jewish wedding

Abraham, Ephesians 2, and the Unique Jewish Mission, Part 2

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

Ephesians 2:14-16 (NASB)

This text indicates that the two identified in Ephesians 2:11 as Gentiles and Jews, have become one in Christ. Jesus broke down the barrier dividing the two in order to create “one new man” in which there is peace and reconciliation. “One new man” is a metaphor for the church but, in spite of its apparent simplicity, two diametrically opposing views of its nature appear in the literature. Each of these views is underpinned by antithetical perspectives on Israel in the present era inaugurated by the Christ-event.

-David B. Woods
“One New Man, Part 1 of 2” p.51
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

Continued from Part 1.

The above-quoted scripture is the foundation for both Woods’ commentary in the current issue of Messiah Journal and Derek Leman’s commentary on his blog. Leman addresses “the wall” and what it might actually be from a Judaically-oriented interpretive perspective, and Woods takes on who this “one new man” might be.

Woods quoted Martyn Lloyd-Jones (“God’s Way of Reconciliation” [vol. 2. of “An Exposition on Ephesians”; Edinburgh, Scotland: Baker Book House, 1972], 275) to exemplify the currently held viewpoint of the “one new man” within Evangelical Christianity:

The Jew has been done away with as such, even as the Gentile has been done away with, in Christ…nothing that belonged to the old state is of any value or has any relevance in the new state.

-ibid, p.52

If you’re familiar with my views on supersessionism, otherwise known as replacement theology or fulfillment theology, then you know from my perspective, those are “fighting words.

Conversely, Woods quoted the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) (“Introducing Messianic Judaism and the UMJC” [Albuquerque, NM: Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, 2010], 24) to illustrate the “flip side” of the coin:

One new man does not mean that the distinction and mutuality between Jews and Gentiles are obliterated. Instead, it means that Jews as Jews and Gentiles as Gentiles, with their differences and distinctions, live in unity and mutual blessing in Yeshua…they do not become a new generic, uniform humanity.

-ibid

AbrahamThis harkens back to certain passages of Carl Kinbar’s article from the same issue of Messiah Journal: “The Promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Part 1” which I mentioned in my previous blog post. God endowed the Jews, through the patriarchs, with certain blessings and responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is, through Abraham, being a blessing to the Gentiles. This operates through the faithfulness of Messiah and Gentile faith in the God of Israel through Messiah Yeshua, and it only works if Israel, that is, the Jewish people, remain distinct from the Gentile disciples in the Ekklesia of Messiah.

Distinction theory is my term for the theological framework which understands Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus as distinct in certain significant theological senses, including identity and function (role, service) in the economy of God’s kingdom. That is, a biblical differentiation exists between Israel and the nations within the church similar to that which existed before Christ. This distinction results in a twofold structure within the church that I label “intra-ecclesial Jew-Gentile distinction.” In this framework, the “one new man” or “humanity” as I shall explain, comprises Jews and Gentiles who together are devoted to Jesus.

-ibid, p.53

I know that statement won’t sit well with some people reading this, namely more traditional, mainstream Christians, and certainly many Hebrew Roots proponents. Woods intends on showing from his analysis of scripture, how his view is more Biblically sustainable than those views that insist on the obliteration of Jewish uniqueness of identity and corporate covenant responsibility, either by, in essence, “Gentile-izing” them (and recall that Kinbar says you can’t “unJew” a Jew) or erasing Jewish distinction by assigning Jewish roles and responsibilities to both Jews and Gentiles equally.

To do this, Woods proposes to take the phrase “one new man” and analyze the Greek (and Hebrew) one word at a time. Unfortunately, by the time he ended part 1 of his article, he had addressed only the first word.

His explanation is complex, but in short:

Hena assuredly means one, but Jewish and Christian scholars alike are aware that the word is laden with theological import. God, says Deuteronomy 6:4, is one (…echad–or heis in the Septuagint, where heis and hena are inflections of the same word).

-ibid, p.54

Relative to the Shema and “the LORD is One”, it is just as accurate to translate echad as “unique” or “alone”. Applied to the “one” in “one new man,” this changes the meaning somewhat, from a single fused entity, to a grouping that has the potential to contain other groupings. Certainly “alone” could be compared to “called out”.

Also echad might not imply so much that God is “one and indivisible,” but…

…rather that God alone is to be worshiped to the exclusion of all other gods.

