Tom: Today we’ll be in conversation with G. Richard Fisher. Dick is the coauthor of The Confusing World of Benny Hinn and a longtime contributor to the Personal Freedom Outreach Journal, an excellent apologetics magazine.
Dick, thanks for joining me on Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Dick: Yeah, thanks, Tom. I appreciate your having me on.
Tom: Dick has also contributed to The Berean Call newsletter, joining me in producing an article addressing the Hebrew Roots Movement, which we’re going to discuss today and, the Lord willing, next week.
For those of our listeners not familiar with the Hebrew Roots Movement, Dick, could you give us a general sense of what this growing movement is about and why it concerns us?
Dick: Well, actually it’s kind of a mixture, and sometimes hard to pin down and hard to define, because it really depends on the group that you’re with at the time or the particular leader. But it seeks sometimes to carry out this idea that Jesus was a Jew, and therefore if I become more Jewish, I become more like Jesus. And this kind of sanctification is really based on race rather than grace, and it’s kind of a mix of law-keeping and also even Talmudic Judaism. It really is a late-comer, because it didn’t get under way until the mid-90s under a man by the name of Wheelock, and he was able to get a patent on the name – originally it was the Hebrew Roots Revival or something to that effect. It eventually became the Hebrew Roots Movement, and that kind of sums it up.
Tom: Mm-hmm. And the issues, putting it another way, it’s a thinking – maybe not thinking – but it’s “Jewishness is next to godliness.” And that’s difficult for all of us who love the Jewish people, who, you know, have an affinity for these things. I think when we spoke last time on this broadcast, Dick, I mentioned that – you know, I was born in Brooklyn, New York. I worked for the movie studios out in Hollywood, which were basically started by Jews – you know, Louis B. Mayer and others – and I learned my Yiddish, okay? Not that I’m fluent in Yiddish, but this was the language of the movie studios (some of them). So we have an affinity…Jesus is Jewish! You can’t get away from that! And who would want to? But anyway, so there’s an emotional affinity that we have along those lines.
Now, Dick, after having said that, one of the difficulties is that sometimes, addressing what you and I have been writing about and talking about, sometimes people misunderstand or perceive that we’re actually anti-Semitic! Now…
Dick: Well, basically, to say that is foolish and untrue. I pastored a church in New Jersey for 41 years. I was 41 years in the same church, and our church all the time that I was there supported groups like Friends of Israel, and I took groups over to Israel almost every year. I eventually logged 34 trips to Israel. And I reject Replacement Theology, so I don’t know how we could be accused of being anti-Semitic! It just doesn’t fit.
Tom: No, it doesn’t. But those who have perspective and – you don’t go along with whether you call it their “perspective,” their “view,” or their “agenda,” all of a sudden they start throwing things out that because we are critical of some issues (and we’re going to be talking about that not only this program but next week), we’re critical of some issues that we think…
You know, whether you talk about it in the sense of the Galatian heresy, the tendency can be to move back under law, and for not reasons that even the Galatians had, you know, some things that have been made up of late.
But my response to this idea that maybe we’re perhaps anti-Semitic – I shouldn’t even use that phrase, but that’s what we’re accused of by some, certainly not by all.
Dick: Well, it’s unfortunate, because sometimes if you don’t like the message, you reject the messenger. So this is what happens. We need to keep our focus on the issues, because if you know a bit about Hebrew Roots, you know that in many cases, they claim the Old Testament has precedent over the New Testament. They claim that you should be keeping Sabbath or dietary laws, and in some cases they would say if you’re not doing that, you may not even be saved. You’ve got to call your pastor a rabbi and your church a synagogue, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. So there are things in Christianity that they deem as Paganism, as Greek thinking, and there are so many different subsets of this, what we call the Hebrew Roots Movement or the HRM for short. But again, going back to “Jesus was a Jew, so the more Jewish I become, the more I become like Jesus,” but we find in the book of 1 Peter that likeness to Christ is not a racial issue, it’s really a moral issue, a character issue.
Dick: And that’s what’s missed all together, I think.
