Tag Archives: bilateral

How Will We Live in the Bilateral Messianic Kingdom?

When I started writing this missive, I thought the answer had all to do with the Apostle Paul. By the time I finished, I realized I was dead wrong.

Let me explain.

This issue is compounded by two additional assumptions, based on the New Testament book of Romans – written by Paul whose authority is questionable because he never met Jesus.

-Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
“Know How to Answer Christian Missionaries”

Articles like this make my heart ache because they are based on the assumption that everyone who has received and accepted the revelation that Rav Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah has an understanding of Jesus that’s exactly the same as Evangelical Christian theology and doctrine.

This is not consistent with many Messianic Jews I’ve met, either in person or over the web. In fact, most of those Jews have more in common with people like Rabbi Kravitz than they do with me.

But I’m not writing this to convince any Jewish person (or Gentile Noahide for that matter) of the validity of Yeshua’s identity and role, past, present, or future.

My current investigation has to do with a Gentile establishing and maintaining a relationship with Hashem outside traditional Christianity and Messianic Jewish community. For the former, this is the case because I’m definitely not a good fit for the Church, and for the latter, because I suspect any involvement on my part in either Christianity or the Messianic movement just drives my (non-Messianic) Jewish wife nuts.

Not that it’s her fault. That’s just the way it is. She’d probably get along famously with the above-quoted Rabbi Kravitz and eat up his responses to missionaries with a spoon.

So given my circumstances, and the circumstances of quite a number of “Judaicly aware” non-Jews who for many different reasons can’t or won’t join in a community, we turn back to the Bible and to God as our only resources.

I was trying to find a condensed list of the various directives that Paul issued to his non-Jewish disciples so I could “cut to the chase,” so to speak, but doing that search online is proving difficult. I keep encountering traditional interpretations of Paul as having done away with the Law and having replaced it with grace and so on.

I could turn to more “Messianic” or “Jewish” friendly commentaries, but many or most of them are quite scholarly and beyond my limited intellectual and educational abilities and experience.

I do point the reader to a source I’ve mentioned quite a bit of late, the Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle. This is a collection of articles written by various researchers who are part of the “new perspective on Paul” movement, those who have chosen to reject the traditional interpretation of the apostle and who have taken a fresh look at his life and writings within the context of first century Judaism.

The Jewish PaulYou get a really different opinion of Paul when you take off your Christian blinders (sorry if that sounds a tad harsh).

I did look up Paul at beliefnet.com and they do seem to state that Paul was Jewish, but unfortunately, they take a more or less traditional point of view on what the apostle taught.

They did say that of all the epistles we have recorded in the Apostolic Scriptures, scholars are sure he was actually the author of:

  • 1 Thessalonians
  • Galatians
  • 1 & 2 Corinthians
  • Philippians
  • Philemon
  • Romans

Even limiting my investigation to those letters, I’m still faced with a lot of challenges. Romans alone is worth a book, actually many books, and is so complex I doubt I’d ever do more than scratch the surface of its meaning.

But maybe I don’t have to start from scratch. After all, in the several years I’m maintained this blogspot, I’ve written many times on Paul. Maybe I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps all I have to do is read what I’ve already written.

Searching “Paul” on my own blog renders 33 pages of search results but I need to narrow it down more to what Rav Shaul specifically said about the Gentiles.

Actually, only the first two pages contain blog posts specifically with “Paul” in the title. It gets a little more generalized after that.

The added problem is typically, any time I wrote about Paul and the Gentile, it was usually in relation to or contrasting the role of Messianic Jew and Judaicly aware Gentile. I produced very little, if anything, about Gentiles as Gentiles. After all, I’ve been a champion (minor league, of course) of the cause of Messianic Jews to be considered Jewish and operating within a Judaism, just the same as other observant Jews in various other religious Jewish streams.

Only of late have I found it necessary to advocate for the Gentiles, and more specifically, me. Only recently have I realized that while it’s a good thing to emphasize Judaism for the Messianic Jew, it has some serious drawbacks for the so-called “Messianic Gentile,” not the least of which is resulting in some non-Jewish believers losing their identity because they’re surrounded by all things Jewish, including siddurim, kippot, Torah services, and tallit gadolim.

While I still believe that a significant role of the Judaicly aware Gentile as well as the more “standard” Christian is in support of Israel and the Jewish people, just as Paul required of his Gentile disciples in ancient times, I also believe there has to be something more for us to hang onto.

