For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 1 Corinthians 11:19  NASB

Factions – I’ve met some interesting people in my travels.  Some of the most interesting are those who are really angry fundamentalists in Messianic clothing.  They have usually come out of doctrinally strict hierarchical Protestant denominations.  They found the ethos suffocating.  Having discovered the depths of Hebraic thought, they cut ties to the prior rigidity and embrace a “new” way of living.  But what they don’t do is leave behind the framework of their thinking.  They merely substitute Hebrew words for Greek ones.  The hierarchy of the pastor or priest is replaced by the hierarchy of the rabbi.  The rituals of Protestantism are replaced by rituals of Judaism.  They end up being just as rigid about the “truth” as they once were about doctrine.  They are reformers in reverse, substituting one version of legalism with another.

And they’re angry.  They’re angry that the “church” deluded them.  They’re angry that their family and friends don’t see the path.  They’re angry that they fell on the outside.  They like to argue their points.  They intend to win.

Perhaps it does us some good to remember Paul’s complement toward hairesis.  Yes, that’s right, it’s the word Christianity uses for heresy.  But when Paul employed this Greek word, it wasn’t a theological term for false doctrine.  It didn’t become a theological technical term until after the close of the first century.  When Paul used this Greek word,  it simply meant “disputes.”  In fact, the classical Greek background of the word means “to select, to choose or to elect” (this is its only use in the New Testament).  Its equivalent in the LXX is the Hebrew nedavah, a free-will offering.  This word is about choice, voluntary election of action.  In Rabbinic Judaism it is the translation of miyn, the word describing something that shares common characteristics.  Hairesis does not become a designation of forbidden doctrine until the Christian church began treading the path of separation from Judaism.  “The basis of the Christian concept of [hairesis] is to be found in the new situation created by the introduction of the Christian [ekklesia],” says Schlier.[1]  But notice what this statement implies.  It assumes that Christianity and the theology of Paul are identical, that the “church” was established at Pentecost and that Paul distinguishes his doctrine in opposition to the rabbinic Judaism of his past.  Schlier’s position depends on the disjunction between later Christian understanding and the first century Messianic views of Paul.

But what if Paul just means “disputes”?  What if all he is saying is that the community must have disputes, it must entertain the choices of others, in order that the approved ideas may be manifest?  As I often tell my students, “You don’t need to tell me something I already know.  Tell me something I don’t know so we can both learn.”

I believe Paul was a rabbi, and fundamental to rabbinic education is the process of debate.  Dialogue is the vehicle of enlightenment.  I believe that Messianic Judaism embraces the opportunity to disagree and to learn from each other with open hearts and open minds.  Christianity as a religion closed its ranks with a new definition of hairesis, a definition that made anyone who disagreed with the Church an outcast, condemned to Hell.  Christian doctrine is about conformity.  You must believe exactly as I believe or you are outside the will of God.  When we bring this same rigidity to contemporary Torah observance and Messianic allegiance, we do nothing but import a foreign philosophical system.  The truth is not compromised because you and I disagree.  It is only in our disagreement that we can both discover God’s point of view.

A man can learn anything if he is willing to be corrected.

Topical Index: hairesis, heresy, dispute, 1 Corinthians 11:19



[1] Heinrich Schlier, “hairesis,” in TDNT, Vol. 1, p. 183.

Comments
  • Ron Thomas March 14, 2012 at 6:06 am

    Amen and Amen!! I thank God for those of my broters and sisters in The Lord with whom I don’t see entirely eye-to-eye on theological matters. Courteous, reasoned debate will either reinforce the validity of your own beliefs or give you a new insight into the opposing viewpoint (or sometimes both). Any of these is a good outcome.

  • robert lafoy March 14, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Gal 4:17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.

    Some things never change. We can be bridge builders, or bridge destroyers. It’s up to us!

  • Robin March 14, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Very good word, Skip! I have experienced the same situation in reference to” The hierarchy of the pastor or priest is replaced by the hierarchy of the rabbi. The rituals of Protestantism are replaced by rituals of Judaism.”I have visited a few “Messianic Congregations” in my area and sadly observed exactly what you just described. It was so obvious, that I almost refuse to visit another such congregation unless the Rabbi is Jewish and knows the Torah. I use to teach a Torah study group at my church, and at the beginning of the first class, one lady asked me with enthusiam, “What should we wear?” I politely told her that I didn’t care what she wore. She could wear two prayer shawls and ten kippas on each one of her toes and twirl them in the air if she wanted too, the purpose of the class was to understand G-d’s Torah, G-d’s instruction book for living, then, she could understand what a prayer shawl is and what it is used for and when and where and if she should wear one at all. I fully believe that G-d is bringing the Torah back into the church, for it is prophecy that has yet to be fullfilled. You are so right about debate. It is almost impossible to ask questions on theological matters if they “doctrinal christians” don’t have the answer, they will sometimes get very defensive and argumentive, whereas Rabbis are taught to say “I don’t know” but will go and study to find the answer and get right back to the question asap. May G-d help us all to fully understand the saying “This one thing I know, that I don’t know!”

