Last weekend, Methodist Pastor Keith Johnson held a three-day Bible conference in Charlotte, North Carolina with a lofty goal: to teach Christians how to learn the Bible in Hebrew. The pastor enlisted the help of a rabbi named after his grandfather, the man who restored the Hebrew language to the Jewish people.
The roots of the conference, called Return to the Book, began in 2002, when Pastor Johnson established the Biblical Foundations Academy to inspire people around the world to build a Biblical foundation for their faith. He began to teach in a way few pastors do: in Hebrew.
“Biblical faith has to be based on the Book,” Pastor Johnson explained to Breaking Israel News. “Christianity offered the little book and the big book. The little book, the New Testament, spoke all about the big book: the Torah, Prophets, and writings. But we didn’t really learn it. Too many Christians think the New Testament is all there is, and that the Torah is good for stories.
“The reason the Church is in crisis today is because they left the book. Through the translation, the Septuagint, we’ve missed the blessing of the book. The Torah has guided so many people for thousands of years. Any tradition that is not based on this will not last.”
As preparation for establishing the academy, he traveled to Israel, bringing along an empty suitcase with the intention of returning with a Torah scroll. He succeeded in his mission and now learns directly from the parchment scrolls.
“The Torah was written by the finger of God so the blessing is there,” Pastor Johnson said. “You can see this in the way the Jewish people treat the scroll. It is holy, and they treat the scrolls accordingly.”
On the cloth covering of the pastor’s Torah is a verse from Isaiah.
The pastor took the verse to heart. When he sought out a Hebrew teacher in order to fully access the blessing, he went to the source: a rabbi born in Jerusalem with a powerful connection to the Hebrew language. Rabbi Eliezer Ben Yehudah, who lectured at the recent conference, was named for his grandfather, who worked to revive Hebrew as a modern language for the fledgling state of Israel one hundred years ago.
Rabbi Eliezer Ben Yehudah became the rabbi of an Orthodox congregation in 1967, but very quickly found himself teaching as much Torah to non-Jews as to Jews. He believes this is a Biblical imperative that is necessary to bring the Messiah, citing Psalms to prove his point.
Our mouths shall be filled with laughter, our tongues, with songs of joy. Then shall they say among the nations, “Hashem has done great things for them!” Psalms 126:2
“God gave the Torah to the Jews, but it is only when the nations use it to praise Hashem that the Moshiach (Messiah) will come,” the rabbi said. “It is nothing less than a fulfillment of prophecy. All the rabbis who are not teaching non-Jews are delaying the Moshiach. Nowhere in the Torah does it say that it is forbidden to teach the stranger in our midst.”
When he first sits down to teach Torah to Christians, he begins with a short lesson in Hebrew.
“The word Torah comes from the same root as the words harah (pregnant) and horeh (parent),” Rabbi Ben Yehudah told Breaking Israel News. “God was pregnant with Torah and he wanted to give it to Israel. It is the fruit of his love, and he wanted to teach us to love, so he gave us the Torah. That is what I learned from my grandfather.”
Rabbi Ben Yehudah explained what this means in depth for interfaith relations and for Bible study.
“Christians think that Torah means ‘the law’,” Rabbi Ben Yehudah said. “[The word] Torah literally means teaching. It is the teaching of a benevolent father, not from a wrathful God. Christians think that Judaism is the religion of law and Christianity is the religion of love. But Jesus was a Jew, and there is nothing that comes from Jesus that didn’t come from the Torah.”
Pastor Johnson is in the process of putting the conference on video and making it available to the public.