Or to borrow and adapt a hashtag from recent social media outbursts, #GentileLivesMatter (by the way, using Google image search to look up “goy” or “goyishe” returns some pretty anti-Semitic graphics).

multiculturalI did find a blog post I wrote in January 2014 called The Consequences of Gentile Identity in Messiah, but I’m not sure how useful it is in my current quest, in part because I wrote:

I wrote a number of detailed reviews of the Nanos book The Mystery of Romans including this one that described a sort of mutual dependency Paul characterized between the believing Gentiles and believing and non-believing Jews in Rome.

You can go to the original blog post to click on the links I embedded into that paragraph, but if part of who we non-Jews are is mutually dependent on Jews in Messiah, that leaves me pretty much up the creek without a paddle.

Of course, that’s citing Nanos and his classic commentary The Mystery of Romans, which describes a rather particular and even unique social context, so there may be more than one way to be a Judaicly aware Gentile and relate to God.

The problem then is how to take all this “Judaic awareness” and manage to pull a Gentile identity out of it that doesn’t depend on (Messianic) Jewish community. Actually, I would think this would be as much a priority for Messianic Jews as it is for me, especially when, as I’ve said in the past, in order for Messianic Jewish community to survive let alone thrive, Messianic Jewish community must be by and for Jews.

To put it another way quoting Rabbi Kravitz’s lengthy article:

The growth of Christian support for Israel has created an illusion that we have nothing to worry about because “they are our best friends.”

It would be a mistake to think the risk has been minimized, especially to Jewish students and young adults, just because missionaries are less visible on street corners and offer much appreciated Christian support for Israel.

Granted, R. Kravitz must paint the Church in the role of adversary if he believes that Christians are dedicated to missionizing young Jews so that they’ll abandon Jewish identity and convert to Goyishe Christianity, but we non-Jews in Messianic Jewish community are also sometimes cast as a danger in said-community because our very presence requires some “watering down” of Jewish praxis and Jewish interaction.

I suspect the same was true in Paul’s day and ultimately, it was this dissonance that resulted in a rather ugly divorce between ancient Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah.

Gentiles resolved the conflict by inventing a new religion: Christianity, and they kicked the Jews out of their own party, so to speak, by refactoring everything Jesus and Paul wrote as anti-Torah, anti-Temple, and anti-Judaism.

That does me no good because I don’t believe all that stuff, that is, I’m not an Evangelical Christian. I need an identity that allows for my current perspective, my pro-centrality of Israel and Torah for the Jews perspective, my King Messiah is the King of Israel and will reign over all the nations from Jerusalem in Messianic Days perspective, and still lets me be me, or the “me” I will be in those days, Hashem be willing.

Think about it.

All Jewish people will live in Israel. It will once again be a totally Jewish nation. As far as I can tell, people from the nations will be able to visit as tourists, but by and large, besides a rare exception or two, we will live in our own countries, which in my case is the United States of America…a United States devoid of Jews, synagogues, tallit gadolim, and all that, because they will only exist among the Jews in Israel.

MessiahI don’t know the answer to this one, but I think this is the central question I’m approaching. How will we Gentiles live in our own nations half a world away from Israel and King Yeshua? What will our relationship be to God?

The answer to how we’ll live in the future is the answer to my current puzzle.

As I ponder what I just wrote, I realize that even searching out Paul’s perspective on the Gentiles is a mistake. He was trying to find a way for Jews and Gentiles to co-exist in Jewish community. He never succeeded as far as I can tell. No one has succeeded since then, including in the modern Messianic Jewish movement.

But in the Messianic future, as such, Jews and Gentiles really won’t be co-existing in Jewish communal space. Jewish communal space will be the nation, the physical nation of Israel. We goys will be living every place else except in Israel. Maybe the Kingdom of Heaven will be more “bilateral” than I previously imagined.

Or have I answered my own question?

Flexible Application

creative-torahOne explanation that occurs to me for why the role of non-Jews vis-à-vis Torah lifestyle is so nebulous and undefined is that it was intended to be essentially open and unconstrained. All that Acts 15 offered was a minimum re-iteration of the Noa’hide principles incumbent upon all humans. Other such principles that were not re-iterated were already common practice in “civilized” society, hence there was no need to cite them in the Acts 15 pronouncement. Thereafter, the implicit instruction is Go, Learn, Do, become the most diligent disciples you can become and pursue greatness in the kingdom.

-from personal correspondence of blog contributor ProclaimLiberty

I’ve been maintaining an email dialog with ProclaimLiberty (PL) and have been given some new things to think about. This “extra meditation” follows “Shepherd, Pens, and Flock, Part 1 and Part 2,” and I hope adds some dimension to what I (and PL) have been trying to say about Jews, Christians, and how God and Torah intersects our lives.

