I have long puzzled over how to understand the gentiles in Paul, both from his perspective and their own perspective. I operate under the assumption that he is writing primarily to them and his goal is to articulate and manage just how they are connected to Israel through Christ. In the process, as I have discussed elsewhere, both he and they undergo various transformations in identity, changes that, I maintain, never separate him from Judaism and that affiliate gentiles with Israel but not as full members. They are not Jews and, in my view, they are not Christians…
-Caroline Johnson Hodge
Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm, Editors
“The Question of Identity: Gentiles as Gentiles–but also Not–in Pauline Communities”
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition)
More than the previous essays I’ve reviewed from this volume, this one speaks in detail not only to the identity issues involved in being a “Gentile in Christ” in the time of the Apostle Paul, but also to those of us who call ourselves “Messianic Gentiles” today.
For the vast majority of mainstream Christians in churches, this identity conundrum does not exist. Being “Christians” is self-defining and self-explanatory and perhaps anachronistically, they believe they have direct one-to-one connectedness of identity with Paul’s own Gentiles. According to Hodge, nothing could be further from the truth, or at least further from the facts.
Many scholars use the term “Christian” for these gentile believers, even though there is fairly widespread agreement that it is anachronistic. There are good reasons not to use it: Paul does not use it himself…
At the scholarly level, it may well be agreed that Paul did not consider the Gentile disciples “Christians” nor that there is much, if any, comparison between the ancient ekklesia and the modern Church. Nevertheless, at the level of the local church and the local Pastor, I have heard it preached, specifically to Acts 20, that there are close comparisons that can be made between ancient believers and today’s Christian in the pew.
This is another case of the lag between academic discourse and what most Christians hear preached from the pulpit. It’s not so much because these Pastors are unaware of new research, but that such information does not make a good fit, either with the Pastors’ theology and doctrine or what would be accepted by their parishioners.
According to Hodge, Paul calls his Gentile disciples “beloved, holy ones, faithful ones, brothers and sisters, and a new creation,” but if they weren’t “Christians,” who were they?
She argues that defining their identity remains somewhat elusive and that these “gentiles occupy an in-between space, hovering around the borders of identities that they are not quite.”
That’s not particularly satisfying but I know exactly how that “hovering” feels in my personal and congregational experience in various Messianic communities, or at least those few I’ve had the opportunity to visit.
Hodge’s line of pursuit in attempting to examine this “identity problem” is to trace how Paul “draws upon Jewish conceptions of gentiles, especially where they approach the boundaries of Jewish identity.”
Is it possible that there’s more than one kind of Gentile? According to Hodge, in the late Second Temple period when Paul was operating, there were two broad categories.
There’s the Jewish concept of the “generic” Gentile, that is, anyone who isn’t Jewish is a Gentile, regardless of how differentiated people from one culture or nation may be from another.
Then there are Gentiles in Christ, the disciples made by Paul and others.
And in Paul’s usage, this term has a doubleness to it in that there are two kinds of gentiles. First, there are the audiences of his letters, whom he addresses explicitly as gentiles in a number of places (Rom. 1:5-6, 13; 11:13; 15:6). Second, there are all the other gentiles who are not in Christ, the sort of gentiles that believers used to be.
That narrows things down but only a little. This believing group of Gentiles used to be, but no longer are, like the generic not-in-Christ Gentiles that populate the world. They used to be them but now they’re something else, occupying “a kind of liminal space between being those kinds of gentiles and now these kind of gentiles.”
Some of the characteristics of “these kinds of gentiles” in Christ include rejecting “idolatry and sexual immorality and [to] practice self mastery in holiness and honor.'”
Elsewhere Paul describes this as the life of the spirit, which they receive at baptism, so that, Paul says, “the just requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us” (Rom. 8:4). But he is adamant that they not keep Jewish Law, especially with respect to circumcision for male gentiles. Indeed, gentiles-in-Christ are not quite gentiles and not quite Jews.
This level of ambiguity may have ultimately been unsustainable and resulted in the eventual schism between the Christ-believing Gentiles and the Messiah-believing Jews, although Hodge doesn’t address this point in her essay.
She does say that while remaining gentiles, these non-Jewish believers did participate in Jewish community and Jewish practices, behaving “Jewishly” but not being Jewish, as Mark Nanos has previously stated.
In fact, there may have been “a sliding scale of gentile participation in Judaism” such that there was no one fixed standard for the behavior of non-Jews in Jewish community and worship space.
I hope I’m not being anachronistic in applying this to those modern “Messianic Gentiles” who operate within Jewish spaces such as Beth Immanuel (although arguably, Beth Immanuel could be recognized as a Gentile space that behaves very “Jewishly”) and Tikvat Israel. From personal observation, I’ve seen a wide degree of variability in just how “Jewish” many non-Jews behave within these communities and elsewhere.
Perhaps this isn’t a matter of a lack of accepted standards for Gentiles, but a reflection of the necessity of process for non-Jews in community with Jews.
Hodge approaches her investigation from two avenues: one that uses the logic of lineage and the other one that uses the logic of purity.
Seed of Abraham
Hodge cites Ezra, particularly Ezra 9, and Jubilees chapter 30 to illustrate how purity of lineage was used to create a strong distinction between the Jewish people and the rest of the world, effectively excluding Gentiles from community with Israel. Not just the priests, but each individual Jew was defined as “holy unto the Lord,” set apart, unique, special, particularly from the goyim.
Furthermore, Jubilees uses the holy seed idea to distinguish between gentiles and Jews. Although gentiles number among Abraham’s seed…
…they are not part of the holy seed that belongs with God…
And that holy seed that belongs with God” began with the progeny of Abraham’s son Isaac. It is of this holy lineage which Jubilees refers to as a “kingdom of priests.”
