God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel, A Book Review

When I first started writing this review, I couldn’t find anything about Toby Janicki’s new book, God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel either on First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ’s) website or through a general Google search. The book hadn’t been released for public sale when I got my advance copy at FFOZ’s recent Shavuot conference, but I didn’t realize it was so new that there was no advance publicity available. I emailed Boaz Michael and he asked me to hold off publishing my review for a few days. As a consequence, this review is a bit different than the one I originally created. Not too different though, and my conclusions are the same.

The question of when the book would become available for purchase was kept as an unexpected announcement for the Shavuot conference. Boaz and Daniel Lancaster wanted to surprise Toby by presenting him with a copy during one of Toby’s presentations. No one, including me, expected to be able to actually get their hands on “God-Fearers” as early as last week. Boaz gave me my personal copy at the conference so I’d be able to write a review soon after I returned home. I had it completely read by the time I had to board my flight at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to return to Boise last Monday night.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I read the book and discovered that it didn’t contain the one piece of content I had anticipated. I think both Toby and Boaz mentioned at the conference that this book would describe Toby’s personal journey from a One Law position to his current theological stance, which I guess we now call (more or less) “divine invitation” (I put that in quotes because when you’re invited but not commanded to take on additional Torah mitzvot beyond what a Christian would consider obligation, the results from one person to the next can be variable). I was really hoping Toby would write what it was like from inside FFOZ as their formal policy and faith structure transitioned into its current form. I was hoping to be able to actually see Toby’s personal journey against the backdrop of FFOZ’s ethical, moral, and spiritual development from what it was originally to what it has become today. At the conference, Toby even shared a story (which I’ll write about in a later “meditation”) about an “epiphany event” in his life that dramatically illustrated for him the dissonance between a Gentile publicly practicing Jewish identity behaviors and how it actually looks to Jewish people. None of that kind of content actually made it into the book.

What did make it into the book is a worthy read, however there is a fair amount of repurposed materials from articles Toby wrote for Messiah Journal (MJ). Since I read MJ regularly, the vast majority of what Toby’s book contained was familiar to me. Of course, if you don’t subscribe to MJ or you want all of this information collected in one place, God-Fearers is definitely for you. The material is also “fleshed out” somewhat so that articles that were only loosely related and published across the span of many months, are integrated into a fairly seemless set of topics focusing on the history and evolution of the presence of Gentiles in the worship of the God of Abraham.

OK, what’s the book about? Toby researches and investigates the history and context of non-Jewish people who, across the long centuries from Sinai to the fall of the Second Temple, have attached themselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but without the benefit of a formal convenant relationship with that God being available (unless you count the Noahide covenant). Toby presents to his audience, a set of pictures of what Gentiles looked like as they became aware of the God of Israel, began to grasp the concept of ethical monotheism as opposed to pagan polytheism (which was universal among the non-Jewish nations throughout the vast majority of our history), and how we non-Jews began to enter, however hesitantly, into the presence of God through the “interface” of normative Judaism.

When Christians think about God-fearers, they tend to think of the Roman Centurion Cornelius in Acts 10, who Jews would tend to call “a righteous Gentile.”

Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” –Acts 10:17-22 (ESV)

Most Christians are familiar with these verses and based on this text, we imagine that God-fearers sprang abruptly into history as fully realized as Cornelius sometime in the late Second Temple period. But Toby shows us that the concept of God-fearers goes way, way back, possibly as early as the time of Moses and the Sinai covenant. His book presents Biblical evidence of God-fearers in the psalms, such as Psalms 115, 118, and 135. He also cites Midrashic references, such as Numbers Rabbah 8:2 and Genesis Rabbah 28:5 to show us that normative Judaism acknowledged the presence of God-fearing Gentiles within their midst across the span of Jewish history.

Conceptualizing the relationship between Gentile God-fearers and the Torah is complex. It can even be complex (depending on your point of view) for the Gentiles who have become disciples of the Jewish Messiah (i.e. “Christians”). We see the bare bones of the expectations for the non-Jews who wanted to enter the Messianic covenant in Acts 15, and the book reveals itself to be a commentary not only of God-fearers the way the church traditionally thinks of Cornelius, but of the Gentile who is on a journey of discovery from first becoming aware of the God of Israel, to attaching to that God, perhaps as a Noahide or something similar, and then finally being adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High when we confess the Jewish Messiah as Lord and Master, formally becoming disciples of Jesus and members of the Messianic covenant.

Additionally, Toby describes many of the detailed questions a lot of us have in terms of Gentiles and Jewish identity markers such as Shabbat, tzitzit, tefillin, the Festivals, and other examples of the mitzvot. Please keep in mind that in writing this review, I’m shooting through material that covers over 150 pages in barely 1600 words so I’m just hitting the high points. There’s a lot more elucidating information contained in Toby’s “God-Fearers” book which of course, you’re going to have to read for yourself.

god-fearers mosaicI can see “God-Fearers” being a really great resource either for a non-Jew just entering into the Messianic movement, or for someone who has been active in the movement for awhile but who experiences significant gaps in understanding the role of a non-Jewish disciple in a Messianic Jewish context (I met many people in both of these groups last week at the conference). For those of you who fear that FFOZ is using this book to say, “Gentiles can’t study and take on anything in the Torah,” this book will reassure you that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the book represents a great deal more flexibility as far as what Gentiles are allowed and even obligated to do under Torah than I originally anticipated (I discovered this when I read part of this material in Messiah Journal some months ago). If you keep an open mind and let the book tell its own story, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed as a non-Jewish person who feels “called” to some form of Torah mitzvot observance.

As I mentioned before, I really was hoping that at least the last chapter would have told something of Toby’s personal journey. It’s one thing to provide scholarly information about “generic” non-Jews and how we relate to the Torah and the Messianic movement, but I think the book would have really come alive if Toby had shared his personal thoughts and emotions as FFOZ and he both moved away from the One Law perspective. I got a sense in having talked with Toby for a bit at the conference (he was really busy for those four or five days so I didn’t get to spend any significant time with him) that there is a lot more for him to tell than what finally made it into God-Fearers.

