How reading these verses with a Jewish perspective completely changed their meaning for me

by Maggie Swofford, Marketing and Editorial Assistant

This week, as I was reading through Matthew 8-15 in The Complete Jewish Study Bible for our Bible book club of Matthew (sign up HERE, if you haven’t already!), I stumbled across a passage and corresponding note that really surprised me and changed my view of these verses. The verses were Matthew 8:21-22, when a man pleads with Jesus, “Sir, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus replies, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Preconceptions and Misconceptions

It’s amazing how one small detail can really change the meaning of a passage of the Bible. Whenever I read Matthew 8:21 in the past, I was always shocked but humbled by Jesus’ instruction to not bury his father before leaving home. The man’s request seems so simple, so deserved, to merely dig a hole and bury his father in it. I was struck by Jesus’ firm perspective. I found it convicting because it showed how Jesus was supposed to be our first priority, that we should put everything aside to follow Christ.

But when I read this verse in The Complete Jewish Study Bible, I was introduced to a slightly new way of looking at it. There’s a footnote under the text that explains, “This does not mean that this would-be talmid [disciple] is traveling with Yeshua while his father’s corpse is waiting at home, stinking in the sun. the-father-is-not-dead-yet-the-son-wishes-to-go-home-and-live-comfortably-until-his-father-dies-in-the-future-1The father is not dead yet. The son wishes to go home and live comfortably until his father dies in the future.” At first it seemed that the man was trying to respect his father by burying him before following Christ, but, as the note on the verse explained, the man’s situation was actually a testament to how inclined most of us are to comfort.

The larger article on Matthew 8:21-22 goes into more detail on the traditional Jewish customs for burial, explaining that there are many traditions which require both days of preparation as well as weeks, and even months, of specific stages of burial. Because of how long this process takes “Yeshua knew that this talmid would be out of ministry for quite some time,” especially considering that the father hadn’t even died yet! “This seemingly piercing rebuke of Yeshua was not aimed at this disciple’s desire to care for his father, but toward the delay that would be caused,” taking the disciple away from the more important task of proclaiming the gospel and following the Son of God.

The Unrelenting Jaws of Comfort

To be honest, I’m terrified of Jesus revealing the aspects of my life that need to change, calling me to alter or leave behind parts of myself that I have grown accustomed to and feel like define me. In the same way that the man didn’t want to give up the religious traditions of burial that had been engrained in his life, so the thought of giving up parts of my life that have become rituals in their own way makes me hesitant. The idea that God could call out what makes up my “normal” and ask me to change or leave it behind scares me. What if I go through so much trouble and pain to change a part of myself only to feel emptier or more alone and misunderstood?

It seems selfish, but really I’m just protective of myself. When something is taken away from me and disturbs my carefully constructed personhood and life, it is very jarring and sometimes life-altering. How can I give up all that seemingly makes me me (which is naturally comfortable in its familiarity), for a mysterious path that I have no map for?

To clarify, this call out of comfort isn’t always necessarily literal. More often than not, God calls us to change the orientation of our hearts and minds, rather than our physical location. Jesus doesn’t ask us to simply give things up with no rhyme or reason, in order to embark on a mysterious path with no map. Yes, he calls us to drop our nets and follow him, but often it’s right where we are! We don’t have to go somewhere else and become someone new to follow Jesus. We live out the gospel by following him right where we are, in our everyday lives. While he certainly surprises some of us with callings as missionaries or leaders, for many of us Jesus’ nudging looks more like a brightening of the darkened spots of our hearts or a call to open up a part of ourselves that we had closed from Christ.

do-i-too-seek-to-put-off-following-christ-in-my-daily-lifeThis new insight into the passage that brings light to Jewish customs really strikes me deep and makes me wonder: Do I, too, seek to put off following Christ in my daily life, pursuing my needs above others and His?

