Ezekiel Versus Jesus

December 17, 2021

A “dead man walking” mournfully foretold the forthcoming doom of his onlookers, their children, and the entire city. His prophecy of eventual doom might have come as a surprise to those who overheard it, because it seemed to contradict what another prominent prophet had once promised regarding the Promised Land and the City of Jerusalem. Who was right about the city’s future, then — the Prophet Ezekiel, or the condemned Nazarene, dripping blood and staggering on the way to his gruesome crucifixion?

From someone else, it might have come across as a condemned man’s final vindictive, bitter curse. But his gloomy comments were not directed against his persecutors. He was instead speaking to a group of women who might have included some of his loyal supporters. They were there to observe and weep at his horrifying fate. While being led to his crucifixion, on the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, Jesus told those women not to weep for him, but to weep instead for themselves and their children (Luke 23:28-31). Quoting the final sentence of Hosea 10:8, Jesus then informed his sympathizers that when the time of destruction arrived “They [that is, the residents of Jerusalem] will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’”   

Again, this gloomy, terrifying Via Dolorosa Prophecy seemed to contradict a much rosier civic and national future, as prophesied by the Prophet Ezekiel centuries before. The whole of Ezekiel Chapter 36 describes the wonderful, permanent (see Ezekiel 36:13-15) restoration and exaltation of the exiled House of Israel within their hereditary homeland. And in the first century AD/CE (that is, the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry), the restoration and exaltation promised by Ezekiel appeared to be a likely, imminent possibility, especially since it had already been partially fulfilled. Many of the Jewish people had already returned to their hereditary homeland. Furthermore, when he first began his public ministry, Jesus spoke a lot about the Kingdom of God, and about it being “at hand.” Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God’s imminence only encouraged the thought that the exaltation part of Ezekiel’s wonderful prophecy was about to transpire. But no, the exaltation of the House of Israel was not about to transpire. Instead, Jesus’ Via Dolorosa Prophecy proved grimly accurate.   

Rather than being restored and exalted within their hereditary homeland, the opposite occurred. In 70AD/CE, after rebelling against the Romans, the Jewish people were subjected to a crushing, almost absolute defeat. The City of Jerusalem was destroyed. Its marvelous Temple was demolished. And the few Jewish people who remained alive were sent off into exile yet again. The Jewish people would not return from exile en masse to their hereditary homeland until the mid Twentieth Century, after the Nazi’s attempted genocide of them during World War Two. 

All of which is to say, Ezekiel Chapter 36 appears to be an aborted prophecy. It was once apparently on its way to fulfillment. But then something cataclysmic occurred. The hopes of the Jewish people were dashed, or, at very least, seriously delayed.

However, I am not suggesting for a moment that Ezekiel’s prophecy was wrong. I believe that it will still be fulfilled. The question I pose to anyone who takes Ezekiel Chapter 36 seriously (as legitimate prophecy) is whether it can be meaningfully fulfilled unless it is fulfilled quite literally, within Israel, the hereditary homeland of the Jewish people. A lot of my fellow Christians seem to believe the prophecy can be (and already has been) fulfilled figuratively and/or spiritually, and that it therefore simply does not apply to the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people. Personally, I have a hard time squaring what Ezekiel prophesies in Chapter 36 with anything but a literal, physical fulfillment.  

The implications of how an interpreter understands Ezekiel Chapter 36 (and similar passages, like Zechariah Chapter 12 and the entire Book of Zephaniah) are very significant. This is not to say that I will not argue for a figurative reading of some prophetic material, because I certainly will; and I do. But it is to say that some of these prophetic passages seem to become altogether meaningless unless they are read literally. The interpretive issue, as I see it, is whether the relevant prophetic passages themselves give good reason to take a figurative approach or a literal approach. If a given prophetic passage presents itself as literal, should it not be read as literal? I think so, unless there is an extremely compelling reason not to. In my estimation, Ezekiel Chapter 36 presents itself as altogether literal, and therefore should be read that way. And because we know for certain that it has not been fulfilled yet, we can and should await its literal future fulfillment. Now with that said, I encourage you to go read Ezekiel Chapter 36. 

Is the Lord’s Prayer Jesus’ Prayer?

December 13, 2021

Is the Lord’s Prayer the Lord’s prayer? Did Jesus himself compose the Lord’s Prayer?

If asked those questions, I would respond, “Well yes, Jesus did compose the Lord’s Prayer, but not from scratch. Instead, he repurposed and rearranged some common, well-known prayers that his Jewish audience had memorized and regularly recited.” I might go on to say, “Moreover, even today those common, well-known prayers are still liturgically and regularly recited by Jewish congregations. Yes indeed, these old, old prayers are routinely recited even today. Practicing Jews refer to these liturgical prayers as the Kaddish, or, if spelled with a Q, the Qaddish— same pronunciation, just spelled differently, with a K or a Q.” 