Do I recommend Toby’s book? Absolutely. I think it’s an extremely valuable asset for the audience I described above. I hope if this book goes to a second printing or, if it be God’s will, a second edition, that Toby will include some of his lived, personal experience into the text. The intellectual, emotional, and spiritual value of God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel would increase immeasurably if he did. That said, if you get your hands on a first edition now, consider it a terrific resource and possibly even a collector’s item.

As I mentioned before, I have a story to tell about Toby (he knows I’m going to share it on my blog) and how it is part of my own.

Blessings.

66 thoughts on “God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel, A Book Review”

  1. Romans 3:29 & 30, “Or is Elohim the Elohim of Yehudim only? Isn’t he the Elohim of Goyim also? Yes, of Goyim also, since indeed there is one Elohim who will justify the circumcised by faith, and the uncircumcised through faith.”

    2 Cor. 5:16, “Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Messiah after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more.”

  2. Hi Russ,

    Sounds like you’re taking some exception either with the premise of the book or with some of the points I made in the review. I wouldn’t mind if you’d “flesh out” your points a bit just so I can make sure I’m not misunderstanding you.

    That said, I have a couple of blog posts in the pipeline (particularly one addressing a concept known as the “general soul”) that more specifically address the relationship of the nations to God and what part the Messiah plays as our intercessor and High Priest in the Heavenly Court. If the soul of the Messiah is inseparable from his people Israel, it may be more difficult than we think to maintain a link with God while removing the Jews from the equation, so to speak.

  3. I really don’t know where to begin with all of this. I don’t know if books like this help or hurt. Of course I haven’t read it, but maybe I will. It has been almost two years since I began studying Hebrew Roots and understanding the scripture from the cultural context it was written in and those it was written by. All the while trying to re-filter everything I have learned since childhood thru this lens. I am no scholar in this area at all. So it probably doesn’t matter what I say or think. As I understand it the line of Judah was set apart to bring the Messiah to be born on this earth thru this line. That is why marrying into pagan cultures/taking on pagan rituals, etc was not an option. But we see Ruth who came in and married into a Jewish family seemed to adapt to the ways and customs of the Jews. She was in the line of Yeshua. As far as I know I am not of Jewish descent. So where does that leave me. FFOZ I guess is saying they no longer believe in one law and gentiles don’t have to do the Biblical Jewish instructions. The church has moved so far away from the original assemblies that who knows how much it remotely resembles the original intent. frustrating….to say the least. It is my hope that the book and Messianics and will focus on what unifies us (Jewish believer and Gentile) and what G-d established for us in scripture that he says will go on thru the generations and I will attach myself to His instructions. I thought after Messiah came we all became one in Him Jew and Gentile. Finding the common ground of not forsaking our roots, but living out God’s instructions as Yeshua did while He was on this earth. I know where my heart is leading me. I’ll just say that.

  4. “As I mentioned before, I have a story to tell about Toby (he knows I’m going to share it on my blog) but I’ll save it for another time.”

    Don’t save it for too long:)

  5. Hi Joy,

    I don’t think there’s anything in Toby’s book about we non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah forsaking the roots of our faith. In fact, Toby writes a great deal about the Hebrew Root and how we Gentiles have been drawn to God across the span of history. With the coming of the Messiah, we who were not part of the Sinai covenant and who were once “far off” have been brought near to God through the Messianic covenant.

    Jews and Gentiles are one in the love of God’s heart and He has always desired that all of humanity be brought near to the Throne. That certain specifics of the Sinai and Messianic covenants require some things of Israel that aren’t required of the nations doesn’t mean we can’t choose, as a matter of conscience, to follow additional mitzvot.

    This is probably the biggest difficulty we have to face in trying to understand the meaning of what is being said by FFOZ and others who hold a similar viewpoint. While you and I (since I’m not Jewish) are not required by covenant to certain of the mitzvot, it doesn’t mean we can’t perform them in order to give honor to the Messiah and glory to God. Also, if you’ll read Toby’s book (and I said this in my review), there may be a great deal more about the Torah that is required of the Gentile who is a disciple of the Master than even I had considered.

    When I was at the Shavuot conference last week, I saw many Gentile disciples of the Master observing a wide variety of the mitzvot. A few adopted a level of observance that was almost indistinguishable from the Jewish attendees, while other (probably most) Gentiles, observed some but not all of the mitzvot. Everyone was welcome to express themselves relative to the Torah at the Festival and no one was made to feel uncomfortable because they chose to be more or less observant. The Jewish attendees for the most part, kept a higher level of observance than most of the Gentiles, but that’s OK, too.

    I went through a crisis of faith for over a year as I wrestled with my own perceptions on One Law and whether or not I could consider the assumptions I had once held onto as valid. I finally made a personal decision, in part because I’m married to a Jewish wife, that I could not simply appropriate what God gave Israel at Sinai that makes them holy, chosen, and set apart. I could not take on board obviously “Jewish” behaviors and not be a Jew. My wife and her fathers fought, suffered, and died rather than forsake the Torah. I didn’t feel it was my right to simply pick up and don the tzitzit. It would be like insulting my wife and her people and dishonoring the history of their pain and the uniqueness of their heritage.

    But when we of the nations bond with the Messiah, we join alongside Israel as adopted sons and daughters (the Torah says Israel is adopted, too) and we too obey the voice of our Master, the Great Good Shepherd, to added our flock to his other flock, and who loves us and had died for all of us.

    Read the book. You can read my blog too, since I frequently discuss topics that are closely related to Toby’s. Pray. Ask questions. I can’t tell you what conclusions you’ll find for yourself, but I can tell you from my experience that we Gentiles have a fabulous position in God’s plan, but in order to fulfill, it we have to allow ourselves to be who God made us to be.

