Tag Archives: ekklesia

The Non-Covenant Relationship with God

One of the difficulties…that Christian theologies have not really grasped, is that Rav Yeshua’s gentile disciples don’t actually participate in any covenant whatsoever. Perhaps that is why they invent fictitious covenants. What they have instead of a covenant is an individually-based responsibility to rely on HaShem’s unchanging character and graciousness. They must trust HaShem Who wishes all humanity to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, as Rav Shaul wrote to Timothy in 1 Tim. 2:3-4. They, and their children, and their children’s children, each must approach HaShem as trusting individuals. They may pass to their children a heritage of knowledge about how to trust HaShem, but each must choose to embrace and employ that knowledge afresh in their own lives. They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant with HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

from one of his recent comments

I’ve written about the “connection” (or lack thereof) between Gentile believers and the New Covenant many times before, and I agree with ProclaimLiberty (PL) that we non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) are not named participants in the New Covenant (see Jer. 31, Ezek. 36), and thus we have no stake in those covenant promises.

That might come as a shock to some of you.

MessiahBut through Hashem’s grace and mercy for the human race, He has allowed any of us who attach ourselves to Israel through our Rav to benefit from some of the blessings of that covenant.

We know that Hashem wants all human beings, not just Israel, to come to a knowledge of Him, to become His servants, to worship Him alone as the God of Israel:

That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Isaiah 45:23 (NASB)

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Romans 14:11

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:3-4

These are just a few scriptural examples illustrating God’s desire for all people, both Israel and the nations, to be devoted to Him.

But what PL wrote made me think. The Jewish people are collectively Israel, and the covenants apply to all Israel. Yes, each individual Jew has his or her own responsibilities to fulfill under covenant, but ultimately, God doesn’t covenant with each individual Jew, but with all of them, past, present, and future.

A Jew is the only person to be born into a covenant relationship with God whether he or she wants to.

Not so with the rest of us.

NoahExcept for the Noahide covenant, which Hashem made with all living things, we are born into no relationship with God at all. If we want a relationship with Him, we have to choose that for ourselves and then act on it (not that the Spirit of God can’t send us certain “prompts”).

Good thing we have free will to make that choice.

But then I thought about the “Church,” which is something of an artificial construct, so I dug back into the concept of the “ekklesia”.

Nearly two years ago, in a fit of insomnia, I started exploring the meaning of ekklesia:

noun, plural ec·cle·si·ae [ih-klee-zhee-ee, -zee-ee] Show IPA .

1. an assembly, especially the popular assembly of ancient Athens.

2. a congregation; church.

Origin: 1570–80; < Latin < Greek ekklēsía assembly, equivalent to ékklēt ( os ) summoned ( ek- ec- + klē-, variant of kal-, stem of kaleîn to call, + -tos past participle suffix) + -ia -ia


— n , pl -siae
1. (in formal Church usage) a congregation
2. the assembly of citizens of an ancient Greek state

[C16: from Medieval Latin, from Late Greek ekklēsia assembly, from ekklētos called, from ekkalein to call out, from kalein to call]

the crowdI tend to think of the ekklesia in its broadest sense, as that world-wide body of people, Jews and Gentiles, who have answered the call of Rav Yeshua to follow his teachings and draw nearer to Hashem. For Jews, this is the next “evolutionary” step or the next logical extension of their covenant relationship with Hashem, since Rav Yeshua is the mediator of the New Covenant.

For non-Jews, we are allowed to draw near to Israel and be “grafted in” (and being grafted in to the promises doesn’t make us Israel) to stand alongside Israel within the body of the ekklesia so that we can benefit from many of the blessings of the New Covenant.

Here’s where things get blurry.

PL describes we non-Jews as coming to Hashem through Rav Yeshua individually. It is true that in the Church it’s said that “God doesn’t have grandchildren.” This means that even if you are a Yeshua-disciple, your kids may not be. They don’t inherit a relationship with God  just because you have one.

This is the exact reverse of a Jew’s covenant relationship with Hashem. When Jewish parents have a child, that child does inherit a covenant relationship with Hashem by virtue of the fact that he or she has Jewish parents (or a Jewish mother in the case of my children).

As non-Jews, one-by-one, we come to faith and trust in Rav Yeshua and it is our custom to gather together with other individual non-Jewish believers in a congregation to worship and fellowship. In and of itself, a “church” is an expression of part of the world-wide ekklesia, the larger body of Jewish and Gentile believers.

PL said of we non-Jewish disciples:

They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant with HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

synagogueI believe this is true, but it’s still difficult to reconcile with emotionally. Reading this statement, makes me feel disconnected and unattached.

I know my attachment is symbolic and metaphorical, even though it has real, tangible results, but it draws a sharp distinction of what happens when Jews gather together in a synagogue on Shabbos, and what happens when Christians come together in church on Sunday.

The former are bound not only to each other but to Hashem by covenant, a formal, specified, and direct relationship between Israel and their God. We “Christians” voluntarily covenant with each other and are beneficiaries of the kindness of the God of Israel, though we have no formal relationship with Him.

It made me realize just how fragile that relationship is.

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:22-24

I believe being born into a covenant relationship with Hashem has a cost. If you are Jewish and choose to disregard the covenants and your responsibilities relative to them (Shabbat, kosher, davening, tzedakah, and so on), I believe that at the judgment, there will be consequences. None of my children are even slightly religious and my wife’s observance is “so-so” and I worry about that.

As far as being “natural branches,” I don’t know their state at present. But I do know that even as they are, they are still members of the covenants simply because they’re Jewish.

ShabbatI’ve heard it said that Judaism isn’t an all or nothing religion, so every time my wife does go to shul, davens, lights the Shabbos candles, or observes other mitzvot, I’m pleased. But there’s always more to do.

Even a secular Jew is a Jew, and even being non-observant, has a relationship with Hashem (even if they’re totally unaware of it).

We non-Jews, on the other hand, though we don’t have a formal relationship with Hashem, also don’t have as many rights and responsibilities. We get a lot of the same benefits (the Holy Spirit, the promise of the resurrection in the world to come, the love of Hashem, prayer) without the obligations shouldered by collective Israel (and there’s no other way to think of Israel except “collective”).

But our “attachment” to that metaphorical olive tree isn’t as secure as is Israel’s. The covenants are a lock. They don’t go away just because Israel as a whole or any individual Jew is not observant. The only thing that changes are the consequences, one set for obedience, and another set for disobedience.

For the rest of us, we need to watch our “Ps and Qs” so to speak. As Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) wrote (Romans 11:18), if we are arrogant and put “the Church” ahead of Israel, we can easily be knocked off the root. The root (and I believe one way to look at the root is as Israel’s covenant relationship with God) supports us, not the other way around.

The root belongs to Israel by covenant right, and we Gentiles are merely “resident aliens” among Israel (metaphorically speaking). We have no rights. We are granted guest status just because God’s a “nice guy,” so to speak. Not that God would do it, but if any one of us gets out of line, God could blow us off the root with a (metaphorical) sneeze.

That should make you feel a little insecure. I feel a little insecure.

But that’s not the end of it. PL finished his comment this way:

Curiously enough, because HaShem is faithful to those who place their trust in Him, and because He values the voluntary commitment of people who cling to His precepts without the demands of a covenant (as described of the foreigners in Is. 56), gentile disciples may benefit practically in a manner that is very similar to the benefits promised to Jews under the covenant. The advantages possessed by Jews, which Rav Shaul described to the Romans in the third chapter of his letter, are still very much valid and effective, and “grafted-in” wild gentile olive branches have no reason to boast of their position relative to native acculturated Jewish branches on his metaphorical olive tree of faith, but the wild branches are no longer merely fodder to be fed into a fire. One does not require a covenant to accept HaShem’s benefits, but one should not be jealous merely because someone else (namely the Jewish people) does have one. In fact, one may be grateful that HaShem’s covenantal faithfulness toward Jews demonstrates that He may be trusted even without a covenant. And this enables gentile disciples also to pursue faithfulness in response to HaShem’s gracious provision of all manner of blessings.

interfaith prayerWe non-Jewish disciples are living proof that God can be trusted beyond the covenant promises to Israel. Covenants are highly formal and specific agreements between two parties, but every word the comes from the mouth of the living God is trustworthy, carved in stone, immutable, unchangeable, and utterly reliable.

We may only come to God one-by-one as non-Jews outside of the covenants, but we are more than just individuals. We are part of something greater. We voluntarily come to Hashem, and we may voluntarily covenant with each other when we gather together, but we are more than just a group of individuals. We are members of the ekklesia and we make up a huge portion of the ekklesia alongside of Israel. We are different from the sum of our parts because the grace of God has made us children and family of the Most High.

Why We Are Never Alone

Gather together and I will tell you what will befall you at the end of days.

Genesis 49:1

Prior to his death, the Patriarch Jacob wished to disclose to his children the future of the Jewish nation. We know only too well what those prophecies were, and Jacob knew that revealing the enormous suffering that the Jews were destined to experience would be devastating to his children. The only way they could hear these things was if they “gathered together” and, by virtue of their unity, could share their strengths.

What was true for our ancestors holds true for us. Our strength and our ability to withstand the repeated onslaughts that mark our history lie in our joining together.