-ibid

Woods also considers basar echad or “one flesh” (Genesis 2:4) and states:

The marriage relationship is dependent on the distinction between husband and wife; thus “unity implies distinctiveness and yet is complementary.”

-ibid

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

Looking back upon the “one new man” as the Messiah’s Ekklesia, we can see that it’s possible to have a group of called out ones that are echad and yet not only can contain sub-groups that are distinct, but that the Ekklesia’s very existence is dependent upon the Jewish and Gentile sub-groups within the larger “one” group remaining distinct and also complementary.

Woods cites Ephesians 2:11-22 in that it notes:

…that the principle distinction between members of the body is their status in Israel: They are either members of Israel (Jews), or they are drawn from among the nations (Gentiles/non-Jews) into fellowship with Israel–yet without becoming Jews.

-ibid, p.55 (emph. mine)

I might change that last part to say that we Gentiles in the Ekklesia are drawn “into fellowship with Israel without becoming Israel.” We have fellowship with Israel without replacing or usurping Israel’s unique covenant relationship with and responsibility to God.

Woods continues building his case for several more pages, but I believe I’ve presented sufficient examples to illustrate where he’s going. However, he won’t begin discussing his understanding of the word “new” until the next issue of Messiah Journal which will be published this coming summer.

Turning now to Derek Leman’s blog post on the Dividing Wall:

I attended a paper in 2013 on the meaning of the dividing wall passage of Ephesians 2. A year and a half later, the interpretation put forward by Jesper Svartvik still looks good to me. I include here a postlude concerning the meaning of “abolishing the law of commandments in decrees.”

So based on Leman’s presentation of the conclusions of Svartvik’s 2013 paper, how are we to understand the “dividing wall” that Yeshua was to have “broken down in his own flesh?”

From Leman’s perspective (taking from Svartvik), the Christian misunderstanding of this “wall” is based on the Christian misunderstanding of the Temple’s sacrificial system:

First, Svartvik said we need to keep in mind a Jewish understanding of sacrifice and the Temple worship, as opposed to same later Christian re-interpretations. Sacrifice at the Temple was about staying in the covenant and not getting in. People were not trying to “get saved” or “be born again” in offering a lamb. They already were in and sacrifices were part of keeping right relation with God.

Second, sacrifice in the Bible is about nearness, the spatial metaphor of “drawing near” to God. The verb most used for offering a sacrifice means literally “bring near.” (As a Hebrew Bible devotee, I can tell you, this is not only true, it is one of the most profound things I wish people knew about the sacrifices and it is one of the major issues I discuss in my book, Yeshua Our Atonement). We might notice that in Ephesians 2 the same nearness issue is being discussed: those who were far off are now brought near.

The Jewish people were near to God and the Gentiles were far off. So how could those who were far off be brought near to those who were already near (the Jews)? How was the enmity between Jews and Gentiles to be resolved? By doing away with Jewish obligation to Torah? By mandating that Jewish obligation to Torah also be assigned equally to the Gentile?

As we see from Woods, forming an “echad” Ekklesia of Jews and Gentiles doesn’t require that both groups be eliminated to form a new, homogenous entity with no distinctiveness contained within it.

As I quoted Leman in my previous blog post, the dividing wall can be understood differently than the four prevailing theories, the “soreg” or literal fence forming the “Court of the Gentiles” in the Temple, the Talmudic “fence” around the Torah commandments, a theological dividing wall between heaven and earth, or, most commonly, the Torah itself. The dividing wall can be understood as a metaphor for the “mistrust and enmity between Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world in which the apostles founded a movement of faith.”

intermarriageLet’s go back to Woods’ comparison of “one” as the “echad” of a marriage. A man and a woman meet and fall in love. They desire to marry, but there are “issues” that stand between them that must be resolved before they can enter into a life-long commitment to one another. You might say that they have to overcome any “mistrust and enmity” between them before they can be joined as “one flesh” and become something new, not two individuals, male and female, living apart, but “one flesh”, male and female, living in a single family and yet requiring they maintain their distinctiveness.

You can go to Leman’s blog to read the entire text of his essay as well as view the ongoing discussion, but hopefully, I’ve adequately summarized his main point regarding the nature of the “dividing wall” that was torn down through the Messiah. The dividing wall is just a metaphor for the mistrust and enmity that previously existed between Jew and Gentile. In Messiah, those barriers are gone and Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master can co-exist within the Ekklesia while remaining Jewish and Gentile. This is the same thing as a man and woman getting married and remaining male and female within the family.