And this is where I stop quoting myself answering a hypothetical question or two.  

Now, if my answer to the origin and the originality of the Lord’s Prayer is correct, it has several interesting implications. First, it means we can compare the Lord’s Prayer with the variations of the Kaddish received through Jewish liturgical tradition. Second, it probably means we can extract some useful insights regarding how Jesus’ original Jewish audience heard and understood the Lord’s Prayer — that is, as Jesus’ own edited update to the traditional Kaddish. Third, it means we might apply such insights to our own prayers, on the presumption that you are a praying person.

Hopefully, by writing this post, I am contributing something somewhat original and corrective to ongoing New Testament scholarship on the Lord’s Prayer. If nothing else, though, I hope to make more readers and listeners aware of the almost certain historical and lexical connections between the Lord’s Prayer and the Jewish Kaddish liturgical tradition. After learning of them, it now seems quite surprising to me that the numerous connections between the Jewish and Jesus liturgical prayer traditions are not common knowledge among Christian scholars and preachers. It is time to correct that.     

As an example of where the Kaddish-Lord’s Prayer connection goes curiously unmentioned, I will point here to an influential book published as recently as 2018, a book entitled Jesus the Priest, by Dr. Nicholas Perrin, currently the president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois.     

In the first chapter of Jesus the Priest, the learned (and thought-provoking) President Perrin delves immediately into the Lord’s Prayer. Perrin does so because he believes that the title Father, which is the opening word of Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2), gives “substantive insight into what made [Jesus] tick” (p. 20).  I certainly agree with Dr. Perrin about that.    

Yes, Jesus’ very frequent use of the title Father can give us insight into what made him tick. But nonetheless, it comes as a surprise that — with the Lord’s Prayer open before us and in consideration — President Perrin does not discuss the most likely immediate source of the title Father: the Kaddish liturgies, which Jesus’ original Jewish listeners (almost certainly) routinely recited. Jesus’ first listeners would not have missed the connection between the Kaddish’s repetitive use of the title Father and the Lord’s Prayer use of the same.   

Here is one relevant sentence from a translation of the Full Kaddish (i.e., the Kadesh Shalem):

May the prayers and supplications of the whole House of Israel be accepted by their Father Who is in Heaven.

Excerpt from The Full Kaddish

Those who are familiar with (the Matthean and King James’ version of) the Lord’s Prayer should immediately hear the very close lexical similarity of “their Father who is in Heaven” and “our Father who art in Heaven.” But the lexical connections by no means end there.  

Before I go on to discuss more such connections, I want to point out that Dr. Perrin expends much time, ink, and effort discussing why Jesus starts the Lord’s Prayer (or as he refers to it, by its Latin name, the Pater Noster) with the title Father. Perrin correctly links the title Father to specific scriptural passages, especially Exodus 4:21-23 (see Jesus the Priest, p. 36); but he still misses or intentionally overlooks the most immediate relevant liturgical and lexical connection: the Kaddish. Although Perrin claims that the tribulation of Israel’s Exodus was foremost in Jesus’ thinking when he gave the Lord’s Prayer, it is much more likely that Jesus had the expectations and the requests of the Kaddish more immediately in mind. When he gave the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus wanted to both appropriate the best of Jewish liturgical tradition and recast it at the same time. Jesus was editing the Kaddish and along with it, the many requests and expectations expressed therein. Jesus revised the Kaddish to fit the reality of his messianic arrival and the inauguration of his kingdom. Jesus gave his disciples their own updated Kaddish, one that fit their new situation, since many of requests of the original Kaddish had been answered and fulfilled in the arrival and person of Jesus himself. 

With those claims in mind, please recall the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer as you read this translation of the full Kaddish:  

May His great name be exalted and sanctified (hallowed) in the world which He created according to His will.

May He establish His Kingdom and may His salvation blossom and may His Anointed [the Moshiach/Messiah] come soon during your lifetime and during your days — and during the lifetimes of all the House of Israel, speedily and soon. And let us say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and for all eternity! Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded, be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, above and beyond all blessings, that are uttered in the world. And let us say, Amen.

[The Half Kaddish ends here; the Full Kaddish continues:]
May the prayers and supplications of the whole House of Israel be accepted by their Father Who is in heaven. And let us say, Amen.