Christ’s Deep Understanding

Even though my answer is likely affirmative, I have to remind myself that Jesus understands. He felt the comfort of living in heaven. He felt the sting of a worldly life full of rejection, isolation, and betrayal. I think Jesus understood that it costs us a lot to follow the footsteps of this perfect human and perfect God. But we can try. And God will make up the difference. In fact, God already made up the difference with Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Along with that, I believe, when it comes down to it, that while it is inevitable for me to feel the burns of a life turned toward Christ, God will soothe my pain as best he can. When I go through the process to eliminate what was once comfortable and normal, but was also potentially harmful to myself, God won’t ever leave me feeling lonely or emptier than I was before. The Lord will always, always lay down the roots for a hopeful future. After all, what lies before us is an eternal reunion with God, empty of all pain and sin. He is a faithful God, and will rush into the newly cleaned and empty spaces of my life and fill them with his light, love, and comfort. While what was there before was comfortable merely because of its familiarity, now I am filled with a real and holy comfort, placed there by God himself.

How I Reconciled with My Humanity and Began to Follow

Most days I don’t want to step out of my comfort zone to do something unknown or that seems unpleasant for God’s sake. Yet that is what Jesus is calling me and you to. He wants us to give up our familiar patterns of life to follow him. For us to be faithful servants, we need to sacrifice our whole lives.

in-my-well-meaning-heart-i-genuinely-believe-that-even-the-smallest-bits-of-change-i-can-implement-will-truly-affect-us-and-help-me-on-the-journey-to-complete-trust-and-obedience-of-the-lordIn my well-meaning heart, I genuinely believe that even the smallest bits of change I can implement will truly affect us and help me on the journey to complete trust and obedience of the Lord’s call. Be it giving up a visit to Dunkin Donuts so I can give that money to charity, going the extra mile at work by putting in more effort and a positive attitude than usual, sending a little extra love to a friend who may be in need with a handwritten note, forgiving someone who really hurt us, or, best of all, releasing control on an area of our lives that we struggle to let God take hold of, those little circumstances where we follow Christ a little more closely are helping us turn down the path away from comfort and toward God.


Free Chapter from The Complete Jewish Study BibleIf you’d like to get in on our little Bible study and receive the book of Matthew from The Complete Jewish Study Bible for free, click this link and sign up! Feel free to read our previous thoughts on Mattityahu as well at this link!

What we’re learning in Matthew 1-7 from The Complete Jewish Study Bible

The Complete Jewish Study Bible FREE EBOOKFor the next four weeks, our office is reading through the book of Matthew (Mattityahu) in The Complete Jewish Study Bible. In case you missed the first post on why we’re doing this, here it is.

Here, we offer a few of our own thoughts and reflections on what we’re learning in our Bible book club.

We’d also love to hear what you’re learning in this reading of Matthew from The Complete Jewish Study Bible. (Don’t have your free copy of Matthew yet? Get it here!) Share with us and others on Twitter and Facebook! Tag us using #CompleteJewishStudyBible or #CJSBible. One lucky person this week will win a free print copy of The Complete Jewish Study Bible.

Reflections on Mattityahu Chapters 1-7

  1. Making new connections between Old and New Testaments

Co-worker #1: I like that the notes point out when Matthew is reusing phrases from the Hebrew Bible, because that means he was alluding to those original contexts. For example, “This is the genealogy of Yeshua the Messiah…” mirrors “These are the generations (eleh toldot) of the heavens and the earth when they were created” from Gen 2:4 (and several other places in Genesis). To me, this signals that the introduction of Jesus’ genealogy carries the same weight of importance as the creation story for Matthew, and indeed the coming of the Messiah does signal a new creation. Because the New Testament is written in Greek, I don’t think I would have made that connection to the phrase from Genesis. That’s a cool parallel!

  1. Immanu El, God with Us

Co-worker #2: In the book of Matthew (or Mattityahu) of the CJSB, there is an interesting article in “The Tabernacle (Mishkan)” series titled “The Tabernacle and the Incarnation: Immanu El, God with Us.” On page 1383 (Matthew 1:23) in the CJSB, we read regarding Yeshua:

Today, in seeking to refute Matthew 1:23, Jewish theologians have sought to discredit the concept of a divine Messiah. However, evidence exists that this was not an uncommon messianic expectation. This is affirmed by modern scholarship…and among ancient Jewish sources such as Midrashei Geula (Midrashim of Redemption), which states, “In the future, the Holy One, blessed be he, will seat Messiah in the supernal Yeshiva [House of Study], and they will call him ‘Lord,’ just as they call the Creator.”

It is for this purpose that John 1:14 says of Yeshua, “The Word became a human being and lived with us.” The word dwelled from the Greek skene derives from the Hebrew Mishkan [Tabernacle], showing that in his incarnation Yeshua made his Tabernacle with his people. Thus through Yeshua, God did dwell with his people.