Jacob knew this lesson well. The Torah tells us that “Jacob remained alone, and a man wrestled with him” (Genesis 32:25). Jacob discovered that he was vulnerable only when he remained alone.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from the “Growing Each Day” column

DaveningSomeone recently commented in one of my blog posts wondering why I said that “Messianic Gentiles” had no active spiritual life.

I replied that it wasn’t that we didn’t have an active spiritual life, but that our praxis is ill-defined when in relation to Jewish community.

I’d actually read Rabbi Twerski’s commentary before the blog comment, but once I read and responded to the comment, my thoughts turned back to R. Twerski’s statements about Jewish community. Here’s some more about what he said from the same source (see the link above):

Some people feel that they must be completely independent. They see reliance on someone else, be it others or God, as an indication of weakness. This destructive pride emanates from an unhealthy ego. In my book Let Us Make Man (CIS 1987), I address the apparent paradox that a humble person is one who is actually aware of his strengths, and that feelings of inadequacy give rise to egocentricity and false pride.

Not only are we all mutually interdependent, the Torah further states that when we join together, our strengths are not only additive, but increase exponentially (Rashi, Leviticus 26:8). Together, we can overcome formidable challenges.

Of course, R. Twerski is writing to Jews about Jews, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the principles he is highlighting apply to the rest of us as well.

However, the “rest of us,” or at least that subset who identify as “Messianic Gentiles,” “Talmidei Yeshua,” or something similar, are really only who we are in relation to (Messianic) Jewish community, or at least (Messianic) Jewish religious thought and teaching. Otherwise, who are we?

The Jewish PaulWe are non-Jews who have chosen to understand and explore our faith by returning said-faith back (as best we can) to its original Jewish context rather than accept the Christian refactoring of the teachings of Rav Yeshua (Jesus) and his emissary to the Gentiles, Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul), or for that matter, just about anything else in the Bible.

Granted, some writers and teachers within the Messianic Jewish religious and educational space are non-Jews, and they are very helpful in assisting us in understanding ourselves. However, by definition, we Gentiles cannot set aside the “Jewishness” of the context that defines us (although that definition isn’t clearly understood). That context is a large portion of who we are.

And that’s part of the problem.

Another part is that because we are so few in number, it’s pretty hard for a bunch of us to get together and “hobnob,” at least on a regular basis.

Every other Sunday afternoon, I get together with a friend of mine for several hours of coffee and conversation, however not everything we talk about has to specifically do with our common understanding of our faith and praxis.

Yet another part of the “community” difficulty is that although we all may share certain things in common, we are also divided by what we don’t have in common. I’ve probably met or at least know of most or all of the “Messianic Gentiles” in the greater southwestern Idaho area, and in the past, I would meet with a few of them periodically, but we weren’t and aren’t the same, and that lack of “sameness”  (and sometimes a radical “differentness”) makes our “community” highly fragmented.

While Rabbi Twerski can reasonably expect to regularly gather with a large or at least significant number of Jews to worship with, study with, and to be in community with (not just religious community, but social, cultural, and national community), the same cannot be said of “Messianic Gentiles”.

It’s one of the things we have in common with Noahides, since there aren’t to many of them around either, and even if they can gather in community with other “righteous Gentiles,” they don’t always live near a significant number of Jews.

I’ve been reminded that Messianic Jews have the same problem, often swimming in a vast sea of secular and religious Gentiles, but without another Jew in sight.

MessiahOne day, we will all find unity and “ekkelsia” in the Messianic Kingdom, but that day has yet to arrive.

Until then, we must focus on the hub that unites us all through the spokes of the wheel, so to speak, that is, Rav Yeshua. If we have no immediate community, although geographically (and often theologically) apart, we are spiritually united. Although our traditions and doctrine may not always line up with each other, the Messiah has one mind and one heart and after all, God is One.

We may not always see Him or each other in the same way, but He is One and when our Rav returns, our King will correct all of our misunderstandings about Messiah, God, ourselves, and each other.

Faith and trust means being patient, even in isolation, and holding onto the fact that this current world is not forever. The Bible states that all the Jewish people will be returned to their Land, national Israel. It’s one of the tasks of Messiah, and one in which the people of the nations will take part.

Those Jews who find themselves apart from their people and their Land will have unity as the covenant people of Hashem.

We Gentiles, though we live in many different lands and in Messianic Days we will continue to live in our nations, will have one King and one God, and we will also be brought to a place of unity and peace.

WaitingRabbi Twerski ended his column by stating:

Today I shall…

…try to join with others in strengthening Judaism and in resisting those forces that threaten spirituality.

We should try to do the same thing in relation to our faith in God and in trusting our Rav, and if we can’t join with others in this mission, then at least we can do this within ourselves.

We are vulnerable when alone, but if we don’t have a body with which we can join, then as long as we turn to God, we can never be alone, and in Spirit, we are also with each other.

The Bilateral Ekklesia vs. The Kingdom of Heaven

I posted the following after a number of complaints were registered about my original content:

Okay, stop!

Obviously I’ve written more than one controversial statement in this blog post and it’s causing more trouble than it’s worth. So hopefully WordPress will let me “comment out” the HTML of the content so I won’t actually have to erase it. I could have reverted this blog post to “draft” status or simply deleted it, but then I’d have to explain via email to each person who asked what happened to it.

It seems clear that in my exploration to clarify things for myself relative to the “bilateral ekklesia” and its relationship to the Kingdom of Heaven, that I’ve stepped on more than a few toes, which was not my intention. I sometimes complain of the contentiousness of religious blogging, and I’ve been doing more than my fair share to contribute to it lately.

I have to fix this. This has to end. I have to find a different way to take the next step in my spiritual evolution, whatever that may be, without dragging everyone down into the mud and making a mess of things.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of taking a major step forward, but I guess that’s not obvious from what I’ve been doing lately.

I have an idea. Wait for it.

NOTE: No, WordPress won’t let the HTML comment out tags work, so the content is now deleted.

After much deliberation, I decided to restore the original content with the understanding that it is simply to provide context for those who happen upon this blog post and can’t make heads or tails of it. Again, I never meant for what I wrote to cause offense.

The original blog post content follows:

The kingdom of heaven prior to the final redemption can be likened to a partisan movement, such as Robin Hood and his men or the European freedom fighters that fought in Nazi occupied territory. The Partisans is a teaching on Hebrews 2 in light of Psalm 8 and the parable of Luke 19:12ff concerning all things in subjection to the Son and the revelation of the kingdom.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Eight: The Partisans
Originally presented on February 16, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This was the opening quote of my original review of Lancaster’s sermon I published in March of 2014.

Much more recently, about a week ago, I published my previous blog post The Hope of Healing in the Bilateral Ekklesia chronicling the recognition, both among the Jews in Messianic Judaism, and those non-Jews who are involved, that there is a rift between Jews and Gentiles in the ekklesia, and that, as disciples of Yeshua, we desire to be (somehow) reconciled with one another.

I’m about to say (write) something you may not expect out of me. I’m going to say that the major barrier in that healing is the emphasis on Judaism vs. the emphasis on the Kingdom.

I quoted Lancaster above because in that sermon and a number of others, he emphasized that the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, the Messianic Kingdom, was already emerging into our world, probably within Yeshua’s earthly lifetime we see recorded in the Gospels, and certainly after his ascension when myriads of Gentiles were being drawn to Hashem through the teachings of the Master.

But as I’ve said many times before, even in those days, the problem of what to do with the Gentiles was a major headache among the Jewish Messianic disciples and apostles, including the emissary to the Gentiles, sent to us by the Master himself, Paul.

I don’t believe Paul ever “solved” the “Gentile problem,” but as I’ve also surmised, maybe he didn’t think he had to. If he really believed Messiah’s return was imminent, then he probably figured our King would order our ways in the ekklesia and in the Kingdom.

But Messiah didn’t return within the last decades of the First Century CE, nor in the subsequent centuries between then and now. What resulted, as you well know, was a terrific rift between the devout Jews and the Gentile believers, until Jewish faith in Yeshua was finally extinguished and only the Gentiles, however imperfectly, kept faith in Messiah…in Christ.

But that’s not to say, as the modern Church believes, that the Jews went down a dead end path of religion by works which took them away from God as it took them away from Yeshua (and I have to thank Rabbi Stuart Dauermann for writing about this on his Facebook page last Friday).

Each body, Rabbinic Judaism and the Christian Church, has preserved something of the lessons of God down through the long years and to this very day. Each has a certain number of pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of redemption, but it seems whenever the two groups get together and attempt to assemble that puzzle, none of the Jewish pieces match up with the Christian pieces. Apples and oranges. Square pegs and round holes.

But wait a minute.

From a present-day perspective, looking back at the late 19th century, we find a small body of Jews who lived as Jews (rather than converting to Christianity) who accepted the revelation that Yeshua as depicted in the Apostolic Scriptures, is indeed the Holy Moshiach of Hashem, sent with the good news of redemption for all Israel and even for the Goyishe nations.

Rabbi Joshua Brumbach
Rabbi Joshua Brumbach

Nearly four years ago, Rabbi Joshua Brumbach published a couple of blog posts: Rabbis Who Thought for Themselves and Rabbis Who Thought for Themselves – Part II presenting the lives of a number of late 19th and early 20th century Rabbis who indeed, “thought for themselves,” certainly thought outside the box, and came to the realization that Jesus of Nazareth, when you wipe the Gentile “make up” off his face that the Church painted there, is indeed Moshiach and Son of the Most High.