[The following section is said only in Kaddish d’Rabbanan, i.e., the Rabbis’ or Scholars’ Kaddish:]
For Israel, for the Rabbis and their disciples, for the disciples of their disciples, and for all those who engage in the study of Torah in this (holy) place or in any other place, may there be abundant peace, grace, loving kindness, compassion, long life, ample sustenance and salvation from the Father Who is in heaven (and earth). And let us say, Amen.

[All versions except the Half Kaddish continue:]
May there be abundant peace from heaven and good life, satisfaction, help, comfort, refuge, healing, redemption, forgiveness, atonement, relief and salvation for us and for all His people Israel. And let us say, Amen.

May He Who makes peace in His high places grant (in His mercy) peace for us and for all his people Israel. And let us say, Amen.

The Full Kaddish/Kadesh Shalem

To say that Jesus edits and amends the Kaddish liturgies is an accurate claim. He reorders many of the petitions. He omits some of the petitions, most notably the prayer for the Messiah to arrive soon (because Jesus the Messiah had already come). He revises and expands at least one of the petitions. And yet, as for what he retains and includes, he essentially quotes much of the original wording. He cuts and pastes the Kaddish to fit his disciples’ new situation and new community.

Finally, a historically critical note: I anticipate that someone will look into my claims and counter that we cannot be sure that the Kaddish that has been passed down in Jewish tradition is the same as the Kaddish that existed when Jesus gave the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. Well, granted. We cannot be sure we have exactly the same Kaddish. Nonetheless, we almost certainly have an accurate and reliable version of it. Further, in rebuttal of that skeptical argument, I will point out two things: First, the wording between the Kaddish and the Lord’s Prayer is astonishingly close at a number of points. The closeness in wording begs the question of whom is borrowing from who. It is much more likely that Jesus is borrowing from an established Jewish liturgical tradition than vice versa. There would be very little incentive for later Jews to copy and incorporate Christian materials in their liturgies. But Jesus and the writers of the four gospels would not have hesitated to appropriate previously established Jewish liturgical material.

Second, many of the elements of the Kaddish liturgies clearly derive from and depend directly upon the Hebrew Scriptures (that is, the Old Testament). We do know for certain that those scriptures predate Jesus’ earthly ministry and the writing of the New Testament.    

Finally, this all makes for a logically tight, historically apt scenerio. In teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus simply drew on what they already had memorized. Jesus just simplified it and adjusted it to fit their new situation and new community.       

Remember Lot’s Wife

Friday, August 13, 2021

Remember Lot’s Wife – Audio Version
Screen Grab from the Babylon Bee

Are you a Bible quiz whiz? How many Bible verses do you know by heart? Today, we will learn not one, but two Bible verses by heart, and in almost no time at all. Then you will be well on your way to that most desirable of designations: a Bible Quiz Whiz. Okay then, open up your Bibles and put on your Bible memorization caps, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Is everyone ready to learn two very easy verses? Here we go…

The easiest of all Bible verses to memorize might be John 11:35. That’s the Gospel of John, chapter eleven, verse thirty-five. Has everyone found it? It contains just two short words: “Jesus wept.” See? It’s so simple and so very easy to memorize. Remind me now: What does John 11:35 say, aspiring Bible Quiz Whizzers? That’s right. It simply says, “Jesus wept.” 

Good job! Now let’s learn the second super easy verse!

The second easiest Bible verse to memorize might be Luke 17:32. That’s the Gospel of Luke, chapter seventeen, verse thirty-two. Has everyone found it? It contains just three short words: “Remember Lot’s wife.” Again, it’s super simple and very easy. What does Luke 17:32 say, aspiring Bible Quiz Whizzers? That’s right. It says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”

Great job, everyone! You have now memorized not just one, but two very valuable verses: Jesus Wept and Remember Lot’s Wife. Repeat them after me one more time: Jesus Wept and Remember Lot’s Wife.

“Umm, Teacher, Teacher… excuse me.”

Yes, hold on, everyone. I see a hand over here. Do you have a question, kid?

“Umm, okay, yeah… so I don’t get it. Why did Jesus weep? And what are we supposed to remember about Lot’s wife?”

Oh my! Wow! Aren’t you inquisitive?! Those are two very good questions. For now, let’s wait on those questions until everyone has had a chance to perfectly memorize their verses; okay? Then maybe we will go to the pastor with what you just asked. Given all he has learned about the Bible, I am sure Pastor has the answers to your very good questions. Okay?

“Umm, okay. Do I have to wait, though? I just wondered why Jesus cried and what we’re supposed to remember about that guy’s wife. What was his name again?”

His name was Lot. Remember Lot’s wife. 

“Yeah, Lot’s wife. Did she get into trouble for something? Did she do something bad?”

Well, hmm… if I recall the story correctly, Lot’s wife instantaneously turned into a pillar or statue of salt when she disobeyed an angel’s command to not look backwards at the very bad city they were fleeing from.