  6. I can appreciate the distinctions . I can appreciate that OJ has distinctions. 
    I wonder if anyone is asking why the distinctions exist in OJ, and what the distinctions in MJ are based on.
    It seems to me that the distinctions in MJ are based on having a halackic Judaism.
    What if (this is a big one), the rabbis ruled as of today(pretend we had a Sanhedrin), that non Jews would be permitted to wear Tzittzit and encouraged to keep Shabbat and all come to the synagogue and learn Torah!
    Would FFoZ change their tune?

    I know, that’s really hypothetical. My point is that I’m pretty sure that MJ is trying to adhere to the authorities of the day.(in the measure they believe the apostles did as well).

    So if that’s true what standard makes the authority of the MJ synagogues binding? How do they say who is a Jew? How do they say who is Messiah? How do they agree with the Talmud concerning “who” is a Jew, but not “who is messiah”?

    The Talmud rulings on who is a Jew, are precisely for the purpose of keeping gentile Jesus followers and the like from doing exactly what the MJ synagogues are doing(?)

    Finally “divine invitation”= invited to do everything except the “outward signs” (circumcision is hardly outward btw) ?
    How does this not promote jealoucy and exclusivity?
    “Oh you see the value in the Tzittzit and kosher and Shabbat? Well just come on ober here and we’ll wave a little knife, and poof now G-d will recognize your efforts!” 
    So where does a MJ rabbi get the authority to circumcise ? Does he have shmikha going back to the sanhedrin? Isn’t this what makes the OJ conversion valid for Aliyah?

    So a Torah observant gentile who’s an ex catholic has circumcision but his doesn’t count because it wasn’t done with intention? So what if he circumcised his son on the eighth day with “intention” does that make his son Jewish? 
    So what makes someone Jewish is it MJ conversion? Well if he joins reform then he’s gonna have to get cut again, if he leaves and goes concervative- under the knife he goes, and then he goes OJ, he gets cut again. (lotta scar tissue)

    What this looks like to me is kids playing house in the yard.

    Let’s take the distinctions that keep messianics and Gentiles out of Judaism ,and come over here and remake the same distinctions in the Yeshua following congregations. How ironic that the commands that are not allowed for Gentiles are the most beautiful when done correctly and embarrassing when done wrong. Isn’t that what this is about? Isn’t it true that the distinctions between Jew and gentile in Judaism are distinctions of faithful covenant member and pagan? So for the goyim who are now called Ben avraham and have circumcised hearts lets not let them wear Tzittzit that’s only for us special folks who were born this way.(?) This just doesn’t seem consistent.
    Like I’ve said before it feels real funny having a MJ rabbi who’s “Jewishness” is more authentic then my sons. The rabbis that say my son is not Jewish would say the same thing about the MJ rabbi! 
    I really feel that no matter how nice and clean and pretty all this Devine invitation stuff sounds unreal feel were barking up the wrong tree. Not only do I feel that the apostles wouldn’t be worrying about it in a country like ours with no roman oppression and no sadducean priesthood, but I just feel like its messianics bowing to modern judaism not to TNK.

  7. Greetings, holechvdoresh. Thanks for your comments.

    It would help me understand what you’re saying if I had some idea of who you are and where you’re coming from. I took a look at your WordPress blog, but most of the information there is incomplete.

    It sounds like the core of your statement has to do with the definition of the term “Jew” and who gets to decide who is Jewish. If I’m understanding you correctly, you seem to be saying that anyone who performs the mitzvot correctly according to halachah should be considered a Jew, regardless of background.

    But that would mean it’s the individual who defines himself or herself as a Jew and not Judaism as a whole.

    Keep in mind that this is a book review, so there’s a limit to how far we can take this discussion. Rather than have it become a “free-for-all” discussion batting about the relative merits of OL vs MJ (I’m not sure what you meant when you said “OJ” above), I’d like to keep the talk focused on my review of Toby’s book.

    Thanks.

  8. 1 Yochanan 3:2, “Beloved, now we are children of Elohim, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when He is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is.”

    We will be like Him.

    Like a Jewish Messiah?

    Are Gentiles going to be like Him? Or did Yochanan mean ‘similar’, but not ‘exactly’ like Him?

    I suppose that if we were to try and answer the question we would first have to determine who Yochanan meant by the term “beloved”. Because whoever they are, they are the children of Elohim. And whoever the children of Elohim are, they are the ones who will be like Him.

    And if by “Him” Yochanan was referring to Yeshua, to what extent are His children to be like Him?

    I don’t know Toby at all, but if I could I would ask him, by wearing his tzitzit he was trying to be like Yeshua, or was he trying to be like a Jew?

    When we adopt certain cultural markers that are considered “Jewish”, are we trying to identify with the Elohim of Israel or with the people of Israel? Or both? If someone sees me wearing tzitzit, why don’t they ask me if belong to the Elohim of Israel? Why would they instead ask me if I’m a Jew? Has the proper identity been lost over time?

    If I could ask Toby some questions, those would be some of the ones I would ask.

  9. “And if by “Him” Yochanan was referring to Yeshua, to what extent are His children to be like Him?”

    It’s quite clear that John was talking about the Father. And even he was talking about Jesus, to be “like him” need not mean that one must be a Jew. In fact, the apostles went to great lengths to show to their Gentile audience that it DOESN’T mean that at all. What it does mean, however, is we must be just like Jesus qualitatively – we must love G-d with all our being, love others, we must live sacrificially, we must be obedient to G-d (which even common sense tells us differs by who you are – father, mother, son, daughter, priest, Levite, Jew, Gentile, wife, husband, widow, live in Israel or live outside of the Land, etc. and etc.)

  10. Gene,

    Whether he was referring to the Father or the Son or both is a theological discussion for another time.

    It has been offered on this blog by James that we are disciples of a Jewish Messiah and that for Gentiles it is important to realize that fact and make the necessary adjustments to that reality.

    So it follows that if Elohim commanded the Israelites to love Him with all their being and to love others as themselves that that command would also extend to all the nations . So if I, being from the nations, keep that command with all my heart then I am keeping the commandment given to Israel and I would be considered a faithful follower of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua. In other words my actions would be recognizable as belonging to the Elohim of Israel.