Now before someone asks, Leman ends his blog post…

By the way, I should say the theory I just put out there concerning the meaning of “law of commandments in decrees” could never be fully verified as it is an example of trying to fill in a gap left by the writer. We can only guess what fills in the gap. The guess that “law of commandments in decrees” means the whole Torah has huge problems, not least of which is that is a strange way of describing Torah as a whole.

My take away from reviewing Kinbar’s, Woods’ and Leman’s work is that the concept of two unique and complementary groups, one made up of Jews and the other of Gentiles, operating within a single Ekklesia, and indeed, providing mutual blessings to one another, is certainly supportable from a Biblical viewpoint that is Israel-focused and Judaically-oriented, and may well represent the Apostle Paul’s original viewpoint.

Adopting that viewpoint requires divorcing ourselves from the more traditional Christian exegetical perspective on Paul in particular and the Bible in general, so that we may attempt to recapture the actual context and meaning of Paul and the other Bible writers, who were attempting to communicate how God’s vast, sweeping redemptive plan for Israel and the nations was to unfold, first through the Torah, then the Prophets, and finally the revelation of Messiah.

Reviews, by their nature, can only capture a snapshot of the works being reviewed. Again, I encourage you to go to Leman’s blog, and to read the articles written by Kinbar and Woods in the current issue of Messiah Journal to get the full message of what they are presenting. While not everyone who reads my blog may agree with what they have to say, you will see that there are compelling counterarguments to the traditions that have been handed down in the Church for so many centuries. I believe those counter-perspectives must be considered and ultimately accepted by believers in order for Jews and Gentiles in the Body of Messiah to apprehend the true meaning of “one new man.”

JerusalemIn Part 1, I said that in order to understand the role and purpose of the Messianic Gentile, we needed to understand the role of the Messianic Jew in the Ekklesia. So what did we Gentiles learn about ourselves? Hopefully, I illustrated that our role is to be joined with Israel, not to become or replace Israel. And as I’ve stated before, our purpose in the Ekklesia, in response to being blessed by the Jewish people and the promises God made to Abraham, is to support and encourage Jewish Torah observance and covenant obedience, for without an Israel oriented toward God, there is no redemption for the world.

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14 thoughts on “Abraham, Ephesians 2, and the Unique Jewish Mission, Part 2”

  1. I agree with the examples of gender distinction to help understand Jew/Gentile distinctions. He made us male and female, yet we marry and become “one flesh” while not forfeiting those distinctions, and the church has understood this. Why is it so difficult to see it regarding Jew/Gentile?

    Regarding Jew/ Gentile enmity, it’s interesting that one of the first acts during the revolt of 66 AD, just a few years after Ephesians was written (60-63 AD), is that Gentiles were prohibited from offering sacrifices at the Temple. Jewish distinction was most obvious and enforced there, and Gentiles flooding in to The Way, worshiping the God of the Jews – and making wrong assumptions about how they fit in – created problems then and we see the same thing happening today with Gentiles flooding in to the messianic movement and mostly making wrong assumptions about identity, yet there’s no solid and clear boundary like the temple, just Paul’s words misintrepreted to have redefined Jewish identity, i.e., a “true Jew” is not one outwardly – that is, ethnically – but has been inwardly or spiritually circumcised, that is, Gentiles).

    If Matthew Thiessen (“Contesting Conversion”) and other scholars are correct and there was no such thing as gentile “conversion” or any possibility of someone “becoming Jewish” in ancient Israel – and highly contested in the second temple era – and using “circumcision” as a synonym for being Jewish is a wrong interpretation of Paul and makes a mess of what he’s saying (particularly in Romans) then we still have a lot more to learn.

    The pervasiveness of non-ethnic religion, i.e., Christianity, has prevented us from perceiving how ethnic ‘gods’ and worship practices were in ancient times, which in turn prevents us from appreciating just how astounding it is that when most people say ‘God’ they mean the “God of the Jews”.

    I’m excited about the trajectories both Jewish and Christian scholars are on regarding how to understand Paul and there’s a few forthcoming works I hope to get my hands on soon (I hope they aren’t too pricy 🙂 )

  2. The dividing wall can be understood as a metaphor for the “mistrust and enmity between Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world in which the apostles founded a movement of faith.”

