Israeli Messianic leader: “Keeping Torah is Heresy”

Update 1: I spoke with Mr. Bass today and he clarified, “It is heresy if you believe that all believers should keep Torah…to be righteous.

This still presents a problem: while Paul says righteousness comes by trusting in Messiah, James continues that our righteousness is proven by works. I’ve asked Mr. Bass to clarify whether he considers “righteousness proven by Torah” to be heresy. I’ve also asked if he believes Torah plays any role for believers, aside from ethnic sensitivities. I’ll update this if I hear back.

Update 2: I asked directly whether Torah plays any role for believers in Yeshua, and Mr. Bass has replied with, “It is not incumbent upon believers -- whether Jewish or Gentile -- to keep the Law of Moses as it is written.”

Update 3: One of Mr. Bass’ defenders, Aaron Hecht, has now posted a new article, It’s Not a Sin, But…, in which he defends Mr. Bass’ view and points out issues in Torah observance. Some of his criticisms are true, and Aaron and I have a friendly conversation in the comments, in which we do find some common ground.

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Messiah faith in Israel has a long way to go. As it stands today, it’s largely ethnic Evangelicalism. Ethnic evangelicalism isn’t bad – it turns people to God – but it is terribly short of Israel’s unique calling.

When I first came to Israel, I visited a large congregation that spent 2 minutes on reading the Torah, and the next 30 minutes on preaching about why we should give money to the congregation. They had really great worship music.

When I returned to Israel a few years later, I visited another well-known congregation in northern Israel. They spent about 60 seconds speed-reading a Torah portion – zero study or commentary – then preached for the next hour about how we have victory in Jesus.

I couldn’t help but feel the Torah reading was a token gesture.

Last week, Howard Bass’ new post in Kehila News downplayed Torah further, suggesting that Torah observance is actually heresy.

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Howard Bass is the leader of נחלת ישוע Nachalat Yeshua (Yeshua’s Inheritance) congregation in Be’er Sheva, Israel.

His post on heresy included all the usuals: denying God, Messiah, the Bible, etc. But it also included – drum roll please – Torah observance as heresy.

According to Mr. Bass, the well-known and respected Israeli Messianic congregation leader, keeping Torah is heresy. Here’s the relevant piece of his post:

A heretical teaching does not line up with the plain teaching of the Word of God:

- YHVH is not the one and only true God…

- The Bible is not the authoritative written Word of God…

- Jesus was not fully human…

- Jesus was not fully God…

- Gentile and Jewish believers must keep the “Torah” in order to live as Jesus lived, and, therefore, be righteous, even if it is said by the false teachers on this subject not to be a salvation issue, and that we are saved by our faith in the name of the Son of God, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. They are teaching another gospel, sowing confusion and division. This is heresy, which made the Apostle Paul very upset! (Acts 15:23-29; Gal) This is not the same as someone, for the sake of the gospel, living in a manner acceptable to an ethnic population or a religious group, in order that they might be more open to listen to the gospel. But Paul was also free among any people group for that very reason, and always under the law of Messiah. He never went against God’s word and wisdom in order to appeal to sinners. “Torah-keeping” does not promote the one new man in Messiah; and the Law of Messiah by His cross is the ‘one Law’ that all believers as a new creation live under.

I want to read Mr. Bass charitably and give him the benefit of the doubt, so I commented on his post. If I find out I’ve misinterpreted, I’ll update this post.

I want to look closer at Mr. Bass’ assertion that keeping Torah is a heresy.

Gentile and Jewish believers must keep the “Torah” in order to live as Jesus lived and, therefore, be righteous, even if it is said by the false teachers on this subject not to be a salvation issue, and that we are saved by our faith in the name of the Son of God, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah

There’s a lot to unpack in this long sentence.

Torah is for no one

His post uses the phrase “Gentile and Jewish believers”; this is interesting.

Here among Messianics in the US, there is a debate about whether Torah is only applicable for Jews (a position taken by e.g. Hashivenu and UMJC-types), or whether Torah is good instruction for all God’s people (e.g. Messianic Apologetics and Torah Resource.)

