For nearly two thousand years we may have read the Greek Scriptures/New Testament without hearing in the words and stories the voice of one early tradition, that of Pharisee Jewish disciples. This little book hopes to amplify the voice of those disciples.


The earliest writings in the Greek Scriptures are letters of Saul of Tarsus, better known today as Paul, who died before the destruction of Judaism.s Second Temple in 70 AD/CE. In the earliest stage in the formation of the Gospels, sayings and stories were passed orally. In the final stage decades later, near the end of the first century AD/CE or beyond, the Gospels were committed to writing. Some scholars suggest that, even now, the history of the Gospels remains largely a mystery.


Some written sources which are not available to us in their original form were available to the Gospel writers. These sources are now available to us embedded in the Gospels. According to scholarly consensus, there was a document now called .Q. that was used by the authors of Matthew and Luke/Acts, and a .Signs. document that was available to the author of John.


There also may have been a document or body of teachings and stories preserved by certain Jewish disciples who were Pharisees. We find references to these Jewish disciples in Acts 15 and in Paul.s letters to the Galatians and Romans and perhaps elsewhere. Their message is often at odds with the message of Paul, their fellow Pharisee.


These Pharisee Jewish disciples understood Jesus. teaching to reflect Judaism to the utmost for Jews. Some held that Gentiles needed to become Jews and follow Judaism in order to be disciples of Jesus; others, like Paul, disagreed. Paul was not critical of Jewish disciples for practicing Judaism but very much objected to the efforts of Jewish disciples to convert Gentiles to Judaism.


Some of the messages of Paul and of these Jewish disciples, when read through a Gentile lens, are shocking enough for a reader to double-check that they are there, so alien are they to common thought and belief. One example is Jesus. instruction to his Jewish disciples to do what Pharisees teach. The same words are shocking when read through a Jewish lens because they are unexpected and fly in the face of Judaism.s experience of Gentile Christianity.


Many scholars and others seek to tell us Jesus. message. Instead, I seek to find, to hear, the early message from Paul and from other observant Jewish disciples in the Greek Scriptures. I do not argue whether the stories are about actual events that took place. However, these Jewish disciples had a message that they wanted to preserve in words and stories that they believed either took place or .could have/would have/should have. taken place.


We sometimes hear that there was conflict between Christians and Jews by the end of the first century AD/CE. Scholars tell us that Jewish disciples were evicted from synagogues and the Gentile disciples with them. However, it may be more likely that the Jewish disciples who believed that Gentiles should convert to Judaism evicted the Gentile disciples from their synagogues, given the history of disagreement between the two types of disciples. The Gentile disciples then had their churches. What happened to the Jewish disciples? Since they had remained observant Pharisees, they may have been absorbed into the synagogues of Rabbinical Judaism that emerged from the Pharisee sect.


My goal is to present from the Greek Scriptures thirty messages of Paul and of other Jewish disciples who were and remained Pharisees, messages that show their concerns, their beliefs, and the problems they were trying to solve as observant Jews.


Keeping that goal in mind, who may enjoy reading this book? Christian readers may, to obtain a fresh perspective and understanding of these scripture verses and of the Jewish disciples whose tradition they reflect. Jewish readers may, to obtain a perspective on both first century Pharisees and on the teachings of Jesus, their brother who stood, as all Jews did, at Sinai.


Several circumstances brought me to the point of writing this book.


First, Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, a group of biblical scholars, brought interest in biblical scholarship and critical reading of the New Testament to the interested non-scholar.


Then Rabbi Dr. Michael Cook by his book Modern Jews Engage the New Testament: Enhancing Jewish Well-being in a Christian Environment encouraged Jews to .engage the New Testament..


Third, in his commentary Galatians and Romans, Catholic scholar Dr. John J. Pilch encourages new efforts to understand the Jewish evaluation of and response to Jesus.


While reading Matthew 23:1-3 and 28:19 I heard, as though for the first time, the voice of Jewish disciples who proselytized Gentiles to Pharisee Judaism. I recalled from many years ago the remark by a Pastor that Christianity today was .Gentile Christianity.. If Christianity was .Gentile,. what about these verses? It was time to reread the Greek Scriptures and listen for this distinct Jewish voice.


As a variation of a popular saying, .When you change the way you listen, the things you hear change..


Yvonne Neese Stewart

Bellevue, Washington.June 12, 2009




From the Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 23, verse 23.


Mt 23:23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.




In the Gospel of Matthew, at the beginning of Chapter 23, Jesus told his disciples to practice and observe what the Pharisees teach, but not to emulate what they do.


Verse Matthew 23:23 gives one example of the criticism Jesus has of the Pharisees. The Pharisees tithe in accordance with the Torah requirements for Israel, but Jesus says they neglect other, even more important, Torah matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness.


Does Jesus say that the tithing of mint and dill and cumin are inconsequential and even unnecessary? Does he say that laws relating to tithing of mint and dill and cumin are abolished? Although justice, mercy and faithfulness are characterized as .weightier matters. by Jesus, he shows no partiality as to the practice of justice, mercy and faithfulness vis--vis the tithing of mint and dill and cumin. Rather, Jesus says that tithing of mint and dill and cumin should be practiced, and justice, mercy and faithfulness should be practiced, too. The word to the Pharisee is continue to do what you are doing, but don.t neglect what you have been neglecting.


In order to clarify the meaning of verse 23, companion verse 24 gives a memorable analogy.


Mt 23:24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!


Both the gnat and the camel are unclean animals, neither are kosher or fit for Jews to eat. Verse 24 ridicules a Jew who would be careful not to eat a tiny non-kosher gnat, but would eat a huge non-kosher camel. Jesus does not advocate that a Jew eat the gnat, he is rather criticizing a Jew who would be careful not to offend the law in a tiny way but would commit a huge offense. The point of verses 23 and 24 is that none of Torah should be neglected, neither simple and seemingly small matters nor weightier moral matters.


When Luke wrote his Gospel near the end of the first century AD/CE, he also included a version of the message of Matthew 23:23.


Lk 11:42 "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.


Both Matthew and Luke may have memorialized a message preserved from the tradition of those Jewish disciples who believed that all disciples should be Jewish and Torah-observant. These disciples understood that the weightier matters of Torah should not be neglected and, by preserving this verse, they also showed a concern that the .less weighty. matters of the Torah not become neglected matters. These Jewish disciples, faithful to Torah as Pharisees themselves, preserved what they remembered Jesus taught, or what they believed Jesus could have/would have/should have taught, about observing Torah. 


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