The Hebrew Mind
The Western Mind
"Hebraism and Hellenism – between these two points of influence moves our world."
William Barrett, Irrational Man
By Brian Knowles
The Bible, in its original languages, is, humanly speaking, a product of the Hebrew mind. The first and original manifestation of what we now call "The Church" was also an expression of the Hebrew mind. At some point in ecclesiastical history, someone snatched away the inceptive Hebraic blueprint by which Jesus’ movement was being constructed and replaced it with a non-Hebraic one. As a result, what has been built since is at best a caricature of what was intended. In many respects, it is downright contrary and antagonistic to the spirit of the original believing community.
The Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, appears, in our time, to be returning his people to the original blueprint. The Hebrew Roots movement, led I believe by the Holy Spirit, is doing much to restore to the Body a sense of its first foundations. In this research paper, we will analyze some of the fundamental differences in the mindset of the Hebrews of Biblical times, and the Western, Hellenistic way of thinking, out of which has emerged the bulk of Christian theology.
Doing vs. Knowing
William Barrett, quoted above, explains that one of the most fundamental differences between the Western, Hellenistic mind and the Hebrew mind is found in the area of knowing vs. doing. Says Barrett, "The distinction…arises from the difference between doing and knowing. The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, right thinking that of the Greek. Duty and strictness of conscience are the paramount things in life for the Hebrew; for the Greek, the spontaneous and luminous play of the intelligence. The Hebrew thus extols the moral virtues as the substance and meaning of life; the Greek subordinates them to the intellectual virtues…the contrast is between practice and theory, between the moral man and the theoretical or intellectual man." This helps explain why so many Christian churches are focused on the issues of doctrinal orthodoxy (however they may define it) -- often at the expense of godly living. In many Christian circles, what one believes or espouses is treated as more important than how one lives – i.e. how one treats his or her neighbor.
In Biblical Judaism, it is precisely the opposite. Christians are inclined to subject each other to litmus tests of orthodoxy, while Jews are concerned mainly with behavior. As Dennis Prager writes, "…belief in God and acting ethically must be inextricably linked…God demands right behavior more than anything else, including right ritual and right belief." It was gentile Christians, influenced by Greek philosophy, who both intellectualized and systematized Christian doctrine. Worse, they radically changed much of it. The Biblical Hebrews, and the Apostolic Era of the Church, had no formal theology as such. Nothing was systematized. The believing community had no entrenched hierarchy or magisterium through which all doctrine had to be filtered and approved. As with the unbelieving Jews, opinions varied from sage to sage.
What the apostles taught about any given subject was either learned directly from Jesus, then passed on, or determined situationally -- on an "as you go" basis. They determined Halakha for believers in much the same way the sages of Israel did – as circumstances changed they rendered decisions about the application of Torah (cf. Matthew 18:18). Acts 15 provides an account of how at least one teaching concerning requirements for gentile believers was formed around 50 AD. Note the participatory nature of the discussion. The whole of the Church (Acts 15:4,12,22), not just an elite hierarchy, was involved. In fundamentalist Christian circles, it is often more important to believe and espouse "the right thing," than to live the right way. This is why we are so obsessed...
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