Teachings of Akiva (Part 1)

This week in my Tuesday night class, The Jewish Context of the Bible, we continued to look at famous rabbis.  This week was Akiva (45 AD – 132 AD), perhaps my favorite rabbi of all time right under Jesus and Paul (though Akiva gives Paul a run for his money – not kidding!).  You can find the audio on the website of Prestoncrest Church of Christ, or on my Audio Lessons page.

One reason I like Akiva so much is that his teachings were brilliant on their own.  The other rabbis we have studied so far have been brilliant, but Jesus seems to have a similar saying to match all of theirs.  Akiva, on the other hand, has several that sound like they could have been right from Jesus’ mouth, but I could not find a comparable saying.  So in this post I’m going to go over two of them that go together.

One of Akiva’s greatest teachings was on free will.  This rabbi was insistent on free will because both Jews and Christians were beginning to believe in concepts that would eventually lead to the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin.  The idea that Akiva fought so hard against is thus: all men are born depraved sinners and so when you sin, it’s because you were born that way.  Akiva said that was not the case, and that if you sinned, it’s your fault.  Of course he, like other Jews, believed in Satan (the great accuser), but he did not let even that dissuade him from his beliefs.  Simply put, if Satan tempted you to sin, you still chose to sin.  But Akiva’s ideas on free will continued to develop further along into how God deals with Humanity.

A giant misconception about Judaism that most Christians have is that the Jews think they need to work their way to heaven.  That is not at all true.  Judaism has always been a “saved by God’s grace” religion.  For them, keeping the law doesn’t earn them a spot in Olam Ha-Ba (the world to come), but rather the covenant God made with Abraham does.  It’s always been because of God and his grace.

“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7, NIV)

However, just because God promised something to Abraham doesn’t mean that a Jew is off the hook.  According to their own theology, their response to God should be to keep all of his commands in the Torah.  That attitude is (should be) the exact same as Christians.  God’s grace through Jesus has set me free from sin, and now in response I will live my life for Him.  I have the free will to give my life (my time and actions) to God.  On the final Judgment Day, when you look back on your life, you will look back on what you chose to do.  And thus, we come to this saying of Akiva’s:

“The world is judged by grace, yet all is according to the excess of works that be good or evil.” (Mishnah, Avot 3:16)

There’s not really anything I can say better than Akiva on this matter.  But I found a saying in the very next verse of the Mishnah that expounds on it (in my opinion).  Akiva says:

“The store is open, the storekeeper gives credit, the account book is open, and the hand is writing.  Whoever wants to borrow may come and borrow. But the collectors go around every day and exact payment from man with their consent or without their consent. And they have grounds for what they do. And the judgment is a true judgment.” (Avot 3:17)

Every thing you do is written down in the books, Akiva says, and when you sin it’s like borrowing from God.  Most Christians are familiar with this concept, we call it “debt”.  We sing songs like “He Paid a Debt” and we thank God for forgiving us of our debts as we forgive our debtors.  But praise be to God that when the collectors come, the Messiah has already paid our debts, even though we willfully chose to “borrow” that “credit” (aka: sin)!

If you are a Christian, then I have this question for you: now that the Messiah has paid your debts, what will be your response?  Will you slack off and sink into mediocrity?  Or will you become consumed by a passion for the Living God?  The store is open, and the hand is writing.  What will the storekeeper write down about you?

Peace to you,



4 thoughts on “Teachings of Akiva (Part 1)