As you can see from the quote above, the application of Torah is not severely limited relative to the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah and indeed, the fact that, as PL says, “the role of non-Jews vis-à-vis Torah lifestyle is so nebulous and undefined is that it was intended to be essentially open and unconstrained” potentially opens a large number of doors. In other words, the ambiguity involved in the New Testament writings about how Torah was to be applied halachically to the non-Jewish disciples was likely quite intentional. I realize this is just a matter of opinion, but when it comes down to it, many of the conclusions people arrive at when studying the Bible are colored by their internal biases and by the theology to which they are adhered. We can try very hard to adhere to objective interpretive standards, but we will not be able to completely stop some part of our personalities from being involved.

In presenting PL’s perspectives on the matter, I’m not claiming to offer an unbiased picture of this topic, but rather, one “biased” in a different and hopefully, a more illuminating direction. You’ll have to decide if it adds “grist to the mill.”

[Note that all the actions cited in verses 19 and 20 are of a continual, habitual, ongoing sort; they are not “once for all time” sorts of activities. Therefore verse 20 is not speaking about any sort of state-change from “unsaved” to “saved”, but rather about the moment-by-moment apprehension and appreciation of a perception or recognition that we are already in a relationship with HaShem, that He is our king and that we obey his Torah instructions because they form the structure and inform the content of our relationship. Verse 20 is not a qualifier or prescription for becoming a “believer”, but rather addresses a quality of life for one who is already a “citizen”. Rav Yeshua was not preaching to a crowd of pagans, but rather to a crowd of fellow Jews who were all members of the Covenant and entitled to the benefits that he was clarifying. That is why, shortly before these verses, he had clarified some of the characteristics of the “kingdom of heaven”, reflected in the attitudes and outlook of its people. Evangelical Christians, and non-Jews in general, are far too frequently misled by the viewpoint of an outsider who must be encouraged to enter into even the most cursory and primitive forms of participation in the covenant (i.e., to become “saved”). They assume everyone is in that same state, and misperceive the state of Jews who are already inside the Covenantal framework and fail to understand or appreciate or benefit from it.]

-PL, commentary on Matthew 5:18-20 from correspondence

Here, not only does PL confirm the continued validity of the Torah as a binding expression of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, but the delineation between its application to Jews vs. non-Jews is mentioned as well. Additionally, PL introduces the concept of a continual “state variability” of anyone participating in covenant relationship with God. Jews, the primary audience of Jesus, were already bound to God by covenant (the focus of this week’s Torah portion), as opposed to an unattached group of “pagan Gentiles” (and even Paul didn’t address Gentiles who were pagans rather than God-fearers until Acts 14). And yet we Christians have a tendency to project ourselves back in time and into the narrative as if the current interpretations and theologies of our various “Christianities” were being applied during the Gospel period.

messiah-prayerTo be sure, Jesus as Messiah made a great impact on the Jewish covenant relationship and as the fulfillment of many prophesies (and he will fulfill many more to come), but the Messiah also revolutionized the world when, for the first time, he allowed covenant access of the people of the nations to God without requiring Gentiles to convert to Judaism and become equally yoked to Torah!

But how does it work? The complete answer to that question is beyond the scope of this article, but we can start at the beginning (and remember this is representative of a Jewish perspective on Yeshua as Messiah).

Consider the Mishnah tractate Pirkei Avot 1:1, which presents an injunction to “make many disciples” (as well as to “be deliberate in judgement” and to “make a fence around the Torah”).

“Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua; Yehoshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets transmitted it to the Anshei Knesset HaG’dolah (Members of the Great Assembly). They made three statements (taught three things): Be deliberate (thoughtful; patient; restrained) in judgment; establish many disciples; and construct a boundary (safety fence) around the Torah.”

Compare this with Rav Yeshua’s instruction (that is called by some “the Great Commission”) as it is actually stated in Matt.28:19-20 of the messianic writings.

18 Then [Rav Yeshua] came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, [immersing] them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Verse 19 does not actually include the word “therefore”, but in English it represents a reasonable transition between the statement of verse 18 and the instruction of verse 19. However, the word presented as “go”, or the phrase “therefore go” (i.e., “πορευθέντες”, “poreuthentes”) is not specifically a command, but rather it may be represented as an introduction to the actual command to “make disciples”, saying: “as you pursue your journeying” or “as you arrange your life”, be making many disciples.

Thus we can observe a consistency between Rav Yeshua’s instruction and normative rabbinic expectations.

Consider also that when Rav Yeshua referred to “everything I have commanded you” to obey, he was including the set of fundamental statements he had presented in Matt.5:17-20 that formed a portion of his famous “Sermon on the Mount”. In verse 17 he eliminates any potential misinterpretation about doing away with the Torah (or the Prophetic writings).