  • David Salyer March 14, 2012 at 9:34 am

    For me, it is an exercise of discernment as to whether someone is simply disagreeing and wanting to debate a viewpoint or an interpretation of Scripture or a doctrine (instruction) for the purposes of truly wanting to learn together and then to apply that learning to life versus someone who isn’t just disagreeing but “disagreeable” or contentious or even worse, promoting a destructive “hairesis” (II Peter 2:1). Part of this exercise in discernment is to evaluate the individual, him or herself (their walk with the LORD particularly – because orthodoxy should not be different than orthopraxy), and part of this exercise in discernment is to evaluate their attitude in wanting to engage in debate or disagreement (their heart, motivation) regarding their particular view regarding God, God’s World, God’s Word and God’s Worship…Probably the greatest indicator, for me, at least, is just how much the individual wants to control God’s “truth” and to control it for others. If it is God’s truth, then it should most likely bring both of us to our knees and we should both live differently as a clear manifestation of a desire to make more of Him and less of ourselves (as John the Baptist said). Those who seek to wave God’s banner of “truth” better demonstrate the same attitude and actions as Yeshua Himself (remember Yeshua’s words about Himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”)

    I think this level of discerning whether a person is wrestling and wanting to learn (disagreeing) versus just contentious or divisive or worse, seeking to introduce “secret heresies” is encapsulated by identifying someone who the LORD would regard or esteem: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where then is a house you could build for me? [My translation - really people, do you think you can really "box" me up and hold me in your "boxes"?] And where is a place that I may rest? For my hand made all these things [My translation - This is MY World, MY Word and only MY worship will do], thus all these things came into being,’ declares the LORD. ‘But to this one I will look [pay attention to, regard, favor, esteem], to him who is HUMBLE [lowly] and CONTRITE IN SPIRIT [stricken, smitten, crippled], and who TREMBLES AT MY WORD.” – Isaiah 66:1-2.

    If the attitude of contentiousness or smugness or arrogance in “proving a point” precedes what the author or proponent seeks to establish as God’s truth, and most particularly to seek it as God’s truth for me (as if the appeal is that I “must” purchase the viewpoint as some sort of transaction to make the “seller” feel more right or more justified in his/her viewpoint), then I tend to largely dismiss such an individual and particularly, if the exercise has no walk to its talk or if its walk looks way different than the Savior’s walk.

    For me – and for now at least – Skip has met this criteria in TDW. And having met the man and had him stay in our home, I can testify that his walk matches his talk. He is a man who endeavors to walk humbly before God, someone who has a true high view of God, God’s World, God’s Word and God’s worship and someone I would consider who “trembles at God’s Word.” He meets the criteria of Isaiah 66:1-2, so I continue to listen and wrestle with him.

  • CYndee March 14, 2012 at 11:16 am

    “A man can learn anything if he is willing to be corrected.”

    “The wise learn by instruction, the slow learn by correction, the foolish learn by consequences, and the selfish never learn. Listen, learn, grow…and stop the pain.” Dr. James B. Richards, from HOW TO STOP THE PAIN

    I greatly appreciate Skip’s teaching and others’ comments on this blog. I learn from all of you! I am learning to be more confident in “working out my salvation in fear and trembling.” I’m not eloquent but I am earnest in my pursuit of YHWH. My desire is to be a Father-pleaser just as Yehsua was. He lived the pattern for me to follow in His steps.

  • Dorothy March 14, 2012 at 11:34 am

    “A man can learn ….. if he is willing to be corrected.” Amen, Skip.
    Those not willing to be corrected are full of pride, & we know where that leads.
    When we all get to heaven, I believe we are ALL going to be corrected on some point (or many)

    Prov. 4: 7 “The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding.”

    Job 28:18 “No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies.”

  • Donna Earleywine March 14, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you so much for this insight. I have personally experienced this situation a couple of weeks ago and was floored by someone using knowledge they have obtained as a hammer of legalism. All my mind could think at the time of the attack was “This is not the Spirit of God who is so full of love, grace , and mercy toward us. I have not learned Torah in this way and I am just so excited to learn something new everyday that christianity did not know about or chose not to teach us. Whatever the case all is to be done in a spirit of love and mercy and there have to be debates anytime you have minds and hearts seeking for the truth. Just thanks for sharing this with us, it brought clarity to the incident for me.

  • Ilze March 15, 2012 at 5:06 am

    The following with my tongue in my cheek:
    I grew up with a Shakespearean quote: “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion, still”.

    This quote was often used when people started disagreeing in a conversation to bring both parties to their “senses” and stop the “arguing”.

    It was also used to shut me up when I spoke about Ezer knegdo, the Feasts of the Lord and especially Sabbath.

    I will now post “A man can learn anything if he is willing to be corrected” on the Kitchen wall.

