17 Apr 2016

Strange World of the Bible #4: Missing Eight Windows on Jesus’s Jewishness

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds

sharing-salvation-in-jesus-christ-yeshua-messiah-with-jewish-people-israel-genesis-12-3-john-3-16Gospels as Jewish Products

We all want to be better students of the Word of God. And by being better students we hope to be better followers of Jesus/Yeshua and walk in his Way. I have harped on the Hebraic/Jewish context of Jesus and the “early church.”

The history of Christian anti-Semiticism warrants paying attention to this and stressing it. It is, after all, THE context for the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is THE context for the early church as described in the Book of Acts. All of Paul’s teachings presuppose this background, all of James’ teaching does and John as well.

So the more we actually know of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish context, the more we will understand as Jesus, and the apostles, intended us to understand. So I want to offer eight vignettes in the Gospels that reflect the Jewishness of Jesus, the authors and the early Way and we often simply are unaware of it.

And I am not saying just that Jesus was historically a Jewish man. I am saying that the Gospels, all of the Gospels, are themselves Jewish in worldview, thought, and presentation.

Many things are lost in translation (sometimes deliberately) that obscure our Lord’s connection with the Hebrew Bible. His name is Yeshua or Joshua. His mother’s name is Miriam, as in Moses’s sister. His brother’s name is Yakov or Jacob and two of his other brothers have names for the Maccabees, Simon and Judas.  These are important clues plainly on the pages of the Gospels but we frequently do not see or understand them. For more on this theme see my article, Jesus the Jewish Big Brother: Gospel Truths about Jesus’s Family Hidden in Plain View.

We know the geography, topography, demography of the Story are distinctly Jewish. Yeshua is from Nazareth. He headquartered his ministry in Capernaum. He crisscrosses the Sea of Galilee. He travels to Jericho, Judea, and Jerusalem 30+ times for various festivals like Passover, Tabernacles and even Dedication/Hanukkah, in his lifetime.

Jesus wore prayer shawls, tassels, phylacteries, abstained from ham (Jesus would never have eaten pork as much as I like a pulled pork BBQ sandwich). Jesus participated in the worship of God’s people, thus offered sacrifices (we often simply do not even have a mental picture of Jesus offering a sacrifice and sharing it with the Levites) and Jesus sang the Psalms in the temple with instruments and he almost certainly danced in praise of the Father. But none of these are part of the eight … they just offer a “window” on “the windows” 🙂

Missed Jewish Vignettes


1) Jesus called disciples and some of them were designated as “apostles.” It is almost never recognized that this is a Jewish convention. In Jewish literature the prophets, and Moses especially, are labeled “apostles.” This is rooted in biblical passages like Exodus 3 where Moses is “sent” by Yahweh to Pharaoh. The Hebrew equivalent is “shaliah” or “shaluah” from the verb “shalah,” “to send.”  Hebrews tells us that Jesus himself was God’s “apostle” (Hebrews 3.1).

Rejected Prophet

2) Jesus was not the first prophet to be dealt with by severe measures by the powerful priestly aristocracy in Jerusalem. Josephus, the Jewish general turned Roman sympathizer and historian, tells us of a Jesus ben Ananias. Jesus ben Ananias had the audacity to walk around Jerusalem and warn of coming judgment. He experienced a very similar fate as Jesus of Nazareth (Josephus, J.W, 6.5.3). Meeting Jesus ben Ananias reminds us also that there were many “Jesus’s” in first century Judea and Galilee … after all “Jesus” is actually Joshua or Yeshua.

Jesus wore a prayer shawl with "tassels"

Jesus wore a prayer shawl with “tassels”

Jewish Biblical Interpretation

3) The NT commonly, and the Gospel of Matthew in particular, uses a distinctly Jewish approach to biblical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. This is confusing to some folks today and we scratch our head about some interpretations. Indeed it was the Dead Sea Scrolls that highlighted the incredibly Jewish manner that the NT uses the Hebrew Bible. Among the DSS there is a document that called, the Habakkuk Pesher or commentary. The first two chapters of this book are preserved with a line by line interpretation given by the author. The prophet was interpreted as talking about this recent event or persons relevant to the Qumran community. In fact when the Scroll were first discovered it was this manner of interpretation that scholars first noticed as among the most important contributions of the scrolls for getting into the world of the Gospels/Jesus. Matthew punctuates his narrative with “and this was to fulfill” or “what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah …” and then cite this event in Jesus’ life. Matthew, and Jesus, reads the Bible in same way as other Jews did prior to AD 70.


4) In the Gospel of Matthew one of the most famous features of Jesus’s teaching are the Beatitudes (Mt 5.3-12). It often surprises Christians to learn that “beatitudes” are a very common feature in Jewish teaching. These are part of the biblical tradition first of all (Ps 1.1; Ps 32.1-2; Sirach 14.1-2; 25.8-9; Tobit 13.13-14; etc). But the Dead Sea Scrolls show us that “strings of beatitudes” were at times brought together just as Jesus does. What Jesus does is typically Jewish. I quote part of 4Q525 …

[Blessed is the one who …] with a clean heart and does not slander with his tongue.