Much later, in the 1960s, the “Jesus Freak” movement spawned something that would eventually become the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots groups we have today. For the past several decades, a small but growing body of Jews have accepted this revelation and have put Yeshua, Paul, and the other apostles and disciples we find in the Apostolic Scriptures, back into their ancient Jewish context.

It then became possible to study their teachings and written works the way any modern Jew would study Torah, Tanakh, and Talmud.

This is terrific news for Jews in Messiah who cannot and should not attempt to fit into modern Christianity, it’s the way to take what Rabbinic Judaism has preserved for the past twenty centuries and “marry” it to the good news of Messiah the Church has preserved, keeping in mind that what the Church believes about Christ has to be radically refactored in order to become (re)integrated with both ancient and modern Judaism, forming or at least crystalizing, some of what is called Messianic Judaism today (I word it that way because often many Gentile-driven Hebrew Roots groups and communities will call themselves “Messianic Judaism” or “Messianic” something).

But while this is good news for the Jews, what about the Gentiles? It seemed like good news at first, but as the blog series I’ve been writing lately has shown, there’s an uncomfortable flip side to all of this. If we support Messianic communities as being by and for Jews, where do the Gentiles go, the Church?

My personal experience has shown me that this isn’t always a sustainable alternative. Many of us don’t fit in at Church, much as we’ve tried.

But if Messianic synagogues are havens and sanctuaries for Jews in Messiah to live and worship in Jewish community, then by definition, we don’t fit in there as well.

Or do we?

There is a high degree of variability as to just how accepted non-Jews are in Messianic Jewish groups, at least in the U.S. For instance, Beth Immanuel in Hudson, WI touts itself as “Messianic Judaism for all Nations,” and while some Jews do worship there, its leadership is non-Jewish.

If you knew nothing about Beth Immanuel and you happened, as a non-Jewish disciple, that is, a Christian, to wander in for Shabbat services one Saturday morning, you might not realize it wasn’t a completely Jewish establishment. I’ve only been there for a couple of Shavuot conferences, so I don’t know what happens on a typical Shabbat, but I’d guess that there would be a traditional Jewish prayer service and a Torah service.

If an Oneg meal is shared, our hypothetical Christian would learn that the kitchen is kosher and no actual cooking is done on Shabbos. For those who choose, before a meal, they may practice netilat yadayim or ritual hand washing. And of course, being this is a kosher kitchen in what seems like a Jewish synagogue, any of the food served would also be kosher. No ham sandwiches or shrimp scampi on the menu.

messianic judaism for the nationsAnd yet, most of the people I’ve met at Beth Immanuel are non-Jews like me. That being the case, most of the men wear a kippah, don a tallit gadol for services, and I suspect many of them wear a tallit katan under their shirt on a daily basis, with the tzitzit tucked into their trousers.

You can see why it can be confusing to have that experience and at the same time hear messages about a strict segregation between Gentiles and Jews in Messiah in order to preserve the Judaism and Jewish life in Messianic Jewish community.

Of course there are many other Messianic Jewish congregations that have a Jewish leadership, such as Tikvat Israel in Richmond, VA, and yet there are numerous non-Jews in regular attendance in those shuls.

I’ve never visited Tikvat Israel, so I can’t comment about it in any detail, except to say that Rabbi David Rudolph, who is the head Rabbi, is Jewish, and that, at least in our email communications, he has treated me courteously and with compassion.

I know there are some notable Messianic Jews who believe the Messianic Judaism we have today is a fully realized microcosm of what the Messianic Kingdom will be when Messiah returns.

I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with that assessment (and I imagine I’ll hear about it, both in the comments section of this blog post and via email).

D. Thomas Lancaster believes that, using the “partisan” model, the Messianic Kingdom is slowly emerging, but the King is still absent, like an ancient King in exile, but one who has promised, one day, to return.

In the meantime, even though our world isn’t being run by our King, and in fact, it’s being run rather poorly by human agency, we are tasked to behave as if the Kingdom is already here.

Of course, that can be difficult without the proper Messianic “infrastructure” in place. We are partisans or members of the underground such as you’d have found in Nazi occupied France during World War II. We are fighting a difficult battle and we can’t always reveal ourselves to everyone as just who we are. Our “country” is occupied by an enemy force, and while in our hearts and in some of our actions we dedicate ourselves to our true King, in many other ways, we are inhibited or restricted. We can only behave as full citizens of the Kingdom once the King has set everything to right again.

As you probably can tell, we’re not there yet.

JewishThat’s why I think we cannot compare the current “bilateral ekklesia” with the future Messianic Kingdom. Right now, it’s important for the Jews in Messianic Judaism to focus on Judaism and the Jewish disciples of Messiah. Countless generations of Christians have made it clear that Jews cannot remain Jewish and convert to Christianity, while countless generations of Jews have made it clear that if you are devoted to Yeshua as Messiah, even if you live a fully religious Jewish lifestyle, you are considered an apostate.

So the only way for Jews in Messiah to survive and live a Jewish life is to contain themselves in a “Jewish bubble,” so to speak. If they associate exclusively with say, Orthodox Jews in order to maintain Jewish lifestyle, they may find their faith in Yeshua in danger of waning. If they associate mostly or exclusively with even Messianic Gentiles, let alone more traditional Christians, they may discover themselves diluting their lived Jewish experience and even becoming “Jewish-lite.”

I get that.

I also get that, in the Messianic Kingdom, the nations will have a place. We Gentiles, just as the Jews, will receive the full pouring out of the Spirit so that we too, from the very least to the very greatest, will have an apprehension of Hashem greater than even John the Immerser.

We too will have the resurrection and a place forever in the world to come. Our sacrifices will also be accepted in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We will be able to travel to Jerusalem, particularly during the time of Sukkot, and see the face of our King, bring honor and glory to his name, and standing on the streets of Jerusalem, the City of David, and in the Temple courts, we will worship Hashem, God of Israel, thanking Him for redeeming not only the Jewish people, but all of the Gentiles who have kept faith and trust in Him during the hard times.

But that’s then and this is now.

Some Messianic communities would not desire my presence because, as a Gentile, I would inhibit Jewish worship. Interestingly enough, I believe in other Messianic communities, I’d be “too Gentile” because I do not regularly cover my head, wear a tallit katan, keep strictly Glatt kosher (I only keep Leviticus 11 “kosher lite”), use a siddur in prayer, pray at the set times of prayer, pray in Hebrew, cease work on Shabbat, and many other “Jewish” things.

I know there are Jews in Messiah who have “issues” with Gentiles who outwardly behave “Jewish” (don tzitzit, lay tefillin, wear a kippah in public during the week), but I’ve sometimes wondered if there are other Jews (and some “Messianic Gentiles”) who have “issues” with those of us who, as a matter of conviction, have set aside even praying with a siddur?

It’s an interesting question.

The 17th of Tammuz started at sunset on July 4th this year and it begins a three-week period of increasingly intense mourning for the Jewish people (yes, it was a fast day and no, I didn’t fast) leading up to Tisha B’Av.

This is a Jewish time of mourning, so what does it have to do with Gentiles?

Well, one of the greatest losses to the Jewish people was the destruction of the Temple, razed by the Roman army in 70 CE. Consider two things: The Temple was destroyed by Gentiles, and the sacrifices of Gentiles, even in the days of Yeshua, were accepted. We also know they will be accepted again in Messianic Days.

So I think we have a legitimate reason to mourn as well. We also have a very good reason to spend these three weeks repenting. Repenting of what you ask? Two general areas: The first is for our sins. Oh, don’t be coy. You know you sin. So do I.

destruction of the templeThe second is to repent of all the crimes the Gentiles have committed against Jews and Judaism across the ages, including the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples.

We non-Jewish believers aren’t used to repenting for sins we ourselves didn’t commit. We aren’t usually held accountable for the sins of our ancestors. And yet, in the future, we know that the rest of the nations of the world, including the good ol’ U.S. of A., will go to war against Israel, nearly destroy her, and at the last second, God Himself will fight for the Jewish nation, and defeat the rest of us.

We know one of the consequences will be that every year at Sukkot, each nation will be responsible for sending representatives to Jerusalem to pay homage to King Messiah, and any nation that fails to do so, will receive no rain.

Even we non-Jewish believers and disciples of the Master will be citizens of the former enemy nations of Israel. Yes, we were underground fighters, holding the line, maintaining loyalty to our true King, but as citizens of America, Canada, or where ever, we also are (and will be) representatives of our individual countries. How many of you Americans out there celebrated the Fourth of July by having a picnic or barbecue, setting off fireworks, displaying an American flag at the front of your home, or something similar?

We have a lot to repent for, past, present, and future. Where do we fit in? Maybe nowhere yet. We’re underground, remember? Actually, Jewish disciples of Messiah are underground, too. They can’t always advertise to all of their Jewish relatives and friends that they acknowledge Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, for fear of rejection or some other adverse reaction.

At least we Gentiles can say we’re Christian without offending too many people (although that’s becoming kind of a problem in certain areas of social media lately).