But few are the Messianic congregations that are Torah-negative for all people; doing so would result in a group little different than your local Evangelical church.

We Torah-positive Messianics see things differently. We see the Torah as God’s continuing standard for morality, a constitution for a holy people. As Jewish luminary Dennis Prager recently wrote,

The idea that the Torah is only for the Jews is as absurd as the idea that Shakespeare is only for the English, or that Beethoven is only for the Germans.

-Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible

What does Bass mean by “Torah”?

The heresy that…Gentile and Jewish believers must keep the “Torah”

I noticed Bass’ use of quotes around the term Torah.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but perhaps Mr. Bass is not so much against the Torah as he is Ultra Orthodox abuses of it?

He undoubtedly has seen the abuse of the Torah almost daily in Israel, where “Torah observant” people spit at, shout insults at, and kick people they don’t like.


Above: “Torah observant” religious people hurl insults, spit on, and kick a woman who helps a driver safely navigate through a Haredi protest.

I know that Mr. Bass’ congregation has been attacked by “Torah observant” Orthodox Jewish protestors. I know Nachalat Yeshua’s services have been interrupted by zealous young Jews with bullhorns, shouting and overturning furniture – all in the name of “Torah”.

So from Mr. Bass’ standpoint, “Torah” may seem like a negative. If this was the only Torah I saw, I’d probably hate Torah too. If this is the “Torah” that Mr. Bass calls heresy, then we agree.

But if by “Torah” Mr. Bass means the God-given commandments which have formed the basis of Jewish life for 3,000 years, the Torah which Yeshua said would remain as long as earth itself, the Torah which Paul upheld and preached, the Torah which the early believers in Yeshua were zealous for, if this is the Torah Mr. Bass calls heresy, then indeed what a grievous and shameful statement.

What kind of witness are we if we say to Israel, “The Messiah of Israel did away with the God of Israel’s commandments”? We make Messiah out to be the false prophet of Deuteronomy, and ourselves worshipers of a false prophet.

But we know from the Gospels Yeshua didn’t abolish the Torah, but upheld it. His disputes with religious leaders were on faulty application of the Torah, not on the Torah itself. This is why you see Yeshua rebuking religious leaders for, e.g. devoting all their resources to the Temple instead of caring for their parents. The Pharisees erred not in keeping the Torah, but in “nullifying God’s commandments by tradition.”

If Yeshua was really saying the Torah was done away with, he could’ve just said, “You Pharisees are keeping Torah. But it’s abolished now that I’m here.”

But he didn’t. Because Yeshua isn’t the false prophet of Deuteronomy 13. He’s the real prophet of Deuteronomy 18.

Torah keeping made Paul upset

Mr. Bass contends,

They [Torah teachers] are teaching another gospel, sowing confusion and division. This is heresy, which made the Apostle Paul very upset!

He cites Acts 15, in which the leaders of the nascent Yeshua movement write to non-Jewish believers saying that no greater burden than 4 commandments will be required of them.

The problem with that statement is many fold.

First, the 4 commandments specified include 2 dietary laws, which Christians don’t keep today. So if we’re serious about these being the only 4 commandments non-Jews have to keep, then why aren’t we keeping them? (Why aren’t the non-Jews at Nachalat Yeshua keeping them?)

A second problem is that this letter was addressed specifically to non-Jews: “To the Gentile brothers”. At the very most, some could claim this ruling is only for the non-Jews who were turning to God. But Mr. Bass goes beyond this and claims it is a ruling for everyone, for all time.

A third problem is that the letter was a response to a very specific question: whether non-Jews had to formally convert to Judaism through ritual circumcision. The contested matter is right there in the beginning of the chapter: “Some men coming down from Judea were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’”

But Mr. Bass wants to apply this answer to a much broader question: should anyone, anywhere, anytime keep the Torah? To apply Acts 15 answer to this broader question is to misapply the text.

A fourth problem with this answer is it omits an important part of the ruling: that Moses is preached everywhere. The actual judgment is we don’t have to make new Gentile believers formally convert to Judaism in order to be saved. Why? “Because Moses is preached in every city from ancient generations, being read in the synagogues every Shabbat.”

