In writing the review, I mentioned that I had gone back to J.K.McKee‘s A Part of Israel? as a resource for scholarly exposition of Scripture related to the place of non-Jews who come to Messiah. You’ll remember I lamented not having reviewed the book… Well, I started reading it again and couldn’t put it down! ‘Nuff said?
He is gracious in doing so, but is clear to demonstrate where there is error in various understandings of what the Kingdom of Israel looks like and who is in it! Example passages would be 30 pages dedicated to the predictably selected Ephesians 2:11-13 passage. He specifically addresses politeia, a Greek word we have looked at before, however, he understandably takes a much more coy approach as to whether non-Jews will have an inheritance in the land.
from portions of his review of
JK McKee’s ‘Are Non-Jewish Believers Really A Part Of Israel?
I normally ignore these sorts of topics since historically in the blogosphere, debating the issues involved in Jewish/Gentile relationships in modern Messianic Judaism and/or the ancient ekklesia of “the Way” have, at best, proven unfruitful, and at worst, hostile and abusive.
But I’ve always had good, civil, and friendly conversations with Pete, including in the comments section on another of his blog posts,. So when I read his review, I was prompted to consider responding. After all, the legal and community status of the ancient Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah King relative to the synagogue, Jewish co-participants, and ultimately national Israel not only have applications in modern Christianity, but ultimately will be realized in the Messianic Kingdom when the New Covenant Age comes toward completion.
I requested a review copy of McKee’s book from the publisher and received a very nice and prompt reply stating that they do not honor such requests. Fair enough, since self-publication does not usually allow for such an option.
When I read Pete’s review last night, I got stuck on a single word: politeia. My commentary rather narrowly focuses on this word and how it is used since I can’t comment more generally on what McKee has written.
The word “politeia” is used in the following passages of scripture:
Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”
–Acts 22:28 (NASB)
…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
–Ephesians 2:12 (NASB)
I’ve bolded the English word corresponding to the Greek word “politeia” which is rendered as “citizenship” in both cases in the NASB translation.
However, this creates a number of questions.
- Is Paul telling us (or his readers) that non-Jewish members of the Messianic ekklesia are now legally citizens of national Israel by faith in Messiah?
- If so, then does such citizenship automatically require that the Gentile disciples adhere to, by obligation, the same Torah mitzvot in the same manner as the Jewish disciples/citizens?
- Can “politeia” be translated in any other way besides “citizenship” and if so, what are the implications for the relationship of Gentiles and Jews belonging to Messiah in relationship to national Israel?
As you can see from my source material, depending on the translation and in which part of scripture the word occurs, it can be translated differently. In Acts 22:28 using the KJV translation, it is rendered “freedom,” while in Ephesians 2:12, the NAS, KJV, and INT translations all present the word as “commonwealth”.
In fact, “citizenship” is only one of three major ways to translate”politeia”:
- the administration of civil affairs (Xenophon, mem. 3, 9, 15; Aristophanes, Aeschines, Demosthenes (others)).
- a state, commonwealth (2 Macc. 4:11 2Macc. 8:17 2Macc. 13:14; Xenophon, Plato, Thucydides (others)): with a genitive of the possessor, τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, spoken of the theocratic or divine commonwealth, Ephesians 2:12.
- citizenship, the rights of a citizen (some make this sense the primary one): Acts 22:28 (3Macc. 3:21, 23; Herodotus 9, 34; Xenophon, Hell. 1, 1, 26; 1, 2, 10; (4, 4, 6, etc.); Demosthenes, Polybius, Diodorus, Josephus, others).
I’m not a linguistic scholar, but I’ve known enough of them to understand that any sort of translation from one language to another is much more complicated than saying a particular word in language A always means another particular word in language B, especially when those languages are separated by nearly two-thousand years of history.
I am absolutely not saying McKee is making such a “rookie error,” but I will say that we all read and translate the Bible from a particular perspective, usually one that supports our own biases (everyone has biases, it’s not a dirty word). And yes, it’s easy to read those two verses in the New Testament and conclude that Paul must be making Israeli citizens out of Gentile believers in Jesus.
A lot of Evangelical Christians believe we’re “spiritual” citizens of Israel too, and expect to take over physical, national Israel when Jesus comes back. Naturally, Jewish people object to being kicked out of their own Land (even by allegory) and those teachers in Messianic Judaism who I follow do not believe we Gentiles will be moving to Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, or Haifa once Messiah ascends the Davidic throne.
So where does that leave us? What’s the “differential diagnoses?”
If indeed it is the case that in Christ these Gentiles have a portion in [Israel’s covenant membership and national eschatology], i.e. that they are saved as Gentiles, then it suffices to apply to them the same ethical principles that would in any case apply to righteous Gentiles living with the people of Israel, i.e. resident aliens.
