Tom welcomes back Dick Fisher for a fair and fascinating critique of the modern Hebrew Roots Movement.
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael, we’re glad you could tune in. In today’s program, Tom continues his conversation with special guest, retired pastor Pastor G. Richard Fisher. Dick is a longtime contributor to Personal Freedom Outreach Magazine. Now, along with his guest, here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Today, I’m in conversation with G. Richard Fisher. Dick is a retired pastor and coauthor of The Confusing World of Benny Hinn, and a long-time contributor to the Personal Freedom Outreach Journal, and as I’ve said, I’m continuing to say, it’s just an excellent apologetics magazine. Dick, thanks again for joining me on Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Dick: Good to be here.
Tom: Dick, we really covered a lot of territory last week, so I’d encourage our listeners who haven’t heard Part 1 of this series to, you know, it’s on the internet, it’s on our website, and you need to go there. We’re talking about the Hebrew Roots Movement, which is—Dick, as you said last week, this is something of recent, what, 1980s, this movement?
Dick: Yeah, I believe that it wouldn’t go back earlier than the 1980s.
Tom: And basically, what it is is for the most part Gentiles, non-Jews, Christians, non-Jewish Christians, have an affinity for things Jewish, and they’re trying to recover, as it says, roots, their roots in Judaism or in, at least in New Testament, Old Testament, Christianity. Now, in that process, they’ve chased all over the place, which you really articulated last week, Dick. This is all over the map, but the heart of it is that if they can, with their affinity for things Jewish that somehow the accoutrements, the Kippur, the yarmulke, the prayer shawl, blowing the shofar, whatever it might be, that this is going to enrich their spirituality, that they’re going to please God all the more by getting into all of these things that they believe are the roots of their faith.
Dick: Yeah, and they believe it’s a higher level of belief and a higher level of spirituality as well, which is divisive, very divisive.
Dick: Let’s say also and remind ourselves, it’s not a denomination; it’s non-denominational, and it’s not the traditional Jewish outreach ministry like many years ago like many of the evangelical Jewish missions organizations of the past century, and even in the present where they’re involved with Jewish evangelism. So it is not historical Zionism. For the most part it’s a grass roots movement. It’s got all kinds of wild grass and it’s got all kinds of weeds, and it may have some plants that are helpful, as we said last time. But it’s a post-1980s religious movement. It’s made up of individuals, it’s made up of groups who just insist on adhering to Jewish practice to one degree or another, and for the most part, they kid themselves and others that it is a first-century Judaism, when it is not. It is a much later Talmudic Judaism, which is filled with different kinds of traditions and contradictory traditions and so on, and so they reproduce and practice these peculiarities and observances, modes of dress, as best as they understand them, and some insist on you must keep Jewish feasts, and you must keep festivals, and you must keep dietary laws including Kosher, and then Sabbath-keeping is absolutely mandatory in some parts of it. So it’s a widely diverse movement, but basically the idea is the same: you’ve got to almost become a Jew to become a good Christian.
Tom: Dick, as you said, this is not a movement that’s hierarchical. There’s no…
Tom: …unlike a cult that might have a Joseph Smith or a Mary Baker Eddy or something like that. This is quite—as you said, it’s quite diverse. But I would say that in terms of the manifestations of this, they come through fellowships, whether they call themselves Messianic fellowships, Messianic congregations, Messianic synagogues, we have all of that. Now, what’s the problem with that, Dick?
Dick: Well, the problem basically is they’re not dealing at all with New Testament teaching on the church; they’re not dealing with Ephesians 3; they’re not dealing with Christ saying, “On this rock I’ll build my church.” They’re doing nothing as far as trying to understand what the relationships of Jew and Gentile and what happens after the conversion of Jewish people, what should legitimately happen according to the New Testament. Now, one of the basic issues that almost all of them agree on is that, somehow, the Greek Bible, the Greek New Testament, and the Greek was the inspired version. And in fact, 200 years before Christ, there was the Jewish Old Testament was translated into the Greek Septuagint!