    And I will use it next time my husband, my sons or my father (I’m the only female in the home – even the dogs are male), try to explain to me the job of the housewife is to suffer the consequences of the men in her home’s inability to clean up after themselves. :-)

    I will also memorize 1 Cor 11:19 for Bible Study group purposes. :-)

    More seriously:
    I like the Middle East cultures, because they do not easily get offended if you disagree with them. I have made friends with the most unlikely people just because I was not afraid to disagree with them. They explained to me that it meant to them that I “felt safe” in their presence and did not fear being rejected by them and therefore did not just agree to get out of their presence as quickly as possible.
    They also reasoned that if I were willing to disagree and give my opposing view, I am most likely not a spy, which makes me safe for them to be with.
    Given that the Hebrew mindset was moulded in the Middle East, maybe it is one of those things we need to get straight in our Greek-minds:
    When someone disagrees with you, it does not mean that he dislikes you. It just means he does not agree with you, but he reckons you are worthwhile to be corrected. If he did not consider you worthy to be corrected, he would have let you “carry on in your own ignorance”.
    (I am wondering if Western teenagers will ever understand this? :-)

  • Curtis Hildebrand March 16, 2012 at 2:11 am

    Having discovered the depths of Hebraic thought, they cut ties to the prior rigidity and embrace a “new” way of living. But what they don’t do is leave behind the framework of their thinking. They merely substitute Hebrew words for Greek ones.

    Everyone has the desire to be right in their own eyes. And often more than the Creators eyes. I like David Salyer’s reference to Isaiah 66. “To this one I will look…” It also reminds me of John 5:39-40 “You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these (same scriptures) that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.” The desire to be right needs to be conformed to Yeshua, the Word. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless untill the day of Messiah, filled with the fruuit of righteousness that comes through Yeshua the Messiah to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1:9-11)

    I haven’t (yet) read Skip’s book God, Time and the Limits of Omniscience. I stopped at the introduction where this was written. May we all encounter the One God who reveals Himself.

    “…early Christian theological development does not flow from the Biblical encounter with God. It flows from pre-Socratic thinking about God. It results in a theology of abstraction and detachment, thoroughly contrasted from the intimate, engaged pathos of the God of Scripture. How Christian thought became so removed from its Biblical roots is yet another saga in the continuing story of ethnic and religious schism. All followers of YHWH have suffered in this tragic affair.”

  • Cheryl Durham March 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    It’s funny how people don’t change…I have seen this in an Evangelical Church, then a Mainline Church whose views were quite different than the Evangelical Church, however, just as dogmatic about what one “should” believe, and as Skip mentioned, a Messianic Congregation where I was sure I was seeing the Evangelicals with Yarmulkes…weird. I grew up in a Mainline Church, and a Jewish neighborhood, with Protestant parents and a Jewish grandmother and great grandmother. Our family must have been weird, but we argued all the time….with all kinds of views, but we still loved each other. I thank God for my Qveching Family….it taught me how to love. I don’t understand why people can’t just agree to disagree, and enjoy the argument…it seems that it is more important to WIN then it is to learn. Does anyone else see it that way?

    • Skip Moen March 17, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Consider the paradigm shift needed to embrace the thought that the debate is more important than the answer – and the learning is a function of dialogue, not recitation. The Greek view of education is the transfer of information from teacher to student. The test of this transfer is the student’s ability to repeat the information. This mindset requires conformity. I must have the RIGHT answer. Anyone with a different answer is wrong. When this is applied to spiritual information, anyone who has a different answer is not only wrong, he is a heretic, and destined for hell. I can have no further discussion with him (he is spiritually tainted) for fear that his error will rub off on me. In such a mindset, I teach conformity to a specific set of beliefs as the ONLY RIGHT answers. This is called doctrine or dogma. It is more powerful than the Scripture since it requires a distillation of Scripture (which is generally story) into repeated answers to specific questions (like “What is the chief end of Man?”)

      Now imagine a paradigm where learning occurs in one’s ability to understand the QUESTION but not necessarily the answer. In this paradigm, one is encouraged to ASK QUESTIONS that lead to other questions that lead to other questions, moving further and further into the depths of the subject. But ANSWERS are not necessarily the objective and certainly information transfer is not. What matters is a process of inquiry that can lead the student to think, examine and transform his understanding into life action. Repetition functions only as a replacement to written material and a process for sharpening the mind. Conformity is death because it removes debate. Only debate offers the opportunity to learn from another. I learn nothing if the other person tells me nothing new.

      Now you know why there is no systematic theology in Judaism. Judaism is the process of understanding God and His expectations through dialogue and dialogue is a dynamic relationship between the parties. It is not the transfer of information for the sake of information alone. The objective is to grapple with the ideas in the discussion so that they become part of my understanding of the world (even if I ultimately reject them). But Greek thinking focuses on the primacy of reason and the centrality of the INDIVIDUAL, not the individuals in communication. Therefore, the Greek paradigm can produce a systematic theology – an abstraction from the life-world of interaction with God – that codifies, organizes and “proves” a series of right answers capable of being repeated without actually understanding what the questions were in the first place.

  • Cheryl Durham March 19, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Goodbye Spinach pie! Hello Kreplach!

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