Tom: Yeah. Well, again, not to belabor this issue of being charged with being anti-Semitic – you know, we’re just trying to be Bereans: Acts:17:10,11 – most of our listeners are aware of that, because they’re tuned into this. But we’re just trying to encourage Christians to be like the Bereans who were commended for listening to what the Apostle Paul had to say, and then searching the Scriptures to see if what he was communicating was true according to the Scriptures. The many teachings and practices, as you’re pointing out, that make up the Hebrew Roots Movement that claim to be biblical, all we’re asking is check it out according to the Word of God. If they can’t be supported biblically, then they are not to be followed.
But secondly, this is, to me, the silliest of ideas, to accuse The Berean Call of being anti-Semitic! Wait a minute – those Bereans who were praised by Luke who wrote the Book of Acts, they were not Christians, they were Jews! So since The Berean Call is named to urge Christians to act in a similar fashion to those commended Jews in the Greek city of Berea, that doesn’t quite match any anti-Semitic profile, which of course we’re not.
Tom: But, Dick, we’re not the only ones. There have been books out that have been…who am I thinking of, the man that wrote the book who was with Jews for Jesus for a while? You remember?
Dick: You’re talking about Stan Telchin.
Tom: Yes. The book that he wrote was incredible – the name escapes me, but I do know this: that after he went home to be with the Lord, that book got buried. In other words, he had some incredibly insightful things to say, wonderfully, of the Lord, but because it was a little too critical in the minds of some, you know, you don’t hear about it.
Dick: Yeah, and what Telchin pointed out in that book in a great way with statistics and so on is that the Hebrew Roots Movement is made up mainly of Gentiles, predominately of Gentiles. We’re turning Gentiles – trying to turn Gentiles into Jews to make them better Christians, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Tom: Well, Dick, are you surprised? You know, we’ve been tracking this for quite a while, but are you surprised that this movement is growing in its acceptance within Christendom?
Dick: In one way yes, and in another way, no. I know Paul said that some would be turned from the truth and turn to fables, and so there seems to be this propensity toward believing error rather than truth. And I was looking the other day in the book of 1 Timothy where it talks about that we ought to behave ourselves or know how to behave ourselves in the church of God, and so the behavior that he’s laying out there is this idea of having a doctrinal foundation that doesn’t change, having morals that do not change, having church structure that doesn’t change – elders, deacons, and so on. And yet within the Hebrew Roots Movement there is so much confusion and so much division, and every little group practicing whatever their leader tells them to do – there’s just no end to it. We did this great number of articles – we covered David Bivin’s Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research; we talked about old covenant or new; we talked about whether we’re going to a church or a synagogue; articles on “Should we call Jesus ‘Yeshua’ or should we call Him ‘Jesus’?”; monthly articles on law and grace and the Talmud and the fact that Jesus was a Jew, and we follow that through a bit. But we’ve been working on articles for a number of years now to cover just about every aspect that we can think of.
Dick: But the most recent article that I did, which will be out later in the year, we talked about what we believe is the Achilles’ heel of the Hebrew Roots Movement, and so that’s yet to come.
Tom: Yeah. Now, mentioning that, we know Achilles’ heel – I’ve had some issues with my legs along that line! But the point of that is that’s not only a major flaw, it’s an injury, in a sense, that could be the end of somebody. So…
Dick: Yeah, it’s a vulnerability that would cause failure and defeat, and it really…I have never gotten an answer to – it’s a two-part question, and to me it is the Achilles’ heel of the Hebrew Roots Movement, and basically the question is, in two parts, “Which Judaism should we follow?” I mean, there are all kinds of Judaisms out there! There were all kinds of Judaisms at the time of Christ. But not only which Judaism should we follow, but how much of that particular Judaism do we adopt and practice? And so there’s never been an answer to that. There’s no answer from any representative of the HRM that I’ve ever found that will just simply answer that question.
Dick: And so it’s just a hodgepodge of division and different practices, and Talmudic Judaism…
I recently read a book by a rabbi from New Jersey named Stephen Wylen. He’s a Jewish rabbi, and he talks about varieties of Judaisms, and he says that Judaism…let me give you the exact quote here: “Judaism in the time of Jesus was extraordinarily diverse.” So even during the time of Christ we had different Judaisms. He says, “Jesus research leads us directly to the study of first century Judaism. This is not the same as Judaism as it exists now, neither is it the same as the Judaism at the time of the Hebrew scriptures.” So Wylen as a Jewish rabbi acknowledges that there are just so many varieties of Judaism, and I think that’s an important point, and no one’s addressing it! No one…they really don’t have a doctrinal frame of reference. It’s every leader of each little group of Hebrew Roots people, you know, just kind of calling the shots and people following whatever is said. That’s it.
