Tag Archives: introduction to messianic judaism

Twoness and Oneness: From Sermons by David Rudolph

So if we synthesize what Rudolph is saying this is what we get:

(1) ethnic prioritization is Biblical even though it results in non-ethnic members feeling like “second-class citizens” (to use Rudolph’s phrase);
(2) just as Yeshua’s mission excluded non-Jews, Tikvat Israel’s mission excludes non-Jews, seeking to build a community from within the Richmond JEWISH community.

-Peter Vest
“David Rudolph to Gentiles: ‘Like Yeshua, Our Mission is to Jews, not Gentiles'”

I don’t often interact with Peter let alone comment on his blog. I especially hesitate to write about his content on my blog since this type of conversation often degrades into the unresolvable debates our little corner of cyberspace is known for. Religious arguments can get very ugly.

But in reading Peter’s commentary on David Rudolph and Rudolph’s congregation Tikvat Israel, I wanted to learn more about the source of Peter’s allegations. Unfortunately, he hadn’t posted a link to his source material. Fortunately, Peter was willing to provide it when I asked, so I clicked the link he gave me and started listening to Rabbi David Rudolph’s twenty-minute sermon called Our Mission.

I don’t know Rudolph except through his writing and editing. I read the book he and Joel Willitts co-created, Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations and wrote a fairly large number of reviews of most of the different contributions to this book. Given that Rudolph’s co-editor and friend Joel Willitts is a Christian and that about half of the book’s contributors are Gentiles, it didn’t seem to me that Rudolph had some sort of bias against non-Jewish people.

Still, I was just slightly nervous about what I would hear when I clicked the “play” button on the recording. Actually, I didn’t find anything even slightly disturbing.

Is it OK to have a Chinese church?

That’s one of the questions Rudolph asked during his sermon. No one in his audience complained. I wouldn’t complain. I pass a Korean Christian Church every time I drive to the Meridian Public Library a few miles from my home. Often Christians who have a particular ethnic, national, and linguistic commonality will form churches on those platforms. I suppose I’d be welcome at the Korean church if I chose to go one Sunday, but likely I’d feel out-of-place since I don’t speak Korean and am not familiar with their cultural and ethnic practices. For the Koreans present however, it would be “home.”

Is it OK to have a Messianic Jewish congregation that has a mission specific to the local Jewish population? That’s just a bit more dicey, at least from the point of view of some Christians. I’ve attended the Reform/Conservative synagogue in my community and I wasn’t the only Gentile present (I suspect I wasn’t the only Jesus-believer present, but that’s beside the point), but I never lost the sense that this was a Jewish community. Nor would I, even in some moment of insanity, demand that the Rabbi be “inclusive” and adapt the synagogue to be more “Gentile-friendly.” In fact, that particular synagogue is already pretty inclusive, but as I said, it’s still Jewish.

Even the local Chabad synagogue will accept Gentiles, typically those who are married to Jews, although I’ve known some Christian Gentiles who have attended a number of the Rabbi’s classes. He’s OK with this on the principle of peace within the community, as long as the Gentiles don’t try to proselytize the Jews present.

But Messianic Judaism is unique in that it professes a faith in Yeshua, in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, a faith that is accessible to Jew and Gentile alike. Should Tikvat Israel’s mission be aimed generically at all human beings in the Richmond, Virginia area? Is it racism or bigotry to reach out only to the Jewish people in the vicinity? Is it racism or bigotry for the Korean Church in Meridian, Idaho to reach out only to the larger Korean community? Can the Korean church offer an environment that specifically meets the needs of the larger Korean community in a way that other churches could not?

No, it’s not racism and bigotry and yes, the Korean church can offer a specific and specialized environment that’s particularly friendly and adapted to Koreans. So it is with Jewish congregations, including Messianic Jewish congregations.

david_rudolphRudolph made a large number of what I considered convincing arguments about why it was OK for his congregation Tikvat Israel, to have a mission specific to the Jews in and around Richmond. For one thing, many Jews traditionally don’t feel comfortable in normative Christian churches, particularly those believing Jews who also practice Judaism as Jews, which many Christians don’t understand and which some Christians find offensive.

