Sunday 13 October 2013

Response to Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal on Acts 21

A Muslim who I have conversed with in peaceful dialogue directed me to a video by Yisroel Blumenthal did on Acts 21. 

Yisroel Blumenthal is the writer and author of Contra Brown, The Elephant and the Suit and is a Rabbi who deals with Christian objections to Rabbinic Judaism.

The main argument is presented "If Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sins, why did Paul make a nazarite vow at the temple which entailed a sin offering?" That is basically their point regarding this subject.

Firstly, Let's deal with Blumenthal's claim that The Jewish Believers understanding and Paul's understanding and he goes into Acts 21 on this subject. A very common claim made not only by Blumenthal, but Muslims and atheists have also claimed is "Paul taught something different from James and Jesus" or "The three synoptic Gospels teach Jesus is a man whereas John says he is God", which is an absolute canard.

I think Mr Blumenthal and others will agree that the honest thing to do with any book is to read a passage within in it's context. To claim that the New Testament writers wrote contradictory messages shows that the person is unwilling to take the time to reconcile the contradictions, Besides, many more can be found in the Hebrew Bible, which can all be reconciled and the Talmud which I am sure the Rabbis have given superlative answers regarding the 63 tractates.

If Blumenthal wants to dispute the Deity of Christ, here are some articles addressing some objections raised against the Trinity:

Anyway, Paul would not have contradicted the apostles, According to his letter to the Galatians, he goes up to Jerusalem to get a historical account of the events and even mentions James in passing in a disinterested comment.

"Galatians 1:11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas[b] and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie."

He had to check with the apostles, in this case James and Peter, to confirm what he had received from the Lord. Keith Thompson speaks on this issue in his article which can be found here:

Also, Jesus says to the apostles in John 14 the following:
"25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

We are told in the same Gospel that if everything Jesus did was written down, the whole world could not contain it. Nevertheless, the things that Jesus said to the apostles would be brought to remembrance, hence, they would of taught the things Jesus taught TO Paul.

Furthermore, Jesus said himself that he came to give his life as a ransom for many in Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45, not to mention he opened the minds of the disciples to understand the scriptures in Luke 24:44-48:
 "44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”"

This is coming from Jesus himself, Not from Paul, or even the apostles themselves, but this is Jesus revealing to them what he came to accomplish as the Messiah of the Jews and the entire earth.
Now in that same point, Blumenthal rightly points out that rumours were spreading about Paul that he was telling the Jews to abandon the Torah, but James told Paul to demonstrate to the Jewish believers that he is NOT abandoning the Law of Moses and put down the rumours.
He does mention about the Nazarite vow that Paul had to pay within the context and that the nazarite vow included a sin offering.

His point here is to say the reason that the Nazarite vow was something that James told Paul to pay because it was Paul who came up with the idea of Jesus being the final atonement although such a fantasy tale is repudiated by the New Testament itself.

Even the apostle Peter in his second letter says:
"2 Peter 3:14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."

Peter himself claims that Paul's letters are just as inspired and authoritative as the TANAKH itself, so why on earth is Blumenthal making this claim that Paul is contradicting the Jewish Believers in Jesus (inlcluding James), when the same context of the New Testament, Paul had gone TO the disciples for instruction? Not to mention in the same book of Acts in chapter 9 verse 19, Paul spends several days WITH the disciples, as well as having a leading role in the council of Jerusalem with JAMES AND PETER.

In case Blumenthal wishes to dispute whether or not 2 Peter was by Peter, Keith Thompson in his article and video "Documentary: Defense of Apostle Paul" (Formerly called"The Historical Case for Paul’s Apostleship") on his youtube account, makes a strong case from early church fathers, that 2 Peter was regarded as authoritative, Even by Clement of Rome and also the writer of the Epistle of Barnabas.

Furthermore, The James at the Jerusalem council would of noticed Paul was teaching error and would pointed it out regarding the rumour of telling the Jews not to follow Moses. Why am I bringing this up? the Jerusalem Council didn't tell the JEWISH believers to give up the ceremonial laws, it was the Gentiles that they told they not bound to keep the ceremonial laws. Thus, the apostles themselves would have kept the Torah but told the Gentiles were free from the ceremonial laws. The Jews were NOT told to do this, it was a rumour that was spread about Paul despite the fact he had already been at the council and participated in the council.