Dick: And it was quoted again and again and again by the apostles in the New Testament. That can be seen and verified that they often quoted and preferred the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. Well, I think it’s agreed on throughout all of church history, maybe with some exception, some rare exception, that the Bible was given by inspiration of God, and they were inspired to pen it in Greek, which was the common language of the entire world; not Hebrew, because it would have been limited to just a certain people, but to a world audience, it had to be Greek, and it was. It was.
But they will say that, somehow, there is a Hebrew original gospel—Matthew, especially, but original Hebrew gospels that underlie the Greek. Now, no one’s ever seen it, no one’s ever found it, there’s no textual evidence, yet they insist that you must know Hebrew, and you must know that Hebrew text. Well, where do you find it? Where do you get it? What they’ve done is they have taken the Greek text and made Hebrew translations from it and say it is superior to the Greek. It corrects the Greek, and therefore, really, for all intents and purposes, they take away the inspired Scripture from people. This is a foundational issue that’s so crucial.
And so, supposing a person doesn’t speak Hebrew, then the end result is they’ve got to depend on one of these “rabbis” that claim to have all knowledge and all insight because they have the Hebrew, the Hebrew New Testament, which really doesn’t exist except in their translation of it, and there are some here and there. But yes, there are Hebrew-isms in the New Testament, and for centuries, expositors and researchers and those that study textual evidence and so on, they’ve been researching all this. They know a lot of these Hebrew-isms. They know what they stand for, they know what they mean. We don’t need some latecomer telling us they mean this, that, or the other when good exegetes have been doing this for centuries. There are good commentaries.
Tom: Dick, last week, we talked about issues with regard to fellowships, particularly Messianic fellowships. But I don’t know if I’d call it an irony or what, and I’d like to get some response to this from those who are listening to this program…
Dick: You probably will. [chuckles]
Tom: [laughing] Right. But, no, but in particular, just this one issue: if somebody’s in a Messianic fellowship, a Messianic synagogue, a Messianic congregation, whatever they call it, I’d like to know the percentage of Jewish people that are in those fellowships, synagogues, and congregations, because from my observation, the percentage is overwhelmingly Gentile, or non-Jew. Now, I don’t get that, and as you said last week and just a minute ago, now they have a pastor that they call "rabbi." Now that they have, you know, we talked about the accouterments, lots of times not only their observing of the festivals, Passover, the Seder dinner, all of these kinds of things, which can be instructive and informative to a degree, because, well, I won’t go there just yet, but my point is that what is the point of having a Messianic fellowship that’s 90 percent non-Jewish?
Dick: Right. The other thing, too, you mentioned about a rabbi. How do you become a rabbi? You just call yourself a rabbi. That’s it! You just call yourself a rabbi. I can become a rabbi today if I’ll just call myself a rabbi, and I can set up a Messianic synagogue and say I’m a rabbi. But that doesn’t make me a rabbi. But the thing is, too, even with Jewish believers, now, if they get back involved, like the Book of Hebrews talks about going back—I mean, the Book of Hebrews, all through the Book of Hebrews, Christ is better. The New Testament is better. His priesthood is better. Everything is better. But they’re saying the old covenant, the old way, is better! It contradicts everything in the Book of Hebrews. Christ is better than all, better than everything and anyone and all of the religious practices Christ is. But we have the better thing! But they’re trying to convince us that we don’t have anything that’s better; they’ve got the better thing. But for a Jewish believer, if the practice, as I said last week, is meritorious for salvation, it’s dead wrong.
Dick: It’s a violation of Ephesians:2:8,9. Also, if the practices that they do with their families and so on are individual, personal, voluntary, and not made a test of fellowship, as I said, they’ll have to do what they have to do. I guess you’d have to look at Romans 14, you know, “the strong and the weak.” And then I think if these practices in any way encourage elitism, and they seem to everywhere cause elitism, this upper class of believers, when all children of God are children of God alike, right? We have a common salvation, Peter says. And then I don’t think these practices can be imposed on Gentiles. It’s a total violation of Acts 15.
