Stealing a Conversation About Ephesians, Jesus, and Being a Christian

The big problem in christianity and also messianic judaism is that there seems to be little knowledge on why Yeshua came an what His proclaimed Kingdom of Heaven / Kingdom of G-d meant and what the goal of entity for the Jews really was.

If everyone would see that, than there was not so much competition on to be or to be not Yisrael (though important still) and urge to take the law upon him or herself because of thinking that is the goal.

Did Yeshua come to bring the law? He certainly didn’t come to take it away! But why did he come and what was His message?

-Shmuel haLevi
October 15, 2012 11:52 am
Daily Minyan

This probably won’t be as organized or concise as I’d like it to be, but there was a terrific conversation on Gene Shlomovich’s blog post One-Law Gentile has a change of heart and I wanted to try and preserve some of the more helpful contributions. Most information about the New Testament and the purpose of Jesus in coming “first the Jew and then the Gentile” is interpreted by traditional Christian doctrine, with some “fringy” commentary by “edge case scholars,” so it’s difficult to get a more balanced perspective. I’ve recently been accessing Volume 6 of the Torah Club, which is a study on the book of Acts produced by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), to round out my education somewhat, but additional sources are most helpful.

I am attempting to put together the information I’ve gathered from the discussion at Gene’s blog in a way that not only presents it to readers visiting my blog in a meaningful way, but also to help clarify my understanding of some of the New Testament writings from a more Jewish perspective.

Above, Shmuel haLevi brings up an important issue. If the Torah was supposed to be generalized to the entire world as a “universal law” for everyone, and not exclusively to the Jewish nation in all its aspects, why couldn’t Israel have “evangelized” the nations at any time it wanted? Why was Jesus necessary to “spread the Torah” to his non-Jewish disciples, and yet not require that they convert to Judaism?

Unless, of course, the Jewish Messiah commanded his Jewish disciples to bring the nations into discipleship not specifically to turn them into “Jews without a circumcision,” so to speak.

The following is a collection of selected quotes from Gene’s blog post comments section. I’ve provided the links to the original source above so you can see all of the material in context.

That’s an excellent point, Shmuel. If people think that the goal of Yeshua’s coming was to give the Torah to the Gentles, so to speak, then the entire goal of their (our/my) faith will be in “keeping the (mechanics of the) Law” … Alternately, if he came to bring the nations into reconciliation to God and to allow us to become members of the Kingdom as the goal, then our entire focus changes. Love, grace, compassion, mercy all become our focus and the mitzvot of feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and granting mercy and grace as it has been granted to us becomes the fabric woven into our lives as believers.

-me
October 15, 12:08 pm

…like many others you discovered there were geirim in TaNaCH. And there was the same law for them and for the inborn Yisraelites. But that was not the reason why Yeshua came. The Hebrews had already received the Torath Mosheh and Gentiles were welcome to join, becoming Jews in nationality. So, that could not have been the reason for the coming of the Mashiach. Gentiles already could be righteous, adhering to the Torath for Adam weNoach. That was enough. But if one insisted, felt drawn to join Yisrael and wanting to serve HASHEM in the same way, that was possible but certainly not obliged. Nor is it in the New Covenant.

-Shmuel haLevi
October 15, 5:05 pm

So if a Gentile could convert to Judaism to take on the Torah mitzvot, and if a Gentile could be considered righteous under the covenant God made with Noah, why indeed did Jesus come? Could the secret be somehow concealed with Cornelius the Roman (see Acts 10) as well as Nebuchadnezzer, King of Babylon and the King of the city of Ninevah?

“Every convert in history became part of Israel.” ???

But not every true servant of the Most High became part of Israel.

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”

Nebuchadnezzar remained King of Babylon.

The city of Nineveh sincerely repented in sackcloth, and remained Assyrian.

The Roman Centurian, who loved Israel, remained Roman.

The uncircumcised listed above were true servants of G-d and did not become part of Israel.

-benkeshet
October 15, 6:31 pm

This may seem kind of disjointed and please remember, I’m “cherry picking” the content to try and “copy and paste” the most relevant pieces of the conversation together, so there are obvious sections of the conversation that have not been included.