Paul uses the same argument, only leveraging it for Gentile inclusion rather than exclusion. His rather unique interpretation states that in the promise that Abraham will be the father to many nations, and that this promise was made before the giving of the Torah, the Gentiles-in-Christ inherit the role of “Abraham’s seed” due to the faithfulness of Messiah.
As I have discussed at length elsewhere, baptism in Paul is a ritual adoption, creating a kinship relationship between gentiles and Abraham (Gal. 3; Rom. 4)…
Indeed, one of these promises, foretold by Scripture to Abraham long ago, is that, “All the gentiles (ethnê) will be blessed in you” (Gal. 3:8; Gen. 12:3; 18:18).
Paul’s own creative interpretation of Scripture allows him to claim that these ethnê mentioned in Genesis are those gentiles who have been baptized into Christ. We should not be surprised at their inclusion in God’s plan; they were present in Abraham’s body at the time of the blessing.
So, according to how I’m reading Hodge, Paul was employing not so much a literal interpretation of scripture, but using widely sweeping metaphors, his own personal midrash, to make linkages between Abraham and the Christ-believing Gentiles. Once having undergone baptism as a symbolic rite of adoption, a new kinship was formed between the faithful Gentiles and the Jews in Messiah.
However, the term “adoption” should not be assumed to be the same as the legal process in modern American courts whereby a child who is not biologically produced by two married people becomes legally indistinguishable from any children born to the marital couple.
Although the “Messianic Gentiles” who are “adopted” through the rite of baptism are equally “in Christ” with their Jewish counterparts, equally apprehending the blessings of the New Covenant, such as the Holy Spirit and promise of the resurrection, Hodge emphasized repeatedly that this “adoption” did not make the gentiles Jewish nor did it in any sense obligate them to observe the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews.
Paul’s rather complex metaphorical language in his epistles was necessary to articulate a concept that even today is not well understood. Just how are Gentiles included in any of the blessings of a covenant God made exclusively with Israel? The “Abraham connection” is the key, but even then, as we continue to discover through Hodge’s article, exactly who and what we Gentiles are in Christ remains a puzzle, at least in the details.
The second tact Hodges employes is the sense of the Gentiles being set apart in Christ, being holy and in need of protection.
Paul does not develop a concept of a holy seed, but he does develop the idea of holy bodies for gentile believers. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul offers a “before and after” assessment of the Corinthians…
Earlier in this review, I mentioned two types of gentiles in Paul’s day, believing vs. non-believing gentiles:
Here Paul seems to refer to their baptism with the term “washed,” implying that he understands it as a purifying rite that brings the gentiles into right relationship with God. In this passage and in others that similarly mark the baptized gentiles as now holy…
As priestly bodies are “holy to the Lord,” Corinthian bodies “belong to the Lord” and not to porneia (1 Cor. 6:13, 19-20).
…so Corinthians are “members of Christ” (6:15) and must protect this holy body.
From Hodge’s perspective, the believing Gentiles in Corinth underwent “a material transformation that makes them into the Jewish body of Israel’s messiah.” Citing Benny Liew, she further states, “…on this multiethnic mixture, ‘Paul is engineering here nothing less than an inter-racial/ethnic bodily substitution….The Corinthian body…is, in other words, built on and through a racial/ethic other…'”
That’s a little difficult for me to get my brain around and it doesn’t seem to clear up who we “Messianic Gentiles” are supposed to be except that we are neither fish nor fowl, so to speak. The bottom line of this section of Hodge’s essay is that Gentiles in Messiah have a “holy, mixed identity.”
Gentiles as a Part of Israel’s Story
According to Hodge, the “seed of Abraham” argument and the “purity” discourse serve two separate rhetorical purposes. The Galatians “seed” commentary was focused primarily on explaining why Gentiles are not required to observe the Torah mitzvot as do the Jews. This is because their/our identity as “gentiles-in-Christ” and how we become part of Israel’s story is through Abraham and before Moses and the Sinai event. We are recipients of the promise to be Abraham’s children from the nations who can only fulfill that promise by remaining Gentiles.
While the Jews have a very specific set of responsibilities defining their identity, it’s not so clear what the obligations of the believing Gentiles are except:
In 1 Corinthians, Paul responds to competing ideas about how to live this new life in Christ. Throughout his letter he tries to control gentile bodies, urging harmony, cooperation, and self control. These persuasive aims are responsible at least in part for the ways Paul portrays gentile identity in each.
That’s bound to be a little disappointing to modern Messianic Gentiles who are hoping for something a little more codified. Nevertheless, we do have the general guidepost of separating ourselves from other, non-believing Gentiles and from our former lives, in order to live a life in Messiah that is pure, decent, and sanctified, being inhabited by the “pneuma” of Christ. We are called to worship the God of Israel as Gentiles and not as Israel. This was non-negotiable for Paul.
…when Christ returns to establish God’s kingdom, it is necessary for Israel and the gentiles to worship God not as one people, but as separate peoples–now worshipping together, as expected in the awaited age. Paul is clear in Romans 9-11, where he lays out this larger plan, that Jews and gentiles remain separate.
Rethinking the Question
So, what is the real question?
If my analysis has shown that Paul’s portrayal of gentiles as mixed or ambiguous makes some sense in Jewish context of eschatological expectation, it simultaneously raises some important cautions about the concepts of identity. My initial question–who are the gentiles?–itself assumes that there is an answer…
But what if there isn’t an answer? What does that mean for Yeshua-believing Gentiles in Jewish communities today?