Omitting this information is problematic, because the disciples laid upon new Gentile believers 4 Torah basics with the understanding they will eventually hear the whole Torah.

In Galatians 5, which I assume Mr. Bass was referring to with regards to Paul’s anger, Paul is angry that believers were undergoing conversion to Judaism, thinking this was required for salvation.

Torah as façade

Mr. Bass gives an out to those people who keep Torah for appearances’ sake.

“This is not the same as someone, for the sake of the gospel, living in a manner acceptable to an ethnic population or a religious group, in order that they might be more open to listen to the gospel.”

What is being said here is it’s OK to keep Torah if it’s for the purpose of Jewish conversion. And likewise for all ethnicities.

This deeply grieves me. Jews are not just another ethnic population. As Messianic Jewish pioneer Rabbi Stuart Dauermann said, “Jews are not just another non-Christian people, and Judaism is not just another non-Christian religion.”

When we encourage or even permit people to keep the Torah “so that some might be saved”, aren’t we just playing pretend? Doesn’t that lend credibility to the anti-missionary’s charge that we’re deceivers?

Folks often point to Paul’s words in Corinthians:

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

Does this include lying and a façade of who we truly are? God forbid! Lying and cheating your way to conversions is not what Paul had in mind! A more accurate interpretation is that Paul spoke with people on their level. It doesn’t mean he was a deceiver for Christ.

How will Israel be provoked to jealousy if we’re a bunch of fakers? Our Torah observance should neither be fake nor an emulation of Orthodox Judaism. Our Torah should be an emulation of Messiah’s own Torah observance. He’s our model. And our walk must be in sincerity, not as a façade meant to bring in more conversions.

What grieves me most about this section of Mr. Bass’ statements is that the only form of Torah observance that is acceptable is the kind exists solely for the purpose of conversion. What of obedience to God? What of faithfulness the covenant that God has used to preserved Jews for 3500 years?

Torah keeping and One New Man

Bass says that the One New Man in Messiah, comprised of Jews and Gentiles, is hindered by Torah:

“Torah-keeping” does not promote the one new man in Messiah; and the Law of Messiah by His cross is the ‘one Law’ that all believers as a new creation live under

That is yet to be seen. We’ve had nearly 1800 years of trying the other way: a Torah-free Christianity. It has produced unity – at the expense of erasure of Jewish identity. Even the Messianic Jewish luminaries of the 19th and 20th centuries, like Paul Philip Levertov, have ultimately lost their Jewish identity, their children now identify as Roman Catholics or otherwise absorbed into the gentile sea of the Church.

I do not believe it is God’s will for Jews to disappear. And the Church as it stands ultimately causes Jews to assimilate and lose their Jewish identity. If not them, then their children, and almost certainly their grandchildren.

Isn’t it time for something else? A pro-Torah Messiah faith reverses this, and upholds Jews as God’s special chosen people, with a unique calling. Some claim it makes gentiles into Jews, but in reality, in my experience, it makes gentiles into pro-Jewish, pro-Israel, pro-Torah Bible believers. I’ll take that over Jewish assimilation.

A plain reading of the Bible upholds Torah

Mr. Bass says a heresy is “a teaching that does not line up with the plain teaching of the Word of God.”

The amazing thing to me is that Torah keeping is a plain teaching of the Bible. The whole of the Tenakh is basically a cycle of:

  1. God giving a commandment
  2. People breaking the command and rebelling
  3. God sending judgment and exile
  4. People repenting to God for disobedience
  5. God divinely reversing the exile

Nearly every book of the Old Testament plays into this cycle. The Torah gives the commandments. The book of Joshua shows God’s people carrying out the commandments as they enter Israel. Kings and Chronicles covers the obedience (mostly disobedience) of early Israel, and God’s judgments on us for disobedience. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Joel and more call Israel to repentance. Nehemiah and Ezra are about the people returning in repentance and God undoing the exile.

Nearly every book of the Tenakh has to do with keeping God’s commandments defined in the Torah.

