Jewish New Testament
A Review of David Stern's Commentary
JEWISH NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
by David H. Stern
Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc.,
P.O.Box 615, Clarksville, Maryland 21029, USA. Tel.(410)764-6144
ISBN 965-395-008-1, 4th edition 1995, 932pp, Hard Cover
The Jewish New Testament Commentary is the parallel commentary to the Jewish New Testament (ISBN 965-395-006-5, 1989). For anyone who really wants to get to the Hebrew roots of the New Testament and to the early Christian Church both these books are indispensable. As such, then, they are an invaluable resource both historically, culturally, and theologically.
One of the most exciting experiences for me personally as I have read through the Commentary is seeing how the revelations given to the New Covenant Church on such matters as salvation, holiness, justification, and other key doctrines have been confirmed one by one by the scholarly work of David Stern, who is a Messianic Jew (Jewish Christian) living in Jerusalem, Israel.
The most important doctrinal contribution of these books is the way in which they shed light on Torah (Law) observance in the New Covenant, a doctrine which has been almost totally lost to evangelical Christianity because of its gentile biases. They provide a vital link or bridge connecting the Old Testament Church to the New Testament by demonstrating that there is not such a great gulf between the two as gentile Christianity, in its eagerness to distance itself from "Judaism", has maintained and sought todo over the centuries.
The appearance of these two books is, I believe, providential not just for the New Covenant Church of God but for the whole of Bible-believing Christendom which is subconsciously trying to re-establish its links to its Israeli past through, amongst other things, supporting the modern State of Israel. The great need of Christianity goes beyond supporting a secular state however; its need is to return to its Hebrew roots and spirit.
One of the most delightful personal experiences for me reading these books has been my ability, for the first time, to relive the atmosphere of the early Gospel and to feel comfortably at home therein.
The author freely admits that he has cosmetically changed the New Testament by inserting Hebrew words in place of the better known Anglicised version (e.g. Yeshua for Jesus, Tanakh for Old Testament, Sha'ul for Paul, etc.) which I believe he is perfectly entitled to do even if at time it seems as though one is drowning in unfamiliar Jewish terms. It is the nearest a gentile layman can come to experiencing the original Jewish environment without having to learn Hebrew. I like to look upon our "traditional" Bibles (like the KJV) as being like a foreign language film which has been dubbed; Stern's JNT is like hearing a film in its original language with English sub-titles. I always prefer the latter. French films, for example, dubbed with English voices, totally lose the atmosphere of the original, as I learned when I once watched a Chinese made film which included a scene from the Houses of Parliament in London with Albanian actors speaking in Chinese. It simply wasn't real to life.
And that's what I feel about "gentile" versions of the Bible now having read the JNT -- they aren't "real to life" -- I can almost see British or American actors in Jerusalem or Nazareth.
My main criticism of the Commentary is that it acknowledges the authority of the pre-Christian (and sometimes post-Christian) Jewish rabbis in doctrinal pronouncements not commented on by Jesus or the apostles when these halakhah may not be correct. The Messianic Jewish Movement is an attempt to plant Christianity into a Jewish cultural environment. That is all right as far as it goes but runs contrary to New Covenant Christian expectations of a single, universal Christian culture and faith for the Millennium. Stern and his followers take the essentially traditional Christian view that Christianity should not only adapt itself to indigenous cultures but that this will always be the ideal. Therefore, he maintains, let Messianic Jews live as Christian Jews, let English Christians live as Englishmen, let African Christians live as Africans. For Christianity as a whole, we have no quarrel with that; but for us, who wish to create an alternative trans-tribal/linguistic/national culture, this is not an option. We must remember that Messianic Judaism embraces a wide spectrum of belief and practice such as we already find in Protestant Christianity, for example, and he is trying to appeal to all groups.
What I particularly like about the Commentary is that it is rarely dogmatic -- it presents all the different ways in which difficult texts have been interpreted in the past and then cautiously suggests which might be the "most correct". The Commentary thus stimulates the reader to serious, prayerful thought. I have been enormously blessed by this and have had my mind expanded in all sorts of new areas of doctrine and practice. Indeed I believe our successors will find that both of Stern's books have had an important impact on the development of the New Covenant Church of God.
These books are as a breath of fresh air. They are most welcome and urgently needed. All Christians ought to read them.
This page was created on 5 February 1999
Last updated on 5 February 1999
Copyright © 1987-2007 NCCG - All Rights Reserved