If you are new to Hebrew Roots and to the foundations of first century faith in Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. How can you better understand the Jewish context of the Bible, especially the New Testament? What do you need to do differently than you have been doing? Here are just a few suggestions to help you get started.
Don’t throw away the one you have, but consider getting another one.
For many, the first big thing they get when exploring the Hebrew roots of their faith is a different Bible – specifically, the Complete Jewish Bible. This Bible has consistently been at the top of Amazon’s Best Sellers in Messianic Judaism list. Of course, you don’t need to be a Messianic Jew to appreciate the Complete Jewish Bible. The purpose, according to the publisher, is to connect readers with the Jewishness of the Messiah.
The Messianic Light reviewed the Complete Jewish Study Bible here.
There are a couple of things you will see in the Complete Jewish Study Bible that might catch you a little off guard. First, it uses a lot of Hebrew transliteration (English adaptation of Hebrew words). Not to worry, there is a very good glossary, and once you get the hang of it they really aren’t all that hard. Second, the books of the Old Testament are not in the same order as your old Bible. They actually match the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh. Again, once you get used to it, it isn’t a problem.
This is an excellent resource, but keep in mind this Bible is translated (or paraphrased) with an agenda – to highlight the Jewishness of the Gospel. Use it alongside a proven, reputable translation. For a good, literal translation, many use either the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version, both with the New Testament translated from the older Alexandrian-based texts. If you prefer a Byzantine-based text (“Textus Receptus”), consider the New King James Version. All of these have excellent footnotes that point out textual variants in the other sources.
The Jewish New Testament Commentary is a great companion to the Complete Jewish Bible. It is also written by David Stern. In the introduction he writes,
Nearly everyone approaches the New Testament with preconceived opinions about its Jewish issues. Sometimes this is the consequence of not having examined them, sometimes it is because of prejudice or childhood training. In any case, my object in the Jewish New Testament Commentary is to make people more aware of the Mew Testament’s Jewish issues and thus able to reach new conclusions about them.
The Jewish New Testament Commentary is over 900 pages. It was first published in 1992, and at the moment may be difficult to find. ChristianBook.com anticipates this commentary being back in stock in mid-June.
The second thing many newcomers to Hebrew Roots look for is a guide to the Biblical Festivals. There are a lot of good things written about the significance and deep prophetic meaning of the Feasts. Christians all over the world are awakening to the importance of understanding them. But now, you like many others are coming to a new realization. We must not only know about these Feasts, we need to observe them.
A great go-to reference on this topic is Barney Kasdan’s book, God’s Appointed Times. This inexpensive paperback details the why and the how-to for all of the Biblical celebrations, beginning with the weekly Sabbath. Kasdan reviews the historical background, traditional Jewish observance, and prophetic significance for each Feast. He then offers practical ideas for how the Messianic Believer in Yeshua Messiah can observe these Appointed Times. He includes recipes, crafts, and songs to help with the celebration.
Beyond knowing why we celebrate and how we celebrate, one dilemma those newly pursuing this walk may face is when to celebrate. The dates for the Biblical Festivals are not based on the Gregorian calendar most all of us use on a daily basis. Their timing is based on the Hebrew calendar.
You can buy a Hebrew calendar, which is usually just a Gregorian calendar, and use it to find the dates for the Biblical festivals. For example, most calendars will show you that for the year 2022, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is on October 5. It is easier for most of us to think October 5 rather than 10 Tishrei (the Hebrew date) because we are all familiar with the Gregorian calendar. A Hebrew calendar will also show you that October 5 is also 10 Tishrei. Many of the Gregorian calendars will not show you all of the Festivals, but a Hebrew calendar should have them.
You can also find the dates of the Feasts here at The Messianic Light. Just look up Feast Dates on the main menu.
Don’t be surprised if you encounter people who disagree over the dates for these Feasts. They aren’t really disagreeing on the Feast date; they are disagreeing on how the calendar should be determined. That’s been going on for as long as there have been calendars.
The Torah Reading Cycle
It has been the practice of the Jewish people to read the Torah, the first five books of the Tanakh or Old Testament, on a set common schedule. Most use a one-year cycle, though some use a three-year cycle and a few others vary even from that. Along with the entire Torah, selected readings from the Prophets and sometimes the Psalms are added, and Messianic Believers in Yeshua also read from the New Testament. The cycle usually begins after the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) and ends during the same Feast the following year.
You can find these readings, called parashat or portions, marked in the first five books of the Complete Jewish Study Bible. At the end of each Torah reading, it lists the reading from the Prophets and suggested readings from the New Testament. However, this won’t give you the schedule of when each portion is to be read during the cycle. We publish the schedule and list these readings each week at Messianic Torah Portion (https://messianictorahportion.com). You can also find them on many of the Hebrew calendars or in Bible reading schedules published by various organizations.
Jewish congregations have been reading these portions for many centuries (the origin is not known for certain), possibly during the time of Yeshua and maybe going back to the exile and return from Babylon. Messianic Jewish congregations continued the practice, adding New Testament readings and understanding. Many Hebrew Roots groups also follow the same schedule. This helps to contribute to unity as we are all reading and studying the same things during the same weeks.
A Few Other Resources
An excellent companion book to God’s Appointed Times is God’s Appointed Customs, also by Barney Kasdan. This book discusses many of the other things that the new Torah-pursuant believer may wonder about. Kasdan writes about the mezuzah (doorpost), kashrut (dietary laws), mikveh (baptismal immersion), and the wearing of tzitziot (fringes) and other “Jewish” things. They really aren’t “Jewish;” they are Biblical.
You may also want to expand your study resources to include things like an interlinear Bible or other language resources. This can start to get a little expensive, maybe beyond your means especially if you are trying to accumulate them quickly. Fortunately in today’s world so many of these things are available electronically at a much lower cost, often free (or for a donation – those who develop these for free deserve our support). E-Sword (https://e-sword.net) has a wealth of resources for free and is very popular among Hebrew Roots believers (and again, don’t forget to support them).
If you get your information online, BE CAREFUL. There is probably way more bad information out there than good information. Know your source before you take it in. This may be new to you, but it is not new. Don’t be taken in by the site that has “discovered” something no one else seems to have found. And beware of clickbait.
Finally, if you do amass a lot of electronic resources, as I have done myself, please do not rely on an electronic Bible. If you just invest in one thing, get a physical copy of the Complete Jewish Study Bible. When you look up a passage, note where it is in the actual book you are holding, not from the search function on your phone or computer. Software is nice, but there may (soon) come a time when our phones and computers don’t work. Get a real book, read it, and hide it in your heart.
If you have further suggestions on resources helpful to those new to this walk, please comment below.