    But you say that the obedience required by the Elohim of Israel is different depending on who you are as a person, whether by birth or by station in this life. And yet scripture says that YHWH is not a respecter of persons. And that the righteousness He requires of you is the same righteousness that He requires of me. If obedience equals righteousness, how can you say that it would be manifested differently for one person, due to their birth or station in this life, than it would be for someone else whose birth or station is not the same?

    You seem to be adding a flexibility to the commandments that isn’t there. Or is it?

    If it is there, then what is all the fuss about? How someone chooses to walk and worship should not be of any concern to anyone else.

    Which may be why Catholics believe that they are performing the righteousness required by the Elohim of Israel when they enact their rituals and observances. By your logic they very well could be. Which puts the whole idea of justification in a different light altogether.

  11. God may not be a respecter of persons, but I believe He is a respecter of covenants and how they apply to persons, or rather, specific populations. All this hinges on whether you think subsequent covenants eliminate previous covenants. If you do, then the Messianic covenant overwrote the Sinai covenant and all bets are off. The Law really is dead and we all live by the sort of grace we’ve learned about in the traditional Christian church. If subsequent covenants ratify rather than overwrite previous covenants, then there is room to recognize that the conditions of a previous covenant made with a specific population probably don’t apply to all of the people (a larger population which includes the original, smaller population involved with the previous covenant) brought under the authority of the King by a subsequent covenant.

    This isn’t some sort of racial bigotry at work, but rather God honoring His own promises. At least this is how I see it. I realize I hold the minority opinion in relation to mainstream Christianity, Judaism, and significant portions of the Hebrew Roots movement,

  12. The thing with this idea that the Torah speaks “clearly”, to Jew, levite priest, gentile, man, woman, etc, sounds real neat and tidy. There are men and woman priests, and men and woman jews and slave and free jews and gentiles. The logic that the commands are different for priests and levites so there are different for jews and gentiles is really loose. The original plan was all of the firstborn to be priests.
     All the men have the same commands priests and israelits wear tzitzit and tefillin. It really seems to me that this is all just about these two commands and really mostly about tzitzit (how sad).

    The real question is what makes a person a gentile and what makes one a convert? 

    However the torah is actually really vague when it comes to Jew /Gentiles. The term “ger” refers to Jews when they were in Egypt. It refers to Gentiles who are keeping the commands (they become unclean and must immerse) AND Gentiles who are not keeping commands and may be sold a carcass.

    Everything in your argument hangs on “rabbinic interpretation”. These same Rabbinic authorities would say you as a believer in Y’shua are off before you get started. So how can you establish a Judaism outside of Judaism unless it is based on Halacha?
    Therefore who interprets Halacha ? 

    The crossroads of this whole issue is that of identity. Paul didn’t teach against circumcision because that’s what the Halacha was, he taught against it because the interpretation of the Halacha was that you can only be “saved” as a Jew. The distinction between Jew and gentile in the Talmud and in the Torah is one of covenant member and non covenant member(pagan). If you are a son of Abraham be it Isaac or jacob, guess what, you both are getting your penis clipped. Think of all the members of Abraham’s house(318), think of the mixed multitude that left Egypt. “Conversion” IS the expected process. Conversion has become perverted as it was in Paul’s day. That’s why Gentiles remain gentiles (period). I have no problem with that. For the gentile believers to remain gentile and keep commands that apply to them sounds good to me. I love the whole DI teaching at this point. The problem is that the reason gentiles were to “remain” gentile in Paul’s world was because the authorities didnt recognize Yeshua as the means for the circumcision of their hearts! 
    What is almost comical is MJ and the like, attempting to create a carbon copy of Judaism with it perverted conversion ceremony. The conversion is supposed to be the outside sign of what has taken place on the inside. Namely a circumcised heart! This has occurred in the Gentiles. The next step would be for you and all your household to be circumcised.(as was told to Abraham) They didn’t in Paul’s day because of the corrupted teaching. 

    The sign commands are not show “who is a Jew” sorry but were gonna have to go a little higher folks. They are signs of HaShem. The sign of circumcision points to messiah the removing of the flesh. Isaac is a symbol of Messiah. That’s why the children of Israel come out of Egypt “on his birthday”. That is why the celebration of the “coming out if Egypt” has the prerequisite of circumcision! That is why messiah identified with it when he came. And that is why we have had the temple taken away. It is the only “festival” that requires circumcision. We can’t seem to play fair together. (As the sages said the reasons for the destruction in 70 were baseless hatred and raising the letter of the torah over the spirit if the torah.

    G-d wants all mankind to come and worship him. The Jewish people and the gentiles that come in and are supposed to join Israel and are to be a testimony to the rest of the world. Due to all the confusion over “Galatians and Hebrews” we have arrived here where “messianics” are afraid to go arround converting everyone. Rightly so becasue they are not the authority! Like Paul’s day our authorities do not support any of our claims! Our authorities dont even have a sanhedrin themselves!

    So if ffoz and MJ teaches that Gentiles should remain Gentiles that’s fine but who is a Jew? What makes a conversion valid? How can a convert make the rules when his conversion is not valid? Why isn’t a child’s circumcision valid? These questions demand answers before people go out proclaiming MJ and Ffoz as really answering any real questions. ( don’t get me wrong I support ffoz financially and benefit from their resources and I love them. It just seems like they are running with something they havnt held open for debate. They are publishing as if it’s settled.)

    Creating a new Judaism is not the answer IMHO. All it’s doing is bring the problems of Orthodox Judaism into the Y’shua communities. 
    Conversion is G-ds prescribed method of crossing over its not a social club it’s not a nostalgic cultural inheritance. Torah is for mankind.  

    Holechvdoresh is a blog I just turned on the content is not real it’s just filler.
    It’s me Michael Karhan.

  13. Man I keep thinking of good things to say because gene you demonstrate the problems I have with your position so well!