Clearly, keeping God’s commandments is a plain meaning of the Bible!

But it’s not just the Tenakh. The first few chapters in the Gospels show John calling people to repent, Matthew 3. Then, the next chapter, Yeshua telling people the same.

What were they repenting from? The same thing Israel has always repented from: breaking God’s commandments; sin.

Yeshua says plainly the Torah should be kept and taught until earth passes away. Only a non-plain, Scriptural acrobatics reading of the text says otherwise.

Paul proves he’s Torah observant in Acts 21. In his letters, Paul tells gentile congregations that God is writing Torah on our hearts, and that Torah is “good, holy, and pure.”

Even for the 2 congregations I visited in Israel, they at least read the Torah. How are we supposed to read the Torah but not live it? Doesn’t it take Scriptural acrobatics to say, “Well, this is the plain meaning of the text – to keep the commandment – but here’s a complicated reason why you you can disregard the plain meaning”?

An open plea to Pastor Howard Bass

Mr. Bass, as a brother in Messiah, I ask you to reconsider your view that Torah keepers are heretics. If Torah keepers are heretics, then Yeshua and the early church were heretics.

You said, "A heretical teaching does not line up with the plain teaching of the Word of God." Consider that keeping God's commandments in the Torah aligns with the plain meaning of the Word of God, both in our Tenakh and in the Gospels:

"Whoever keeps and teaches the Torah and the prophets will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven."
-Yeshua, Matthew 5

And again in Acts:

"You see, brother, how many myriads there are among the Jewish people who have believed—and they are all zealous for the Torah. They have been told that you teach all the Jewish people among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their
children or to walk according to the customs. What’s to be done then? We have four men who have a vow on themselves. Take them, and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. That way, all will realize there is nothing to the things they have been told about you, but that you yourself walk in an orderly
manner, keeping the Torah.


-The early church speaking to Paul, Acts 21

I understand that seeing Orthodox abuse of Torah observance can create a negative perception of the Torah. And seeing persecution from Yad L'Achim and supposedly Torah-observant groups may cause a person to think the Torah is not of God, or not for today.

But the issue with those groups isn't that they keep Torah. It's that they keep Torah apart from Yeshua, resulting in a perversion. Their hard heart towards Yeshua is temporary, and their Torah practice will one day align with the King's Torah. We cannot taint our view of Torah by those who abuse it.

Please reconsider.

10 Things I Wrote in 2018

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Shalom Kineti readers.

As we enter 2019, I thought I’d reflect back on the articles I’d written in the last year, ones I’m particularly proud of. Here are the top 10 articles I’ve written dealing with faith, science, and apologetics.

  1. Would the Torah Look Different if God Revealed it Today?
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    The Torah is filled with commandments tailored to a civilization circa 1500 BC. So, if God gave the Torah fresh today, would it look different? I argue it would.

    This axiom opens up more questions about how we moderns should apply the ancient text of the Bible. Keep an eye out for a new post exploring these ideas.
     
  2. The Universe Had a Beginning. Here’s How We Know and Why It Matters
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    Did you know that modern cosmology affirms the universe came into existence? The universe didn’t exist forever; there was a time and place where the universe exploded into existence.

    A universe that sprung into existence means something very powerful caused it to happen. Or, in the words of one secular science journal, “If the universe was created, doesn’t that mean there’s a Creator?”
     
  3. What Science, Technology, and Medicine Can’t Solve
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    For all the good that science, tech, and medicine have done, they can’t solve – and indeed, don’t attempt to solve – the world’s greatest problem: the human propensity for evil.

    Billy Graham’s death inspired this post, where I recall and examine a fantastic TED Talk he delivered to a secular, technologically-savvy audience. It’s stirring and powerful and utterly relevant for today.
     
  4. Evidence for God: Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, Explained
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    Did you know there are ancient logical proofs of God’s existence? Did you know some of them are over 2500 years old?

    In this post I examine and explain in my own words Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, an ancient logical proof for God’s existence.
     
