A Sefer Kodesh Expounded Upon!

Sefer Kodesh means a holy book. Last night, in Roswell, Georgia, about 120 of us (note the symbolism of the number) gathered in one place to discuss the four gospels as holy books.

For those not from a Jewish background, treating a book as holy involves certain means of sanctifying both the book and the time spent reading and studying. It is similar to the Christian practice of Lectio Divina and to the practice in liturgical churches of standing as the gospels are read aloud.

What did we take away from this gathering? Why was it so particularly practical and potentially revolutionary for those of us involved? And what startling things did we hear from Boaz Michael of First Fruits of Zion?

Part of what last night was about is a way of life.There is a way of life many people have found, in both Jewish and Christian traditions. It is a way of life that has captured the minds of great thinkers and lots of “ordinary” people. It is the way of reading holy books in a disciplined, habitual manner so that all of life is colored by the holy themes and word pictures found there. Specifically, for Jews and Christians, this has meant daily Torah study, daily Bible reading and study, the quiet practice of soaking up the prophetic and expressing it in daily life.

Another part of what last night was about is a backstory. It’s a backstory that calls us to some times before the Holocaust, to periods like the late 19th century. You can explain some of what was going on in world Jewry in a secular manner — it was a time of enlightenment in the Jewish world, the continuing echoes of the haskalah, with Jews in Europe becoming a part of the broader world and leaving the ghettos. But you can also explain this period prophetically — the seeds of several movements, cherished movements, come from this period, such as Zionism and Messianic Judaism.

Boaz Michael told us a few of these stories. Most importantly, we heard the story of a Christian German gentile boy with a Jewish godfather, a boy whose “Christian” father left the family and for whom the Jewish godfather became a mentor. That boy, of course, was Franz Delitzsch, the renowned commentator on the “Old Testament” and the translator of the New Testament into classical and early rabbinic Hebrew.

You need to hear the story of Franz Delitzsch and Levy Hirsch. We are working on the audio from last night and First Fruits of Zion has said they will make Boaz’s talks available on their blog.

Before the Holocaust, great things were moving in both Europe and America. The story of pioneers of Jewish faith in Messiah Yeshua such as Yechiel Lichtenstein, Isaac Lichtenstein, Jacob Rabinowitz, Leopold Cohen, and many others, evokes sadness for what has been lost. In many ways, the post-Holocaust Messianic Jewish movement has not recovered what was gained. In spite of what are likely more sophisticated and accurate theologies, even the best of Messianic Judaism is still playing catch up to the greats of the pre-Holocaust era.

The Delitzsch Hebrew English Gospels (DHE) are a part of that recovery. Boaz shared a story about a happening just after the advance copies of the DHE came to the First Fruits of Zion offices from the printer. A bookstore from out of state called the office. Boaz had spoken there a few years before. A Jewish woman had come to the bookstore. She wanted to find a Jewish explanation of Jesus. The bookstore manager had kept Boaz’s card.

One of the first copies of the DHE was mailed. Three weeks later the woman wrote to thank First Fruits. She had not only enjoyed reading the gospels. She was committed to following the One found in their pages, whom she now firmly acknowledged as Messiah.

Over the years, an untold number of Jews have been touched by Delitzsch’s Hebrew New Testament. One Jewish “missionary” (that was their term from the time) said that he rarely visited a Jewish home in Europe where a copy of the Delitzsch Hebrew New Testament was not found on the bookshelf. Several famous stories of pre-Holocaust pioneers of a more Jewish expression of Yeshua-faith begin with a Delitzsch New Testament.

So, we gathered. We listened to the stories. Boaz explained what a sefer kodesh is and how to treat it and make the study of it a habitual, transformative practice. Things are revealed to us not by “flesh and blood,” as Yeshua noted to Peter in Matthew 16:17, but by the Eternal himself. I explained twenty ways to get more out of reading the gospels and encouraged everyone to make reading a recurring, cyclical practice which imitates discipleship. We cannot walk Galilee literally with Yeshua, but we can look on his deeds and read his words repeatedly, in four different contexts, and at least in spirit walk with him through the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

But none of it will avail us if we do not read. And the Delitzsch Hebrew English Gospels bring a fresh way to read the gospels expressed in the language of the Torah, prophets, and rabbis. They are a contemporary expression of what the gospels were originally: a Jewish book.

COMING: We are processing the audio and I will soon make a CD and printed outline of “20 Ways to Read Yeshua’s Life” available for $15. Boaz’s talks will be made available in some format online.