Except for Cornelius and his acceptance of discipleship under Jesus that we find at the end of Acts 10, we don’t see an apparent role for Jesus in the above examples. The Kings of Babylon and Ninevah (and in fact, the entire population of Ninevah) were considered “righteous Gentiles” and did not have to join the nation of Israel in any sense in order to be considered righteous. In fact, as we recall from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Abraham was considered righteous by faith before taking on the covenant sign of circumcision. (see Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3)

But while this is a good argument that a non-Jew doesn’t have to become a Jew or a member of the nation of Israel to attain righteousness, where does Jesus come in?

Paulos said the be the Jews as a Jew, Greeks as a Greek. You cannot come in the same way with the Good Message to the Jews as to the Gentiles. So the way he spoke and the focus in the words of Yeshua before His last instructions where Yisraelite centered.

-Shmuel haLevi
October 16, 3:02 pm

So is there some sort of dual path to righteousness, one for the Jew and one for the Gentile?

…if Paulos meant here that they now became citizens of Yisrael. Also the Yisraelite had not jet reached their destination. Yeshua said, in the house of my Father are many mansions (John 14:2). The resemblance on earth of the Fathers House was the Temple, which had on each side the mansions of the Cohanim – the Priests. This was the promess that Yeshua disclosed since it was done and proclaimed in Shemoth 19:6. According to Yeshayahu 61:6 it would occur in the Messianic age. Making it possible to come to this status, the heavenly Heichal was disclosed for those, the Heichal (Temple) is were the King resides on His throne, so there is were the Kingdom is. That day that the heavenly Heichal will be joined with Yerushalayim, the Kingdom of HASHEM wil be established to rule over all the aerth. But we can chose to be part of it right know and spread the good message that was spread through our Mashiach to Tzion: That their G-d is King (Yeshayahu 52:7).

So it is my question if the focus was to only being brought near to Yisrael, or even something which was not jet reached by Yisrael itself: The Mamlecheth Cohanim – the Kingdom of Priests. This citizenship might be where Paulos pointed at. The higher plan that was promised! We Jews all know that the land of Yisrael is Holy, but Yerushalayim even more, and The Templecourt even more, and Holy place even more and and the Holy of Holies even more. It is because what they represent and are as, connected with it, as in Heaven also on Earth.

-Shmuel haLevi
October 26, 3:36 pm

Now here’s where the role of Jesus comes in for the Gentile.

The focus of Moshiach has always been the entire world.

“3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

Yeshayahu was speaking of Yeshua Rabbeinu. Yeshua didn’t change plans. His plans are consistent. His plans ALWAYS included the gentiles–even if it appeared as though He didn’t care about the gentiles.”

He came first to the Jews and than the maessage came to the Greeks as prophecied: Yeshayahu 49:3-6.

-Shmuel haLevi
October 16, 3:39 pm

So what we have so far is that Jesus has the focus of the entire world, Jew and Gentile alike, but while (and I’ve alluded to this previously) the Jews were already a covenant people under all of the prior covenants God made with Israel, the rest of the world could not access the same covenant closeness with God except through “Abraham’s seed,” the Messiah. The Messiah, Jesus, is required for the non-Jewish people of the world to come into covenant relationship with God in any way whatsoever!

benkeshet (at October 18, 4:32 pm) delivers an excellent analysis of Ephesians 2 which is too long for me to replicate here in its entirety. However, I’ll quote some of the relevant portions. Here’s a description of the non-Jewish races without Jesus:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3 among whom we all once lived in othe passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Now here are verses 13-20 with additional emphasis by benkeshet:

13 But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off [as children of wrath] have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both [Israel and the Nations] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man [or one new Humanity] in place of the two [i.e. Israel at enmity with the Nations], so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both [Israel and the Nations] to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off [Nations who had been children of wrath] and peace to those who were near [Israel]. 18 For through him we both [Israel and the Nations] have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you [Nations] are no longer strangers and aliens [or children of wrath], 4 but you are fellow citizens with the saints [Israel] and members of the household of God, [Genesis 22:18 and in your Offspring shall all the Nations of the earth be blessed – i.e. redeeming them from being children of wrath] 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua himself being the cornerstone…