Contrary to the claims of Blumenthal, Paul did NOT come up with some new fangled doctrine that was contrary to James and the Jewish believers. Blumenthal's claim stems from the Jewish believers observing the sacrificial system, including the Levites (who Blumenthal said were not believers later on) thus the claim Jesus was a sacrifice to end all sacrifices wasn't there. Firstly, HOW does Blumenthal know that? He doesn't he know the disciples didn't regard Jesus as the final sacrifice even when following these observances? absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Also, The Levites, if they were unbelievers, may of been aware of the apostles teaching and didn't really care that much, as far as they were concerned, the sacrifices were a duty they performed, so the Levites if they were not believers would not even think about this point.

Even with the Nazarite vow, the apostles teaching STILL had Christ as the vicarious atonement and that the sacrifices pointed to Jesus. There is NO evidence from the text, even implicitly that James is telling Paul to repudiate his teaching about Jesus being the final sacrifice. The only time an apostle is chastised by another, Is when Paul chastises Peter for siding with the Judaisers. Acts 21 shows Paul making sure he doesn't hurt his testimony to the Jewish believers, that he observed the Torah and was NOT encouraging Jews to break it. There is nothing implicit about denying Jesus as the only means of atonement, it's simply not there. To point of fact James alludes to the decision at the Jerusalem council regarding the Gentiles.

Blumenthal then speaks about him and his friend looking at commentaries on the book of Acts to see what Christians had to say but couldn't find an answer even with the discussion with one of the staff members by email.

His questions
1. Why were the members of the Jerusalem church still bringing offerings to the temple after the death of Jesus?
2. Why was this particular act chosen as a demonstration of Paul's loyalty to the law of Moses?

I won't mention the commentators that speak on the subject, but they can be found in the video that Yisroel Blumenthal did on Acts 21 which can be found here:

He requested that the professor did not answer with they were bringing the offerings as a symbolic remembrance of the death of Jesus when the Levites who ran the temple were regular Jews and not believers and did not know about Christianity and furthermore this act they are asking Paul is meant to be a demonstration that Paul is loyal to the Mosaic Law and that the Jewish believers including the disciples did not believe that Jesus died for everlasting atonement.

Once again, The Jerusalem church DID do it as a memorial to Jesus, the same principles apply with the feasts and Sabbath. The book of Hebrews talks about ALL these ordinances pointing to Jesus. The Sabbath, the sacrifices and the feasts were all pointing to him. The disciples simply recognized the fulfillment of the Torah had come and had culminated in Christ. Also, Blumenthal’s appeal to the Levites would not help solidify his point about the Jerusalem church at all, I have no idea how they prove his assertion. If they did not believe in Christ, The objection brought by Blumenthal is not brought to the apostle’s attention; the opponents of the faith in New Testament never raise the objection. If Blumenthal dismisses the answer given to him by the professor's colleague, I am not sure what to suggest to him.

Also, I believe the Nazirite vow was taken by Paul to show the HIGHEST dedication to God in a position that was not a priestly occupation. A Nazarite vow is a very serious obligation with strict requirements outside of a priestly function, so what better way to demonstrate loyalty to the Torah than sabbath and wearing tefillin? This I believe is why James suggested the Nazirite vow rather than an ordinary offering.

Not to mention I had just spent the majority of the article going through the New Testament to show that Paul's message is not something he conceived away from the apostles, but something he got directly from the apostles, who in turn got it from Jesus.

Lastly, Sam Shamoun when addressing Shabir Ali on Acts 21 as well as Acts 16 and Galatians 2 in a video on YouTube notes that the Jewish believers kept the law of Moses not for their salvation, but for their sanctification. The video can be found here:

Hope this article has been a help.

Answering Judaism.

Addendum: Yisroel Blumenthal has responded to this article itself but I am holding off my response until he has looked at the Pauline Conspiracy articles. I may however look at his points about Protestantism in a future article.

07/10/2017 edit. I changed the plan a while ago and wrote the Pauline conspiracy regardless. Sorry for the plan change and going back on my word.

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