This entry was posted in Bible, Delitzsch Hebrew-English DHE, FFOZ, Gospel, Lichtenstein, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, The Messiah, Vine of David, Yeshua. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A Sefer Kodesh Expounded Upon!

  1. Herbert Roy George says:

    I wonder what will be the impact of these scriptures on global evangelism. Churches all over the world are being hammered by native religions that christianity is a ‘foreign’ religion (ironically meaning to be a american or british religion and not even jewish). With these scriptures throwing in a jewish flavor, what will exactly happen to this backlash now ?
    Also am still confused about the impact of gospel ‘first for the jews’. What does that mean for non-jews exactly and how will it be different from past times ?

  2. Andrew T. says:


    I am on board for a Jewish re-appropriation of the Synoptic Gospels. But how is the Gospel of John a Jewish book? If anything, it is the opposite. I’m not asking whether the Johanine account of the story is reliable, only wondering what about it makes it Jewish?

  3. Derek Leman says:

    Herbert, I think the advancement of the people of Israel acknowledging Messiah has a mystical impact on the gospeling of the world. But this edition of the gospels will likely be of little note outside of Jewish and philo-Semitic Christian circles.

    Andrew, John is incredibly Jewish. Perhaps you should sign up for my Daily D’var emails (but we won’t be back on John until next summer). John is themed around Deuteronomy 18:15-18 and the feasts, among other things. IMO, “John” is the elder John who was a Judean disciple. I subscribe to Richard Bauckham’s beloved disciple theory.

  4. Andrew T. says:


    I won’t pretend to know who wrote the gospel or even whether it was targeted to gentiles or not. But what about “the Jews” continually being referred to as external to God’s favor, made to look like the ones who couldn’t “get it”? What about Yeshua saying “you are of your father the devil”? What about the anachronism of the disciples getting thrown out of the synagogues? I know there are good counter-examples, like Yeshua celebrating Hanukkah and being affirming himself as a Temple-worshipping Jew when talking to the Samaritan woman, but I have read John’s gospel from start to finish with the intent of getting a feel for how Jewish it is, and at least the antipathy to the Judean establishment seems to be a strong theme, if not anti-Judaism.

  5. Derek Leman says:

    Andrew, then you would have to call the Dead Sea Scrolls anti-Semitic. It’s in-house fighting and “Jews” is a term that can be used of the leadership in Judea (which in John is a figure for the leadership in diaspora synagogues as well).

  6. Andrew T. says:


    I’ve been long aware of the opinion that it really means the Judean establishment, not “Jews” in the broader sense of everyone that circumcises on the eighth day. But I wasn’t sure, because nearly every Christian Bible including the one I study with translates it as “the Jews.” I then infer from this that the original text and author really had it in for Jews. How could so many translators be wrong? When an error is repeated so often, it takes real willpower to see past the error. In this case, anti-Semitic bias has colored my thought despite my best efforts. So, does the DHE translate it as “the Judeans”?

    You’re right, the Essenes at Qumran were far more isolated and more remote from the mainstream than Yeshua’s Galileans, though ultra-zealous about observance. Yeshua was about inclusion, while the Essenes were elitists. They didn’t just criticize corruption in the Temple; they broke away from the Temple system completely and had their own sacrificial system. They taught that all other Jews (to say nothing of gentiles) were damned.

  7. Andrew T. says:

    I have just requested an email subscription to the daily d’var. I’m impressed by how many writing and speaking commitments you manage to juggle. 🙂

    Tonight’s prayer: that one day I will be able to grasp John’s gospel in its fullness.

    Besides my question about how the DHE translates “the Jews”, I have one more: since the life and times of Yeshua according to John is so divergent from the Synoptics, how does the believer reconcile the two?

  8. Derek Leman says:

    Andrew, thanks for the kind words. It’s a lot of fun dialoguing with people like yourself who read, think, and ask questions. That is the way I have always learned too. If we have a large community reading, thinking, asking, and discussing, learning will increase exponentially.

    DHE on John 8:31 for example: Yeshua said to the Yehudim who believed in him, “If you truly stay in my words, you are my disciples.”

    By keeping it Yehudim, the DHE avoids the whole problem. It was a good way for Delitzsch to translate Ioudaious.

    Richard Bauckham has a great essay, “John for Readers of Mark,” in The Gospel for All Christians. And the commentary of Raymond Brown (2 volumes, Yale Anchor) is on my top twenty list of books (see my list here).

  9. Andrew T. says:

    Maybe someday I’ll get around to those books, for for right now, I make do with this brief Internet gem: http://www.tektonics.org/ntdocdef/johndef.html

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