“Oh, wow. That is kinda weird. You say she instantly turned into a stone statue?”

Well, I think the Bible actually says that Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt. But she may have looked something like a stone statue. At least, that is always how I imagine it.  

“Whoa. Still, I am confused. Why would the angel do that to her? Why did she have to turn into a statue of salt? What is so bad about turning around to look at a city? It seems like a really harsh punishment.”

Okay, kid, you’re asking a lot of tough questions. Do you really want the answers?

“Yes, I do, because Jesus specifically told us to remember Lot’s wife. Why would he tell us to remember Lot’s wife if it isn’t something important? Are we going to be in a similar situation someday? So honestly, yes, I do want some more answers. What exactly are we supposed to remember about her?”  

Whether you realize it or not, you just put me in an awkward place, kid. The questions you are asking are actually very difficult. I would rather you just memorize the verse and quit with the inquisitive questions. Three short words, kid. I just wanted to entertain you with the two easiest memory verses ever. But then you started acting like you are genuinely interested in what Jesus was saying. 

“Sorry, but I am genuinely interested in what Jesus said. I mean, shouldn’t we take him seriously? I thought the whole point of going to church is to take Jesus seriously.”

Fine, kid. I will give you some straightforward answers. Get ready, because this will require that you actually pay attention. Most people quickly lose interest when they realize that the answer is going to require a bit of time and effort. 

“Umm, I am willing to try.”

That’s better than most people, kid. Let me try to explain some things to you. You asked a very good question a few minutes ago. You might not realize how good your question is. Your question was whether we will ever be in a similar situation to Lot’s disobedient backward-glancing wife. The shortest answer to that is yes, we will. If I say that, though, most people will think I am a bit crazy.

“It kinda does sound crazy, Teacher. Are we going to have to run away from a doomed city someday?”

Probably not. But from what I can see, Jesus was talking about a future event that will require us to make a hard and unequivocal choice between sticking with what is familiar (however evil it is) or suddenly leaving for the promise of something better but unknown.

Affection can be misleading.

“What does unequivocal mean?”

Lot’s wife equivocated. That means she hesitated because she was not sure what she really wanted. In her heart, she kind of liked the evil city, so she turned back, just to look. To make an unequivocal decision is to be completely decisive, and not hesitate.

“Was Jesus talking about a real event, though? Might he have meant it more generically or loosely?”

Sometimes people use the words literally and figuratively to ask that question. You are asking whether Jesus is talking about a literal future event or a figurative, hypothetical scenario. In this passage, it sure seems like Jesus is talking about a literal future event.  

“But what event would that be?”

It could be one of two literal events. The first event was the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. If that is the event Jesus had in mind, then Jesus command to remember Lot’s wife might not apply to us now. Perhaps Jesus just meant that the believers living way back then needed to instantly leave Jerusalem and head to the mountains when they recognized impending danger and realized his prophecy was about to be fulfilled. But in Luke 17:20-37 Jesus does not mention Jerusalem at all, so I think he has something different in mind. I think he is talking about when he comes back. Jesus refers to the event in question as “the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” To me, that sounds like it might be a future event from our vantage point in history — an event we might live to see ourselves someday.

“Do you mean Jesus’ Second Coming?”

Yes, I do. As I read Luke 17, I cannot help but conclude that Jesus is talking about when he comes back at the end of this age. And I will even go a bit further than that. I think Jesus is describing the Rapture. Have you heard of the Rapture?

“Isn’t that when all the believers just instantly go up to heaven and leave all the unbelievers behind on earth? I thought that Pastor does not believe that.”

Yes, that is the general idea. And you’re right, a lot of pastors do not believe in the Rapture, because they think that Luke 17 and passages like it are just talking about the destruction of Jerusalem way back in 70AD. But if Luke 17 is actually talking about a future event, then it seems to describe a Rapture scenario, especially if it is read literally.

“So Jesus is telling us to remember Lot’s wife in the event of the Rapture?”

That is how I read Luke 17, yes. Jesus tells us to be ready to leave without hesitation and without equivocating in the event of the Rapture.

“Whoa! That is intense! I never heard it explained that way before.”

Admittedly, it is not a common explanation. But then again, I have not heard many, if any, sermons on Luke 17:20-37. When I read Luke 17 with the Second Coming and Rapture in mind, it just makes a lot of sense of the passage. Otherwise, I am not sure what Jesus is talking about. 

“Okay. I think I get it. Jesus told us to remember Lot’s wife because we are supposed to be ready and willing to immediately leave when the Rapture happens. That’s kinda what you are saying; right?”

Yes, it is.