We aren’t there yet. This isn’t the fully emerged and flourishing Messianic Kingdom. The Ekklesia of Messiah will no doubt one day be healed, but that day isn’t today. The rift still exists. We pretend it shouldn’t because a sizable number of Jews living as Jews now recognize our Christ as their Messiah. We want to be one big happy family.

We’re not. That much is more than obvious. We have problems. The “family” is dysfunctional.

I think I’m going to pay more attention to the three weeks this year, not because I think I should be emulating Jewish people, and not as a reflection of an arrived Messianic Era, but because of all the screw ups that have happened between Jews and Christians over the years, including the original screw up when Gentiles walked out of the ancient Messianic community.

Mourn the loss of a “healed” ekklesia, for it still lies rent and bleeding on the ground. Mourn that our ancient ancestors destroyed the very Temple that 70 bulls were sacrificed every Sukkot for the sake of the nations…us. Repent. Pray that Moshiach arrives quickly so there will be healing. Pray that you survive the horrors that are to come, the birth pangs of Messiah, when every hand will turn against Israel, and you’ll have to stop being underground and stand up for the Jewish nation against your co-workers, your neighbors, members of your own family, and against (probably) most of the Christian Church, which should know better.

Whatever conflict and alienation exists between Gentiles and Jews in Messiah will eventually be healed and we will be reconciled again. When and how that will happen and what it will look like when it does, I have no idea.

I only know it will happen.

And in the meantime, we’ll have problems, plenty of them.

For we Gentiles, our only assurance isn’t in Jewish community, it’s in the God of Creation and the Son of Man who has promised to return in clouds of glory.

Photo: First Fruits of Zion

Pray that you remain strong in the faith until the end. I know that’s what I’ll pray for…the endurance and courage to stay the course, to not wander off to the left or to the right…to keep steady, no matter what’s happening around me or to me.

We can only celebrate the victory of the King if we keep fighting his fight.

Only then, I believe, will we finally be healed, and all men and women will live in peace with their brothers and sisters, Jew and Gentile alike.

Who is Honored on Sukkot?

Epicurus used to say, “Were the gods to answer the people’s prayers, people would deteriorate and die, for so multitudinous are the tribulations which each one wishes upon his fellow.”

Epicurus may be right as regards the prayers of the nations, but not as regards our prayers. We well know “This is the book of the generations of man,” and every year we begin our supplications with “And now, Lord our God, place Your awe upon all whom You have made, Your dread upon all whom You have created…”

-Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel
Chapter 13: The First Man and the Jewish Nation, p.75
Translated by Kadish Goldberg
Jews, Judaism, & Genesis: Living in His Image According to the Torah

Last week, I spent some time writing about those things that make Jewish people unique and distinct from the people of all the other nations, including Gentile Christians, in three blog posts: Upon Reading a Rant About “Messianic Jewishism”, Diminishing the Moon and Israel, and Are Messianic Jews Not Expected to Practice Judaism?. I suppose I could be accused of fomenting discord between Jewish and Gentile members of the ekklesia of Messiah, or to put it in more Christian-friendly terms, the members of the “body of Christ”.

In the spirit of unity which is aptly expressed during this time of Sukkot, I thought I’d take a different tack.

As we discussed last year, the fruit symbolizes the Torah inside a person, while the fragrance represents the Mitzvos, the deeds a person does which affect those around him or her. The four species represent those who have both Torah and good deeds, those who have one but not the other, and even those who have neither.

And what are we told to do? We bind them together! Every Jew is a unique and essential part of our nation.

from “Note from the Director”
News from Project Genesis and Torah.org for Sukkot

Unfortunately, I can’t find this note from Rabbi Yaakov Menken on the Project Genesis website which would allow you to read all of the Rabbi’s comment, but as you might imagine, he is specifically addressing unity among Jewish people and not including non-Jewish believers in Jesus (Yeshua). However, giving Rabbi Menken’s words a “Messianic spin,” I think we can include the entire population within the ekklesia of Messiah, the Jews and the Gentiles, at least for the sake of my example. While unity doesn’t require uniformity, we still are united with each other by love of the Moshiach, may he come swiftly and in our day.

Earlier in his email newsletter, the Rabbi wrote:

The Torah tells us to take four species: the Esrog, a citrus fruit with a pleasant taste and smell; the Lulav from a Date Palm which produces fruit but is not fragrant; Hadasim, myrtle branches which are aromatic but does not provide edible fruit; and aravos, from the willow, which has neither taste nor smell.

Consider the differences and the distinctions involved in each of the four species. What does a citrus fruit, a lulav, myrtle branches, and aravos from a willow have in common?

Not much apparently.

And yet all four of these highly different items are absolutely required for the observance of Sukkot as it is written:

Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.

Leviticus 23:40 (NASB)

four species
Photo by Gili Cohen Magen

Those distinctively different objects are required to be bound together and, in essence, to “work together,” in order for Sukkot to be observed properly. While it’s impossible to offer the appropriate sacrifices related to Sukkot today due to a lack of the Temple and the Priesthood, the celebration is nevertheless observed by religious Jews and not a few believing Gentiles as well.

In a recent comment on one of my blog posts and then again in commenting on a different blog post, I said:

According to Jewish tradition, on the first seven of the eight days of the festival, we are to extend a special invitation to a specific guest in this order:

  1. Abraham, who represents love and kindness
  2. Isaac, who represents restraint and personal strength
  3. Jacob, who represents beauty and truth
  4. Moses, who represents eternality and dominance through Torah
  5. Aaron, who represents empathy and receptivity to divine splendor
  6. Joseph, who represents holiness and the spiritual foundation
  7. David, who represents the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven on Earth

Now before you think I’ve flipped for considering something so far-fetched, look at this:

“I say to you that many (Gentiles) will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (meaning the Messianic Kingdom here on Earth established by Jesus upon his return)…”

Matthew 8:11

This at least suggests a sort of feast occurring during Sukkot in which we non-Jewish disciples of Christ will join the Jewish disciples in participating in the Sukkot festival with the greatest prophets, priests, and kings in the Bible, all in honor of King Messiah.

While I crafted the above quoted-statement to be easier for a traditional Christian to comprehend, I want all of us to understand that Jews and Gentiles will be together at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and perhaps Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David) to give glory and honor to King Messiah upon the establishment of his Kingdom. Maybe this will even happen on Sukkot, although of course, I can say that for sure.

Certainly the Prophets, Priests, and Kings represented by the Seven Ushpizin guests are not exactly alike, and although they exist within the unity of the Jewish people, they are not identical in type or function. So too it can be said that even though Jew and Gentile in the ekklesia of Messiah and as citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven have unity within that assembly, they also are not identical in type and function.

sukkotBut you won’t see Abraham, Moses, and David arguing about it, so why should we?

About twelve years ago, Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman wrote a Sukkot commentary called “Shaking Up Our Priorities” which you can find at Torah.org. It’s worth the read and won’t take much of your time, but I’d like to quote just a part of it here:

One year, as he always did before Sukkos, R’ Yitzchak gathered his belongings, including all the rubles that he had put aside, and left home to travel to a nearby town where the Four Species could be bought. Travelling along the roadside, he stopped suddenly when he heard the sound of someone crying. Indeed, a Jewish man sat in a nearby field, head in his knees, crying and moaning bitterly. R’ Yitzchak approached him. “Reb Yid, what’s the matter?”

“Don’t even ask,” the Jew said, “a bittere pekel tzures – what a bitter portion the Almighty has dealt me! Woe is to me. I had one horse. That might not seem like much, but it was enough to support my family. It was a good horse. I rode it from town to town, delivering people’s mail, parcels – whatever they needed. I didn’t make a fortune, but we had what to eat, and we were happy. But today I awoke, and – woe is me – I found her dead. She must have passed away overnight. As it is, we live from hand to mouth. If I have to deliver by foot, I don’t stand a chance of making a living. Woe is me!”

“Tell me,” asked R’ Yitzchak, “what would a new horse cost you. I’m sure she was a good horse, but there are other horses out there.”

“Of course there are other horses, for someone who has 300 rubles to spend! It would take me almost a year to earn that kind of money! So you see, all is lost!”

Without further ado, R’ Yitzchak took out his wallet and counted out 300 rubles, leaving for himself only the smallest sum from all the money he had so carefully put aside. He placed it in the pocket of the forlorn Jew, who had all the while never taken his head out from between his knees. Sticking his hand into his pocket, he was flabbergasted to find the entire sum he needed to buy himself a new horse. “What… What have you done. I… I never expected.” Completely choked up with emotion, he barely managed to thank R’ Yitzchak for his magnanimity. Little did he know, R’ Yitzchak himself was not a rich man, and that he had just parted with the lion’s share of his own savings.

That year R’ Yitzchak had to settle for the plainest of Esrogim, much to the surprise and wonder of his friends and family. Despite their best attempts to find out, he told no one of what had come of his plans to purchase the most beautiful Esrog, nor of his savings, except to say, cryptically, that “the money was not lost – in fact it had just galloped off and was being put to very good use.”

If you are a (non-Jewish) Christian or otherwise are a person who does not observe Sukkot (or who does so in a rather casual manner), you won’t understand the tremendous significance involved in R’ Yitzchak’s generosity. In a sense, he had before him two apparently conflicting mitzvot. He could do as he had done every year and dedicate the more than 300 rubles it had taken him all year to save for the purchase of the most beautiful Esrog he could find in honor of the festival and God, or he could alleviate the sorrow of a Jew even poorer than he was by freely handing over his money for the purchase of a horse, and settle for the plainest Esrog he could still afford.