Dick: Yeah, you have to read Acts 15. It settled the issue once and for all. Why do we have to go back and do that all over again? But it seems like we do. And it violates Colossians:2:16-23 about not letting anyone judge you in terms of these things. So we as Gentiles are not bound by Jewish practices whatsoever. I think, though, the practices are not being demonstrated as being scriptural. Nobody’s addressing that within the HRM. This is a pretense and just a use of Talmudic tradition. So that’s my problem with the whole situation.
Tom: Yeah, Dick, again, last week you alluded to it, when it comes to the Scriptures, we want to know what the Scripture says. That’s exegesis. We want to know what God is saying.
Dick: Right. But they’re saying you can’t know unless you know Hebrew, you know.
Tom: Right. Well, we have that same problem with those who are of reformed, Calvinist, persuasion. They got right in Dave Hunt’s grill, as it were, saying, “Well, you can’t understand the Bible, because you don’t know Hebrew and Greek.”
Well, anyway, that aside, so now we’re going to have our missionaries go out, and instead of giving the Bible in the language of the people, we have to teach them Hebrew and Greek? It doesn’t make any sense. But back to this, Dick…
Dick: It doesn’t say much about the Holy Spirit illuminating the text either…
Tom: No, it doesn’t!
Dick: But anyway…
Tom: Okay, here’s what I’m concerned about. Now you have, in terms of in the area of exegesis, you have people that are telling us—we’re talking about highly visible, evangelical leaders who are saying to really understand the Jewish mindset here, to really understand what the Bible is about, Tanakh, Old Testament, New Testament, we need to approach it from a Jewish exegetical method known as the Midrash. Now, tell us about that.
Dick: Well, let me—before I say that, there is a Hebrew hermeneutic that they talk about, and they say without this Hebrew hermeneutic, you cannot really understand the Scripture. And the Hebrew hermeneutic is under an acronym, the acronym of PaRDeS, and it’s a system, a system of terminology. The crazy thing is it was developed long after the time of Jesus, and it cannot be superimposed on the first century. But anyway, this overall method called PaRDeS has four levels of interpretation. So the first one, P'shat, means a direct, plain sense, and I think we would say, “Well, you know what, that part’s okay.” I think we go at the Bible literally. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Dick: But much later in time, over the years of the development of Talmud, they developed another meaning, Remez, which is like a symbol or allegory. So each interpreter makes up his own symbols, allegories, meanings of those symbols, you know, mystery meanings, and all of that…
Tom: Sounds like Augustine, and now we’ve moved into the Kabbalah.
Dick: Yeah, eventually that’s what does happen, and then there’s a third meaning, D‘rash, , which means metaphor, comparison, and the last meaning, which is, I think, being practiced a lot today by some of the “rabbis” of Messianic movement; it’s called Sud: it means hidden, secret, or mystical, or esoteric. And you can find teachers—they find mysteries in everything. The mystery of the temple doors, the mystery of this, the mystery of that—well, Jesus said, “I have taught everything plainly. I taught in the temple openly.” There are no big mysteries that we have to solve. Even things that are called "mystery" in the New Testament are now open secrets. That’s what the word means: to open up something that was mysterious and explain it, like the mystery of the church, right?
Tom: Sure. The mystery of Christ in me, the hope of glory.
Dick: Yeah. But then also there’s also what you mentioned, Midrash. Midrash really can mean anything. It depends on the person that’s using it, but it basically is the idea of interpretation. But throughout the Talmud, though, the interpretations are very strange, and they interpret Scripture, they add things…It’s more like a paraphrase, a very loose—actually, it’s even more than a paraphrase, it’d be more like a commentary where the person doing the Midrash and the interpretation is just throwing in things, God speaking to certain characters…It’s extra-biblical, basically, is what it is, and I think you found the same thing with Midrash, didn’t you?
Tom: Yes, absolutely. Dick, last week, you gave us some insights into the Talmud and how the Hebrew Roots Movement is—they’re going back as far as that. Now, the Talmud was written, what, 200, 300, 400 years after Christ, after the temple was destroyed.
