New Testament Reflections: Beresheet

Joy of the Torah

Sukkot is zman simchateinu, “the season of our joy” – and the joy of Sukkot – reaches its climax during Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah (lit. Joy of the Torah) is the holiday that follows immediately after the festival of Sukkot and marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah reading, and the beginning of a new cycle. Yes, my dear friends: the year has flown by and we are again in Beresheet – and while we are in this Portion of beginnings, I am also starting a new series: “New Testament reflections”. If you believe that the Tanach and New Testament make up one book, you need to be able to discern the original notes struck in the Torah which still sound out in the NT: recognizing those notes might enrich – and sometimes even change –  your traditional understanding of the text. This is what this new series is all about: together, we will try to recognize the weekly Torah Portions in the New Testament writings.

But first, do we know that there was public Torah reading in synagogues in Jesus’ time? We do – and actually, it is mainly because of the New Testament that we  know it:  according to the New Testament, public reading of the Torah was practiced every Shabbat in every synagogue. For instance, we read in the Acts: “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.[1] In addition, Josephus also writes that people “leave off their other employments and assemble together for the hearing of the law, and learning it exactly, and this not once or twice, or oftener, but every week.”[2] This means that whatever synagogue Jesus and His disciples entered on Shabbat, as His custom was[3], they would listen to the Torah there. And whatever the Torah reading cycle was – annual, as in most synagogues today, or triennial, as was accepted in most synagogues then in the Land,  – at some point, Jesus and His disciples would listen to the Beginning of the Torah, exactly as we would hear it this Shabbat.

The Power of God’s Word

The first thing we learn from the first verses of the book of Genesis is that the world is created by the power of God’s Word. We find almost the same description of the beginning of the creation in the Gospel of John. The beginning of this Gospel might be also called “Beresheet”: the language of John clearly and purposely echoes the language of Genesis 1:1. The parallel is unmistakable—we see that both in the Genesis account and in John’s Beresheet, it is the Word of God that brings forth life:

IN THE BEGINNING was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.[4]

“Word” translates the Greek logos… and corresponds to Aramaic “memra” (also “word”), a technical theological term used by the rabbis in the centuries before and after Yeshua when speaking of God’s expression of himself.”[5]  Do we have the same ‘Word of God’ in Genesis 1? Remarkably, nine times during six days of creation we hear: “And God said”   וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים. This verb, VaYomer and He said – helps us understand, not only that God is the only one who has this creative life-giving power, but that the source of this life-giving power is indeed His Word: He creates everything and gives life by the authority of His Word alone. Therefore, both in the Genesis account and in John’s Gospel it is the Word of God that brings forth life. This continuity forms one of the foundations of New Testament faith: By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.[6]

He Who Loves His Wife Loves Himself

These first chapters of the book of Genesis are absolutely crucial for our understanding of God’s plan and intentions for our lives. For instance, in Genesis 2:20 we read: but for Adam no fitting helper was found. What is the meaning of the original Hebrew words behind this strange expression, “fitting helper”? Since most English translations usually render these words as “fitting” or “suitable helper” or “helpmeet,” a woman has traditionally been understood as a man’s assistant—as a kind of second class creature. Many believe that God created a man for primary roles and responsibilities, and then he created a woman for some secondary, assisting roles. Does the Hebrew text really say so?

The key to the answer is found in the original Hebrew word, כְּנֶגְדּוֹ  (kenegdo).  The basic meaning of the word neged, is “opposite”: thus, “the helper” (ezer) is supposed to be ‘opposite’ the man. In this sense, kenegdo simply means that whoever God creates for Adam will be corresponding to him: neither higher nor lower, but an equal.  In these words we can find, not only the Creator’s original design for man and woman, but for their union as well. God designed a marriage to be a union in which husband and wife are equal and complement each other: ezer kenegdo.  This is probably, what Paul meant when he wrote: So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself”[7]

First Adam and Last Adam

Genesis 3 is a critical chapter for understanding New Testament theology: here we witness the sin and fall of Adam, and we know that as a result of his fall, all humanity is condemned—enslaved to sin and death.

Sometimes people ask: how can it be that, because of the disobedience of only one man, all people are born in sin and we all now suffer? I believe the explanation of this mystery – at least partly – can be found in the Hebrew language.  While in English, Adam is always a personal name, in Hebrew it simply means “human”. In fact, in Hebrew the term for “human beings” is Bnei Adam – ‘the children of Adam’. That is why, while in the English Bible we first encounter Adam in Genesis 2, in Hebrew we meet Adam in chapter 1, when God makes a man (Gen.1:26,27).  “Adam” here is used in the collective sense: not only the individual Adam, but humans generically are created on the sixth day. Then, in Genesis 2 and 3, the generic and personal usages are mixed. This interplay between the individual “Adam” and collective “humankind,” and the ambiguous meanings embedded throughout the narrative, add a new dimension and bring additional depth to the crucial events of Genesis 3 – something that is completely missed in English translations. Perhaps it is also something we should bear in mind while reading the New Testament? Yes, Jesus is called here the “last Adam”, as opposed to the first Adam; if we remember, however, the profound difference between how we understand the word Adam, and its original usage in Hebrew, we might be able to see new facets in the New Testament contrast between the Last Adam and the first Adam.

[1] Acts 15:21

[2] Against Apion, 2.175

 

[3] Luke 4:16

[4] John 1:1-3

[5] David Stern, Jewish NT commentary

 

[6] Heb.11:3

[7] Eph.5:28

 

 I  would like to remind you, dear friends that eTeacher offers a wonderful course, where you can learn from Parashot Shavua commentaries along with their New Testament interpretation. As always, you are welcome to contact me for more information! 

Excerpts from my  books are included in many  posts on this blog, you  can get  my books  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/  Also,  my last book “Unlocking the Scriptures”, with the Hebrew insights into the Torah and  Jewish Background insights   into NT,  is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

You might also be interested in:

New Testament Reflections: Vayerah

By Julia Blum

New Testament Reflections:...

By Julia Blum

Join the conversation (12 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Rama Anne

    Hi Julia
    I read the blog it does help me understand in more meaning and clarity keep up the good work and keep writing ….and thank you
    rama anne

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words, Rama Anne!

  2. Angeline

    Shalom Julia, This is great, looking forward to the series. Please stay blessed!

  3. Tracy

    So good! Definitely brings a greater understanding to relating to “Adam” in the collective “humankind”. Thank you, Julia, for your incredible insights.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Tracy, we do see the new facets and the new meaning when we read the Scripture in Hebrew – or at least, with Hebrew. Stay tuned, I will bring more Hebrew insights in my next posts.

  4. Hans Trapman

    GREAT start of a new series, thank you!

  5. Emunah

    Shalom, Julia ! It is the great blessing for me to read your insights. It´s not only a source of information, it is the food for my Spirit. Thank you so much.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words Emunah, I am very blessed to hear that!

  6. Dr. Maureen Sanger

    So looking forward for this to be unpacked. Always, Julia brings the deep to the surface seemingly effortlessly. Each ot the teachings are a gift that continue to bring truth as we review her writings time and time again

    1. Nick

      Yes, as Dr. Sanger said, looking forward to this! Thank you Julia.

    2. Julia Blum

      Shalom Maureen, it’s wonderful to hear from you! Thank you for your generous words, I am so glad you still follow the blog and still find it interesting and helpful!

  7. […] many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”[1] In addition, Josephus also writes that people “leave off their other employments and assemble […]