As we move from the time of Sukkot—the Feast of Tabernacles—into Advent and finally Christmas, let us remember the beauty and joy of what it means to await the Messiah and to find him in Yeshua, who lives and reigns now and always. In Yeshua, God really is with us. READ MORE…

  1. Visual imagery of t’shuvah

Coworker #3: Passage: Matthew 3:2 “Turn from your sins to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”

In one of the footnotes for this verse, we learn the Hebrew word t’shuvah, which means turning, or returning. The Jewish understanding of repentance is that each individual must make t’shuvah, yet such requires God’s grace to be able to do it. In the NIV and KJV translations (I’m using this parallel Bible alongside the CJSB), the word “repent” is used in this verse. But I also love the visual imagery in the Complete Jewish Bible version. It makes it feel like there isn’t as long a bridge to cross—that God is close, and all we have to do is turn to him. I think that word—t’shuvah—helps me understand how God does not want us to delay, but to turn to him and keep moving forward in our journey of faith.

  1. Jesus came to “fulfill” the Torah

Co-worker #4: The notes do a great job of explaining what Jesus was saying about the Torah. Apparently, in the idiom of his day, “abolishing the Torah” meant “misinterpreting the Torah. And when he says he came to “fulfill” the Torah, it means “consummate,” not “terminate.” The note says, “Yeshua is here stating that it is not his intention to teach the Torah incorrectly, but quite the opposite, to affirm its fullness and truth by teaching all of it in a way that is true to its intended meaning.”


Free Chapter from The Complete Jewish Study BibleWhat are you learning? Share with us and others on Twitter and Facebook! Check out @CJSBible or tag us using #CompleteJewishStudyBible or #CJSBible. One lucky person this week will win a free print copy of The Complete Jewish Study Bible!

If you haven’t downloaded your free copy of Matthew yet, get it now!

God with Us: A Beautiful Reminder from The Complete Jewish Study Bible

By Patricia Anders, Editorial Director

As I write this, we are currently in the time (September–October) of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles. It’s something that many Christians may not be aware of (I had never heard of it until I visited Israel in the month of October many years ago). I happen to live near a synagogue, and on my way to church a few weeks ago, I noticed my Jewish neighbors constructing a structure of wooden beams, canvas tarps, and straw. Inside, they placed a large table laden with all kinds of good things to eat. After all, it is a festival—and a joyous one at that, especially as it follows right after the solemn observance of Yom-Kippur (the high holy time of repentance and atonement). The main point of Sukkot is to remind the Jewish people that God dwells with them and that he will always provide for them. How can his people keep from rejoicing! And what a beautiful reminder that God promises this to all his children, to all who call him Lord. He really is with us.

Over the past year or so, I had the honor of helping edit and produce The Complete Jewish Study Bible, which means I spent a lot of time immersed in this interesting and fresh Jewish perspective of the Bible. In my work on the project, I was constantly amazed at how many times Jesus (or Yeshua, as he is called in this Bible) clearly fulfilled the ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah. I was also amazed at the richness of the Hebrew Scriptures and how much I learned from Jewish rabbinic teaching over the centuries.

“The Word Became a Human Being and Lived with Us”

In the book of Matthew (or Mattityahu) of the CJSB, there is an interesting article titled “The Tabernacle and the Incarnation: Immanu El, God with Us.” This article is based on Matthew 1:23, which is an echo of Isaiah 7:14,

“The virgin will conceive and bear a son,
And they will call him ‘Immanu El.’”

On page 1383 (Matthew 1:23) in the CJSB, we read regarding Yeshua:

Today, in seeking to refute Matthew 1:23, Jewish theologians have sought to discredit the concept of a divine Messiah. However, evidence exists that this was not an uncommon messianic expectation. This is affirmed by modern scholarship…and among ancient Jewish sources such as Midrashei Geula (Midrashim of Redemption), which states, “In the future, the Holy One, blessed be he, will seat Messiah in the supernal Yeshiva [House of Study], and they will call him ‘Lord,’ just as they call the Creator.”

It is for this purpose that John 1:14 says of Yeshua, “The Word became a human being and lived with us.” The word dwelled from the Greek skene derives from the Hebrew Mishkan [Tabernacle], showing that in his incarnation Yeshua made his Tabernacle with his people. Thus through Yeshua, God did dwell with his people.