Dick: Well, remember now, the temple is destroyed, the priesthood is obliterated, and now the Jews have to deal with the Judaism without a land, without a people—not without a people, I’m sorry, but without a priesthood, without a sacrifice, without, basically, the temple, Jerusalem…They’ve got to deal with that. So there’s a conference, a Council of Jamnia, which is held in 90 AD, and it begins—the formulation begins of, “How do we have a Judaism without a sacrifice, without blood, without a temple, without a priesthood—how do we do that?” So they start developing ideas and oral traditions of how do you work Judaism without all the basic things in Judaism that you need to approach God? So all this oral tradition, till about 200, and between the years 200-500, they begin to codify and write down the traditions that were orally handed down on this new Judaism, what it looks like, how to practice it. So it ends up, ultimately, being called a Talmud. But then it develops, because then there’s rabbis’ interpretations of certain laws that are given and certain new customs that are given of how you live Judaism now, and so it goes on for a few hundred years before the Talmud is finally settled in to be the shorter, as I mentioned, Palestinian Talmud, and then the longer Babylonian Talmud. So basically, Jews go by the Talmudic teaching, which is not always consistent, and not always that clear.
Tom: Well, you mentioned Edersheim. Is that…
Dick: Yeah, Alfred Edersheim.
Tom: Well, tell us about him, because if you want some insights into what the Talmud is about from a fair, an objective way, and I say that because a lot of the anti-Semitic people, the anti—you know, the writers and so on, will jump all over the Talmud. Now, lots of problems with it, but at least we can go to this man, this scholar, this Jewish man back in the, what was it, 1800s?
Dick: Yeah, late 1800s. He was a Jew, converted to Christ, and the guy was brilliant. He was just an absolute scholar, and he wanted to find out about first century life, because he could help perhaps for believers to bring the background of the Bible to life. So eventually he wrote this massive, massive work called The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. He also wrote another volume, The Temple and Its Ministries and Priesthood, and he also wrote one on the social customs of the first century Jews. Now, these books are just fabulous, and basically, in the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, he went meticulously through all the gospels and coordinated the gospels together—created like a harmony of the gospels—but did commentary on the reflection of the text back to the first century. Now some would fault him and say that he did Talmudic studies to get more insights into these customs and ways in which the Jews lived, and some fault him in saying that he brought too much of the Talmud back. But for the most part, what he did was he brought the first century to life, and in most cases, he did an excellent job, and even some of the Talmudic material that he brought did actually, in fact, we find later through the Dead Sea Scrolls and other manuscript evidence, they did really reflect some of the Jewish practices of the first century.
Tom: And, Dick, on the other hand, he didn’t cut the Talmud any slack. He really…
Dick: No, no!
Tom: …identified the errors, the superstitions, the…it’s a mixed bag, whether it be the Babylonian…
Dick: Oh, it sure is. Yeah, he said it was filled with inventions and some kind of gross imaginations and all of that, and he tried to be honest with where it might have some good parts and some bad parts. But the important thing is this: why did he do this? He didn’t do this to become a Jew; he already was a Jew. But he didn’t do this to go back and dress up like a Jew. He was really into Jewish evangelism, bringing Jews to Christ so that they could become part of the church. He did it for illumination of text, not imitation. That’s what’s important: why they do it.
And, again, I’ve made a life of studying first century Judaism, and I have friends that have spent their lives doing it, but to illumine the text, understand the text, to grasp the world of Jesus, to get a hold of the milieu in which He lived and try to see it and understand it and so on. It’s a great thing; it’s wonderful, it’s exciting. But not to wear a prayer shawl and yarmulke and blow a shofar! It’s the reason why you do it.
And so—I mean, Luther himself, for instance, whatever we think of Luther, but he depended on Kimhi’s commentaries. He just raved about them, but he didn’t dress up in a prayer shawl, he didn’t dress up in a yarmulke, he didn’t blow a shofar. But he was trying to get more insight into the text.