  1. I wish to express my appreciation for a delightful class. My daughter and I have spent many hours discussing the topics. One comment. Some may think that the books of Matthew, Mark, and perhaps some of the other Gospels were originally written in Hebrew and then translated into Greek.
    My daughter asked me what I thought about that after one of the classes. I remember in both undergraduate and graduate school in our Greek and Hebrew classes this question would arise. At the time I did not have an opinion.
    But lately I have given much consideration to it and have this observation. There are no remains of the New Testament that have been passed down from the early centuries, in Hebrew, none. Thousands in Greek, some in Latin, Coptic, Sahidic, Ethiopic, Arabic and other languages but none in Hebrew.
    Not in whole or in part. I therefore have reached the conclusion that God did not want the New Testament passed down in Hebrew since He went to great lengths to see that it did not happen.
    Jesus in Revelation closes that book and the century with the statement that He was the Alpha and the Omega. There is no doubt about what language He was speaking when He made that statement.
    I have a great respect for the Jews. My father was an orthodox Jew. Much of what we see through the eyes of Rabbi Jesus enlightens and I would see as positive. Yet in the end God chose the Greek language as a medium for the Gospel. The many Hebraic idioms testify to the language and background of the writer not to the original nature of the documents. Translating the Bible into Hebrew may enlighten but does not prove the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew.

  2. Dr. Stettheimer,

    I’m glad you have taken the time to think this issue through, and I am glad that you see the enlightening that understanding the idioms of Hebrew in the New Testament is important. And I want to make this clear now, I don’t think that it matters either way. You have given facts that cannot be disputed because counter evidence has not been found. Because of some of the poor Greek in the gospel (it works pretty when you translate to Hebrew), we can infer that, at the very least, the Gospel was being recounted by a Jew to a scribe, or that they were working from an earlier record of Jesus’s life that someone had written. But like I said, it’s inferrence. Not fact or even provable. It is indeed safe to assume that the Gospels were originally written in Greek, but Hebraic understanding is essential either way.

    On your claim that no Hebrew manuscripts exist, that is wrong. A Hebrew text of Matthew was discovered. I’ll post a wiki link for you to check it out.




    • The same site you provided tells that the Hebrew text of Matthew was taken from a Greek text which makes it only a translation.

      “However the surviving citations from Jewish-Christian Gospels (namely Gospel of the Nazarenes, Gospel of the Ebionites and Gospel of the Hebrews) preserved in the writings of Jerome, Epiphanius and others, lead critical scholars to conclude that those Gospels themselves either were Greek or were translated from Greek Matthew.[17] In fact, most scholars consider that the medieval Hebrew manuscripts were descended (by translation) from medieval Greek or Latin manuscripts, and therefore that it is extremely unlikely that any of the unique readings found in these medieval Hebrew manuscripts could be ancient. [18]”

  3. Bear with me, I’m trying to find truth in this area of original sin. Perhaps you’d be willing to give me some insight? Is man not born with a sinful nature? Where is the scripture to say that we are born in relationship with G-d(which is the only way to achieve a state of purity or righteousness). The Word does say that the heart of man (as in mankind) is exceedingly wicked. When does the heart of man become wicked? Mankind must have a sinful nature from the birth, it seems.

    We are born with a spirit, a flesh and a soul. What condition does the Word of G-d say that our spirits are in at spirit at birth & how did iit come to be in that state? Romans 10 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

    Jn 3 18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

    At birth, no decision has been to enter into covenant with Yeshua and without Him, there is no life in our spirit. At birth we are spirits without Mashiach Yeshua, in a state of spiritual death without Him, no?

    Without His Spirit in us, our three part being is in a state of death, no? Was it not dead at birth? If that is not the case then people are born righteous. Since we know that there is no righteousness apart from Him, we must assume people are born in a covenant relationship with Yeshua at birth and somehow we drift away as we mature? This could not be as entering into covenant with G-d must be a decision made of the free will, not something you’re born into and there is no righteousness apart from Him. The world in fact was condemned. Jn 3 18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

    How can we say that we are born in a state of righteousness (being right with G-d) when we know that there is no righteousness apart from Yeshua? Though I believe that babies and the mentally ill to some extent are seen as innocent in G-d’s eyes becasue they aren’t capable of making decisions as a healthy person, I believe that once a person is capable of deciding to accept of reject Mashiach, then they are held accountable for their state of unrighteousness from birth. I do not see how it can be that we are born free from condemnation as we aren’t yet in covenant with G-d. Apart from being in covenant we are not sin free, but condemned, are we not?
    Please give me your thoughts.

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