    Why is it that of all the folks on this thread that clearly demonstrate the OL position you pick me to be the poster child? Everyone else you had a rebuttle? Why not me?

  14. “Why is it that of all the folks on this thread that clearly demonstrate the OL position you pick me to be the poster child? Everyone else you had a rebuttle? Why not me?”

    Don’t feel left out, Michael. You make a lot of open-ended statements in a form of a questions in your comments (e.g. “What makes a conversion valid? Therefore who interprets Halacha?”) If you do know the answers or have your ideas about them, just lay them out. Otherwise, your comment makes it appear as if you are confused about a lot of these issues (and may be you are?), but seem to be sure that the rabbis and “rabbinic” Judaism are in the wrong about just about all these things.

  15. Gene do you think your sticking to traditional Jewish interpretation and that makes how you interpret MJ correct? Do you realize what Talmud says about Yeshua and his followers? Do you understand why there are fears of the spiritual holochaust of the Jewish people? Do you understand that judaism has defined itself in opposition to faith in Yeshua since before yavneh? A Judaism that accepts Yeshua is the correct Judaism (period). That doesn’t make me a nazi. I’m not suggesting that Judaism that doesn’t belive in Yeshua doesn’t have an important place in the world. As it is this IS where the authority is. What I am criticizing is creating another judaism. Reform , reconstructionist and now MJ, why is it carrying with it a conversion ceremony? Can anyone just circumcise themself?(the Talmud actually does suggest this btw) my question is where does it end? There are a bunch of converts in messianic judaism telling their former fellow Gentiles what to do?! How does this not promote more conversion to an unauthorized Judaism? Just answer that.

  16. As I have said before, I do not believe that a new covenant replaces and thus voids all previous covenants. If that were the case then YHWH would have promised to write all new laws on the hearts of the two houses of Israel rather than promise to write the existing ones. And it is clear that the teachings of the new (present) covenant fully support that position. And the promises made to Avraham would also be of no value if they were replaced. But the promises made to Avraham were regarding Messiah.

    Which is why Sha’ul went to such lengths to try and explain that whether a Jew or a Gentile commits adultery the results are the same. And that is because the commandment not to commit adultery still stands. And did not need to be given twice.

    But the nations who were turning to the Elohim of Israel had to be taught those fundamental principles of Torah, not so that they could have table fellowship, but so that they could enter into life and not be destroyed at the end of the age.

    Fellowship is not the goal of the commandments, it is the result of keeping them.

    To say that a previous covenant takes precedence over a present one, but only for certain people, is to say that YHWH actually is a respecter of persons, because a covenant without people is nothing but an empty shell.

    If the Sinai covenant is still binding on the Jewish people, but not on the rest of the people in the world, then it would seem that YHWH has quite a case against the Jews.

    Gal. 3:10-14, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who doesn’t continue in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Now that no man is justified by the law before Elohim is evident, for, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not of faith, but, “The man who does them will live by them.” Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” that the blessing of Avraham might come on the Goyim through Messiah Yeshua; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

    Is this writing of Sha’ul not true? Is there not a curse attached to the Torah?

    It is one thing if I decide, for conscience or some other reason, to keep the portions of Torah that I believe are relevant for me and my family today. I have been justified by Messiah Yeshua and I am not under the curse of Torah. It would be quite another if I decided to believe that I am obligated to keep all of Torah so that I can have a relationship with YHWH. The difference in those two cases is the difference between life and death.

    I am having trouble seeing how you are reconciling the two positions. I’m not saying it is impossible, just hard to find adequate scripture to support the idea.

    Racial bigotry and religious bigotry are not the same. Religion is a choice, race is not.

  17. Hi Michael,

    After seeing your comments on Facebook, I thought it might be you (similar wording).

    You said:

    However the torah is actually really vague when it comes to Jew /Gentiles. The term “ger” refers to Jews when they were in Egypt. It refers to Gentiles who are keeping the commands (they become unclean and must immerse) AND Gentiles who are not keeping commands and may be sold a carcass.

    Actually, “ger” was used to describe the Children of Israel in Egypt and Gentiles who were on the “conversion track” to becoming Israelites, but “ger” can take somewhat different meanings depending on context (just like a lot of words in English). Referring to Israelites in Egypt, it specifically mentions them as “strangers,” “aliens,” and “sojourners.” In other words, temporary residents who don’t permanently belong in Egypt.

    “Ger” when referring to the Gentiles who had attached themselves to the Children of Israel after leaving Egypt, did identify them as “strangers” or “aliens” among Israel, but often with the additional meaning that they were in the process of “converting” (a different process than what we’re used to thinking about about in modern times) to becoming Israelites. This distinguished them from native-born Israelites. They apparently were allowed to conform to all of the Torah mitzvot as a born -Jew, but had no tribal affiliation. That made them vulnerable, since they had no “backup” and that is why God was so emphatic about warning against abusing the orphan, widow, and alien (ger) among the people of Israel.

    In other words, an Israelite “ger” in Egypt and a Gentile “ger” among Israel weren’t quite the same sort of thing. It didn’t mean calling a Gentile “ger” automatically made them equivalent to an Israelite “ger.” Also, technically, a “ger” in its generic sense, could be just any ol’ Gentile passing through an Israelite town, so to speak. It really depends on the context in which the word is used.

    I’m going to throw another idea in the mix, just to shake things up (I’m addressing this to everyone, not just Michael). As far as we can tell from the Gospel text, with minor exceptions, Jesus was perfectly fine with normative Judaism as it existed in the Second Temple period, halakah and all. This probably looked at least somewhat different than the Torah practice in the time of Moses, Joshua, David, etc, but Jesus didn’t start telling people to practice a Torah observance that dismissed first century Jewish halakah (I know I’m going to get some opposing opinions on that one).

    Here’s a radical idea.

    What if when Jesus returns, he’s OK with the normative Judaism of that future era? For instance, let’s say Jesus returns tomorrow and is OK with normative Jewish practices that we are familiar with today? I don’t know which branch of Judaism he’d be OK with but since we’re fantasizing, let’s pretend it’s Orthodox Judaism (I’m going way out on a limb here, but it’s for the sake of argument).