Hodge raises two problems. The first is that any assumption about the answer presumes an identity that is overly simplistic. While a nice, neatly wrapped gift of well-defined Gentile identity might be satisfying, it could also sell who we are in Messiah short, denying the complexity of our role and function in the Messianic ekklesia.
The other problem is that such an assumption confuses the strategies of the speaker, that is Paul, with a description of reality.
Remember, I called Paul’s letters an exercise in metaphorical or midrashic writing. Such commentaries are not meant to be taken in an overly literal manner, and yet much of Christian exegetical tradition does just that. If we’re attempting to build a literal model out of metaphorical material, no wonder we have chronically misunderstood Paul in the Church.
…his [Paul’s] rhetoric is prescriptive, not descriptive, and his goal is to coax the gentiles to think and behave in certain ways.
Citing Brubaker, Hodge writes:
…that ethnic identity should be viewed as a process, a perspective on the world, rather than a thing that exists independent of human arguments.
I read that as Messianic Gentiles not having a fixed, static identity in Jewish space but rather, we are in the process of becoming, not just being. Also, that identity likely flexes depending on our specific circumstances and our relationship to Jewish community.
In the ancient world, there were “myriad social formations” that contributed to identity and I don’t think anything has changed relative to Gentile identity in Jewish space. While Galatians 3:28 defines both Jew and Gentile as “one in Christ,” that “oneness” does not imply identical identity in any manner. It does define a place where Jew and Gentile meet and whereby we take on a shift in identity from who we Gentiles were without God to who we are now with God.
But God is a God of Israel as well as the world and when a Jew comes to faith in Messiah, he/she changes less than does the Gentile.
The Jew already has an identity with God as defined through the covenants. Faith in Messiah is the next step in the revelation of God to Israel, a continuation along the same, straight line. For the Gentile, the change in identity is radical to the extreme. Everything we were before as individuals and as people groups undergoes transformation. In ancient days, a lot of that transformation borrowed from Jewish praxis simply because no other model was available.
But now, as it existed then, Gentiles in Jewish community remain Gentiles and behave “Jewishly” on a sliding scale of behavior depending on role and circumstances, but still only vaguely defined. Being a Messianic Gentile is a continual journey of discovery, not a destination where we can hope to arrive, at least anytime soon.
I’ve found Hodge’s article thoroughly enjoyable and hopefully you will find it equally illuminating. Being Gentiles-in-Messiah isn’t about who we are but who we are becoming. Each day is new and we are new with the coming dawn.
Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.
-from the Ask the Rabbi column
16 thoughts on “Book Review of Paul Within Judaism, The Question of Identity: Gentiles as Gentiles–but also Not–in Pauline Communities”
You don’t mention, and therefore I wonder, if the author or the ones she quotes ever refer back to the non-Jews who attached themselves to Israel prior to Paul. I am convinced that we can glean much from these recorded instructions and encounters. I believe that these descriptions and instructions did inform the Gentile inclusion of Paul’s message on some level and when I’ve found those willing to discuss this idea, either they shut down the conversation quickly or they can’t seem to reason why this is not the case in a way that satisfies one who is the subject of the discussion.
So we are constantly in process but from what we were to what? To people with high moral standards and character? How is that different than Jews and does it need to be so different? If the goal is to be better as individuals who reflect G-d’s name together as distinct yet united people, I get that. I think many of us are pursuing that trajectory. But as one digs deeper into this idea things begin to get messy again. Paul indicates that he expects his followers to be keeping Passover at least, and do we keep it differently than Jews and if so – how? He indicates keeping the marriage bed pure is expected among the non-Jews and if so, won’t that “look too Jewish”? I have a hard time thinking that this was something wholly new through Paul and that there wasn’t already a semi-defined class of people who fit this group from within Judaism. This is more than being a Noachide and not quite being a Proselyte.
As we are changing from what we once were to who we are becoming, who are we expected to turn to for guidance? And what about now – what about those of us who did not grow up pagan or separated from Israel’s G-d? What are we changing from and to? The sliding scale is easier for those who are on one end of the scale, it’s the other end that tends to cause concern and insecurity.
I’m glad these issues are being discussed. Answers will come in time but not without a LOT of discussion and differing viewpoints. All the while people like us are “stuck in the middle” trying to defer to our Jewish brothers and sisters yet struggling without a sense of who we are and how we fit. We as a whole are changing from what we were to what we will become.
Lisa, Hodge doesn’t mention the Gentiles who attached themselves to Israel pre-Yeshua. Since the focus of this book is Paul within Judaism, the Apostle is the focus of each of these essays.
Hodge does mention Ezra and Jubilees, but only in how those arguments supporting Gentile exclusion from the people of Israel were re-imaged by Paul to be inclusive arguments.
The conclusion of Hodge’s article is that we have a group of Gentiles in Messiah who did not fit in with their pagan Gentile counterparts but could not really be called Jewish either. My personal take on these mixed or “mixed up” Gentiles is that their identity in the Jewish ekklesia had not been established and even Paul didn’t really know how that identity would be solidified.
Taking the Hodge paper forward in history and applying it to the current situation of non-Jews in Messianic Jewish space, I believe we encounter the same dilemma. As written previously, there is no one opinion on what to do with Gentiles within the wider Messianic movement.
I think Derek Leman touched on this struggle in his recent blog post relative to how and why Messianic Judaism should be a home for Yeshua-believing Jews and the challenges that a significant Gentile presence brings to such communities.
While I maintain that as a matter of study and theological orientation, Messianic Judaism offers the better interpretation of the Bible and God’s redemptive plan for Israel, as a matter of community, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no quick solution about how Jews and Gentiles are to interface within a single social context and also have that context remain fully Jewish. Any concessions made by the Jews present to accomodate the Gentiles only compromises the Jewishness of Jewish community.