“Jewish Law in Gentile Churches:
Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics”
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), 165
While the gerim in the days of Moses were not Israelites as such and did not obtain full membership status in the nation due to lack of tribal affiliation, they did observe a large number (majority? nearly-full obligation?) of the Torah mitzvot in the days of Moses and beyond. The argument of some branches of the Hebrew Roots movement is that the gerim status can be wholly transferred to the Gentile disciples of Jesus and be used to justify Gentile Christian obligation to the full yoke of Torah. Lancaster has spent considerable effort in his commentary to illustrate how James and the Council exempted the Gentiles from the full yoke of Torah because they were not born Jews or converts. Now, he apparently brings in an element in explaining the four prohibitions that could reverse his argument.
The key to all this is in understanding what sort of decision the Council of Apostles and Elders made in Jerusalem about the legal status of Gentiles in “the Way”. The question was brought up (Acts 15:1-2) and after much debate, Paul and his detractors couldn’t make any headway toward a solution, so they took it to a higher authority in Jerusalem. After much deliberation, the Council rendered what amounts to a binding legal decision and issued halachah specific to the communal role and responsibilities of Gentile disciples of the Master. Did they have to undergo the proselyte rite and become wholly obligated to the Torah mitzvot? If not, how could they be included as equal co-participants in Jewish worship and community and yet not be Jewish? How could they be included in covenant?
How do we resolve the matter of the ancient Ger as applied to the late Second Temple Gentile God-fearing disciple? Lancaster doesn’t make that clear, but based on my own reading, particularly of Cohen, the full role of a Ger as it existed in the days of Moses was to allow a non-Israelite to live among the people of God as permanent resident aliens without being able to formally become national citizens due to lack of tribal affiliation. After the Babylonian exile, a tribal basis for Israelite society was lost and affiliation by clan was emphasized. By the time of Jesus, this clan affiliation basis was too lost, and thus the rationale for the status of Ger as it was originally applied no longer was valid. A Gentile in the days of Jesus or later, who wanted to join the community of Israel, in most cases, would convert to Judaism, since becoming a Ger was not an option.
-from my aforementioned blog post
To further cite Shaye J.D. Cohen:
Biblical law frequently refers to the “resident alien” (ger in Hebrew) who is grouped with the widow, the orphan, and the Levite. All of these are landless and powerless, and all are the potential victims of abuse. (An American analogy to the ger is the Chicano (specifically, undocumented alien) farmworker; a European analogy is the Turkish laborer in Germany.) The Bible nowhere states how a ger might ameliorate his status and become equal to the native born, because there was no legal institution by which a foreigner could be absorbed by a tribal society living on its ancestral land. Resident aliens in the cities of pre-Hellenistic Greece fared no better.
But there’s another authoritative source that should be considered:
and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;
and again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;
and again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
–Romans 15:9-12 (NASB)
To which Nanos responds:
Christian gentiles worshiping the One God in the midst of the congregation of Israel — my point exactly! (emph. mine)
-Mark D. Nanos
Chapter 6: Romans 13:1-7: Christian Obedience to Synagogue Authority, pg 326
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters
Paul is urging the Gentile believers to take note of their position, their role, and their halachic status as “resident aliens” within the midst of corporate Israel, which here is the synagogue context in Rome.
The alternative explanation, based Bockmuehl, Cohen, Lancaster, and Nanos, is that the Gentiles were included in the commonwealth of Israel but not as equal national citizens. It would be as if my wife, as a Jew, decided to make aliyah, become an Israeli citizen and live in Israel. As her husband, even though I’m not Jewish, I would be allowed a permanent status as a resident in Israel as well, but I do not have an automatic right to become a citizen, as does my wife, because I am not Jewish.
I would still have most or all of the same rights as Jewish Israelis and I would have most or all of the same obligations as Jewish Israelis, but none of that would make me Jewish, nor would the Chief Rabbis of Israel or any other Jewish religious authority expect me to observe Torah as they proscribe because I’m not Jewish.
I know you’re going to say that’s all secular law (with the exception of the authority of the Chief Rabbis) and has little or nothing to do with how God sees things, but I’m using the above example by way of analogy. When James and the Council issued their decision, it wasn’t some magical, spiritual event, it was a legal ruling on the same order as the authorities among the Pharisees made, and was binding halachah upon the community.
However, there is another citizenship I have and one in which I’m looking forward to living out in the age to come. It’s a status I currently possess since according to at least one interpretation of the New Covenant, I need to start living my life as if the world were already fully under the rule of Messiah, Son of David, as he is seated on his Throne in Jerusalem.
I consider myself a citizen of the worldwide Messianic Kingdom to come and many wonderful blessings come from this status. I will be resurrected from dead flesh and made immortal (assuming I die before Messiah’s return). I will have my sins fully, permanently cleansed from me. I will have the Holy Spirit poured into me to such fullness that I will have an apprehension of God in the same or even greater manner than the prophets of old. I will have my heart of stone turned to a heart of flesh and God will write His Word upon it so that it will be my natural inclination to always obey Him and not return to sin.