    Wouldn’t that completely blow away not only the church but most of Messianic Judaism as well?

    Please don’t imagine that I really think that way. In fact, I have no idea how things are going to work out in terms of the Master’s “approved halakah.” I’m just pulling this completely out of fantasyland.

  18. I said in my last long post what I thought about the origins of conversion and how I believe it is the “end” of the path for all Gentiles. (if it was interpreted in the original Torah context (Abraham for example also including its required for pesach and ezekiel and Isaiah also speak of it.)
    I told you that i felt that the “rabbis” of Paul’s day misunderstood the gift of conversion.
    I told you that the same authorities of today are just as the authorities of Paul’s
    Day. (yes I know they don’t teach righteousness demands circumcision as the authorities in Paul’s day.)
    Namely they do not accept that the Gentiles were converted of heart and therefore were perfect candidates to bare the outward sign.(become procelyte)
    Either way the reason the boys in Jerusalem in the council didn’t create their own circumcision ceremony was 1) eventually when the sanhedrin found out about it it wouldn’t be accepted as valid
    2) the community would have encouraged that the converts had righteousness and the prospects didn’t.

    Help me understand I’m here just talking and asking questions to have dialog. No need to be rude.

  19. I completely agree with everything you said James.
    Except I would only slightly tweak the idea becasuse Jesus didn’t come out and say “hey you guys should make it easier for the nations to convert!” means that he approved of all the Halacha of 2nd temple.
    Everything else I agree.

    I think it’s very poignant that he used Gentiles as examples of faith. I think that its interesting that he commissioned Paul to raise up the Gentiles knowing that they couldn’t make conversion and even eat pesach. Does that mean he approved of that ?

    My bottom line arguments is not with DI as I said I favor it. My only problem is the conversion ceremony. If your not converting orthodox(for the sake of your similar argument) its going through the back door IMHO.

  20. Galatians 3:10-14 could as easily been talking about a Jew who performs the mitzvot by rote, as if they’re “magic actions” rather than performing them as a result of faith, so your argument here may not be rock solid, Russ.

    Faith is what saves, not the Torah, so the commond denominator for Jew and Gentile alike if faith, not Torah observance. Out of that faith which has already saved us, we strive to do the will of God because we are His children.

    I think it stands to reason that no human being has ever perfectly obeyed God, regardless of what they thought their obligations to the Almighty were, so if salvation depends on perfect obedience, we are all 100% toast.

    However, once joined to God by covenant, the conditions of the covenant as they apply to different populations dictates the behavior they have agreed to perform.

    As we see in the story of Korah (Numbers 16 and 17) the argument of role and privlege relative to serving God isn’t anything new. Even among the Levites among Israel, this discussion occurred. What I find most comforting is what God says to the Levites (those not of the house of Aaron) in the majority of Chapter 18 of Numbers. God goes to great lengths to assure the Levites of his love and concern for them and of the special gifts that are only their’s because of who they are (even though they are not of Aaron’s priestly line).

    Salvation for the Levites and for the rest of the Israelites was identical to that of the Aaronic priesthood, even though duties, obligations, and responsibilities were different…sometimes radically different. I worked very hard recently in a number of my blog posts, including this one, to say that we non-Jews are not only uniquely different than the Jewish people in terms of covenant, but that we have a special set of obligations that we and only we can perform if the Messiah is to return. If we choose to focus on who get to wear tzitzit but ignore the “weighter matters” of our duty to God, arguments such as this one are perfectly moot.

    If any Gentile disciple of the Jewish Messiah wants to wear tzitzit, lay tefillin, keep Glatt kosher, rest on Shabbat, or perform any of the 613 commandments to the best of their ability, that is fine and dandy with me. My opinion of them will be that their behavior is voluntary and a matter of personal conviction rather than as a matter of strict and binding obligation, but that’s just my opinion. If I believe that I am allowed but not obligated to (for example) keep a strictly kosher diet, then I can only hope that people who hold themselves to a stricter standard won’t condemn me as a sinner before God.

    It’s not One Law or Two-House theologies that define me or even Messianic Jewish theologies in all their variants, but my best understanding of who God is and who He wants me to be. Doubtless, I’ve gotten a lot of details wrong, but that’s why faith is a journey and not a destination.

  21. Michael said:
    Help me understand I’m here just talking and asking questions to have dialog. No need to be rude.

    Whoa! Help me out here. How am I being rude? I do admit that it’s tough to absorb all of the content of really long comments, so I’m sorry if I missed something.

    My bottom line arguments is not with DI as I said I favor it. My only problem is the conversion ceremony. If your not converting orthodox(for the sake of your similar argument) its going through the back door IMHO.

    I don’t think I’ve converted to anything except to Christianity from being an agnostic/atheist, but that was some time ago.

    As you said Michael, we are probably more alike than unalike. I don’t think Jesus was suggesting that the Gentile disciples convert from paganism to Judaism but from paganism to “Christianity” for lack of a better term. A separate religion from “the Way” wasn’t created, but it does seem like, if we believe Jews weren’t absolved of their obligations under Torah, the Messianic covenant was the sole covenant for the Gentiles but also applied to the Jews who were already under the Sinai covenant, which accounts for some of the confusion and dissonance as we see in some of Paul’s letters and in our little corner of the Hebrew Roots movement today.

  22. No I was talking to Gene.

    As for ideals.
    I think that Yeshua not saying something like “convert all the Gentiles” is not proof that he wasn’t disappointed in the halacha of the day.
    2nd temple Judaism could t handle the influx of Gentiles. They had a view of what Yeshua accomplished that was wrong and a view that conversion granted righteousness. How could he approve of those to things?
    Is this not the point of his parables involving Gentiles and miracles as the commission of Paul?