I know Paul tried very hard to make a mixed Jewish/Gentile ekklesia work but he couldn’t make it happen. I wonder if it were ever meant to work.
It’s strange, I see the Gentile Inclusion all over Scripture and when I read it I see an ideal working out of the unity of the two. It seems that the practicality of this unity is incredibly difficult. Maybe that’s part of the point? Each side is to walk in humility and respect within their designated roles because they both WANT that unity. Maybe if WE walk properly the concern about us will begin to fade away and they will catch the vision and come to appreciate us as part of the community, seeing it as the fulfillment and blessing that Paul did.
For those of us who are confident in our role and our identity, what’s the fear? We don’t want to see Jewish assimilation either! Maybe the issue here isn’t so much about OUR identity but about the realization that our friends are not so sure in theirs? That may sound like a cheap shot, but it’s not intended to be. There is a big difference between how the Conservative and Reform Jewish communities seem to view non-Jews and how the Modern Orthodox communities do. It seems that the Modern Orthodox groups are more confident in who they are. But this observation and can’t be considered a wholly fair because I couldn’t possibly know the details of which I speak being an outside observer. I can only comment to what it appears to be, to me.
I don’t see a lack of clarity in Paul’s mission or his vision. Maybe Paul’s applications in the various diaspora communities did work back in the day but the uneducated and zealous newcomers weren’t restrained and we messed things up so fast because of that lack of restraint and the zeal without maturity (maybe because our inclusion was so unwelcome?), not so much because Paul wasn’t instructing or leading clearly. Does he seem like a man with an unclear vision to you? I don’t see that. I do see that there are a lot of things that were left spoken rather than written down so that future generations were left to guess. Who would have guessed that we’d still be waiting for the Redemption 2,000 years later?
Thanks for listening to me ramble off my thoughts and be part of the discussion. Maybe someone else will join in?
Hello, James. Finally I registered my word press account!! yay!
Lisa W, thanks for making me join the discussion. lol. Speaking of unity, what kind of unity are we talking about? Unity in terms of what?
I don’t want to sound too skeptical here, but as what James might have implied, can there be bridgeable congregation as we desire to? I mean, if the Jewishness mustn’t be conceded and so do the identity of the Gentiles, then what can be the resolution to this?
That is what needs to be worked out, and I believe is being worked out. But I guess I don’t understand why Jews and Gentiles can’t worship G-d together while allowing the Jews to do “Jewish things” and the rest of us do “non-Jewish things”. For example – we all eat the same food, we have non-Jewish adaptations to the liturgy that flow with the Jewish liturgy so as to make it flow together, we read the same Torah, we hold to the same standards of modesty and purity and ethics, nobody wants Jewish assimilation into the nations, etc. What would there be to cause separation and division? Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t get it.
What would cause it to blow up is one side being arrogant toward the other, and unfortunately we have had that all along. I can’t help but to wonder if that was the major cause of the problems that grew so fast in the early days. But can’t we grow out of that? Are we doomed to always repeat the same cycle? If we can address the identity issue, I’m convinced that would satisfy the hefty majority of the insecure arrogance. I mean, how was it working in Paul’s day? Wasn’t he rather upset when the community began to divide along Jewish/non-Jewish lines when Peter came to visit? To me that implies there was a unity before then.
I’m thinking unity in terms of community – Shabbat services and fellowship, mid-week life in the same circles. The ideals that grow in my mind as I read through Scripture, though, are based on Jewish life inside Israel where the non-Jew comes to attach themselves to the people of G-d in the land and to dwell among them there. They would be employed by their Jewish brothers, maybe even servants or household staff, they live in totally Jewish space and there is no opportunity for something else within the territory of Israel. The national standards and the community standards are the standards of the non-Jew as well whether because it’s the law of the land or because it’s the Torah of HaShem. I guess my idealistic ideas are so strong because I’ve experienced this for a time and it made everything I read in Scripture come alive and my ideas grew so much.
I think part of what the Hodge article illustrates is that in Paul’s day, there may have been a struggle in how to define the way non-Jewish Yeshua disciples were supposed to walk. Their “halachah” was still in a state of formation.
I think that’s why many non-Jews today who are involved in Messianic Judaism or the Hebrew Roots movements want to claim Jewish halachah as their own. It’s already formed and, depending on the branch of Judaism you want to model after, it’s well defined and accepted by a larger group.
Today, in Derek Leman’s blog post Reasons I Converted to Judaism, he says he got a lot of “blow back” (my term, not his) from people, largely because of yesterday’s blog post On Messianic Judaism as a Home for Jewish Believers.
He states in part:
Acknowledging a dual-path, one for Jews and one for Gentiles, within the ekklesia of Yeshua is disturbing for many non-Jews. Christianity, by comparison, is at least in theory, completely egalitarian, it accepts everyone into the club and everyone inside the club (this is the theoretical part) is the same, having equal status.
But as Derek said (and I agree), being Jewish isn’t about status, it’s about peoplehood and covenant. As non-Jewish Messianic disciples, our job isn’t to discover our identity in Torah or in Judaism but in Messiah. If the Jewish Messiah isn’t at the center of our faith, how can we claim redemption. We are on a journey of learning who we are.
Paul’s writing and teaching, like the rest of the Bible, is highly nuanced, and the fact that Nanos and Zetterholm have brought together an international group of “New Perspective” scholars to write essays on how they view the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles within late second Temple Judaism shows us that we still have a long way to go in understanding Paul’s true intent in relation to both Jewish and Gentile disciples in community. There’s a lot of Christian interpretive tradition we have to unlearn and unwrite before we get down to the real Paul.