Again, from a Christian point of view (and probably the viewpoint of most people), the decision to help his fellow Jew seems clear, but remember, what is at stake is the honor of both God and of human beings at this Holy time of year.

Perhaps, even after performing tzedakah (charity) by giving up his Esrog money, R’ Yitzchak was still unsure that he did the right thing, for we find:

During Chol Ha-Moed (the Intermediate Days of Sukkos), R’ Yitzchak travelled to Lublin to visit his Rebbe, the famed Choize (Seer) of Lublin. At the festive Yom Tov meal, the Choize remarked to his disciples, “The mitzvah of Arba Minim must be performed with great joy. We must thank Hashem that we all managed to perform the mitzvah of waving the Lulav and Esrog. When we wave the mitzvos, all the Heavenly spheres and realms are awakened, and much joy and goodness permeate the upper realms, ultimately reflecting that joy and goodness back down to this world where we can reap its benefits. We all shook the Lulav and Esrog, but, R’ Yitzchak,” he said, turing as he did so to face him, “to wave a horse – now that is a truly original and exceptional way to perform a mitzvah!”

davening_morningChristians, most other non-Jews, and even some Jewish people often think of the Rabbinic Sages as inflexible, rule-bound, and even “anti-Bible” in considering halachah and Talmud as having any sort of authority when compared to the commandments clearly written in the Bible, but here we see that kindness, mercy, and “waving a horse” for Sukkot are not only original and exceptional ways to perform a mitzvah,” but deserving of special honor as expressing the heart of God.

In one of the commentaries for Tractate Yevamos 5 as collected and distributed in the Daf Yomi Digest by the Chicago Center for Torah & Chesed, we find the following based on “Each person shall fear his mother and father, and guard my Shabboses…”:

On today’s daf, we find that the Beraisa proposes that were it not for the verse, one might think that honoring parents overrides the Shabbos!

The famous Yehudi HaKadosh, zt”l, would deliver a regular Gemara shiur to his students that explored the commentary of Tosfos. One of his students was an extremely talented local boy who was unfortunately orphaned of his father. Once, the Rebbe interrupted their learning so that he could concentrate deeply on a certain subject. His young student knew well that such a break could last an hour or more, so he took advantage of the pause to go home and eat.

The boy ate a quick meal and hurried out back to his Rebbe’s home, but his mother called out after him that she wanted him to go up to the attic and bring something down for her. In his rush to return to study, he ignored her call, but half-way back the boy had second thoughts. “Isn’t the whole purpose of study to fulfill the mitzvos? Shouldn’t I honor my mother instead?” he asked himself. So he ran home and did as he was bid.

Afterward he returned to his studies, and as he opened the door to the Rebbe’s house, the Yehudi HaKadosh snapped out of his reverie and rose to his full height as a sign of respect. Beaming, the Yehudi HaKadosh asked, “What mitzvah have you just performed, because it has brought the spirit of the great Amorah Abaye with you into my house.”

The student told his story, and the Rebbe explained to the rest of the students: “It is well known that Abaye was an orphan—his name is an acronym of the verse, ‘For in You does the orphan find mercy.’ This is why his spirit accompanies a person who fulfills the mitzvah of honoring his parents—so that he should have a part in a mitzvah that was denied to him. You want to know why am I smiling? Because Abaye came and answered my question on the Tosafos!”

Again, this may not resonate with most people, including many Jews, but we see a comparison between the authority of a Rebbe over his young students and the mitzvah of honoring parents. It is said that a Rebbe is to be considered greater than one’s own father, so you can see that the young student put himself in a bind by going home to eat and then having to decide between his mother’s request and his obligation to promptly return to the Rebbe’s home.

MidrashIn choosing to honor his mother, he not only did the right thing from a human point of view, but he achieved a certain amount of respect from his Rebbe. Did “the spirit of the great Amorah Abaye” really accompany the boy to the Rebbe’s house and answer the Rebbe’s question on the Tosafos he had been pondering?

There’s no way to know for sure and probably no way to know if any of these events ever actually occurred. But whether or not they did, there’s a principle being taught here, the same principle as was taught in the previous Rabbinic story.

Even if we know nothing of the Torah, the mitzvot, or anything else, we know, or we should know as disciples of Rav Yeshua, our Rebbe, that extending mercy, kindness, compassion, and respect are the greater and loftier mitzvot, the acts of obedience and response to God that, even in moments of doubt, cannot fail.

I said in a comment last week that “if I’m going to err, I’d rather err on the side of humility”. I also quoted one of the Master’s parables:

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11

When we finally attend the “feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and it will be a massive affair no doubt, I suppose seating arrangements will be a big problem. What are you going to do with all of the people who show up from all over the world to honor King Messiah and to actually recline at the table with men like Jacob and Joseph? Where should we sit?

In retrospect, and considering the example the Master laid out for us, the answer should be obvious. We should consider ourselves as having no honor of our own, but only seek to honor the King and those Seven Ushpizin guests who represent the Prophets, Priests, and Kings of Israel, and indeed, all the Jewish people. If we mistakenly think we are greater than they, won’t our host, Yeshua, be forced to embarrass us by asking us to take the last place at the table?

Ben Zoma says: Who is honored? The one who gives honor to others…

(Talmud – Avot 4:1)

As non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah King, if we seek to honor him and believe we are worthy of honor, respect, equality, and inclusion within the ekklesia, then both the teachings of the Master and of the great Sages are clear that to be honored, we must honor others, and not deliberately strive to honor ourselves.

UnityThe Master also teaches:

Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God'”

John 8:54

If our Rebbe and Master did not glorify himself, should we not follow his example? Will he not take the different “species” within the body and unite us, regardless of our extreme differences…or perhaps because of them, and in our honoring him, won’t he honor us?

Chag Sameach Sukkot.

The Duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians to the Jews

There is a lot of confusion about tithing among believers today. Are we required to tithe? Does the Torah obligate us to give 10 percent of our incomes? If so, to whom should we be tithing? At First Fruits of Zion, we get these kinds of questions about tithing all the time. It’s one of the frequently asked questions we see most often.

-Toby Janicki
“Introduction,” p.1
What About Tithing?

I started reading Toby’s book with the idea of writing a review (which I will soon), but for some reason, I found my thoughts distracted by a topic I periodically visit on my blog: the state of those of us who are called Messianic Gentiles and our relationship with Jews who live halachically Jewish lives in the acknowledgement of the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah.

I suppose it has to do with the rather “dynamic” discussion being conducted in the comments section at the Rosh Pina Project blog in their blog post What Makes a Messianic Congregation Messianic in Israel?.

The following quote from one of the comments made by Rabbi Russ Resnik crystallizes the matter at hand:

As a non-Israeli, I won’t comment on the state of Messianic Judaism there. I represent a group of congregations mostly in the USA, but worldwide as well, working to sustain a genuinely Jewish Messianic Judaism. Here’s how we define it: “The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) envisions Messianic Judaism as a movement of Jewish congregations and groups committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, and renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant. Messianic Jewish groups may also include those from non-Jewish backgrounds who have a confirmed call to participate fully in the life and destiny of the Jewish people. We are committed to embodying this definition in our constituent congregations and in our shared institutions.”

Traditionally in the Church, when we receive a Jewish person who has confessed Jesus as Messiah (in “Christianese” as “Lord and Savior”), we tend to retrofit modern Christian theology, doctrine, and practice into their lives. Even under the most benign circumstances when we “allow” the “Jewish Christian” to continue to voluntarily observe some Jewish practices such as lighting the Shabbat candles and celebrating events such as Chanukah and Passover, we really expect them to become full-fledged, card-carrying “Gentile” Christians and assimilate into our culture.

But that’s not what Rabbi Resnik is talking about and certainly not what blog author Simon Ben David is advocating. To the best I can understand their (the Messianic Judaism described by R. Resnik) position, it would seem that they desire to create an environment of Jewish people living a fully developed religious and cultural Jewish lifestyle integrated with the revelation of Yeshua HaMashiach within Judaism. Devotion to Messiah then becomes a fully lived Jewish experience completely consistent with every other aspect of Jewish life, whether one lives in Israel or any other part of the world.

Given the history of Messianic Judaism during the last thirty to forty years, that’s not going to be an easy task. Modern Messianic Judaism emerged from within Evangelical Christianity and it has been difficult to cast off that cloak and to reinvent itself as a wholly experiential Judaism, particularly with all of “Christiandom” and not a few “Hebrew Christians” perceiving Rabbinic Judaism (is there any other kind) to be alien if not antithetical to Christian theology and doctrine.

synagogueI’ve argued in support of exclusive Messianic Jewish community in the past and continue to advocate for its necessity, at least for some groups of Jewish people in Messiah, but that’s obviously a controversial subject. Where there are a number of authentically (in my opinion) Messianic synagogues in the U.S. that also admit Gentile members and attendees, this doesn’t really solve the problem of what it is to create an actual Jewish community and environment that is designed to serve Jews and that preserves Jewish people and Judaism within the Messianic context. It has been argued that admitting even a small minority of Gentiles (apart from intermarried couples) “breaks” the Jewishness of the community.