-PL, from correspondence

conferenceThis is an interesting and somewhat different take on what we normally call “the great commission,” and does not contain the dramatic “command” language we are accustomed to reading into this portion of scripture. Rather, as PL states, we see a fairly “normal” directive from the Master to his disciples to continue their activities in his name, which includes the process of adding to the body of disciples as would be expected of the other sects of Judaism in that day. In fact, it wasn’t really unusual for other sects of Judaism to make disciples from the Gentiles, but the process would include those Gentile disciples converting to Judaism as part of the process.

I said just yesterday that when Peter had the opportunity to bring the first Gentile disciples into covenant relationship with God through the Master, that he did not perform the necessary action (circumcising the males among the Gentiles) to convert them to Judaism (see Acts 10:44-48). The Gentile disciples did receive the Holy Spirit and were baptized in water, but they remained Gentile disciples.

But what are the implications of Torah application to these new non-Jewish disciples relative to the Jews who were already born in covenant with God? According to PL in the quote that I used to begin this “meditation,” and using Acts 15 as a jumping off point, the more diligent and mature among the Gentile disciples were allowed to accept upon themselves additional mitzvot as they were called. The ambiguity we find in the New Testament in this arena may indicate that how much of the Torah a Gentile could accept was variable and depended upon the individual involved.

Torah then, was not denied the Gentile, and as I’ve said many times before, it is evident that the “early Christians” (in the time of Paul or even later) looked and acted more “Jewish” than Christians do today and this was perfectly acceptable.

Thus there was a leniency offered, in that non-Jews were not required to keep the entire Torah, but were only required to keep four basic humanitarian and anti-idolatry principles (as was incumbent upon all descendents of Noa’h the ark-builder). And yet there was also stated an open expectation that non-Jews would learn Torah by attending commonly-available teaching each shabbat. Thus they could learn at their own pace the precepts that would allow them to progress in their appreciation of the kingdom of heaven.

Another consideration, that may be in view in chapter 5 verse 2, and possibly in chapter 6 verse 12, is that non-Jews who pursue the Torah voluntarily are viewed in Judaism as worthy of merit greater than that of the Torah-observant Jews for whom it is an obligation. This view reflects the praise for the “b’nei nechar” in Isaiah 56 who keep the Shabbat and hold tight to HaShem and His covenant. Hence non-Jews who were influenced to convert would be deprived of their ability to demonstrate such extra merit as a result of their devotion to Rav Yeshua as the Messiah.

Torah was thus incumbent upon Jews but optional (though instructional) for non-Jews, but for both the sacrifice represented in Rav Yeshua was the appropriate covering for sin that opened a door of access to HaShem, either to approach initially or to return after prior disobedience.

-PL, commentary on Acts 15:19-21 and Galatians 5 and 6 from correspondence

two-roads-joinPL unveils before us a sort of “map” where we can see the Gentile disciples beginning at one point on a journey with God through the Messiah. The “starting line” has only a few requirements, but as the non-Jews progress, they are required to study and learn, and allowed to accept whatever Torah lifestyle they are drawn toward. But unlike the Jewish disciples (and all Jews), the specifics of covenant requirements relative to the Torah are not spelled out in full detail with every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed.

A modern messianic rabbi, Dr. Mark Kinzer [in his book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People], describes the situation that Rav Shaul and the Council were advocating as a “bi-lateral ecclesiology”. In other words, the obligations that are incumbent upon Jews are not required of non-Jews, and both groups have valid access to HaShem. Non-Jews are not without obligation altogether, because HaShem has expectations for all the children of Noa’h-the-ark-builder.

-PL, correspondence

Derek Leman on his blog also discussed “bilateralism” recently, and the expected “comment wars” ensued as a result, since it is a rather unpopular term in some sections of Christianity, and evokes unjustified accusations of “racism” by Gentiles of Jews. I can only imagine that PL’s commentary (as well as this blog post) may draw a similar response, but I’m hoping that by my continual presentation of this viewpoint, some readers will begin to see the validity of allowing the Jewish people, including those who count themselves as “Messianic,” to retain their unique covenant status and identity, even as distinct from the uniqueness and love we in the church enjoy in abundance from God through Christ.

As PL pointed out (and Jordan Levy made a similar observation), by Christians attempting to forcibly fuse their (our) identity into the Jewish identity, they (we) are denying themselves (ourselves) the special opportunity to serve God in an exceptionally unique way. Ironically, there may even be some advantage to being a Gentile Christian and accepting some additional Torah mitzvot, on top of our duties to support and uphold the Jewish people and Israel.