That Paul may be equally threatening to both the mainstream evangelicals as he is to One Law Gentiles.
To the best of my knowledge, most or all Messianic Jewish congregations, at least in the western nations, include a minority of halachic Jews and a majority of non-Jews who are seeking are more pro-Jewish, pro-Israel interpretation of the Bible, particularly the Apostolic Scriptures.
In that sense, there are many congregations that are a bridge between Jewish and Gentile believers, but the problem is in the creation and maintenance of Messianic Jewish synagogues for a majority Jewish membership.
We see this was a problem in Paul’s day and 2,000 years of Jewish and Christian history hasn’t made it any easier. In fact, the historic enmity between Christianity and Judaism has made it difficult since, in the past, whenever a Jew wanted to become a devotee of the Jewish Messiah, invariably that Jew had to convert to Gentile Christianity leaving their identity, family, Torah, and the covenants behind.
A number of Messianic Jews are sensitive to this and have concerns that worshiping in a Gentile majority community will remove or at least inhibit the “Judaism” in Messianic Judaism. Not only are Gentiles struggling to find identity in the movement, but so are the Jews. Not all Messianic Jews feel this way, but there’s enough that the result is a certain amount of friction between Jews who advocate for what has been called bilateral ecclesiology at one end of the scale, and those Gentiles who want full equality of identity and status with Jewish believers on the other end.
I believe that Jews and Gentiles operate on a level playing field as far as the blessings of the New Covenant such as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection in the age to come, but we must remember that the Sinai Covenant as well as the New Covenant were made exclusively between God and Israel. It’s only by God’s grace and the faithfulness of Messiah that the nations of the world receive any of these blessings at all.
That’s the tough part to grasp for many people and it’s a concept that is rejected by all of Christianity and much of the Hebrew Roots movement. We want our lives including our religious communities and our understanding of covenant to be nice, simple, and explainable in a PowerPoint presentation, complete with brief summaries and bullet pointed lists.
Who we are as Jews and Gentiles in Messiah, at least at the level of the ekklesia community, isn’t that neat. In fact, it can get pretty messy.
Plenty of Messianic groups of Jews and Gentiles do worship together and the Jews do “Jewish things”. The problem, and I’ve heard this more than once, is what the Gentiles are supposed to do, and that varies widely between one Messianic congregation and the next. As a number of essays in the Nanos-Zetterholm volume attest, the first century Gentile disciples looked at least sort of “Jewish” or, as Nanos puts it, they behaved “Jewishly” without being Jewish. Hodge says they also were and weren’t Gentiles in the Pauline communities, so it can get pretty confusing.
It’s that dissonance that is being addressed within Messianic Judaism today but there’s no clear cut model to follow. We’re all making this up as we go along. However, some Messianic Jews really, really need to be in Jewish community and when we decide to acknowledge their needs, we non-Jews have to put aside our own.
Frankly, I don’t think all Messianic Jews desire “bilateral ecclesiology” and are fine with being in a mixed congregation, but for those Jews who need wholly Jewish community, is there a reason to say “no”?
I agree. I don’t see a reason why non-Jews or Messianic Jews need to be concerned about Jews really needing a wholly Jewish community. There are many MJs who have a lot of re-learning to do, just like the rest of us. But they also have a calling to be our leaders & our teachers and because of this there is an intensive learning and growing process they need to go through before they can fulfill their tasks in these areas. We need to let them grow in this way.
But at the same time, if we non-Jews are left to sit outside for that whole process the risk that what happened in the early days will happen once again – the arrogance and frustration will grow to be much uglier than it has been for millennia. We’re at a critical point in our day and things will either grow together or grow further apart.
I’ve tried to explain my concept like this: Israel is a nation of people comprised of different family tribes. Some tribes are chosen for specific tasks and others weren’t. The tribe of Levi was chosen to be set apart from the others in that they were selected to be what we may call the spiritual leaders. But not all of Levi has the same task. The house of Aaron has a specific job that the others are not able to do – upon penalty of death even. A Levite may be a Temple musician or he may be a Temple security guard, but these two cannot do the work inside the Temple because it is not their role. They will never be High Priest. And the High Priest will never fill another role.
Judah holds the role of leadership as well but only one family produces the lineage for kingship. What if you’re of the tribe of Judah but not of the family of David? Does that make you less than your cousin? What does that mean about the tribe of Gad or Asher or Dan? Are they nobodies? Not at all! All of Israel has been called to be the light of G-d to the nations and some families have specific roles to fill while others can never fill those roles, upon penalty of death according to G-d Himself.
If this same pattern extends another level, all of Israel would fill the role as the teachers and leaders while the rest of us would fill the roles of those who are the students and lights to those who do not know HaShem as we live our daily lives.
If Gad and Asher and Dan and everyone else can be secure in their station as Israelites and not striving to take over the Priesthood or the Kingship, why can’t we non-Jews be secure in our place as well?
Somehow the non-Jews we read about in Scripture seemed to be secure in their station and Israel seemed secure about it too. May we rediscover that in our time! It may not come until the Messianic Era is being worked out, but I have idealistic hopes that in our “foretaste of things to come” we could get a handle on it now. May it be that this is exactly what we’re doing!
I think Messianic Judaism can represent uncharted territory for both Jews and non-Jews and that each group is still attempting to define themselves within that context.