I could say that this dilemma wasn’t one that Paul worried overly much about, although we see in his Epistle to the Romans that he had a terrific time mediating between Jews and Gentiles within the synagogue, at least if my reflection of Romans 9 is any indication.

But if “Judaically-aware” Gentile believers like me want to honor the necessity of exclusive Jewish community for Messianic Jews, what happens to us?

In reading Toby’s book, one of the points he makes is that none of the Torah commandments related to tithing particularly apply to Gentiles and, in reading how the Apostolic Scriptures, including Paul’s letters to the Gentiles, treat the subject, there’s no clear “smoking gun” that directly impresses Torah mitzvot upon Gentile minds and hearts  (you’ll have to wait until I write my book review to see how all that finally worked out).

So even in Jewish community within the ekklesia of Messiah, Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles. There are areas where God does treat both groups impartially, specifically in receiving the Holy Spirit, the promise of the resurrection, and a life in the world to come for the faithful, but in the nuts and bolts of day-to-day living, we are sometimes light-years apart.

I know one of the proposed solutions is for Messianic Jews to maintain exclusively Jewish communities and for “Messianic Gentiles” to maintain exclusively Gentile communities, separate but equal, so to speak. The latter Gentile communities are readily available in just about any part of the world. They’re called churches. But “church” is almost a “dirty word” to many Gentiles who align with the Messianic movement and almost certainly with all or almost all non-Jews within what has been called “Hebrew Roots” or “Jewish Roots” which encompasses sub-groups such as “One Law,” “One Torah,” “Two-House,” and “Sacred Name.”

I’ve defended identifying myself as a Messianic Gentile based on how I conceptualize Bible study and particularly how I operationalize the New Covenant, and it’s that “mindset” that largely separates me from the vast majority of Evangelical (and just about any other kind of) Christians in existence past and present. So while it’s technically correct to call me a “Christian,” I actually don’t see key portions of my faith in the same way as the folks I go to Sunday school with.

One of the things I took away from Toby’s book is that the practice of tithing has become adaptive over time, especially after the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 C.E., and yet tithing has continued. Reading the Didache which Toby also cites, shows us how this particular Torah principle was modified and presented in the teachings of the novice Gentiles training to be disciples into the 2nd century and beyond.

In fact, Toby quoted D.T. Lancaster’s “Torah Club: Unrolling the Scroll” (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2007), p. 598, saying:

The early believers were Torah keepers, and they wanted to continue keeping the commandment…

-Janicki, p. 49

Defining what I think Toby meant by identifying Gentiles as “Torah keepers” is outside the scope of this essay, but suffice it to say that the principles of ethical monotheism enshrined in the Torah were adapted on various levels to apply to the legal status of the Gentiles who were operating as equal co-participants in the Jewish religious and communal space of “the Way”.

Reading of the Torah at Beth ImmanuelWe aren’t removed from the principles of “the Law,” and Gentile believers were never to be considered “lawless,” but even nearly two-thousand years ago, integration of Gentiles within a Judaism was problematic at best, and the sociological and historic reality is that the relationship ended in a messy divorce.

So are we (Gentile) Christians or Messianic Gentiles or what the heck are we?

As individuals or Gentile groups of believers, I think we end up having to define ourselves by our theology, doctrine, and preferred associations, but in relation to Messianic Judaism it becomes a bigger issue. I know I’ve opened up this can of worms before and closing it again is never easy. But if you go to the Rosh Pina Project blog, read the blog post in question and particularly some of the more emotionally charged comments, you’ll see there’s another side to the coin besides the Gentile side.

I don’t think it’s selfish, and as I mentioned quite recently, I find it quite necessary for both Jews and Gentiles to recognize the distinctions between our roles and identities in Messiah:

When writing on Deuteronomy 22:7 and 22:10, R. Pliskin crafted commentaries called Even when engaged in a mitzvah be sensitive to the feelings of others and Be careful not to cause others to envy. The underlying principles being expressed here are applicable both to Jewish people observing the mitzvot and Gentiles who think they should do so in the manner the Jews are commanded.

One of the things I must (sorry to say this) criticize J.K. McKee for was a statement he made in his book One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit about the issue of Jewish distinctiveness in the Messianic community of believers. I don’t recall the exact quote, but he made what I consider to be some rather snarky remarks about these Jewish people being exclusivist and even petty in desiring to have their covenant role as Jews recognized and respected.

And yet we see there’s a principle in Torah observance that recognizes distinctiveness of roles and even that a person whose role does not include the performance of particular mitzvot can actually hurt or inflict pain upon others. While we Gentiles may believe Jews are deliberately provoking us to envy because of their status before God, we, for our part, when we claim mitzvot that are not consistent with our role, are being injurious to the very people and nation we claim to love.

Sorry to “butt heads” with Mr. McKee again, but the quote was required to illustrate my point.

I still don’t have an answer to this conundrum because one doesn’t exist yet. Paul never solved this problem. I think he saw it coming and was helpless to stop it, even though his letter to the Romans was an impassioned plea urging Gentile respect and even submissiveness to the Jewish synagogue authorities for the sake of not being a stumbling block for those Jews still struggling with faith.

Twenty centuries ago, Jewish believers were at least a little hesitant to absorb large numbers of non-Jews, particularly those recently coming out of paganism, without having them undergo the proselyte rite, converting to Judaism, and integrating into Jewish community as Jews. The last two-thousand years or so have given world Jewry many good reasons to be leery of Christianity, both in its emphasis in attempting to remove Jews from Judaism and assimilate them into a wholly Gentile lived identity, and in the perception from other Jews that any Jew who associates with Gentile believers has turned against their people, their heritage, and the Torah and have become aliens and Christians.

daveningMessianic Judaism as a movement is a diamond in the rough, a work in progress, certainly a work of art, but the paint is only partially applied to the canvas and the artist is still considering His brushes and His color palette in anticipation of continuing to create His Masterpiece, which I believe will only be finished with the coming (return) of Messiah Ben David.

But if that makes you Messianic Gentiles uncomfortable, remember that Messianic Jews are in no less an uncertain state as the aforementioned guest blog post by Simon Ben David attests. Standing aside and not debating the wisdom of Jews establishing Jewish communities for the Jews in Messiah may be the best thing we can do as non-Jewish believers to serve the work of the Kingdom. Rather than require that Jews abandon their covenant responsibilities to God by abandoning the Torah or inappropriately “shoehorning” our Gentile selves into those Jewish obligations, the path of charity, kindness, compassion and, if you must think of it as such, self-sacrifice for the sake of your Jewish brothers and sisters in the ekklesia, may in the end be the best way we can serve the redemptive plan of God for Israel and ultimately, for the world.

Oh, I’m including one more thing I think is relevant to the topic:

Kippah for a Non-Jew

I have a few Jewish friends who wear kippahs and sometimes when I’m hanging out with them I feel out of place. Even though I am not Jewish, would there be any problem with me wearing a kippah, too?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Well, on one hand, the Pope wears a kippah.

But on the other hand, a non-Jew should not wear a kippah, since that might deceive others into thinking that he is Jewish.

In practice, non-Jews will sometimes wear a kippah while attending a Jewish religious function (many world leaders have been photographed at the Western Wall wearing a kippah), but in general a non-Jew should not wear one, due to the confusion it may cause.

However, since the idea of a kippah is to have the head covered as a reminder of God, you could certainly use some other head covering, like a cap, to serve that purpose.

Nanos, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem with Peter

Paul told the Galatians of a time in Antioch when he “condemned” Peter “to his face” for failing to “walk straight toward the good news.” He attributed Peter’s change of mealtime behavior to a hypocritical effort to escape pressure from “the ones for the circumcision” (Gal 2:11-21). For before “certain ones came from James,” Peter “was eating with the Gentiles” but afterwards he “drew back and separated himself.

-Mark D. Nanos
“What Was at Stake in Peter’s ‘Eating with Gentiles’ at Antioch?” pg, 282 (pages 282-318) in The Galatians Debate. Edited by Mark Nanos. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002.

So begins Nanos’ article on a topic I’ve been exploring recently, the Messianic community of Jews and Gentiles in the “Synagogue of the Way” in first century CE Syrian Antioch, and more specifically, what is known as “the Antioch Incident” which involved the activity chronicled by the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:11-21.

While this article was included as a chapter (fifteen) in the book The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, it also functions as a stand-alone paper which we can examine and from which we may be able to draw certain conclusions.

I’ve covered this material in two previous blog posts, both based on chapters from Magnus Zetterholm’s book The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity (See Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch and Today’s Messianic Judaism and Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem of the Gentiles). There is only one more chapter left in the Zetterholm book, which describes his perspective on the split between the Jewish and Gentile groups within the Messianic Antioch ekklesia (and ultimately all believing communities of that era), but someone suggested that I might want to review the Nanos paper on this topic first, since it may provide some clarification as to the actual problem between Paul and Peter as related to Gentile community and social status in this Jewish religious stream.

What Was at Stake in the Antioch Incident?

Nanos defines two “interpretive elements” that are “central for determining what was at stake” in “Peter’s eating or not eating with these Gentiles (pg 283):”

  1. What did the ones for the circumcision, whom Peter feared, find so objectionable about Peter’s eating with Gentiles?
  2. What did Paul find so objectionable about Peter’s decision to withdraw and separate from these mixed meals?