  5. Religious Hypocrites Shaming God’s Reputation
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    Newly released court documents show the absolute depravity of the child abuse carried out by Catholic priests, and covered up by Church hierarchy. My secular friends begin asking, “Why are churches even legal?”

    I argue our own hypocrisy is the greatest threat to our faith, and how we need to refocus our efforts towards the good works Messiah commanded us to carry out. Doing so will result in the reemergence of God’s people as a light to the world.
     
  6. The Pro-Torah, Pro-Israel, Pro-Jewish Apostle Paul
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    I’ve been studying Romans and teaching it at my local Messianic congregation. I’m more than ever convinced of Paul’s Messianic identity: his favorable view of the Torah, his advocacy for his own nation Israel, and his heart and devotion for his own people, the Jewish people.
     
  7. Paul’s Identity as a Messianic Jew: A Necessity for a More Accurate Interpretation of His Letters
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    The more I study Romans, the more I realize that a faulty view of Paul – for example, that he’s an ex-Jew who converted to a new gentile religion – results in a poor interpretation of his letters. That poor interpretation leads to anemic disciples, or worse, Christian anti-Semitism.
     
  8. 11 Elements of Liberal Christianity: A Conservative’s Friendly Critique
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    What do liberal Christians and progressive religionists hold as core truths? Where can we conservatives find common ground, and where do we differ? I examine and offer a friendly critique of a new book on liberal Christianity.
     
  9. Human Ageing in View of the Divine
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    Medicine is solving and curing more diseases as each year passes. Human lifespan has doubled since the 1700s. If this trend continues, humans may live indefinitely. If science-based medicine could provide eternal life, would it affect our faith? Both Jews and Christians hold resurrection to be of paramount importance.
     
  10. Abortion: Examining the Torah’s Commandment Regarding the Unborn

    Several Jewish public figures entered a dispute about whether Judaism is intrinsically pro-life. I examine their arguments and look at the Torah to see what we can glean.

There you have it, friends. 10 things I wrote that I’m most proud of.

What’s in store for 2019? One of my resolutions this year is to write once a week, with a plan of action to write each Monday. This is the first such Monday  post. Smile

Another plan of action  is to send out regular updates to the Kineti email list. I’ll likely revert that list to automated monthly email, otherwise it tends to be put on the backburner of busy life. I prefer personalized email, but without automation, I’m only able to send out a few emails per year.

So, more posts, and more in your inbox. Thanks for reading, fine Kineti readers.

Human Ageing in View of the Divine

Summary: Science-based medicine is inching closer to extending the human lifespan. If, in the distant future, people can live forever, does that change our faith and religion, given its promise of eternal life? Warning: This post speculates about a future that may never happen. Even so, it’s worth exploring.

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I've been reading a fascinating book by Dr. Michael Fossel, professor of clinical medicine, Michigan State University. Fossel is an optimistic proponent of the telomere theory of ageing. This theory states:

  1. Humans age because our cells age.
  2. Cells age because they stop dividing after a certain number of divisions (called the Hayflick limit).
  3. Cells stop dividing because the caps of the chromosomes, called telomeres, shorten with each division.
  4. When telomere caps are too short, the cell ceases dividing and eventually breaks down, slows the production of energy, and releases excess garbage in the form of free radicals.
  5. When your cells are unable to repair themselves and remove cellular garbage, your skin, tissue and organs begin to break down.
  6. As your body stops repairing itself and your tissue breaks down, you eventually succumb to a disease of old age, such as cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s.

This is the telomere theory of ageing in a nutshell. (I’m a layperson, not a medical professional, so take my simplified summary with a grain of salt.)

It should be noted there are other theories of ageing currently in scientific circles, such as the theory of damage accumulation, the theory of life force, the theory of free radicals, among others.

“Big if true…”

Suppose for a moment Fossel’s theory is correct. Fossel theorizes that extending your cells’ telomeres will actually reverse cellular ageing processes and help prevent the diseases of old age. He theorizes:

  1. Your cells will resume dividing like they did when you were young.
  2. Young dividing cells will better repair you skin, tissue, organs and immune system.
  3. With your body now repairing itself and recycling cellular damage, you’ll be less prone to diseases of old age, like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's.
  4. A human body that is always fighting off diseases of old age will live longer if not indefinitely: you’re not limited to 70 or 80 years. Your lifespan would be limited only by external factors (e.g. getting hit by a bus).