I don’t entirely agree that only the Jews in Messiah can be the teachers. D.T. Lancaster at Beth Immanuel is not Jewish and yet many of his teachings are very illuminating. Also, while Beth Immanuel certainly provides a very “Jewish” teaching and worship venue, to the best of my knowledge, it is largely lead by non-Jews. I think this is part of the population diversity we find in MJ or at least should find. Some congregations, while behaving “Jewishly,” will have a majority Gentile population, while others will (or should be) primarily containing Jewish members.
Messianic synagogues don’t all have to be identical, and individual communities can be constructed to meet the needs of their principle constituents. This model will probably be carried forward into the Messianic Age since, as I see things, when Messiah returns, all the Jews will be returned to Israel and we Gentiles will continue to live in our own nations. The possible exception relative to any Gentiles in future Messianic Israel will be those Jews who are intermarried with non-Jews.
For the Gentile disciples of Messiah living outside the Land, since all the Jews will be living in Israel, our local teachers will also be Gentiles.
I agree that we have some great MJ Non-Jewish teachers! But I’m not sure I see that as the vision for the future – near or distant. I do agree that there will always be wonderful MJ-G teachers, as there should be. And if you think about it, their sources are primarily Jewish so ultimately it is indeed Jewish teaching just through a non-Jewish teacher.
I think that the glimpses we find in Scripture about the Messianic Age give us some wonderful clues as to our identity but because those glimpses are focused on Israel as a people in their own land, it’s hard to see how it plays out for us outside of Israel. I think we’ve talked before about our being outside of Israel at that time and possibly some of us will be leaders and teachers of our own communities and we’re in the midst of our own training and growing now. When that time comes, it appears that there will be very few, if any, Jews among the nations and that will indeed leave an incredible void! The rest of us who are learning now may be all that is left of our respective communities to encourage and lead our neighbors when Messiah comes and the Torah goes out from Jerusalem to the furthest ends of the earth (like the PNW). When every knee bows and every tongue confesses the greatness of HaShem and the honor due to His Son, things will be very different. Until then, though, all we can really do is try to envision what the ideal is and see how we can work with what we have and move toward that ideal – together and in unity.
I do think, though, that OUR sources will need to be our Jewish brothers. The Torah was given to a specific people and a specific place, and it must come to us from there – as it has been yes, but moreso now and in the future. I’m very encouraged that a vision I’ve had for a while now is starting to find it’s fulfillment as others have a similar vision and are able to bring it about. That is their task, it is my task to support them and encourage them in their work.
All this to say, I know I’m not alone in my hashkafah, my worldview, on this issue. This is part of why I am so puzzled and tired of the suspicion toward MJ non-Jews who are serious about walking with Israel, not necessarily as Israel, as we serve HaShem together according to His Word. There are roles and tasks for each people group and even within those groups there are some very defined roles. We need each other to help define what is still so ambiguous.
It is true that the Torah was given to the Jews, and that they were set apart as a people from the rest of humanity to hold the Oracles of G-d, and presumably share them with those non-Jews who have an interest. The difficulty for those non-Jews is that what is considered Torah is not just the acknowledged scriptures, but the Talmud, which teaches that Jews are literally from a different spiritual root than we are. Abraham was the highest of the remaining Spiritual roots that survived after the separation at Babel, and whose spiritual root some 600,000 families that came out of Egypt can claim. They are taught that we non-Jews are thus lesser creatures, and able to reach only lesser spiritual heights than they…except only under one condition.
That condition is that we have the free choice to tear ourselves from our own lesser spiritual root, and by our actions include ourselves amongst the branches of Abraham’s family, by the study of Torah, and the conversion to Judaism (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, The Way of God, II;4).
Then Yeshua came on the scene, and explained things differently, not by what he said, but what he did. He was the Righteous Tsaddik that died to impart his righteousness to all who would believe, and gave evidence of it though the granting of the Ruach haKodesh, even to Gentiles who lived in Judea, and then elsewhere as the good news of Yeshua spread. The Jews, however – even Messianic ones, have not accepted the redemption through Yeshua, and the gifting of the Ruach as a substitute for Jewish heritage, not even spiritually.
Messianic Jews accept our salvation, and sometimes our inclusion in a Messianic Synagogue as Gentiles, but even there we Gentile Believers in Yeshua can only really be among the Gerim Tsaddikim that Non-Messianic Jews freely say have a place in the world to come, if only as their servants, and that only by our Torah observance, not our faith.
If Messianic Gentiles want more than toleration from the Jewish Community, we are going to have to convert to Orthodox Messianic Judaism, and even then, most Non-Messianic Jews will never recognize us. Gentiles who want community will have to re-locate to a Messianic Jewish Community, and leave the Gentile world behind with the pagan Christianity that we are leaving, for it is a sad fact that we Messianic Gentiles cannot read the scriptures, and see ourselves with truth as among the Israelites written there.
Until the Messianic age, we Messianic Gentiles have no heritage except in Yeshua, and no reason for even Messianic Jews to recognize us except out of sheer kindness. We cannot stay attached to our pagan Christian Gentile heritage, and still be fully included by Messianic Jews, and it is unreasonable for any of us to think otherwise.
I once thought that there could be tolerance of Gentilish ways in a Messianic Community, but since Gentilish ways all contradict Jewish traditions, thought, and teaching, and stand against the scriptures as well, we Messianic Gentiles must either convert, or be satisfied with a seat at the back of the spiritual bus until Yeshua comes, and makes us a single community of the Incorrupt, with our halachah written on our hearts, and our hash’kafah suddenly the same.
Hi, Questor — Since Shabbat is fast approaching, here, I won’t have time for awhile to address some of the oddly twisted and inaccurate things you’ve just posted, but maybe I should ask whether someone has placed any funny weeds or mushrooms into your salad recently? May you have a restful Shabbat and a speedy recovery.
