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A Foreword to Kabbalah Study for Christians

A Cautionary Foreword

Seeking Wisdom and Using Discernment

Should we Study Kabbalah?

You might be surprised to learn that Jewish tradition regards the idea of "Torah" to include not just the written words of Moses (i.e., the written Torah) or even the words of the sages codified in the the Talmud (i.e., the oral Torah), but also to a "hidden revelation" (Torat Ha-Nistar) that was eventually codified in the Zohar, a mystical commentary on the contents of the written Torah.  Collectively understood, the dialog and history regarding mystical thinking within Jewish tradition may be called "Kabbalah," a term that means "that which is received" in terms of hidden or secret teachings of Torah.

It should be noted that the serious Kabbalah study (as opposed to New Age or popularized versions) is closely connected to traditional Jewish texts, teachings, and theology -- and is incomprehensible without them. It's been said that attempting to understand Kabbalah without first understanding Torah, Talmud, Midrash, minhagim (customs), etc., is like trying to fathom quantum mechanics without first mastering high school physics.

Now while that may be true regarding more recent conversations about Kabbalah, and despite the claim by many of its practitioners that the "hidden Torah" traces back to the patriarch Abraham (and even to Adam in the Garden of Eden), it is generally known that Kabbalah is essentially a Jewish form of Neoplatonic philosophy, that is, an attempt to synthesize Hellenism (i.e., the Greek thinking of Plato and Aristotle) and Gnosticism with Judeo-Christian revelation. The truth of this statement will be vindicated in further articles on this site.

Neoplatonism and Kabbalah
 


For many Christians, Kabbalah is considered dangerous, though it should immediately be pointed out that there are different kinds of Kabbalah, some of which are decidedly occultic (e.g., so-called "hermetic Kabbalah"), while others closely resemble the speculations and discussions of Christian theology. To say that all Kabbalah is dangerous (or deceptive) is therefore a bit misleading, though a case can be made that some of it is spiritually distracting, especially in light of the teaching of the Mashiach Yeshua. Of course, as any seminary student knows, the same might be said about the work of various Christian theologians as well.


The Popular Rise of Kabbalah


 

The study of Kabbalah has become nearly "mainstream" these days. Go to any major book store and take a look through the Judaism section. There you're likely to see a number of books, tapes, and DVDs offering to guide you into the "mystical side" of Jewish spirituality. Several Hollywood stars openly promote its teachings, and various TV stations run specials on the subject. Indeed, the fastest growing movement in Judaism is Chabad-Lubavitch, which is Kabbalistic in its approach.

Perhaps part of the reason for the explosive popularity of Kabbalah has to do with the stress and anxiety of our age. Indeed, we are living in a perilous time when "men's hearts fail them for fear..." Like the ancient Epicureans who sought tranquility and freedom from fear through philosophical speculation (ataraxia), many people today are looking for a way to cope with their unhappiness, angst, and inner pain.... Kabbalah therefore offers a way to escape from seemingly pointless suffering by claiming that we all can reconnect with "God, the universe, and everything."

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Because of its growing influence, I decided to begin writing some articles on this site exploring the subject of Kabbalah -- both for "apologetical" purposes and because understanding it may add insight into our own faith. Kabbalah might initially seem "strange" to you if you are not in the habit of asking questions about ultimate reality, but don't let that put you off.  Using godly discernment, Kabbalah's alternative perspectives can cause you to think hard about your faith and even to refine your understanding of the Messiah. Like other philosophies, Kabbalah asks questions about the nature of God, the origin of the universe, the meaning of life, the goal of history, and so on. In fact, many of Kabbalah's questions and doctrines were a regular part of the dialogs found in Medieval Christian theology.... And even today various Christian theological systems attempt to explain the origin, purpose, and goal of creation.

For example, some Christian theologians refer to a "secret agreement" made within the Godhead before the creation of the world that God the Father would send His Son to become the suffering Redeemer of an alienated humanity, and that the Holy Spirit would be the agent of restoration in the fallen world...  Within the very nature of the Christian Trinitarianism, in other words, there is the idea of creation, of redeeming a "fallen" humanity, and of restoring all things back to final unity when God would ultimately be "all-in-all"...  This attempt to provide an overarching narrative to the universe and its purpose is not unlike some of the philosophical theology of Kabbalah.

For the Christian, an unqualified expression of Kabbalah is not an option of faith. All of creation begins and ends with the Person and work of Yeshua our Messiah, who is the First and Last...

Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that Kabbalah is usually expressed as a part of Jewish culture, and therefore implies (among other things) that the blood atonement of the Messiah is unnecessary for salvation. Consequently for the Christian, an unqualified expression of Kabbalah is not an option of faith.  All of creation begins and ends with the Person and work of Yeshua our Messiah, who is the First and Last... Of course there have been a few Christian Kabbalists in history, but like other Christian mystics, their ideas have never been well-received within mainstream Christianity.

Understanding Kabbalah is important for a number of reasons, but particularly because it is the main form of spirituality among most Jews today. If you go to Israel, for example, nearly everyone there will be familiar with basic kabbalistic approaches to theological questions and Torah interpretations, so learning about this subject can help you share your faith in Yeshua more effectively.... Nonetheless, we must be careful to use discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit to "test the spirits" (1 John 4:1) -- and that especially pertains to those who purport to teach Kabbalah or the "philosophy of God."  Satan is a deceiver who can disguise himself as an "angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:4). God has chosen not to reveal all of His secrets to us in the pages of Scripture, and there is therefore much that will remain a mystery. "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever" (Deut. 29:29).  Meanwhile, if we ask the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) - Yeshua our LORD - to give us the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that we need to truly love and serve God, He will surely answer our prayer....


Was Jesus a Kabbalist?


Was Jesus a Kabbalist? Certainly not in the modern sense of the word. First of all, He neither taught a detailed metaphysical system nor explained the details of heaven (much less did He explain the supposed "three higher worlds" above our own to his followers).  He never taught that God's hidden essence was revealed through ten sefirot (attributes) and that human nature was "parallel" to the sefirotic structure of the universe. Though He taught the fall of man and preached teshuvah (repentance), He never taught that people were "shattered vessels" that needed to be reabsorbed into a World Soul called "Adam Kadmon." Yeshua never taught the preexistence of the soul nor reincarnation, just as he never taught pantheism, i.e., that all that exists (including evil) is ultimately God.  He never taught that man could ascend to God through speculative or mystical means, or that the soul has a direct link with God... And Yeshua certainly never taught that human beings have power to influence God or to "affect His disposition" by performing various rituals. Yeshua was apocalyptic in his eschatology and never taught the idea of tikkun olam (repair of the world) through self-effort.  He rather taught that He alone was the Savior of the world (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם) -- that salvation, life, and the ultimate healing of the world would come solely through Him...

All that said, it is certainly true that Yeshua was a mystic who taught in parables and used metaphors to convey spiritual truth. He said, for example, that he was "the Door," the "Bread of Life," the "Living Water," the "Good Shepherd," the "Light of the World," and so on.  None of these descriptions were intended to be taken literally, of course, and his followers were expected to use analogical reasoning to see the higher truth in His words (Matt. 15:15-20; 16:5-9). "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Likewise His many parables were intended to be mystifying to those who were not sincere in their passion: "This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matt. 13:13). Yeshua said that the "Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21) and was fully conscious of God at all times: "I am the Father are one" (John 10:30).
 

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