How can knowing about ancient Jewish idioms, traditions, and culture deepen Christians’ relationship with Jesus? How can readers of the Bible better understand Scripture passages by being sensitive to Hebrew heritage?
Bible Gateway interviewed Robby Gallaty (@Rgallaty) about his book, The Forgotten Jesus: Why Western Christians Should Follow an Eastern Rabbi (Zondervan, 2017).
Robby Gallaty: Jesus was a Jewish man who was raised in a Jewish culture, reared by devout Jewish parents, and who lived according to the Jewish laws. Jesus regularly attended the synagogue on Sabbath, participated in every biblical feast, studied and memorized the Scriptures, learned a trade from his father, and started his rabbinic ministry at the age of 30—all of this according to the Jewish customs of the day.
I’m suggesting that these elements reveal something about Jesus that we, as Westerners, might overlook. In doing so, we run the risk of missing important implications from the context of Jesus’ life and ministry that help us see and know him better.
Why is it important to remember the Jewish context of Jesus’ life?
Robby Gallaty: Understanding the Jewish context of Jesus’ life will help us see familiar passages in a new light. It’s like being used to watching a film on a tiny, grainy, black-and-white countertop television and then seeing it in an IMAX theater. When we learn more about Jesus in his context, we better understand him. And when we better understand him, we grow in our love for him.
What does it mean to read the Bible through a Jewish lens and how does it enhance the experience?
Robby Gallaty: Reading the Bible through a Jewish lens enhances our understanding of the why behind the what of Jesus’ actions. For example, according to Jewish tradition, the people would know that the Messiah was at hand when three Messianic miracles were performed. Jesus performed these miracles: the first was healing the leper in Matthew 8. The second was casting out a demon from a deaf, dumb, and blind man in Mark 5. The third miracle is found in John 9 where Jesus heals a man born blind. Each of these miracles is a powerful testimony to who Jesus is, but focusing on them through a Jewish lens enhances our understanding even more by providing important contextual information.
Briefly explain the message of your chapter, “Uncovering Christ in the Old Testament.”
Robby Gallaty: I believe that we’ll never be able to fully understand the ministry of Jesus without understanding the culture in which he arrived. Over three-quarters of the Bible is devoted to the Old Testament, yet many believers today spend most their time reading through the New Testament.
In reality, our faith is fortified when we understand that God’s plan for sending his Son to the world began before sending Moses, before the salvation of Joseph, before the calling of Abraham, and even before God’s punishments for Adam, Eve, and the serpent were uttered in the Garden.
Here’s an example of how understanding the Old Testament and the customs of its people helps us see Jesus better: the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths. The swaddling cloth is no ordinary piece of fabric. A better translation would perhaps be swaddling bands. These strips of linen were five inches wide by five or six yards long. According to the Mishnah, lambs that were destined to be Passover lambs were immediately wrapped in “swaddling cloths” after their births to keep them from injuring themselves. Interestingly, the lambs destined for the Temple sacrifices were raised in Bethlehem. So, when shepherds rushed to see the God of the universe born as human they would have recognized the cloth immediately. Reading the New Testament through a Jewish lens brings it into stark color.
What Bible reading plan do you recommend and why?
Robby Gallaty: I’ve often said the best Bible reading plan is the one you’ll commit to and follow. Daily Bible intake is critical to the life of a growing, maturing disciple of Jesus. Over the years my wife and I developed a reading plan we call the F-260. These are 260 foundational passages of Scripture to be read five days a week. We’ve found that a five-day plan is easier to stick to over time. By focusing on a couple of chapters of reading a day with weekends off, the reading load is light and there’s built-in time to catch up if you miss a day. The point of this particular plan is to read less to digest more. By using the F-260, you’ll read through the entire metanarrative of Scripture in one year’s time, in easily digestible chunks.
[Read the Bible Gateway Blog posts, The 50 Most Important Teachings of the Bible: An Interview with Jim George and The 100 Crucial Bible Passages to Know]
What do you want readers of your book to glean from it?
Robby Gallaty: My hope for The Forgotten Jesus is that people will grow in their understanding of Christ so that they may grow in their love for him. Loving Jesus more leads to obeying him more. I believe a life-long process of knowing, loving, and obeying Jesus will result in mature disciples who follow Christ’s command to make disciples who make disciplemakers.
Bio: Robby Gallaty (PhD, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) is the senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, TN. He was radically saved out of a life of drug addiction on November 12, 2002. In 2008, he founded Replicate Ministries to educate, equip, and empower believers to make disciples who make disciples (replicate.org). He’s the author of Rediscovering Discipleship, Growing Up, Firmly Planted, and Bearing Fruit. Robby and his wife Kandi are the proud parents of two sons, Rig and Ryder.
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