Keep in mind all this is from Paul’s point of view, so we don’t have the perspectives of Peter, the other Jewish believers (and unbelievers?) present, and particularly the Gentiles who were impacted by the incident.

According to Nanos, there are three possibilities as far as what the “ones advocating circumcision” could have found objectionable or offensive about Peter eating with the Jesus-believing Gentiles:

  1. The food served was objectionable according to Jewish dietary norms.
  2. Peter was violating halachah in even eating with Gentiles at all, even though the food was acceptable.
  3. It was the way Peter was eating with these Gentiles, rather than having a meal with them as such (and with the food being acceptable).

In trying to select an appropriate response, we also have to take Paul’s reaction into consideration. Which of these circumstances was most likely to elicit his offense and outrage and why?

Traditionally Paul has been understood to be upset because he maintained that faith in the gospel obviated continued regard for eating according to Jewish dietary regulations. But for Paul, did observing a Jewish diet compromise in principle “the truth of the gospel”? Or did he perhaps object instead to the degree of Jewish dietary rigor necessary to comply with the standards of those whom Peter feared? Or again, in a different direction, could it be that Paul understood that Peter’s withdrawal and separation undermined the identity of the Gentiles as equals while remaining Gentiles?

-Nanos, pg 284

At the church I currently attend (and I suspect at most or all Evangelical churches just about everywhere), it is assumed that the first and traditional Christian interpretation is obviously correct. Jesus canceled “the Law” including kashrut and Peter was eating ham sandwiches and shrimp scampi with his Gentile buds until other Jews who were “still under the Law” showed up and embarrassed Peter. Peter caved in to peer pressure and pulled away from eating trief with the goyim. Clearly for Evangelicals, the issue at hand was the food.

But before we get into whether this is actually supported by scripture or not, we need to identify the players. I used to think there were only two interest groups outside of Paul, Peter, Barnabas, and of course, the Gentiles present:

  1. The “certain men from James” who represented the “party of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12 NASB).
  2. The rest of the Jews (Gal. 2:13 NASB) who “joined him (Peter) in hypocrisy.”

However, Nanos draws a distinction between the Jewish men from James and the advocates of circumcision as representing two different groups of Jews. Paul obviously knew the particulars and presumably, so did the intended audience of his epistle (Gentile believers in the Messianic synagogues in the area of Galatia), but because that understanding was assumed, this narrative doesn’t contain a lot of information to help us figure out who’s who.

Antioch Rubens“The rest of the Jews” probably isn’t a terribly significant group, according to Nanos. They could be local Jesus-believing Jews, or Jews who accompanied Peter from Jerusalem/Judea to Antioch (Peter’s personal disciples?).

More critical to grasp are the two other groups. From verse 12, the Greek describing the contingent from James is best translated, again according to Nanos, as ”certain/some ones came from James,” (pg 286) but doesn’t absolutely delineate whether James actually sent them or if they came from James but weren’t specifically his representatives.

This is important because in my previous blog posts citing Zetterholm, it was thought that Paul and James disagreed about the status of Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish community and even that James advocated for a total “bilateral” separation of Jewish and Gentile believers, while Paul supported covenant and social inclusion. It makes a difference if James sent this group to “spy out” the doings in the Antioch synagogue vs. this group was associated with James but didn’t directly represent his views.

The third group (pp 286-7), the ones Peter was actually afraid of (I guess this would mean he wasn’t afraid of the group from James), is simply identified as “circumcision” (Jews) as opposed to “foreskinned” (Gentiles). Why did Paul call this third group only “circumcision?” What did he mean? Were they believing or non-believing Jews?

It would seem odd, at least to me, for Paul to call this Jewish group “circumcision” in order to differentiate them from believing Jews (although according to one Pastor I’ve spoken with who represents the traditional Christian viewpoint, Paul was advocating against believing Jews becoming circumcised, though this should have happened when they were eight-days old, or having their male children circumcised). In Galatians 3:28, Paul wrote that Jews and Greeks are all “one in Christ” but he still differentiates Jews and Greeks, even as he differentiates men and women “in Christ.”

This would mean (and Nanos speaks of this on pg 287), that Paul and Peter self-identified as “Jews by birth” (v. 15…also see Rom. 9:3-5, 11:1; Phil. 3:3-5, and by inference, 1 Cor. 7:17-20), thus a Jew becoming a disciple of Messiah Jesus (Yeshua) did not remove the status of “Jew” from the Jewish person. In other words a Jesus-believing Jew and any other Jew are both considered Jews, with no distinction relative to their ethnic or (Sinai) covenant status. So Paul and Peter are just as Jewish as any other Jewish individual. Being called “circumcision” is only to differentiate Jews from the “foreskinned” Gentiles.

Citing Dunn (Dunn, “Echoes,” 460-61; see also, Dunn, Theology, 123, where he cites Rom 4:12; Col 4:11; Titus 1:10), Nanos states (pg 288):

…but an interest group specifically distinguished from other groups of circumcised Jews as advocates of circumcision.

And further:

Given the rhetorical context dealing with Gentile associates, the likely connotation of this particular advocacy is proselyte conversion.

The “circumcision” then are a group of Jews (believing or non-believing) who advocate for Gentiles in the Jewish religious space to gain equality with the “Jews by birth” only through the proselyte rite which includes circumcision.

This group represented the dominant viewpoint of Jewish communal norms (see Acts 15:1) relative to full Gentile inclusion in Jewish religious/communal space. Gentile God-fearers were attendees or guests in that space but were hardly considered of equal status to Jews in the synagogue and in Jewish society at large and they absolutely were not included in covenant.

fellowshipNanos presents what appears to be a new perspective (from an Evangelical Christian point of view) regarding the issue at hand. Paul considered the believing Gentiles as having equal status in the Jewish “Way,” both in terms of social status and covenant blessings, while still remaining Gentiles. In fact, Paul required that the Gentiles retain their status as Gentiles lest “Christ be of no benefit” to them (Galatians 5:2).

The problem was not food, and it was not a general ban of Jews eating with Gentiles (since in diaspora communities, the halachah for such mixed-meals would have to allow for some social intercourse), but rather non-proselyte believing Gentiles being treated as social and covenant equals within the Jewish community.

Nanos refers to v. 13 in terms of Peter and the other Jews as “masking their true conviction,” which will be seen as significant because:

Therefore, the Christ-believing Jews try to mask their convictions that these Gentiles are not regarded among their subgroups as mere “pagan” guests, but at the same time not as proselyte candidates either, by withdrawing from eating with Gentiles to distance themselves from meals symbolizing this nonconforming “truth.”

-ibid, pg 289

The “nonconforming truth” is that, through faith in Messiah, the Gentiles are considered equal co-participants in Jewish covenant and community while remaining Gentiles and with no intention of them ever participating in the proselyte rite. Something about the way Peter was eating with the Gentiles, indicated to outside Jewish observers, that Peter and the Jews with him considered the believing Gentiles as social/covenantal equals to the Jews, something that non-Jesus-believing Jews (or maybe Jesus-believing Jews from a different faction) found offensive and unsustainable.

Peter’s hypocrisy then, was pretending the Gentiles did not have equal social standing with the Jews of the Way when just previously, he had been eating with them as equals. Peter then included Barnabas and other Jews in his hypocrisy when his example resulted in their following his lead.

Nanos supports something that I’ve believed for a while now. The “offense of the cross” for non-believing Jews wasn’t Jesus himself, but rather Paul’s insistence that Jesus-believing Gentiles be included in the Jewish community as equal co-participants while remaining Gentiles.

Apostle Paul preachingA classic example of this occurred at Pisidian Antioch. In Paul’s first appearance and “sermon” there on Shabbat, the Jews and Proselytes were quite interested in Paul’s message of the good news of Messiah and wanted him to return the following Shabbat to say more (Acts 13:43). However, the following Shabbat, it was apparent that the Gentile God-fearers, present the previous week, had “spread the word” to their Gentile families and friends, most likely not God-fearers, but “straight up” pagans and idol worshipers, because “crowds” of Gentiles showed up at the synagogue (v. 45) resulting in “jealousy” among the synagogue leaders, and with them responding to Paul with “blasphemy” and evicting Paul and his companions from the synagogue and the entire district.

Getting back to the two groups, the ones from James and the advocates of circumcision for Gentiles, Nanos states that we don’t know how they are related or what the timing of the arrival of the first group has to do with the presence of the second group. It could be a coincidence, but in the Bible, I tend to think there is no such critter.

That describes a great deal about the situation but doesn’t answer the question about what was at stake in Peter eating with and withdrawing from the Gentiles at Antioch.

J.B. Lightfoot argues that before the withdrawal Peter “had no scruples about living [like a gentile],” that is, without observing Jewish dietary restrictions (“discard Jewish customs”), for the vision of Acts 10 “taught him the worthlessness of these narrow traditions.” Lightfoot assumes that this change is the logical result of the desire to “mix freely with the Gentiles and thus of necessity disregard the Jewish law of meats.”