Dr. Fossel cites experiments which he believes proves the telomere theory of ageing. He says if we take skin cells from an elderly person and grow them in the lab, it will predictably produce old skin: weak, thin, easily tearable. Likewise, taking skin cells from a young person and growing them produces young skin: thick, strong, rugged skin. The moment of truth came when Dr. Fossel took the elderly skin cells and extended their telomeres. The result? The elderly cells acted as though they were young, and produced young skin.

This has significant implications beyond removing skin wrinkles from the elderly. Diseases of ageing, like heart disease and cancer (currently the number top 2 leading causes of death in the West) can be combatted by this same technique.

Fossel recently founded a new medical company, Telocyte, to apply these techniques in modern medicine. Their first target? Alzheimer’s disease. This disease of old age is the result of a breakdown in cellular function that clears plaques from the brain. As this recycling breaks down in old age, plagues build up on the brain, killing brain tissue and reducing cognitive function, eventually resulting in death.

Fossel believes by lengthening the telomeres of cells responsible for the cleanup of plaques on the brain, we can not only prevent Alzheimer’s, but even reverse it in existing patients.

A healthy skepticismbrain-salt-l

Before I go any further, a word about critical thinking.

Disciples of Yeshua in the 21st century desperately need a healthy skepticism. The internet, for all its blessings, is also a curse: an overload of information. Many people believe what they want to believe, and the internet quickly supplies it.

In the Hebrew Roots movement in particular, I’ve seen many people believe all kinds of nonsense. Conspiracy theories, flat earth, all-natural elixir cure-alls and other quackery.

This skepticism should apply to medical science as well. I am skeptical of the claims of Dr. Fossel, and you should be too. While he may not be a quack selling brain salt elixir, his theory could be wrong, or too simple, or any number of variables could invalidate it. It’s too early to tell, and the proof will be in the pudding. If we see Fossel’s company curing Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, then we can start to get excited. But until then, it’s just another claim in a sea of (mis)information.

Humans are going to live longer regardless

Whether the telomere theory of ageing holds or not, one thing is certain: humans are living healthier, longer lives. In the last 250 years science-based medicine has more than doubled human life expectancy:

The advent of surgery, vaccines, and antibiotics has greatly increased human lifespan worldwide.

200 years ago, it would be rare to see a person live to 70. Today, it’s the norm and we think nothing of it.

If this trend continues – and it likely will barring an apocalyptic event such as World War III – future generations will likely enjoy a longer lifespan. Fewer instances of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases of old age.

Consider the present: humanity has already eradicated small pox, nearly eradicated polio, and we have a cure for Hepatitis C.

New medical innovations like CRISPR enable us to cure genetic diseases; last month (November 2018), the FDA approved an investigational new drug application that aims to cure Leber Congenital Amaurosis, the leading cause of childhood blindness.

Eventually, humanity may reach a point where human disease is all but eradicated. At that time, humans may live indefinitely.

Eternal life in Christianity and Judaism

If medical and scientific progress continue, it’s likely humans will eventually live very long, if not indefinitely.

This got me thinking:  What does it mean for people of faith if science-based medicine allows us to live forever?

Judaism and Christianity are united in hope of eternal life via resurrection. It’s so central to our faith that the Apostle Paul said our faith is in vain if there’s no eternal life:

“How can some of you say there’s no resurrection of the dead? If it’s true there’s no resurrection, then Messiah wasn’t raised. And if Messiah wasn’t raised, our faith is in vain.”

-Apostle Paul, Letter to Corinth

It’s central to mainstream Judaism as well. The fundamental 13 principles of Jewish faith include a confirmation of the resurrection:

“I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when G-d wills it to happen.”

