World view and World Map

World view and World Map

It’s been an interesting morning to say the least. I had a conversation with a KJV-only person during my train ride. It’s fascinating to understand why we do what we do and what stories we live by. It’s healthy to know what stories you live by, but it’s equally important to respect the stories others live by. We should also realize that our stories have more in common with others than we may have initially thought.

As Christians it’s important for us to understand that we have adopted Jewish categories (not acultural, ahistoric categories) for explaining the world and how it works. Below is a quote from the daily Pirkei Avos email by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfelde. It’s insightful because we learn more about the Jewish worldview as we seek to better understand the worldview of the early Christian Church (which was a Jewish sect).

This week’s mishna discusses the severity of desecrating G-d’s Name— “Chillul Hashem” in the language of the Sages (we’ll use the Hebrew term below). In the vernacular, the term “Chillul Hashem” is understood to refer to public or conspicuous misbehavior on the part of Jews. When a Jew, especially a visibly Orthodox one, publicly sins or otherwise creates a scene, the image of the Jew and Judaism is lowered in the eyes of the onlookers—both Jew and Gentile. When an observant Jew (in dress, if not in behavior) is caught in a money-laundering or insider-trading scheme (and the press is always gleefully there to report it), or if Israel is condemned for human-rights abuses (generally with about zero legitimacy but the press gets away with it anyway), it not only reflects on the Jews (and certainly not only on the individual sinner). Tragically, it casts a negative light on the very Torah the Jew supposedly upholds and ultimately, on G-d Himself.

It has been wisely observed that Gentiles who are constantly seeking out and noticing the bad in Jews—even if in very minor and nonreligious matters such as annoying personal habits—are truly seeking to invalidate G-d Himself. They don’t want to hear the message Judaism carries to the world—that there is an all-knowing G-d who created man for a purpose and who will ultimately judge him for his every deed. And they will search for any means — whether relevant or not—of discrediting the nation which carries that message. Antisemitism is not simply a reaction to Jewish “pushiness”, or to our capitalism, Communism,or racial inferiority. It is because the world recognizes—but refuses to admit—that we alone bear the truth.

What I find fascinating is the similarity between the words of Rabbi Rosenfelde and that of the apostle Paul who wrote in Romans 2:

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Both Paul and the Rabbi show concern for the authenticity and consistency of God’s people. Simply put, “practice what you preach. Both share the similar beliefs, values, aspirations, and symbolic universe. Both address the problems when God’s people don’t act within the boundaries of Torah (covenant).

In Romans 2:17ff, Paul stops speaking with the epistolary audience to turn an address an imaginary interlocutor (speech-in-character and diatribe)—a pretentious and boasting Jewish teacher who teaches one thing and does another. Note that Paul is not characterizing all of the Jews, nor Judaism. His hypocrisy has lead to the blasphemy of G-d’s name among the Gentiles (2:24).

In Romans, Paul is addressing churches where there is a gentile Christian majority (if not exclusively gentiles). It appears that they think that G-d has forgotten the Jews because many have not believed Jesus as Messiah. Paul would never have them think that G-d had forgotten the Jews (Rom 9–11). Paul writes “All Israel will be saved!” (11:26). The gentiles failed to realize they had been grafted into Israel. And Paul does not let them forget their plight and problem (Rom 1:18–32; 2:1–16).

Paul’s symbolic universe remained essentially Jews. But he saw in the Christ event that G-d had acted to restore his people and to bless the gentiles (that is, to include them as his people) as he promised to Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3). Paul’s understanding of the world, himself, Israel, and gentiles revolved around Christ and his resurrection. For Paul Christ’s resurrection indicated that G-d had acted climatically and eschatologically on behalf of his people and a people who had not been called his people. On this belief Christianity and Judaism part ways. However, Paul wanted to answer with a resounding “Yes” to the question, “Has G-d acted righteously (that is, according to covenant) toward his people?” (Rom 1:16–17) For Paul G-d had acted mercifully and graciously to both Jew and Gentile by offering salvation to all who believe in Messiah Jesus, the Lord of the world.

What we ought to notice is the Jewish symbolic universe (worldview). Notice how humanity is divided into two groups—Jew and gentile (non-Jew). This is how scripture was written, was read, and is continued to be read. Gentile Christians don’t realize that they have become “Jews” (according to Paul’s definition in Romans 2:29). When gentile believe in Messiah Jesus and confess him as Lord they become “sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6–9). The act of confessing Jesus as Lord is the act of covenant renewal that Moses spoke (Romans 10; cf. Deuteronomy 30). Paul stresses that in Christ there is no longer any distinction such as ethnic identity and ritual markings (circumcision) that makes a difference among God’s people—Jew and gentile.

Such aspects of worldviews is typical of humans. We see through the lens of in-group and out-group. We all divide the universe in such a way as to identify where we are in relationship to others. We seek to pattern the world around us and to put everything in its place. We learn what is safe and what is dangerous. Time and space is divided and rules are set to define our society and community. When things happen we seek to explain occurrences around us with regard to things in order or out of order.

What map are we on?! Where do we begin and end? Where are we going?! What time is it?! Where do we draw the lines—in-bounds and out-of-bounds? What are the rules of the game on whose court (map) we play? How do we know who wins? Who makes the rules? Who is the judge? What’s fair? How are points earned and fouls punished? Who can play and who cannot play? We are the sum of our experiences, stories, and collective interpretations. If we know our stories, we can tell them, correct them, re-write them, but we will always lives by some story (map, game, rules).