There have been no unusual mushrooms, no odd plant life, and no strange gifts of brownies with additives PL, just more and more reading of Jewish texts in the Talmud, and exposure to Jews who do not hide their sense of specialness for being the Chosen of G-d, and the consequent lesser status of anyone not Jewish.
Gentiles have their part to play, certainly, in preparing for the world to come by assisting Israel into her rightful place, but the more I read of the Talmud, the more sure I become of an essential problem…the same problem that Shaul could not manage to change…the definite lack of inclusion for Messianic Gerim Tsaddikim in Jewish thought, life, and from what you tell me, religious observance, without that Gentile converting. It isn’t a negative aspect of Judaism…it is more of a lack of interest in anything outside of the family group of Israel. It is not a lack of desire to make the world perfect for all peoples, as well as themselves, but a desire to not include those non-Jews that do not have their hash’kafah into their lives. I know there are many exceptions between Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles that find a heart connection between them, but mostly, people’s lives are too crowded to include those that don’t fit in.
Certainly where Jews actually rub elbows with the odd Gentile, there is no obvious withdrawal from an acquaintanceship with that Gentile…just no real way to fit the rest of them into their lives. Certainly, a Torah Observant Gentile is respected by Jews, as they presume any such is a proselyte to Judaism in some form, and indeed, most Gentiles really attempting Torah Observance are getting ready to convert. I seem to be proceeding along those lines, though I have no Synagogue or Rabbi near me to help me in those matters, and I am continually warned not to convert, and actually have no great desire to join a people I personally know no one of. I do not know why I am adding Torah to my life except that G-d seems to desire it, and I can perfect my halachah until death without ever converting. I am not missing a tribal family I have not even met, nor deeply desiring union with anyone but Yeshua, just noticing the very real differences in how Jews and Gentiles approach Messianic Judaism. I am forced to use the internet as my only contact with Jews and Judaism, watching from a distance, participating at a remove from Messianic Judaism on the ground. But even at a distance I can see that the problem has not changed since Shaul attempted to add Gentiles into Judaism, no matter how many good hearted and well-disposed Jews and Gentiles try to make it work.
Jews have been so long under attack by Gentiles I cannot wonder at their disinterest in any Gentile. This is not a fault in Jews, just a reality that I seem to see clearly, though it saddens me greatly. The problem makes the Scriptures no less valuable to me even though very little in the Scriptures can be said to apply to me except through Yeshua, but I see no inclusion of Gentiles into Jewish life after the first century that was not destroyed by the forceful transformation of Nazarene Judaism into pagan Christianity. Rome did not allow it, and the Jews to save their lives dared not admit to any conversions. Even now unless a Gentile has married into the family, there is no inclusion, and even unconverted or Messianic Gentiles are marginalized when surrounded by Jews simply because they are not Jews. I have no doubt that Jews see the obverse of the situation just as clearly, and always have.
Messianic Jews are certainly more generous with themselves around Messianic Gentiles, just as occasionally the odd Christian in times past may have treated Jews well even when it was not politically correct to do so, but in the end, it changes nothing. We have Messianic Jews in synagogues, and Messianic Gentiles floating in a no-mans-land bouncing between the Christianity they have begun to abhor, and a desire for inclusion in the Messianic Judaism they are attempting to acquire a part in despite the fact that that Messianic Judaism wants to remain thoroughly Jewish, and also desires Messianic Gentiles to stay away most of the time unless they are ready to convert. Truly Messianic Gentiles eventually become unable to bear the pagan nature and total lack of understanding in Christianity of even the Scriptures from a Jewish viewpoint so that we can no longer find a home there either.
Most Messianic Jews appear to want to be with other Messianic Jews, where they can be comfortable within their identity, and not have to be polite to all those strangers that say they worship the same G-d, but so obviously don’t worship YHVH in a form Jews can respect; that follow no appropriate halachah; and understand very little about how Jews view themselves, and the world. I don’t claim to understand Jewish hash’kafah, Messianic or not, just to have read what Jews believe about themselves as a group, and to have noticed that Jews want Gentiles to be little seen, and less heard from until they are ready to be Jewish.
Shavua Tov, Questor — I’m happy to receive your assurance that you’ve not ingested any neurological toxins that could have warped your perceptions, but I must tell you that you have apparently not understood a number of passages in Talmud in their metaphorical and historical context, nor in balance with a very wide range of notions discussed therein. And you express an all-too-common error that mistakenly correlates chosen-ness or special-ness with superiority or greatness. The ordinary or unchosen majority of humanity are not intrinsically “lesser creatures” for not being part of HaShem’s Jewish pilot program for societal redemption. Nonetheless, they are not privy to the millennia of acculturation and information represented in that pilot program, except by indirect exposure. Even those who have connected with the Jewish Messiah, thus gaining access to HaShem in a special manner, are still not part of the continuing experimental pilot program, though they could well be viewed as participating in a second-stage extension of that program. There still exist reasons for the subjects of the original program to not become overly involved with those who are not in that program, in order for the program to proceed without undue interference or influence.
You really must refrain from describing Jews and MJs in the mistaken and inaccurate manner you have done, since by your own admission you have little or no direct contact with them, and you don’t seem to understand how various individuals or their representative congregations are actually motivated nor what they actually do, vis-à-vis gentile interactions or participation.
I should probably mention also for your benefit, and for that of other readers here, that study of Talmud and Jewish literature in general is intended to be done in discussion groups rather than by lone individuals, preferably with a guide who is more knowledgeable from broader experience with this literature. This tends to protect the students from fixating on some one point to the exclusion of others, or failing to correlate information from one segment with that from others, possibly for lack of awareness of the overall body of material. There do exist some study programs and guidebooks, however, that can compensate a lone student in some degree for the absence of a study discussion group, by incorporating the breadth of perspective and analysis that a group might otherwise provide. These offer a much wiser study method than, say, diving directly into the vast ocean of Talmud texts and trying to swim in these unfamiliar and choppy waters.