What we gather here is that Jews and Gentiles are both reconciled to God through Messiah but both groups retain their identity (i.e. Israel and the Nations). The “belonging” that we Gentiles become inserted in is not Israel; that is, we do not become Israel, rather, we become citizens of the Kingdom of God, but Israel is still Israel and the Christians from the nations are still citizens of their respective nations. The only shared citizenship between a Jew and a Christian under Messiah, is citizenship in God’s Kingdom. What Jews and Christians equally share in is that we have “access in one Spirit to the Father” (verse 18).

benkeshet describes it this way:

Israel and the Nations do not lose their distinctiveness. Rather, what was lost was the enmity between them, which has been destroyed by Messiah’s sacrifice. Both Israel and the Nations have access to the Father via ONE SPIRIT because of faith in Messiah.

This is just the best description of the whole “one man out of two” discussion of Ephesians 2 that I’ve read and I especially wanted to share it here. I’m thankful to Gene, Shmuel haLevi, and benkeshet for their contributions to not only the source discussion, but to my personal education.

There is quite a bit more discussion at Gene’s blog so again, please visit it for the entire content. I know I can be accused of “stacking the deck,” so to speak, by presenting only certain fragments of the conversation, but my goal was to illustrate how we can look at portions of the New Testament, and especially Ephesians 2, in a different and more “Jewish” way, to see a clearer picture of how we non-Jews are brought closer to God by Jesus and what that does to the relationship between Christian and Jew. As you can tell, this perspective is a bit different that what you may have been taught, and it’s different than what some people want to believe, but it’s important to at least consider the possibility that the traditional Christian viewpoint on Ephesians 2 isn’t sustainable, given not only modern Biblical scholarship, but a more authentic Jewish interpretation of (the Jewish) Paul’s understanding of the topic at hand.

Shmuel haLevi (October 18, 1:33 pm) re-enforced the citizenship issue.

Yeshu talks frequently of the Kingdom of G-d. That citizenship is Paulos talking about. Both Jews and gentiles have to go into there for the true government.

I have only covered a portion of the full length of the discussion and I could add more, but then this “meditation” would be ridiculously excessive.

I hope I’ve provided enough information to make some of you curious and perhaps even to inspire a few (friendly, please) comments. I’m not trying to steal Gene’s thunder, so to speak, or to rob from his blog (and I received his permission to copy the above-quoted content prior to publishing it), but a lot of very good information is lost in the comments sections of the endless number of blogs on the web, and I wanted some of the key parts of this conversation to survive Internet oblivion.

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8 thoughts on “Stealing a Conversation About Ephesians, Jesus, and Being a Christian”

  1. James,
    There’s an understanding I once gained from a pastor I once knew. I can’t recall it exactly, but here is my interpretation and paraphrase.

    What we call the Old Testament is the narrative of relationship between G-d and one family He had chosen to redeem and reconcile all of His children through. The New Testament is the story of the fruition of that relationship and how it restores and brings the rest of humanity into relationship with Him.

    Regardless of whether or not all human beings have one set of genetic parents as a common ancestor or a single celled organism that “spontaneously” split and became two and so on and so forth, we all are related and members of a family. The different branches have developed enmity between them, but this does not have to remain true under G-d and Yeshua.

    I do not have the understanding, background and scholarship to support my statements, but these are my beliefs.

    Be well,
    Kina

  2. Hi Kina,

    Admittedly, the perspective I’m presenting here is a minority point of view in Christianity (or Judaism for that matter). The question is, did Jesus eliminate all distinctiveness between the Jewish people and the rest of the nations of the world based on Ephesians 2? The traditional Christian interpretation is “yes.” The Torah (Law) was “nailed to the cross” and the differences that the Law created between the Jews and everyone else were eliminated. The net result is that, from the first century forward, anyone who wanted to be reconciled with God would have to go through Jesus, surrendering all past affiliations.

    The problem is that would require all of the covenant promises God made with Israel (the Jewish people) to become null and void and be replaced by the “covenant of grace.” But since God doesn’t change His mind, make mistakes, or reverse His decisions, this is rather confusing.