Blessed are those who hold fast to its statues and do not hold fast to the ways of injustice.

Blessed are those who rejoice in it, and do not burst forth on paths of folly.

Blessed are those who seek it with pure hands, and do not search for it with a deceitful heart.

Blessed is the man who attains wisdom, and walks in the law of the Most High

Criticism of the Establishment

5) When Jesus said “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” … many other Jewish teachers would be shouting Amen. The Essenes of Qumran would have thought that the Pharisees were liberal dogs unfit for association with.  The Sadducees were even worse scum than the Pharisees having polluted the temple itself in their thought.

Angelic Blessings

6) The angel announces to Mary “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High … the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God” (Lk 1.32-35). These words first of all echo the Bible itself from 2 Samuel 7.13-16. But in the time of Jesus we have a stunning parallel to Luke in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In an Aramaic text we read “He shall be called son of the great God, and by his name shall he be named. He shall be called the Son of God, and they shall call him Son of the Most High … their kingdom will be an eternal kingdom.”

Leviticus 18.5 & Eternal Life

7) When we read Luke’s Gospel carefully it seems clear that Jesus understood Leviticus 18.5 as a reference to ETERNAL life. Obeying the law actually had eternal consequences. Thus in Luke 10.25-28 a student approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to inherit life. When this Jew said love God and love your neighbor, Yeshua agreed with him and said “do this and you will live” (v.28). Some, who discard Jesus’ context, dismiss this out of hand. But Jesus’ interpretation fits that of most Jews of the day, that Lev 18 was about eternal life. If we look at Leviticus in Aramaic, in the Targum (interpretation), this is how it reads: “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances, by doing which a man shall LIVE IN THE WORLD TO COME: I am the LORD.” This same understanding is in the Damascus Document from Qumran. Jesus is quite Jewish on this point. Paul and James follow Yeshua on this matter.

Fascinating work though sometimes imaginative.

Fascinating work though sometimes imaginative.

Master Teacher

8) One of the most interesting, and one we moderns simply miss, Jewish pictures of Jesus is that he is the authoritative teacher of the Law. The Gospel of Matthew presents Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, as just this authoritative teacher (as does chapter 13). You have heard it said, but I say unto you … And the crowd were amazed because he taught as one who had authority (Mt 7.28-29). This authoritative teacher can be called various things and names.  Shammai and Hillel were giants in their day.

At Qumran the Master Teacher had exalted status and was called THE Teacher of Righteousness. At Qumran they were looking for this teacher of righteousness who would appear at the End of the Ages who would instruct the faithful in the true meaning of the Bible and he would reveal genuine righteousness. Michael Wise several years ago even wrote a book about the Teacher of Righteousness and called it The First Messiah to show how Jesus fit an already established paradigm. The Gospels present Jesus in this typically Jewish manner. Matthew is not, as is so commonly asserted, presenting Jesus in conflict with Moses or the Law. Rather he is in fact presenting him in a genuine and recognizably Jewish manner by having him pronounce what righteousness and faithfulness to God actually means. Sometimes many supposed believers in inerrancy are ironically strange bedfellows with the Jesus Seminar because they gleefully divorce Jesus from his Jewishness – who cares about context right?

Final Sunday Night Thoughts

The Savior of the world is a crucified Jew. He did not stay dead. God raised his crucified body from the dead. Not only is Jesus Jewish, but the Gospels as writings are Jewish in the manner in which they hold him forth for the world to believe. This includes the so called Gentile Gospel written by Luke.

I want to encourage you to spend some time imagining Jesus living, breathing, behaving, and teaching, as a Jew. The typical paintings of Jesus we encounter, as beautiful as they are, clearly do not present Jesus as he actually lived on this planet. So when you read the Gospels and the inevitable image of him enters our mind as we are reading any passage … does he have a prayer shawl? is he dark skinned? does he have phylacteries? Can you see him about to sacrifice an animal? He did it every time he worshiped in the Passover and many other times. Do you see him joyously shouting and dancing the Psalms with the festive throng in the Temple?

Stop and reflect and imagine …

If your Jesus is not Jewish you may have the wrong Jesus …

8 Responses to “Strange World of the Bible #4: Missing Eight Windows on Jesus’s Jewishness”

  1. Warren Bsldwin Says:

    It is sadly ironic that both Jews in the 1st century and Christians since the 1st c. have rejected the Jewishness of Jesus.

  2. Bobby Valentine Says:

    Warren delighted to have you visit and comment. You are so right. It is tragic that the Jewishness of Jesus has been minimized and even eclipsed many times. The results of that have been catastrophic many many times both morally and theologically. Everything from Marcionism, Gnosticism, pogroms against the Jews and even the Holocaust ultimately come from this unbelievable loss of the Jewishness of Jesus and the early Way.