And as a Gentile of the nations, I will reside in a country that is a vassal state to national Israel, subservient to Israel which will be the head of all nations, and ultimately I and my nation of residence will be accountable to the King of Israel, Moshiach. I expect that I and everyone else like me will be planning our vacations around the festivals and making regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem to spend time with family and friends and pay homage and honor to our King.
The goyishness of Christianity is a sign of its success, not its failure!
-Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann
“The Problem With Hebrew Roots, or, It’s Good to be a Goy”
R. Dauermann makes a compelling argument that Gentiles who attach themselves to the God of Israel are intended by God to remain Gentiles. The prophets of the Tanakh who spoke of the Messianic Age all seemed to share that belief. I’ll only quote two of them:
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”
–Isaiah 56:6-7 (NASB)
“In that day
“I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
I will repair its broken walls
and restore its ruins—
and will rebuild it as it used to be,
so that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations that bear my name,”
declares the Lord, who will do these things. (emph. mine)
–Amos 9:11-12 (NASB)
And to quote verse 14:
and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. (emph. mine)
which can also be interpreted as:
will restore the fortunes of my people Israel. (emph. mine)
In both of these prophetic examples describing Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Age, it is clear that Gentiles will become attached to the God of Jacob as Gentiles and as citizens of the nations. While Isaiah paints for us a portrait of Gentiles offering sacrifices at the Temple of God (something which was allowed during the time of Herod’s Temple), Amos 9:14 makes a clear distinction between the Gentiles of the nations who “bear my name” and Israel!
It is true that Isaiah describes Gentiles keeping to the covenant, but after all, we will receive blessings because of our Abrahamic faith under the New Covenant, and in Messianic Days, I expect it will be more common for even the citizens of vassal nations to have laws and observances that more closely mirror national Israel’s including Sabbath keeping.
I’m not even saying (with apologies to R. Dauermann) that Gentiles in Messiah shouldn’t observe Sabbath in the present age. I’ve met many who do.
What I am saying is that none of what I see in the Bible, particularly the use of a single Greek word, absolutely mandates that all non-Jewish people who are disciples of Jesus be made into citizens of Israel, either in the present age or in the Messianic future.
God made a covenant with Abraham that was specifically and narrowly passed down to Abraham’s son Isaac (but not to Ishmael or any of Abraham’s subsequent children) and then to Isaac’s son Jacob (but not to Esau) and then to Jacob’s twelve sons who became the heads of the twelve tribes, who became the nation of Israel (but not to any other people group or nations).
That Abraham would also become the father of many nations and that through his seed (singular) Messiah, the nations would be blessed, does not abrogate the part of the covenant that specifically promises Israel only to the direct biological offspring of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.
Having not read his book, I can’t say for sure, but if McKee comes to a different conclusion in his writing, then in spite of his stated education and scholarship, I’m forced to disagree with him.
I don’t write this against Pete or anyone else who holds to his views of scripture, but rather to illustrate that there are other valid and educated views of the Bible that come to other valid and educated conclusions.
I considered just making a few comments on Pete’s blog but as you see, the response requires a lot of words and it’s easier to write out my thoughts here and then just to share a link to my blog with him (and anyone else who is interested).
Considering all of the different viewpoints involved in this sort of discussion, I see the position of One Law/One Torah (OL/OT) as existing at one end of a continuum and what’s been called Bilateral Ecclesiology (BE) positioned at the opposite end. While I obviously am leaning closer to the BE end of the scale, I’m not sitting right on top of it.
Of those congregations I am aware of that I consider authentic Messianic Jewish synagogues, including Beth Immanuel, Tikvat Israel, and Ahavat Zion, they all have a majority membership/attendance of non-Jewish people worshiping the God of Israel and giving honor and glory to Yeshua HaMoshiach (Jesus Christ), with a smaller membership and usually leadership of Jews. In fact, the primary teacher at Beth Immanuel is a Gentile: D. Thomas Lancaster. And yet Beth Immanuel is a Jewish community and worship venue that adheres to specific standards of established halachah.
From my perspective, that’s the current state of Messianic Judaism, or at least those portions I know about in my little corner of the world.
That I don’t consider non-Jewish disciples to be literally citizens of national Israel does not exclude us from many incredible blessings or from association with our Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah. I am quite comfortable inside of my own skin, so to speak, being a person among the nations who is called by His Name. Being married to a Jewish wife, I am content to recognize that she is among her people Israel and I’m dedicated to supporting her, and all other Jewish people I’m associated with, being and becoming closer to the God of Jacob as HIs people Israel through the mitzvot and within their unique community and nation which was established forever by Hashem.