    The answer (from my point of view) is encountered in various parts of the Bible. The Jerusalem Letter in Acts 15 absolves the non-Jewish disciples of Jesus from the vast majority of the Law as we understand it, but from what the New Testament presents, the Jewish disciples continued to live completely Jewish religious lives in every detail.

    I agree that we all must go through Jesus the Jewish Messiah King in order to be reconciled with God, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Jews and non-Jews who are all believers achieve spiritual unity by embracing uniformity of identity. The person whose blog I borrowed all this from is Jewish and worships in a synagogue, and yet can come to faith in Jesus (or Yeshua) as the Messiah. His point of view is like that of Peter’s and John’s as we saw them in the first several chapters of Acts. They loved their Messiah and yet were completely Jewish, just as Jesus is.

    For me, the bottom line is that we Jewish and non-Jewish believers can be reconciled and become one in God’s love and in our citizenship within the Kingdom, but Jews are still Jews and the nations are still the nations in terms of actual national affilation.

    I know it’s a lot to absorb and I also know what I’m writing here wouldn’t be accepted by most Christians, but I think there’s some merit in this perspective. I’ve written about it quite a lot and will continue to do so, which will give you, as you read my posts, a wider understanding of what I’m trying to say then I could ever cram into a blog post comment.

    I hope all this hasn’t put you off (and I know I’m ‘talking’ too much, but there may well be more being said in the Bible than we are typically taught. All I’m asking is for you to keep an open mind.

    Thanks and blessings.

  3. James, you’ve done a good job of inspiring curiosity. A good curiosity. I’ve always reasoned that we’ve become part of Israel, more specifically, the commonwealth of Israel, in a legal sense, as we’ve also been grafted into Israel (the olive tree) in the organic sense. Until now, I’ve considered the Kingdom of God as rendered “Israel.” Are we not grafted into Israel, which is, in fact, the name of the Kingdom of God? Thanks for this blog… I’m saving this one to go back to time and again… ~ Daniel

  4. Hi Daniel,

    The grafting process is interesting in that both the natural branches (Israel) and the wild branches (everybody else) are attached to the olive tree, but any branch is attachable or detachable. The natural branches grew on the tree and we were grafted while the wild branches grew orlginally on another tree. In actual grafting, if you take a branch from a tree that only grows green olives (for example) and graft it onto a tree that only grows black olives, the grafted branch will still produce green olives. In other words, although it is receiving the same support and nourishment as the natural branches, the grafted branch doesn’t change to become a natural branch.

    I think this alternate view of Ephesians 2 is saying something similar, that we all belong to the Kingdom of God and we all connect to God through one spirit, the spirit of Messiah, but we continue to retain our original identities, nationalities, and distinctions.

    I’m glad this invoked your curiousity and that you commented.

  5. Major rambling with distracting kids in the background. Going off the two previous comments.

    The trunk of the olive tree is the Kingdom of God, the natural branches being Israel, the grafted branches being gentiles. The natural branches still make black olives, more Jewish people, the grafted branches with still make green olives, more gentile people. So to follow the grafting imagery Messiah is the one who does the grafting of the branches into the trunk, or Kingdom of God, through faith like Abraham. Yes? So now we both have the support and access to the Kingdom of God. The reconciling is of us all to the trunk and by extension to each other but we still make our own olives.

    Torah Club v.5 has some interesting stuff to say about Abraham and Messiah and faith that I hope to coherently relay in my next blog post.

    I like the alternative reading of the Ephesians 2.

  6. “The natural branches still make black olives, more Jewish people, the grafted branches with still make green olives, more gentile people. ”

    Interesting analogy, Crankenpants. Of course, all olives (wild or cultivated) are green in color and all olives eventually turn black if left on the tree long enough to allow for ripening. Perhaps Jews are the ripen ones who have been on the tree for quite a while!

  7. Actually, it was my analogy, Gene (see above). I was just trying to say that even if a branch from one type of olive tree is grafted onto a different type of olive tree. The grafted in branch doesn’t “morph” its nature or character to become the tree it’s grafted into. I do agree that the Jews, as the natural branches are the more “ripened” ones.

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