  3. Dwight Says:

    Something you might approach, since you kind of did in the beatitudes, is the nature of blessings as in “blessed are…”. We have tendency to when we read “blessing or blessed” in relation to something like the Passover or the Lord’s Supper to make these prayers, but they were not prayers like we know them, but rather blessings. They often recited certain words and did not pray to God in asking, but rather mentioned and referred to God in relation to something else of which they were blessing . This is why blessing were not to be done in private, unlike prayers, which Jesus argues should. Blessing something was to instill a holiness to something in the sight of God. It was a purely Jewish concept that was passed on the saints in practice.

  4. Andrew Swango Says:

    How do we know that Jesus offered sacrifices at the temple? The only thing I know is based on Matt 17:24-27 about the temple tax. From Jesus’ words in verse 27, it doesn’t sound like Jesus normally paid the temple tax. I know the temple tax is different from sacrifices, but I get the impression that they were similar in Jesus’ mind. What do you know about this, and how do we know whether Jesus sacrificed at the temple or not?

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Andrew, on what basis would you even suggest that Jesus did not? Was Jesus a faithful Jew? The Gospels tell us his family faithfully attended Passover every year (Lk 2.42). We know that Jesus kept the Sabbath and attended the synagogue on it (Lk 4.16). In the Gospel of John, Jesus is depicted as involved in ALL of the festivals of Israel (Jn 5.1; 6.6; 7.37; 10.22; etc). Andrew, how could Jesus have celebrated the Passover without a sacrifice?

      How or why would you or anyone else want to separate Jesus from Judaism? On what basis in the Gospels could that be done? Jesus commands a leper to go offer a sacrifice after being healed (Mt 8.4).

      I am not sure why we struggle with this Andrew (not saying you are or do but I see this everywhere). The Gospels show Jesus to be a very typical Jew. Modern disciples do not know this because they do not 1) know the Hebrew Bible and 2) do not know much of anything about Judaism in the time of Jesus. A lot of my writing is challenging us to get into Jesus’s world first by knowing the Scriptures. The same Holy Spirit in Jesus is the same one that inspired Moses and so why would Jesus not be an “Israelite?” Here is a blog that you may find helpful. It is called

      Jesus the Jewish Big Brother
      It is about stuff that is all over the place in the Gospels that we often read right over. Maybe it will be helpful.


      • Andrew Swango Says:

        Why do you think I want to separate Jesus from Judaism? I want to do nothing of the sort! I’m simply asking for evidence on whether Jesus actually sacrificed. Why do you assume that I disagree with your blog post? Why do you assume I have an agenda that says Jesus wasn’t a Jew? I’m sorry you inferred that, but as seeker of truth and research, I’m looking for evidence.

        We have evidence that Jesus celebrated the festivals and attended the synagogue, but is there evidence that Jesus offered sacrifices? That’s my question.

        Could Jesus have celebrated the Passover without a sacrifice? I believe Jesus sacrificed on these festivals because I believe that is implied at the first Lord’s Supper. Perhaps a better question I should ask: did Jesus sacrifice sin offerings? To this, I do not know the answer though I am leaning towards “no” because (1) Jesus committed no sins and (2) there is no evidence to the contrary.

        From what you shared, is the only evidence we have that Jesus sacrificed is because He was a typical Jew? Is there anything else? Also, did Jesus sacrifice sin offerings?

  5. Bobby Valentine Says:


    The reason I ask is because from this side of the keyboard it seems like that is what you are attempting to do. I do not think we need a video per se of Jesus offering a sacrifice to know he did.

    All of the festivals, which we have abundant evidence that Jesus participated in – because he faithfully obeyed the Torah – called for sacrifice. Passover/Unleavened bread; Weeks/Pentecost; First fruits; Tabernacles; Day of Atonement; etc all called for some kind of offering or sacrifice.

    Not all sacrifices were “sin” offerings. The first three chapters of Leviticus detail free will worship in the form of animal sacrifice.

    I cannot answer the question of did Jesus offer a “sin” offering. Much of Israelite worship is communal in orientation and not individualistic as Americans tend to see worship. But I am certain that Jesus participated in his family’s Day of Atonement rituals. It would be very difficult for his family to be regarded as faithful if that was not the case.

    But now that you have my juices going I plan to make a separate post on Jesus and sacrifice. A thoughtful line of inquiry.


  6. Andrew Swango Says:

    You said, “It would be very difficult for his family to be regarded as faithful if that was not the case.” I agree. But to preach that Jesus definitely sacrificed all the sacrifices seems like an assumption to me. I guess I am VERY TIMID when accepting arguments from silence or inferring something that may not be clearly implied. When it comes to this question, I see both sides.

    You said, “I plan to make a separate post on Jesus and sacrifice.” Awesome! I look forward to that.

    Also, don’t forget to talk about the Texas Tradition. I have no idea what that is though you have mentioned it many times.

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