    Let’s go back to Woods’ comparison of “one” as the “echad” of a marriage. A man and a woman meet and fall in love. They desire to marry, but there are “issues” that stand between them that must be resolved before they can enter into a life-long commitment to one another. You might say that they have to overcome any “mistrust and enmity” between them before they can be joined as “one flesh” and become something new, not two individuals, male and female, living apart, but “one flesh”, male and female….

    I want to mention, Brigitte Kahl has pointed out that Roman power was in part dependent on different ethnicities being segregated and ruled differently and to some degree made wary of each other. It would, I suppose, be a play to heighten what comes naturally.
    Galatians Re-Imagined

  3. I don’t have any background in Greek, but just to throw this out, what happens if we flip things around? The implication of the English translation and Christian theology is that it was the Jews who had to change in order for this, “new thing,” to happen. But I don’t believe it was. What if it was the gentiles who had to change in order to become part of a Jewish communal group.

    Let’s take a look at the temple division providing a court for the gentiles. Why were the gentiles separated? I suspect it was because they ate unclean animals, weren’t circumcised, didn’t take part in the mikvah and other areas of ritual purification, and they worshipped idols and frequented pagan temples. Learning something about the religion and legal system of ancient Greek and Roman society shed much light. While Jews were not required to take part in pagan rituals, the gentiles were, as an aspect of their citizenship and participation in society. To refuse would be akin to treason and violation of local ordinance in our society. Imagine a member of the military who fails to salute a commanding officer, or citizens who refuse to stand and say the pledge of allegiance. The gentile Yeshua followers gave up their idolatry and agreed to alter their behavior to allow Jews to fellowship with them without incurring ritual impurity, and so be disallowed from the temple.

  4. http://blogs.yu.edu/cjl/2013/03/20/review-of-thiessen-_contesting-conversion-genealogy-circumcision-and-identity-in-ancient-judaism-and-christianity_/

    Thank you for mentioning the book by Thiessen, Sojourning. This (review at the link I’ve provided) is what I’ve read about it so far. What I meant to imply (and I don’t think was necessarily deductible enough from what I wrote) in my previous post is that Rome was involved in choices of laws and definitions for groupings (the ethnic groupings of people were not free to be what they wanted). I will now add as an offer to consider along with the article’s naming of the Idumeans that Herod was an Idumean (and “Edomite” who hardly lived up to being a Jew). I think this is easily understandable as a problem to address (and one Paul and others probably were addressing).

  5. Yeah, common understanding about Gentiles, but according to some scholars, understanding the diff between ritual and moral impurities is vital to get that Gentiles do not cause ritual defilement, which was highly contagious, only moral impurities (which isn’t contagious) as seen in the Priestly strand: Lev 1-16 and the Holiness Code: Lev 17-26). However, some say the impurity of Gentiles is intrinsic and permanent.

    What seems to complicate matters is that many Jews believed that Gentiles could never be anything but Gentiles and their defilement was to the genealogy of Israel, and so were opposed to intermarriage and so-called “conversion” but didn’t believe they caused ritual defilement in ancient times.

    The rabbis claim ascribing Gentiles as ritually impure didn’t happen until sometime in the 1st -3rd centuries and was their own post biblical innovation and not biblical, and was implemented for a specific time period and meant to detour Jewish Gentile interaction. They later annulled that ruling as Jews were scattered into Gentile lands.

    My understanding thus far is that it isn’t a matter of Gentiles not keeping the Torah, as it wasn’t given to us/them so a Gentile trying to do so is not adding anything to Israel, or perhaps worse. (It wouldn’t be okay for a Jew who is a non-Cohen to assume a Cohen’s role and duties, for example, and wouldn’t make him holier to do so, rather it would be the opposite) but then we’re back to thinking the instructions God gave to Israel are His standard for all humanity without distinction, which I reject. We are supposed to keep the Moral purity laws as outlined in various places including Acts 15.

    Lots of opinions and complicated, but also interesting.

  6. Just to clear things up, I posted my last comment above to Chaya, but was very tired and forgot to address her.

    @Marleen, you’re welcome! I have Thiessen’s book but it ain’t cheap, so see if you can check it out at a local University, perhaps. That is, if you’re interested.

    “that Rome was involved in choices of laws and definitions for groupings (the ethnic groupings of people were not free to be what they wanted)”

    Shaye Cohen deals with this on his “Beginninings of Jewishness.”