Tom: Yeah. And usually when you see a heresy, and this is – I’m not blushing here using that term – this is a heresy because it deviates from the Word of God. These guys are making it up as they go along…
Dick: That’s exactly right. Exactly right.
Tom: But here’s what’s interesting, and that’s why what you said, it may be surprising for some. I had the opportunity to speak to a large group at the University of Oregon – say, maybe 300-400 young people – and in setting it up, they said, well, I couldn’t proselytize, and I couldn’t witness, and I couldn’t put down another religion…so I’m thinking, “Wait a minute! So what am I going to do?” But I prayed about it, and the Lord gave me an idea. So I had the organization get a hold of a rabbi and get a hold of a Muslim cleric (actually, he was the head of the student Muslim group there), and I said, “All I want to do is have each of us present our view with regard to our religion.” And I represented biblical Christianity, obviously the rabbi represented Judaism, and then the Muslim represented Islam. And so we had like maybe 15 minutes to give our views, and then afterwards there was a Q and A. Well, a large part of the audience was made up of those from – evangelicals from Christian organizations that came. And, Dick, here was what was stunning: the rabbi was so far out in left field with regard to what most biblical Christians would think would be biblical Judaism, okay, even though they probably couldn’t outline what exactly that was. But in the presentation – I mean, this guy was into the New Age, he was into this, he was into that…you know, almost a latter-day reflection of the varieties that you just addressed earlier. And they were upset with him, because they expected a rabbi to give them (I mean, in their minds) biblical Judaism! But as we’re going to point out as we continue this conversation, that’s so far gone… You know, you mentioned the Talmuds – we’ll talk about those in a bit, and so on. But they were upset because they had it in their minds what Judaism was about, even though they couldn’t articulate those things. But to hear a New Ager, to hear a guy who’s into positive mental attitude – I mean, you name it, this rabbi, he was a mixed bag of dozens of absurd things.
Dick: Hmm. Well, the Hebrew Roots Movement, all they have to offer really is an eclectic grab-bag of various Judaisms from varying periods of time that would stretch from the first century to modern times. That’s all there is; that’s all they have to offer. And what I have found out though, that it creates not Christ-likeness in any way at all, but rather levels of Christians. It’s kind of an elitist thing, and the church we were pastoring in New Jersey, we had people leave the church because we weren’t quite “on track.” We didn’t have all the Jewish practices, and therefore we were missing something. So people walked out on us, and they were feeling we were very un-Jewish!
Tom: As you mentioned and gave some great quotes about the variety of Judaisms in the day of Christ… But let’s go to 70 AD where this (whatever you might call it) Judaism was shut down, and I’m talking about after the temple was destroyed in AD 70. What was the effect on biblical Judaism?
Dick: Well, biblical Judaism really didn’t exist after that. The temple was gone, the priests were out of a job, and promises that had to do with the land really were put on hold. I do believe that Israel has a future according to Romans 11 – a glorious future – but at that time it didn’t look that way when they were driven out of Jerusalem, the temple destroyed, the priesthood in rubble, along with the temple. But you can’t recognize biblical Judaism with Judaism today, because it’s just something different after the Talmud was constructed – first the Mishnah and then the Talmud 400-500 years after Christ…
Tom: Yeah, explain…Dick, explain the Talmuds. Give us a brief definition. You know, there were two: Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmud. But give us an understanding.
Dick: Well, what had to happen after the destruction of the temple (and this takes us to about 90 AD), Judaism had to find a framework to exist in without a temple, without a priesthood, without a sacrifice. And so whatever traditions they were able to accumulate, they went to a place on the coast of Israel called Jamnia and they drew all the traditions that they had at the time into the discussion of how Judaism continues without a major framework of a temple, a priesthood, an offering, and all of that. So they began to construct a Judaism that could exist without all these things. And then eventually as time went on, scholars corrected scholars, and traditions were added, and more scholars research, and commentaries, and according to some, even legends of sorts were all codified and put into the Talmud. There is a Jerusalem Talmud and a Babylonian Talmud, which is much longer. But it’s within the framework of the Talmud that Judaism exists today, and they make reference back to it – not necessarily to the Bible, but to the Talmud.
