In this day and age, our attention spans are small and our capacity to be offended is huge. We scroll endlessly through our social media feeds, almost looking for opportunities to engage those we don’t agree with! To take them to task. But, many times, we don’t take the time to understand another person’s perspective or statement within the proper context. And just as often, we as Christians likely use Scripture—out of context, knowingly or not—to justify our own positions.
Context is everything.
For instance, the idea of a male Jewish worshiper thanking God that he’s not a woman. Can you imagine the blowback he’d get for that post on Facebook?
Instead, dig a little deeper with me.
Every male Jew as part of his daily prayer recites: “Blessed are you, LORD our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.” Prior to that, he also blesses God for not making him “a Gentile” and “a slave.” To many people, these statements conclusively prove Judaism’s anti-gentile and anti-female posture.
But are they right?
While the entire Torah was given to Israel, many of its important laws were meant for the nations. But even within Israel, the laws applied differently to different groups (men, women, priests, Levites, kings, and slaves among others). The basic conclusion here is that Torah was, and still is, for everyone in general, but not every law in Torah is for everyone in particular.
Even though there are Torah commandments that the nations must obey, they are not responsible to observe the same number of commandments as the Jews. Therefore, thanking God for “not making one a Gentile” is not a statement of Jewish superiority of any kind, but rather an indication of readiness and willingness to obey more commandments! The same principle applies in the case of women and slaves.
The Apostle Paul taught that Torah’s laws were never designed as a mechanism for placing anyone in a position of right standing before Israel’s God. He argued that, with the coming of King Jesus, inclusion of Gentiles into the membership of God’s people must follow the original Israelite method that was at work in Abraham’s justification by grace through faith. Abraham believed God. Then, he was declared righteous, and only then was he circumcised (Gen.15:1-6; Rom.4:1-3; Gen.17). Paul even argued that the idea that Gentiles are being accepted by Israel’s God without circumcision is testimony to Torah’s veracity! He was absolutely right (Rom.3:31).
It is in this Torah context that Paul explained how Gentiles become full members of God’s family, through belonging to the Jewish Christ, without conversion to Judaism. For Apostle Paul, in the community of Christ, there is no place for preferential treatment between various groups—all are equally beloved and accepted by Israel’s God in Christ Jesus.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:28-29)
As a side note, an intriguing point should not be missed. It is remarkable that not only the three groups (Jews/Gentile, slaves/freemen, men/women) mentioned in the Jewish prayer are practically the same, but also that they are mentioned in the same order.
Did you get that? Not only three, but also in the same order?
Among other things, it shows that some modern Jewish traditions trace back to the first century and before, and that the Apostle Paul wrote his letters to the nations “from within” and not “from outside” of the Ancient Jewish thought.
All of this argues that we must grasp the Jewish language, context and culture of the New Testament if we are to understand its original meaning.
Indeed, the Bible does not need to be rewritten, but it needs to be reread.
Context, as I said, is everything.
Head of School at The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies and Founder of the Israel Bible Center, Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg is anIsraeli Christian author, experienced educator and expert scholar in Jewish context and culture of the New Testament. Read more at israelbiblecenter.com.