-Maimonides, 13th principle of Jewish faith

This is the eternal life that Judaism and Christianity speak about: that one day, at the time God sees fit, God will raise the dead back to life and we will live with Him on earth. This is the “Kingdom of God” spoken of in the gospels; the Olam Haba (Age to Come) that Judaism is waiting for.

For us, this message of the resurrection is based on an actual historical event: Messiah was raised from the dead by God some 2000 years ago. It’s not merely a matter of faith, but also one of evidence. The early disciples of Jesus knew whether he was dead or not – if anyone hid the body or made a false claim about his resurrection, it would have been them – and yet, all of them went to their brutal deaths proclaiming it to be true, refusing to recant: this man Jesus literally rose from the dead and appeared to them in the flesh after his death.

The idea of eternal life has impacted to billions of believers through the ages.

For example, at Hanukkah we remember the Maccabees who firmly believed that “after our death Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will receive us and all our forefathers will praise us” (4 Maccabees 13). It was this conviction of eternal life that empowered them to stand up to a wicked and brutal empire. “You may kill us today, but one day we will be living again.”

For Christians, it was this same message of eternal life – now tangible and nearer with Jesus’ resurrection – prodding on the early believers to preach the risen Jesus, even with the threat of torture and death through Rome’s sadistic brutalities.

And on the darker side of things, it’s the same hope of eternal life that animates Islamic extremists to commit suicidal terrorism, believing they will enter Paradise with Allah for murdering unbelievers.

The hope of eternal life is still powerful today.

The recently deceased President George H.W. Bush hoped for eternal life, anticipating seeing his wife and his 3 year old son “on the other side.”

Messianic Jewish pioneer and Rabbi Stuart Dauermann spoke of his conversation with a dying woman, a skeptic of eternal life:

The medical technician said, “Lady: that’s the biggest tumor I ever saw.” And it was on her liver.

Lillian didn’t have long to live, and we had a conversation.

She said to me, “Ah, what the hell. When you’re dead you’re dead.”

I responded, “Lillian, you don’t know that. You’ve never died before!”

That brought her up short.

I then went on to say, ”Look, Lillian. Yeshua said this,  ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’ Now, if some guy standing on a streetcorner says this, or some other clown, you could dismiss it as the rantings of a fool. But when a person who lived the most remarkable life ever lived, and whose life and teachings have had compelling force for thousands of years says this, then it’s something else entirely.”

She was listening now. I went on.

“Lillian, it’s like playing a game of poker. You can take all your chips and put them on your proposition, ‘When you’re dead you’re dead.’  Or you can take those chips and place them on Yeshua who said that by believing in him and in what he said, you will continue living even on the other side of death. Which choice will you make?”

She gave a smart answer. No surprise. “Well, I don’t have much choice do I?”

I agreed.

Eternal life is a powerful hope indeed!

But what if Lillian had a choice? What if her choice was, “Keep being a skeptic of faith if you please; medicine will cure your cancer.”

If humans can one day attain eternal life without faith and religion, what does that do to faith?

Addressing religious objections to medical life extension

Some may think this is a non-issue. Some of you fine readers will say,

“The Lord will return before then.”

Maybe so, but maybe not. It’s been 2000 years. What’s another few hundred? No one knows.

“It’s not our place. Extending human lifespan is playing God.”

Maybe. But many religious people used to think that surgery was also playing God, but I bet none of you will turn down life-saving surgery today.

Additionally, God commanded humans to subdue the earth. Doesn’t that include subduing disease?

“This is crazy talk. We’ll never solve death.”

That’s entirely possible, even likely. But the trajectory of history shows an increasing lifespan thanks to medicine and science. If the trajectory continues, we’re looking at very long lifespans, possibly indefinite lifespans. You may think I’m crazy, and you might be right. But it’s my blog, and I get to think out loud even the wild-eyed thoughts! Smile

“It’ll never happen, because God decreed death as a curse in Genesis.”

God did curse humanity with death in Genesis. But that curse included men working by the sweat of our brows and women having great pain in childbirth, and both of those have been alleviated.