My dear friend, I am not describing a specialness or chosenness that is not stated specifically by Jews on video, and in current literature, not to mention the Talmud, and the Tanakh itself…primarily to mixed Jewish and Gentile audiences by Rabbi’s that are uncaring that their plain assumption of superior classification, and resultant spiritual merit is heard by non-Jews. Some say it with humor, and tell non-Jews to live with it, and others tell non-Jews to live with it without humor. Either way, we Gentiles and Jews are to live with it, and I do.
I have no difficulty taking the philosophical statements of the Sages with a large pinch of salt. How Jews in the past have chosen to explain their high purpose and great responsibility is no different than how Gentiles comfort themselves with their close relationship with Yeshua, and have thus felt different, and better than non-Messianic Jews in times past. There remains the difficulty that Jews hear the same philosophical statements that Jewish spiritual inheritance places Jews above the goyim the moment they are born, and they accept it unquestioningly, just as Christians in times past have held themselves above the Jews on the assumption that the Jews don’t have Yeshua, and are therefore lost, or if saved by the Mosaic Covenant ‘as if by fire’ in the White Throne Judgement, still are somehow not as valuable to G-d as they would be had they reached salvation through Christian means. That places Jewish Literature and Christian Literature on a par with one another in some instances, and both must be read with great care. What remains a fact is the disinclination of many Messianic Jews to mix with Messianic Gentiles until they make themselves over in a Messianic Jewish manner.
That the Jews argue for this separation from Gentiles is a fact…to retain their essential identity because Jews do inherit intrinsically higher spiritual descent from Abraham, and all Jews are descended from Abraham’s line through Isaac and Jacob. All of Scripture celebrates this fact…why should anyone dispute it? I doubt that Messianic Jews make much of it or think much of these statements by the Sages on a day to day basis, but since Jews have been taught these ideas for centuries while under attack and persecution by Gentiles, or even when in relative peace since they became a nation 3400 years ago, the seeding of that knowledge of their high spiritual inheritance from Abraham is celebrated all the time. Islamic believers that claim Abraham for an ancestor say the same thing, and believe that the Jews have got it wrong, since they are not descended from Ishmael.
Even when a Gentile converts to Judaism, he becomes a b’nai Avraham, acquiring the same high spiritual inheritance, apparently by tribal adoption, since there is no actual biologically rendered spiritual descent of Abraham’s higher Spiritual root that the Talmud teaches and celebrates available to a convert. I merely see that the primary problem that Shaul ran into is not any different today for those Believing Gentiles that want to form a closer bond with Messianic Jews than it was in the past. Gentiles are held at arm’s length until a Gentile becomes a Jew, and no more question remains.
Every week or two or three, we discuss here how very difficult it is to keep the Jews safe in their identity within Messianic Judaism without Messianic Gentiles stampeding over them. No one denies that the Messianic Jews want to be in Messianic Synagogues run by Jewish Rabbis along conservative Jewish lines, adapted only for the inclusion of Yeshua, and of course those Gentile Believers that are married in.
Other Messianic Gentiles are left to return to Christianity if they can bear to return, or form their own pseudo-Jewish Synagogues that none the less are not well thought of by Messianic Jews, even though it is all they have without the Messianic Jewish Synagogues taking charge. We also discuss how on earth we are ever to include all the Messianic Gentiles that are becoming Torah Observant when there are so few Messianic Jews to help train them, and we find no answer, because the Jews want their Jewishness upheld and undisturbed, and the sheer mass of Messianic Gentiles endangers that.
I do not see any change being made in future between Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles until the Messianic Jews adopt some means of instruction for those Messianic Gentiles that want to be accepted by Jews without converting…because we Messianic Gentiles are not all supposed to convert, if the prophecies are anything to go by. Yet those of us Messianic Gentiles that desire to be Torah Observant, and fully included in Jewish circles, need an accepted means of becoming halachally trained. You, PL, mention that there are courses for students who want to learn the Talmud by themselves, when so stranded without a Synagogue to be trained in. But there are none as yet for Messianic Gentiles that want to be included in the Messianic Jewish Community, even if they will rarely be in a Messianic Jewish Synagogue. This is, I think the next step for the Messianic Rabbinical Councils. Without some means of learning the Halachah and Hash’kafah of a Messianic Jew, we will remain separated until Yeshua comes.
@”Q” — And there are folks on the internet and in the pop culture teaching Kabbalah — but not at all correctly. In this day and age, a great deal of discernment and filtering is required to separate wheat from chaff among the flood of what appears to be information but is often misinformation or even disinformation.
BTW, have you read Derek Leman’s recent blog essays on the subject of gentiles wishing to participate with MJs and why many of them are drawn to do so? Moreover, you can obtain some study materials suitable for “Messianic Gentiles” from FFOZ, though much of their material is pitched toward the basic student rather than the advanced one.
Tomorrow’s “morning meditation” continues addressing the role of the Gentile in Messiah.
@Questor: I mentioned to Lisa above that tomorrow’s blog post continues with the theme we’ve been discussing here. Specifically, it is an upward valuation of the Messianic Gentile identity, something that can be overlooked in our zeal to promote Jewish return to Torah in the Messianic ekklesia. While we sometimes look to Messianic Judaism to define us, in the end, who we are is defined in the relationship the individual has with God through the faithfulness of Messiah. That’s where we find our worth.