary forum that I heard the Zohar considers God to be a plurality, and they rejected this interpretation. But then again, I disgaree with them about Isaiah 53, so they could be mistaken about it too. In any case, I highly doubt that the Zohar is part of ancient Judaism. I read on Wikipedia's article on the Zohar that its claimed ancient origin was rejected by conservative Jews in Spain, where it was first openly distributed. The mysticism in it seems different enough from the simpler portrayals of God's characteristics in the Old Testament, the central Christian writings, and the Talmud that it seems likely to me that the Zohar was compiled from ideas originating in the Middle Ages. But I am not sure either way.I believe you when you write: "Derekh Hashem (the Way of God) by the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) states that it is central to Jewish teaching that a tzaddik (righteous person) can atone, by his perfect life and by suffering, for the sins of not only his generation, but also all humans from Adam and Eve forward."
I somewhat remember reading in a short rabbinical commentary once from the Middle Ages that the power of forgiveness or mercy was greater than revenge, and so a righteous person could atone for others. Also, the countermissionary forum explained that they accept the idea of atonement where a righteous person could atone by suffering as you mentioned, but that they rejected the idea of atonement where the righteous person gave up his life for others.
However, I have some doubt that "It sounds too much like Christianity, so many rabbis suppress that work of his too." While Ramchal's idea of atonement is shared with Christianity, I am not sure that many rabbis suppress the work and suppress it for that reason. The work seemed to have many websites mentioning it on the internet, so it seems like a common work. Further, Wikipedia's article on the book says that it was written from a kabbalistic perspective in the 18th century, so there could be another element of the book, like an emphasis on kabbalistic mysticism or its more recent authorship that may dissuade many rabbis from spreading it.I am sorry that "It was very shocking and traumatic to me when I learned this and many other facts through study, considering I had been raised an Orthodox Jew and never thought to question the rabbis.
Sure, if a person who grew up believing very strictly in a religion discovers fundamental problems with it, it can be shocking and traumatic because it breaks fundamentals of their belief system.
For example, perhaps it could be traumatic for a strict Roman Catholic or strict Orthodox if they learned the Church in its first few centuries hypothetically took a position opposite to his or hers- or was deeply divided- on whether the Pope of Rome was a king-like ruler over all other Christians. And if Christianity actually rejected the idea of substitionary-atonement-by-suffering and rarely discussed Christian works that rejected it, learning about the rejection could be traumatic for Christians. I personally find it a troubling possibility that some forms of ritual animal slaughter could be pagan practices inside Orthodox Christianity, yet contradict more fundamental ideas in Orthodox Christianity. I have in mind the idea of sacrificing animals to a saint or to give a house good luck, as I discuss on the Animal Sacrifices thread (http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,18382.0.html
). But anyway I doubt Orthodoxy accepts those practices as I describe them here.
Further, since the rabbis' views are considered an Oral Law in their religion, it is natural that a person growing up in it wouldn't think to question them. So I think it can be traumatic to learn that one's nonChristian religion actually accepted or accepts important conflicting Christian concepts but rarely discusses that fact, and vice-verse.
OK. Thanks for sharing your insights.Peace to You.