Let me tell you, friends, I work hard, but I don’t sweat and I don’t work the fields. I consider that a blessing. My God-given technological skills have allowed me to provide for my family without back-breaking field tilling. And even if I was a farmer, I’d utilize technology – GPS-guided tractors, engines, crop rotation, irrigation, and more – so that farming isn’t so terrible an existence.

As for the curse on women, my wife gave birth just last year. She didn’t have much pain in childbirth thanks to the wonders of modern medicine. Ditto for our other 2 children, both of whom are happy and healthy.

In short, the “curse on humanity” is still here – people are still dying, men are still working, and women still have pain in childbirth – but all those things have been alleviated by technology and medicine. Perhaps the curse of death can be alleviated as well.

Religious outcomes of medical eternal life

Maybe some of my readers will reject one or both, but suppose both are true:

  • Eternal life provided by God is real
  • Science-based medicine will provide eternal life, or something close to it.

Supposing both are true for a moment, what would religion look like?

The powerful message of eternal life that has animated so many Jews, Christians, and Muslims would probably be less impactful.

“Will you live forever?” will be answered with, “If I want to.”

That removes a reliance on God in some way.

Impactful statements from God will be less impactful. John 3:16’s famous, “All who believe in Me will not perish, but have everlasting life” would be rendered passé.

There will still be the desire to live with God – enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the Olam Haba – but that won’t be as powerful if death isn’t looming over every head.

So, I suspect religion and faith would be in decline because of one its central fruits would be duplicated by science and medicine.

On the other hand, it could make death even scarier for some. Like the man in a horror film running away from his tormentor, closing door after door on his pursuer, so too the person running from death through all kinds of medical interventions, trying everything to keep death at bay.

Maybe humans are designed to die, whether biologically or spiritually speaking. I spoke with my grandmother a few months before she died, talking to her about medical innovations that could extend human life. She told me, “I’d pass. I’m ready to die when the time comes, and I don’t want to live here forever.”

It took me by surprise. What I wish I would have asked her is, “Are you saying that because of all the pain and health trouble of old age? Would you still say that if you were healthy?”

As a healthy 35 year old, I want to live forever. I don’t want to die. But maybe time will change me.

Another interesting potential outcome of very long or indefinite lifespans is a good one: the accumulation of wisdom.

Young people are idiots who think they know everything. (I submit this blog post as evidence! Winking smile) Older generations have learned lessons that youth have yet to learn. The elderly have lived, experienced, and learned lessons difficult to pass on merely through words. And even if they could be transmitted by words, the young aren’t listening; they already know everything.

Having long-living people would likely increase humanity’s wisdom. Our leaders would likely be the more elderly people with more wisdom. Wisdom would dictate avoidance of war, because people who have experienced the hell of war would go to great lengths to avoid it. Culture would begin to see the elderly as wise, rather than as the nearly-irrelevant dementia-riddled burdens today’s culture views them as.

Long or indefinite lifespans would have repercussions worldwide; overpopulation would likely pressure us to move to other planets. Resource scarcity might produce war and famines. I won’t discuss these here, as I want to focus only on its impact on faith.

If science-based medicine can cure diseases, reduce suffering, and even give us eternal life, where does that leave faith? It will be a disruptive time.

Conclusion

The lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, all because of modern medicine. Some see this in an atheistic light – “Look what we did…without God!”

But maybe God is the platform here, and we are built atop it. God told us to take dominion over the earth and subdue it. Subduing disease surely falls in line, then, with God’s own commandment to humanity, one that predates even the curse of death.

The appearance of Messiah 2000 years ago changed the world forever; even our reckoning of time (BC/AD). It also ushered in an era where the Christian ethic reigns: compassion, healing, feeding the poor, caring for the needy, hospitals, medicine, food and more are in abundance. Perhaps modern medicine is an outgrowth of Christianity. Indeed, many western hospitals were founded by pious Christians; many hospitals still bear names like “Saint Joseph’s” or “Methodist Central.”

Viewed in that light, modern medicine and its ultimate goal of wiping out disease is of godly origins. I welcome it. But how will your faith be affected, fine Kineti reader, if you can achieve eternal life in the here and now through medicine alone?