-ibid, pg 293

This is an example of the traditional Christian interpretation of the matter, but as I’ve stated here and in many other blog articles, this just doesn’t jibe with the overall presentation of Paul relative to the Torah as well and Jewish and Gentile status, and it certainly is inconsistent with Messiah’s interpretation of his own mission in terms of continued Torah observance by believing Jews (Matthew 5:17-19).

Nanos presented examples of the opinions of other New Testament scholars who support the traditional view and then more “recent trends in interpretation.”

As E.P. Sanders makes exceptionally clear, there is no reason to believe that observant Jewish people and groups did not eat with Gentles given the right conditions.

-ibid, pg 296


There is no reason to believe that many, if not most, observant Jews, certainly those living in the Diaspora, would not and did not eat with Gentiles without compromising their Jewish dietary norms to do so.

-ibid, pg 297

However, other Jewish groups may have feared that such mixed meals between Jewish and Gentile “equals” would somehow lead to Jews ”eating of inappropriate food according to Jewish dietary norms, inclusive of the food and drink associated with idolatry.”

shared wineThere has been some support of the idea that God-fearing Gentiles remained polytheistic (M. Zetterholm, S.J.D Cohen), probably as a convenience since they had to continue to interact with individuals, groups, and businesses that were part of the diaspora pagan cult. If Jews witnessed other Jews and Gentiles eating (kosher food and wine) together as equals, they may have assumed that this represented a significant risk, based on their experience with and understanding of God-fearers. The only way they could be reasonably sure that such mixed meals weren’t “risky” was if the Gentiles involved were participants in the proselyte rite. The Jewish observers objecting to mixed meals didn’t “know,” they just assumed what was going on.

Nanos says Paul’s reference to the “truth of the gospel,” to which the circumcision advocate objected, was the way Gentiles were treated by Jews at the mixed meals, that is, the Gentiles were treated as full equals in the Jewish subgroup.

It pronounced these Gentiles full members of the people of God apart from the traditional conventions for rendering them such. Thus the pressure is specifically said to be from “advocates of circumcision.” And the reaction of Peter and the other Jews was to “withdraw” and “separate” in order to “hide” their conviction with behavior that does not exemplify “the truth of the gospel,” instead of dismissing the Gentiles as though they agreed in principle with those who brought the pressure…

ibid, pg 301

But what about this?

I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Galatians 2:14 (NASB)

The issue of Peter “living like a Gentile” is traditionally assumed to mean that Peter gave up a life of Jewish Torah observance, including keeping the laws of kashrut, and felt free to live life as a Gentile, eating and drinking pretty much anything with disregard of Jewish norms. Also, and this is less clear in Christian thinking, Peter was somehow compelling the Gentiles present to live like Jews.

In Peter’s withdrawal and separation from the Jesus-believing Gentiles present, he was indicating that Gentile status in the Jewish ekklesia was not equal after all and that, by appearing to side with the Jewish circumcision advocates, he was implicitly saying that for the Gentiles to be considered equal, they had to participate in the proselyte rite and become Jews (compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews). This was Peter’s hypocrisy, because he actually believed the Gentiles were already equal co-participants due to their discipleship in Christ.

Did Peter compromise his Jewish identity by eating with the Gentiles (living like a Gentile)? The issue at hand relates to identity, both Jewish and Gentile:

The question before these Gentiles, as Paul sees the matter, is one of identity, not behavior per se, although it is Peter’s change in behavior — because of his desire to maintain the privileges of identity on terms that no longer should dictate behavior of members of this coalition — that provoked the incident around which Paul constructs his case.

-Nanos, pg 311

Peter and accusersPeter wasn’t “living like a Gentile” in the sense that he had abandoned his Jewish identity and affiliation, but he was behaving in a manner that was not dependent on absolutely separating himself from equal co-participation in the ekklesia, including mixed Jewish/Gentile meals, in order to maintain and affirm his Jewish identity. Jews and Gentiles could maintain distinct identities and yet, in terms of social behavior, they could be co-equals in fellowship within the Messianic Jewish ekklesia.

Peter’s behavior, when seen by Jewish outside observers, was criticized as violating Jewish social norms and thus Jewish identity (living like a Gentile) by the circumcision party, but they were unaware or they didn’t accept the new status of the Gentiles relative to Jewish community.

Nanos adds dimension to this by re-translating the relevant scripture in this way:

If you Peter, remain Jewish yet are identified now as a righteous one (justified) in the same way as are these Gentiles (by faith in/of Christ) and not by virtue of the fact that you were born a Jew, how can you decide to behave in a way that implies that these Gentiles are not your equal unless they become Jews too?

-ibid, pg 315

The mindset required here is a shift from Jewish privilege as justified by being born Jewish, to justification through faith in/of Christ in exactly the same manner as the Gentiles.

I found the following quote revealing:

The salient difference is the claim of this subgroup to live “in Christ” as equals before God and one another, as “one,” whether Jew or Gentile. Claiming that the end of the ages has dawned, this coalition seeks to exemplify this “truth” by living together without discrimination according to certain prevailing conventions of the present age (cf. 1:3-4; 3:27-29; 6:14-16).

-ibid, pg 316

I’ve mentioned previously, citing D.T. Lancaster (see the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermons and What About the New Covenant lectures), that the Messianic Age or Kingdom was inaugurated with the death and resurrection of Christ but will not be brought to fullness until the return of Messiah as conquering King. In the meantime, we believers, Jewish and Gentile, have received a “downpayment,” or a “guarantee” that the Messianic promises of the New Covenant will indeed reach fruition in their appointed time.

We are to live like partisans or freedom fighters resisting the current “King” in the present age, and living as if the “once and future King” were already here.

That’s what the mixed meals between Jewish and Gentile co-participants in the ekklesia as equals represents.

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Matthew 8:11 (NASB)

This is one picture of the Messianic Kingdom, when we Gentiles will indeed ”come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom.” That’s what was at stake in the Antioch incident, the recognition and acceptance of Gentiles as equal co-participants in the coming Kingdom which has yet to arrive but is already here.

When Peter pulled away from the Gentiles and caused other Jesus-believing Jews to do likewise, he was sending a clear signal (whether he intended to or not) that the Gentiles were not equal, and he was actually denying the “truth of the gospel,” the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Messiah, and the reign of Messiah over Israel and the nations of the Earth in peace and unity.

Peter, in one simple but devastating act, denied that God had to power to bring about all He promised in the New Covenant times. No wonder Paul was so furious.


What I’ve gotten from Zetterholm so far is that in mid-first century CE in Antioch, and presumably influencing the rest of the Messianic communities (the “churches” Paul had “planted”), there was a dynamic “tension” between Paul and James, with Paul advocating for Jesus-believing Gentiles being included into the Jewish ekkelsia as equal co-participants socially and in covenant blessings, while James strongly thought the Gentiles should maintain their own separate and bilateral communities apart from the Jesus-believing Jews. This tension in my reading of Zetterholm so far, was never resolved, and the result was the ultimate schism between the Gentiles and Jews in the community of believers.

The Jewish PaulNanos doesn’t paint quite so grim a picture, but he’s writing while strictly considering only Paul’s perspective in Galatians 2. The ones from James may have had something to do with the Antioch incident, but Nanos believes the ones Peter actually feared were a separate group, a group of believing or non-believing Jews who advocated Gentile inclusion in Jewish religion and fellowship only by circumcision and participation in the proselyte rite.

Paul continues as the advocate for Gentile inclusion which he sees as a sign of the emergent Messianic Kingdom symbolized by Jews and Gentiles sharing meals as equals rather than the Gentiles being subordinate in the Jewish space, either as pagan guests or God-fearers. Peter’s withdrawal punched a really big hole in the structure Paul was trying to construct, a portrait, an image of the future age coming into the world now. Peter not only rejected Gentile equality in the ekklesia, he denied the power of God to bring about unity in the Kingdom to come.

What implications can we draw for the modern Messianic Jewish (MJ) movement. The current MJ movement exists as separate or interrelated streams with different standards of Torah observance, halachot, and particularly, different viewpoints on Jewish/Gentile community interaction and participation.

Many of the questions Paul was addressing are the same issues we find in MJ today. For the most part, communal meals aren’t an issue, since in the communities in which I’ve participated, either kosher meals are available prepared and served in accordance with accepted Jewish halachah, or kosher meal requirements have been loosened (for instance, the elimination of the requirement that said meals must be prepared in a kosher kitchen) to allow for mixed Jewish/Gentile (kosher or kosher-style) meals.

However, the issue of bilateral ecclesiology very much continues to be at the forefront of the debates regarding Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish community. Should Messianic Jewish synagogues only allow Jewish membership or should Gentiles be included? If Gentiles are included as members in Jewish religious space, should they be considered equals (as Paul likely advocated) or should they have a lesser status (associate membership) with lesser privileges and responsibilities? Should non-Jewish kids participate in a Bar/Bat Mitzvah? Can Gentiles be called up for an aliyah to read the Torah on Shabbat? What about Gentiles being included or excluded from davening in a minyan?

We have no record in the Bible of these questions being answered, but we do, at least in my opinion, have strong indications, both Biblically and through historical records, that Gentiles did participate in Jewish communal life in diaspora synagogues. They did eat together as equal co-participants.

Taking all of this into account, where does the modern Messianic Jewish movement go from here and what part do we “Messianic Gentiles” play in it?

I hope to finish my final review of Zetterholm soon.