    Why can’t it be that the messianic era and it’s implications are overlapping real time.
    What if the sanhedrin repemted? What if the Pharisees no longer held the 1st centurys prevailing view that gentiles must convert to ne righteous?
    Paul and the boys were opporating within these two restrictions.
    1) Sanhedrin opposed the Yeshua movement
    2)conversion was considered the means to again righteousness.

    Look at the reason behind the Halacha of conversion.
    It’s to to test the heart of the prospective convert.
    It’s to prevent Gentiles/ pagans from showing signs of Jewish-ness when they are actually idolatrous!
    These are non issues for those who are “born from above”.
    So I’m not saying they are Jews immidiatly im saying they should become legal members (jews) to the covenant that the whole world is presently “under”.
    I believe Paul’s polemics agaisnt conversion are ONLY because of the two issues listed above.

    This all being said I think MJ is in error to create it’s own shmikha and conversion ritual.
    Conversion is not merely a legal switch that’s totally “platonic”. It’s a sign of what the faithful have done they’ve placed their trust in G-d accepted his king and have had their heart circumcised.
    This IMO is why timothy is allowed britmilah.

  23. Michael, I’m really struggling with your statements since (please correct me if I’m wrong) I don’t see Paul as encouraging Gentile conversion to Judaism at all. In fact a good part of his narrative in Galatians argues against Gentile conversion to Judaism and full Torah observance. Gentiles became disciples of the Jewish Messiah and, within the general guidelines of the Jerusalem letter, began to develop an understanding of their faith alongside Second Century normative Judaism. Admittedly “the letter” wasn’t a strict limit of Gentile observance and devotion to God, but the details and implications are so vast that I couldn’t list them all here. That’s why I wrote this review of Toby’s book. The details are available in “God-Fearers” but you’ll have to get your hands on a copy to read them.

    To the best of my knowledge, conversion specifically to Messianic Judaism is rare to almost non-existent. Really, anyone who is a Christian is a “Messianic.” The only differences are a matter of a “Hebraic” perspective on the Messiah and for most of us, support of Israel and the Jewish people. The basic components of joining and maintaining the faith are all but identical.

  24. Paul preached against circumcision because,
    1) it was taught as a means to attain righteousness.

    Remove this from the context and would Paul still preach against it?

    I don’t think so and this wouldn’t be a concern for Timothy because he was understood as at least “half Jewish” (depending on your dating of the sages who lived durring this time period as the topic of patrilineal and matrilineal Jewish identity is debated in the Talmud and its hard to tell what the standard was in 1stcen) so the issue of righteousness was not going to be confussed in his decision to circumcise timothy. Again this does not explain away the fact that the very reason for the discussion and story anout Timothu is that righteousness and circumcision were debated as being in tandem.

    Look at the command to Avraham.

    Look at the command to the ger who wished to eat the pesach.
    There is a story in Talmud about a gentole who ate the Pasach and bragged about it he was executed. It’s not just like getting a SAMS club membership. It’s not just about eating pesach. The reason it’s given is a sign of G-ds promise. His seed and his faithfulness it’s the outward sign of the circumcised heart. Reducing to jewish bs non Jewish identity is wrong IMO.
    Paul felt within the boundaries of this wrong interpretation and we should too.

    That’s all I’m saying.
    And you will see in a relatively short amount of time how this MJ conversion ritual which you say is rare now it will be all over the place in a few years.

  25. We are saying the same thing at least most of it.

    I agree up to the point that Paul and Yeshua made their statements while under the rule of a Judaism that viewed Gentiles wrong (stop).
    Ideally they both would love to see Gentiles come to faith like the model of Avraham.
    The conversion ritual carried (and still carry) connotations that Yeshua and Paul wouldn’t agree with. Just because Yeshua and Paul didn’t storm the castle and convert all the Gentiles doesn’t mean that they didnt understand the messianic era as containing all the people of the world as corcumcised covenmat members. The teaching of Torah is that it is the eventual step of the godfearer.

    Paul and Yeshua opporated within the standards of their Judaism because of the authorities that G-d placed there. No different today, but doesn’t mean it’s the ideal. Mainly my criticism of MJ is aimed at groups like UMJc etc if that isn’t clear.

  26. I’m typing like crazy on this stupid phone and trying to drive too.
    I keep saying the same thing, I must think no ones hearing me.

    1)Avraham is told to circ. every male.
    2)Torah says to eat Pasach everymale must be circ. Even the ger if he doesnt he will be “cut off from his people” how will the get be cut off from his people before he’s had Brit millah? Obviously he’s on the way to conversion.
    The other type of “ger” is a pagan.
    3)Yeshua and Paul are opporating in a Judaism that teaches wrong things about Gentiles. (that they are unclean by nature that they can only be righteous if they convert through a ceremony)
    4) the ceremony is not the proof of the pudding.
    5)remove the improper view of the ceremony and it is restored to the Torah view that it is the eventual step for all the gerim who are progressing in understanding of haShem and his Torah.
    6)MJ is recreating a Judaism with Yeshua but they are bringing with them the improper view of the conversion ceremony.
    7) now we have ex-gentile rabbis who are not recognized by Israel
    Proper, telling their former fellows what to do.

  27. I’m typing like crazy on this stupid phone and trying to drive too.

    Good grief Michael, don’t do that. I don’t want you to get in an accident. If you wait until you get to your destination, it won’t be such a bad thing. At least you’ll get there in one piece and won’t have the burden on your conscience that you could have hurt someone else with your car.

    Michael said:
    I agree up to the point that Paul and Yeshua made their statements while under the rule of a Judaism that viewed Gentiles wrong.

    This is actually an interesting thought because it says Yeshua respected the normative Judaism of his day. We’d expect Paul to do so because that was his context, but if the Master wanted to change lots of things around as far as halakah went, his lifetime in the Second Temple period was the time to do it. It brings up the question (and it’s pretty much a fantasy, but an interesting one) is when the Messiah returns, will he respect the halakha of that day, too? The implications are extremely interesting.

