The following are excerpts from Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. (Buy the book!)
Was either Jesus or Paul married?
Many commentators have noted that Paul likely had been married because he claimed to have been “faultless” in terms of legalistic righteousness (Phil 3:6). In the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown makes the argument that Jesus must have been married because all observant Jews had married by age 30.
However, the authors note,
Most Jewish men married at a fairly young age, often between the ages of eighteen and twenty. But [Brown] seems ignorant of the fact that rabbinic scholars spent many years in study and travel, causing some to postpone marriage until much later in life. … It was not uncommon for such men to marry in their late thirties or forties.
Sometimes, the tough questions that Jesus had to respond to seem disrespectful to Western ears. But rabbis taught through the taking of questions. The authors quote Athol Dickson’s story,
One day, when the presiding rabbi was having trouble generating group discussion, he fired off question after question, finally tossing out a provocative comment to stir things up. But still the group was silent. Exasperated, the rabbi exclaimed, “Come on people! Somebody disagree with me! How can we learn anything if no one will disagree?
Knowing the Tanakh
The Jews call the Old Testament the Tanakh. Christians tend to study the Old Testament very little, and so we often miss allusions that would have been obvious to Jesus’ audience — most of whom had spent years in Torah study.
In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive a man. He responds “seventy-seven times.” Many translations say “seventy times seven,” and Christians tend to prefer 490 to 77, as it seems to make the point all the better. But we don’t realize that Jesus was referring to Lamech.
(Gen 4:23-24) Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. 24 If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
The authors explain,
Once you catch Jesus’ reference, you understand the contrast he is making. He is saying that his followers should be as eager to forgive as Lamech was to take vengeance. … We should be Lamech’s polar opposite, making it our goal to forgive as extravagantly and completely as possible.
“Stringing pearls” is a Jewish expression for combining multiple scriptures to make a point. One example would be the Beatitudes. Another comes from the voice of God Himself at Jesus’ baptism —
You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.
The authors note that “You are my Son” quotes Ps 2:7. “Whom I love” is from Gen 22:2. “With you I am well pleased” is from Is 42:1.
What was God saying by making use of these quotations? To answer this question, you need to know two things: the context from which each passage is drawn and the way in which the people of that time understood the passage. Both Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42 were understood as powerful messianic prophecies. In Psalm 2, God makes a royal proclamation announcing his Son, the King of kings who would rule over the whole earth.
But in Isaiah 42, God speaks about his “servant” (also understood to be the Messiah). Paradoxically, God’s Messiah is both a king and a servant. This passage from Isaiah also proclaims that God’s Spirit is upon his servant. How fitting since the Father utters these words as the Spirit descends on Jesus in the Jordan River.
The reference “whom I love” is likely drawn from Genesis 22, one of the most poignant scenes in the Old Testament. Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac out of obedience to God. Genesis heightens the drama by emphasizing how precious Isaac is to Abraham, foreshadowing the Father’s own feelings for his only Son. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the Father is saying, “Here is my precious son, my Isaac,” hinting at the sacrifice he will soon ask of Jesus.
When First Century Jews ate a meal, they said a blessing. But they didn’t bless the food; they blessed God: “Blessed is he who brings forth bread from the earth.” The purpose of the blessing was not to make the food holy, but to thank God.
In fact, the Jews had blessings for nearly everything in life — using a form of short prayer beginning with “Blessed is he … .” A devout Jew might have spoken a dozen or more such blessings between awakening and breakfast — from thanking God for the rooster’s crow to thanking God that his body parts are still functioning. (Page 92-93). This gives new meaning to such teachings as —
(Col 3:17) And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
We tend to argue about the meaning of “all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” But we overlook the command to give thanks in all we do. And I know of no modern Christian who gives thanks continually as the First Century Jews did. How much difference might that make in the kind of people we are? (page 95)