As we move from the time of Sukkot—the Feast of Tabernacles—into Advent and finally Christmas, let us remember the beauty and joy of what it means to await the Messiah and to find him in Yeshua, who lives and reigns now and always. In Yeshua, God really is with us.


Free Chapter from The Complete Jewish Study BibleFor more posts like this one, join our CJSB book club and get a free book of the Bible: Matthew (Mattityahu)! For four weeks blog posts will be put up, highlighting ideas from the reading that stood out to us here at Hendrickson or that we learned from! Sign up to receive the completely free ebook of Mattityahu here!

If you’d like more information about The Complete Jewish Study Bible, watch this video explaining “What is The Complete Jewish Study Bible?”, read this post where the cover designer explains her inspiration, or this blog series on three major Jewish holidays (Yom Kippur, Rosh-HaShanah, and Sukkot)! We also have two reviews of the Bible that will give insight as to its content: Daniel Greegor’s video review and John Kight’s review!

Join our Complete Jewish Study Bible reading club and get a FREE e-book!

Working at a Christian publishing house definitely has its perks. Besides the wonderful feeling that comes with being part of a team that makes books for a living, sometimes certain projects come along that really feel special. The Complete Jewish Study Bible is one of those projects.

What is The Complete Jewish Study Bible?

It’s a study Bible that includes notes and articles alongside the Scriptures to help you understand (or learn about) the inherent Jewishness of the Bible. Personally, I think this is pretty enlightening, considering the fact that Jesus was Jewish. So, might having a deeper understanding of the Bible’s Jewish roots help us as we study his words and actions? I think so.

We’re doing a Bible book club!

Unwilling to let this opportunity slip by, some of us in the office are going to be reading through the book of Matthew in The Complete Jewish Study Bible at the same time. It’s a little Bible book club of sorts. Now, all of us have read the book of Matthew before. Many times. But some of us have never read it with a Jewish perspective in hand.

So I can’t wait to dive in and learn more from the text and from my coworkers. Seriously, in our office we have seminarians, Harvard biblical studies grads, poets, writers, and readers of all stripes; we have folks from little seaside churches and some from big city churches; we’re a beautiful mess of different denominations, ages, and backgrounds, and for the next four weeks we’re diving together into the Bible’s Jewish heritage.

Why Matthew?

Why are we starting with this book? It’s written from a deeply informed Jewish perspective, and therefore it draws heavily on the Hebrew Scriptures and on first-century Jewish customs and thought to portray Yeshua (Jesus) as the promised Messiah. For those of us just getting into this Jewish reading of Scripture, it seems like a good place to start.

Won’t you join us?

I also can’t wait to learn from YOU. Will you join us in reading through Matthew in The Complete Jewish Study Bible? It’s okay if you don’t have a copy yet. We’ll gladly give you the whole book of Matthew for free! Just sign up here and then follow along with us.

Reading The Complete Jewish Study Bible will…

  • Open your eyes to the Bible as never before.
  • Increase your understanding of the biblical text: This study Bible contains notes and articles from Jewish sources to help explain this thoroughly Jewish book.
  • Help you learn some Hebrew: Most of the names and places in this Bible are referred to using the transliteration of the original Hebrew. For example, instead of the Greek translation of Jesus, the CJSB refers to him as Yeshua, the Hebrew name meaning “salvation.” After all, his friends, family, and followers knew him as Yeshua, and since the meanings of Hebrew names were quite significant in their culture, what better name could he have?

Mattityahu in four weeks

Since Matthew—Mattityahu (another Hebrew word for your expanding collection!)—is comprised of 28 chapters, we can conveniently split it up into four sections:

  • First week: Matthew 1–7
  • Second week: Matthew 8–14
  • Third week: Matthew 15–21
  • Fourth week: Matthew 22–28

That’s seven chapters a week. Only one chapter a day!

Free Chapter from The Complete Jewish Study BibleSo join us! Sign up here to download your free e-book of Matthew. And as you read, make sure to share what you learn with us and others on Twitter and Facebook! Tag us using #CompleteJewishStudyBible or #CJSBible. One lucky person this week will win a free print copy of The Complete Jewish Study Bible!