Tom: Well, Dick, you could hardly say then that these were inspired works. I mean, you know, certainly the Jews had the Tanakh – they had the inspired Word of God which we call the Old Testament.
Dick: I don’t know that they’d say that they were inspired, the Talmud’s inspired, but it’s the best they have, so they follow it.
But then there were all kinds of traditions added much later, like mezuzahs and skullcaps and prayer shawls – a lot of these things were added along the way, but tradition becomes sacred then because of its longevity, and that’s what Judaism is. So I think though that the HRM, it’s pretend Judaism. It’s trying to find the places that they can imitate and copy Judaism, but it really isn’t biblical Judaism at all.
Tom: Yeah. And the concern that we have – you mentioned it earlier – this movement mixed and varied depending on who’s who, and who you’re following, and who you’re impressed with, and so on – who’s influential – but they couldn’t agree in a meeting, could they, in terms of what’s what?
Tom: So you have that confusion, but some of them, they have no problem with saying things like, “Well, you know, the problem that Christians have in trying to understand the New Testament is they don’t have it in Hebrew, because originally the manuscripts were in Hebrew.” Is there a Hebrew manuscript, first and foremost, that came out dealing with the New Testament gospel and the epistles and so on?
Dick: No, there are no – the New Testament was written in Greek! There’s no discussion about that. There’s no disagreement on that. The New Testament was written in Greek, and consequently, some of the Hebrew Roots leaders will say it’s a pagan text, it’s a Greek text, which automatically equates to it being pagan. But it was – the text that was inspired by the Holy Spirit…and it was a text that was intended not to just reach Jews but to reach the Greek-speaking world, to reach all peoples everywhere. So there is no Hebrew New Testament. There are claims by the Hebrew Roots people that there are – somehow there was a Gospel of Matthew that was originally written in Hebrew, not in Greek, but nobody’s been able to ever produce it. I mean, it’s just – it doesn’t exist! And so they have to deal with that issue. So there is an attempt by some, though, to take the New Testament text and try to translate it into Hebrew, which is one way they approach the situation.
But the thing is, when the New Testament writers cited the Old Testament, they cited the Septuagint version, which is the Greek version of the Hebrew text. They cited the Septuagint. In over 300 places when they quoted Old Testament, they quoted the Septuagint Old Testament, and in only 30 instances did they translate from any Hebrew texts that were available at the time. So that tells you what they opted for, what the apostles opted for: they opted for the Greek version of the Old Testament, which we know as the Septuagint.
Tom: Right. Yeah.
Dick: Does that help?
Tom: Oh, yes! Absolutely. You know, Dick, and our concern here just to kind of summarize – we’re about out of time for this segment – but the issue is, as you pointed out earlier, many Gentiles, many Christians who are not of Jewish background, they’re drawn to this. And as we’ve seen – you know, we talked about the Book of Galatians – many of them are led not only into the law or come unto the law, not by any group that has a hierarchy that has a head of it, but individual leaders and so on – as they’re attracted to this and brought into this… Dick, you know, we get emails from people, and their great concern about this is a scenario is that somebody gets involved with this, then comes under law, whether it be the law of an individual or whatever it might be, whatever the individual is saying, and then they begin to have doubts about Jesus and the New Testament, as though their leaders are supplying good reasons for this! No, it’s not the case! But nevertheless, they’re attracted to it, and many, sadly, have turned against Christ and turned against the Scriptures. So…
Dick: Yeah, I’m all for studying New Testament backgrounds. I’m all for studying the Semitisms that are in the New Testament. I’m all for looking at the customs, the manners, the lifestyle of early Judaism, but not to become a Jew, and not to start practicing Judaism, but because it gives you insight into the text, and it gives you a wherewithal to be able to understand some of the first century setting. I’m all for that.
Tom: Yeah, and that’s a part of hermeneutics, and that’s where we want people…
Tom: …to check these things out…
Dick: But it all goes back to, number one: which Judaism? I’m still trying to find that out! I mean, even in Jesus’ day you had Hillel, you had Shammai, you had zealots, you had Essenes, you had Pharisees, you had Sadducees…which Judaism, and how much of that Judaism, are we going to practice?
Tom: Right. My guest has been Dick Fisher, and, Dick, again, very informative, very helpful. So I look forward to us continuing this discussion next week, the Lord willing. Thank you, Dick.