    I agree that Paul said in Galatians that he didn’t support a Gentile converting to Judaism as a means of attaining righteousness, and I can even see that he may (this is a guess on my part since the text doesn’t say it) have supported Gentile conversion for other reasons (say a Gentile being married to a Jew), but I still believe he envisioned the vast, vast majority of Gentiles entering “the Way” as remaining Gentiles. End of story.

    As far as the Messianic age is concerned, I’m not convinced that we all become Jewish then, either. Zechariah and Micah both describe a time when members of the nations (i.e. Gentiles) come up to Jerusalem, take hold of the tzitzit of a Jewish man, and bring honor to the Jewiish Messiah King. None of that presupposes having to convert first.

    As far as Abraham circumsizing every male in his household, I don’t know if that made them Hebrews or not. I suspect not. As far as Gentiles being circumsized in order to eat the Pesach meal, that was only *if* they wanted to eat of it. As I recall, this would have been the Gentile slaves serving in a Jewish household.

    Again, as far as the various Messianics with whom I associate, none of them advocate that Gentile Messianics (i.e. Christians) convert to any form of Judaism, Messianic or otherwise. In fact, in recent conversations I’ve had with Jewish and Gentile Messianics, they are quite opposed to Gentile conversion.

  28. Question to whoever wants to weigh in:

    When Yeshua commanded the eleven to go into all the world and teach all gentiles to “observe all things I have commanded you”……was he commanding conversion to Judaism, Israel, or something else?

  29. “was he commanding conversion to Judaism, Israel, or something else?”

    Something else. He commanded them to teach the following to the whole world: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) , “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you….You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:12-14), “This is my command: “Love each other.” (John 15:17).

    Little else Jesus taught could be said as a “new command”. To love others as Messiah loves us (sacrificially, imitating what Jesus did for us) is indeed a new command that has not been taught before.

    In 1 John 3:23 we read another yet already familiar specific NEW command: “And this is his command: to believe in the name of His Son, Yeshua the Messiah, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

  30. I’d have to agree with Gene for the most part. If we look at the entire narrative of the New Testament, we see that there was no mandate to convert the entire world to Judaism. This was not required in order for the nations to become disciples. I don’t believe the only commandment to be directed at the Gentile disciples was to love one another, although love is the core of our discipleship if you look at Matthew 22:36-40 (the two greatest commandments). We have to consider the lessons Jesus taught in terms of doing good to others and the relationship to the Acts 15 letter, but the upshot of what we Gentile disciples were to learn was to love God and to do good to others.

    None of that requires a direct conversion to normative Judaism nor replacing Israel in God’s covenants or His love.

  31. He didn’t. He began following a specific sect of Judaism called “the Way.” but he didn’t convert from Judaism to Christianity, if that’s what you mean, Steven.

  32. Peter “converted” to lawfulness.

    Steven, you’re going to have to flesh that idea out a bit, but a little voice in my head tells me I’m probably going to disagree when you so.

  33. The essence of lawfulness if faith and belief in Jesus Christ. Yeshua was telling Peter to “turn back” and when he did, strengthen his brothers also.

  34. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19 KJV

  35. Sort of sounds like you’re saying Peter, and the other Jewish apostles (or Jews in general) didn’t have faith until the time of the Master. And yet Paul holds Abraham up as an example of great faith. I don’t see faith as something that was added onto Peter or that he “converted” into as a result of his association with Jesus. As I recall, he certainly came to the realization that Jesus was the Messiah early on, but that didn’t change the fact that he was still Jewish and he probably didn’t behave religiously any different than he did before, except that he knew the prophesies that told of the coming of the Messiah had now been fulfilled.

  36. So, Jesus should have just kept his mouth shut?

    “Luke 22:32
    But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”

  37. The word the KJV and NKJV translates as “converted” can also be translated as repented, come back, turned back, turned again, and restored. The dangers of relying on only one translation of the Bible, Steven (Luke 22:32).

    Check your email in a few minutes, Steven.

  38. Well, see what I wrote above:

    “The essence of lawfulness if faith and belief in Jesus Christ. Yeshua was telling Peter to “turn back” and when he did, strengthen his brothers also.”

  39. Not sure if you’re waiting for an answer from me Russ, but I think I already said that Peter wouldn’t have to convert from Judaism to Christianity to come to faith in the Jewish Messiah.

  40. For all who are interested in this topic, I recommend a much more accurate view on non-jewish identity, in a book written by Tim Hegg, called Fellow Heirs.

  41. Greetings, Jeruz.

    I imagine most people who would be interested in Toby’s book are already familiar with “Fellow Heirs.” I read Heggs book many years ago and, regarding accuracy or more to the point, philosophical preference, that seems to be a matter of debate.

  42. “I imagine most people who would be interested in Toby’s book are already familiar with “Fellow Heirs.” I read Heggs book many years ago and, regarding accuracy or more to the point, philosophical preference, that seems to be a matter of debate.”

    Well James, Toby and the rest of the FFOZ gang did not participated in any “Debate” until they jumped the track, or did they? In a matter of fact “Fellow Heirs” was published under their name…

    Maybe we should debate you drinking their kool-ade?

  43. We’ve both made decisions that we believe are right for us, Dan. Maybe it’s just a matter of different flavors of kool-aid.

  44. You don’t have to, Dan. Admittedly, I did change my basic assumptions regarding my faith and my relationship with God and other human beings, but it was hardly on a dime. There was a great deal of struggling involved over more than a year and in the end, I did what my conscience demanded of me. I can assure you, it was hardly easy. It still isn’t.

  45. Well James, it still appears as if you drink their kool-ade. Why? Because I think you give due where due is not deserved. I did not read the book, only what they call a “preview,” and that “preview” has more holes in it than my back patio door….

  46. You don’t have to agree with me, Dan. But I do ask that you try and respect my right to make my own decisions. In the end, I’ll be answerable to God for them.

  47. Ohm James, I don’t have any qualms with your decision making ability. All I am asking is that you don’t hide the reasons behind them…And as I said before, I really don’t want to discuss the reasons, they are obvious enough….

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