Tom: Well, as you know, we have to…
Dick: [unintelligible]…can’t agree with everything he said or did.
Tom: Especially for his anti-Semitism toward the last part of his life.
Dick: Yeah, that’s the amazing thing; he really was into first century studies, in spite of the anti-Semitism which developed.
Tom: Well, he was just, you know, from my reading of him, he was upset that Jewish people didn’t come to their Messiah, to Christ.
Dick: Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised. I would not be surprised if the Hebrew Roots Movement doesn’t go back to Edersheim again and again. In fact, but it’s interesting, they don’t, for some reason. I guess because of negative things he said about the Talmud.
Tom: Yeah. Well, here’s the other thing, Dick: why are we doing this? Why are we having this program? Why are we—The Berean Call—why are we publishing some articles by you, and then, Lord willing, we may have a book out of this? But our chief concern is this is the—you know, as it says in Hebrews, “Take heed lest you slip away.” We see believers in Christ, whether they be Jewish believers in Christ or non-Jewish believers, they’re drifting into the things that—“the flesh profits nothing.” This is a movement of the flesh for the most part, but the biggest problem, and this is what I want you to address—we just have a few minutes, a couple of minutes, Dick—the biggest problem is will they slip into Galatianism?
Dick: Well, I want to tell you, error and heresy does not start with a leap, it starts with the leaning, and the direction that they’re going in, it would not be surprising at all. I just know that this whole movement causes great division. It causes great confusion. It sets up a structure of elitist people that are condemning all others, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think that’s the direction it’s going in, personally. Not everybody might agree with that, but here they are telling us that in spite of what Hebrews says about Christ being better and His sacrifice being better, and His priesthood being better, everything being better, the New Covenant is better, they’re telling us it’s not! And so it’s a total violation and contradiction of what Scripture says. That can’t end up in anything good, can it?
Tom: No. And, just as Paul described what was happening to the Galatians, that they, the Judaizers, had come in, those who were trying to impose circumcision and the law on these Gentile believers—boy! Paul—“let them be anathema,” anybody who brings another gospel, another Jesus. And this is what’s taking place, you know, and we’re seeing it before our eyes. And you’re living in central Pennsylvania, and you see little bits and pieces of it, but it’s pervasive throughout the country, but you don’t see it because it’s not a monolith. It’s not a hierarchical system like some of the cults. But it has that effect if it’s leading people away from the gospel, the true gospel, the gospel that saves.
Dick: Yeah. You know, another thing that’s very troubling about this whole movement, everything is marketed; everything is for sale. Everything is about selling books, selling mysteries, selling paraphernalia, selling, selling…that to me is just not a good thing, that none of this is being dispensed free. [chuckles] It always costs. It’s going to cost you something; that just makes me wonder about what is really going on here with the people that have commandeered the movement, maybe.
Tom: Yeah, and because of the explosion of communication, they have their ways and means to get it out, whether it—you know, it used to be just so-called “Christian television,” but now we’ve got the Internet. And they have their opportunities to delude and deceive, and we want people to be Bereans, Dick, don‘t we?
Dick: There are some elements of this that are heretical. There are some elements of the Hebrew Roots Movement that absolutely deny the Trinity. They deny the Trinity; they say that Jesus was just a Jew in the flesh, depending on the Holy Spirit. And yet Paul said we do not know Christ by the flesh now, right? We know a spiritual, resurrected, glorified Jesus, who is the God-Man, right? We don’t know Him just in the flesh. I fear sometimes that the Hebrew Roots Movement is just trying to know Jesus in the flesh as a Jew, and that’s it. But again, there are segments that deny the Trinity. They’re not being corrected by the Hebrew Roots people.
Tom: Yeah. Well, Dick, we’re out of time.
Tom: Anyway, brother, Lord willing, people will take these things to heart. You know, we're greatly concerned about it, but the answer is continually we need to be Bereans, we need to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so. So again, Dick, thanks for being with us.
Dick: Okay, appreciate it.
Tom: All right, bye-bye.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 featuring T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at the bereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in, and we hope you can join us again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.