  7. @James — Since you reiterated Derek’s paragraph above, asserting that “the meaning of ‘law of commandments in decrees’ could never be fully verified …. We can only guess ….”, let me reiterate here my response to that assertion (for those who don’t also read all the comments to his essay):
    ——————————–
    @Derek — I’d like to propose a rendition of: “νόμον τῶν ἐντολῶν ἐν δόγμασιν καταργήσας”, or what you presented as: “law of commandments in decrees” (in Eph.2:15), which may be helpful to this discussion. Let me begin by reminding you that in the preceding verse 14 Rav Yeshua is referenced as: “εἰρήνη ἡμῶν”, “our peace”, which is to say he is being compared with a “shlemah” (“peace”; “wholeness”; “integrity”) offering, whose purpose was one of bringing together the offerer and HaShem, covering over the differences that had previously separated them. This could apply also to covering over the differences between the offerer and anyone with whom they previously had been at odds, which may have been the reason why the offerer had felt estranged from HaShem.

    So we have in this symbol an explanation of breaking down a wall of hostility, and a bringing together of gentiles with HaShem and with the people of Israel from whose commonwealth and promissory covenant(s) they had been excluded (by HaShem’s very own Torah). We can therefore see in this “reconciliation” the formation of a body of unified renewed humans (“one new Man”) — “unified” because they no longer need be hostile to one another, “new” because the gentiles in particular were to learn HaShem’s ways that were rather new to them while Jews would need to learn they these cleansed gentiles could be trusted and not feared (well, we can always hope!), and with blessings applicable to “Mankind” as a whole and not only to Jews as the people of the covenant(s).

    So what was it that previously gave the dividing wall of hostility its strength? Most of us are already somewhat familiar with the Greek word “nomos” as meaning “law”; hence we may recognize the phrase “nomon ton” as “the law of” (or pertaining to …) something, or the rule or regulation about it. The term “entolon” may mean an order, an injunction, an edict, a commission, or a charge (to announce, proclaim, or receive something). It had, as I understand it, a legal application as an announcement of the verdict in a court, among other usages. The term “dogmasin” (“dogmas”) is, in this case, a “public decree”, rather than a statute or ordinance, because it has already been introduced by the term “nomos” and should not reflect a redundant notion. The term “katargisas” is an adjective modifying “dogmasin”, creating a phrase indicating the nullity of the decree, effectively calling it an obsolete or invalidated decree. Therefore we can understand this so-called “law of commandments in decrees” rather as a commonly-understood societal rule that had been invalidated or made obsolete. I suppose it might also be compared legally to vacating a prior court order, but in this case I suspect it referred to abrogating a much more binding presupposition within Jewish society that gentiles were to be avoided. Such avoidance had previously had a very strong logic behind it, because association with gentiles had always presented dangers of being unable to maintain the purity demanded by Torah, of being tempted to sin, and even of accidentally inviting persecution by these gentiles or their compatriots against Jews. However, insofar as gentiles adopted Rav Yeshua’s teachings and attitudes, being thereby “cleansed”, such former dangers should be obviated. Regrettably, we have seen more than 15 centuries in which gentiles claiming to follow Rav Yeshua have not been at all cleansed of their virulent enmity against Jews, raising their own “wall of hostility”.
    ————————————–
    [The original response contained more, responding to another element in Derek’s essay, but the above addresses the particular notion cited here.]

  8. That’s very illuminating, PL. It certainly seems to solve the problem of interpreting “law of commandments in decrees” as the Torah. Thanks for including your comment to Derek here.

  9. One thing we forget about the ancient Greek culture; it wasn’t just that Jews sought to distance and protect themselves from the gentile world, outside of that required for commerce and survival. The pagan world despised Jews for refusing to join in pagan rituals, which would be like a US citizen refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance, or a person who refuses to shake hands upon meeting.

  10. I agree, Chaya, that there were issues in both directions — Jews needing to be careful and “pagans”/gentiles feeling compelled or worried about overstepping cultural or even governmental boundaries (under the Roman empire). As to concerns over at least moral purity (if not also precautions of separation more generally), this would be illustrated in part by the leaders staying out of Pilot’s residence on Passover preparation day.

    As to circumcision, while it is obviously a Jewish command, I suspect Rome made a particular deal of the practice for their own purposes. This would allow them to continue to make demands on people interested in Judaism or favoring the God of Israel (but whose men were not circumcised) as well as to put their cronies (corrupt leaders favorable to Rome, like Herod) in positions of Israel.

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