A Messianic Jewish congregation makes sense for Jews who are believers and who are observant Jews. Rudolph didn’t fail to acknowledge the Gentiles who attend Tikvat Israel as Gentiles who love the Jewish people and who desire to come alongside Messianic Jews within a Jewish context. Rudolph further said that if Gentile Christianity in general over the last nearly two-thousand years, had loved the Jewish people the way that the Gentiles in Tikvat Israel love the Jewish people, Jewish people wouldn’t have learned to be afraid of Christians and Church.

From an article Rudolph wrote, I know he believes in unity between believing Jews and Gentiles within a Messianic context and indeed, that believing Jews and Gentiles are interdependent. Based on many of the writings of the staff and contributors of the Messianic ministry First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), I have experienced and commented on that interdependence.

I performed a wider search and came across a larger listing of Rabbi David Rudolph’s sermons including one called “We Need Each Other” (on the “Sermons” page, scroll down until you see a heading called “Unity”).

Rudolph’s sermon was focused on the following piece of scripture:

…by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace…

Ephesians 2:15 (NASB)

By odd coincidence, in reviewing some commentary by Pastor John MacArthur, I came across the following statement which seems to apply to the current circumstance:

Because the Bible would never tolerate a Jewish church and a Gentile church.That is the one thing that the Apostle Paul spent the last months of his ministry trying to resolve,trying to get those two together; and when he wrote Ephesians, he said, “The middle wall is…what?…broken down and they two have become one new man.” And my own belief is that it is ludicrous to have a Messianic Jewish temple, as much as it would be to have announced out here that this is the Grace Community Gentile church. Now, how do you think that would sit with Jewish people? They would say one thing. They’re anti-Semitic. See? There’s no reason for that.

Rudolph quoted well-known American biblical scholar Harold Hoehner as saying something similar (I’m copying this quote from an audio recording, so the accuracy of the quote here is only as good as my notes):

Paul referred to a whole new race that is raceless. Not Jewish or Gentile, but a body of Christians who make up the Church.

This is much like how MacArthur and my own Pastor see Ephesians 2 in particular and the identity of “the Church” in general.

0 RInterestingly enough, Rudolph once had a very lengthy conversation with Dr. Hoehner on Ephesians 2:15, and it should be noted here that Rudolph referred to Hoehner in very complementary ways and called him a “man of God.”

Rudolph suggested alternative ways to read this passage. I won’t go into all the details. You can listen to the twenty-five minute sermon yourself, since I provided the link. Briefly though, Rudolph felt that what was torn down was a specific set of ordinances that inhibited Jews from associating with Gentiles, particularly in relation to the Temple.

However, Rudolph emphasized that the body of Messiah is a single body made up of Jewish and Gentile members who remain Jewish and Gentile, much as how Paul described the Messianic body in Ephesians 5:21-33 and referenced Genesis 2:24 where one man and one woman both became “one flesh” and yet remained distinctly one man and one woman. The married “one flesh” does not delete or replace the man and woman any more than the body of Messiah, “the Church” replaces or deletes the identities or uniqueness of the Jews and Gentiles in the body.

We become what in Hebrew is called (forgive my faulty transliteration) “Besar Echad,” one flesh, a composite unity.

At the end of his sermon (and I’m skipping over quite a bit of content), Rudolph asked how Tikvat Israel’s “twoness” and “oneness” is expressed. The “twoness” is what you’d expect if you have any sort of familiarity with the more “conservative” forms of Messianic Judaism. Jewish people in Messianic Judaism and specifically at Tikvat Israel, should remain Jewish and not assimilate into Gentile Christianity. In fact, they should endeavor to become even more observant as Jews. The Gentiles in the congregation should not try to pretend to be Jewish but to come alongside their Jewish co-participants, and support and love the Jewish people and Israel.

The “oneness” exists most obviously at the “macro” level or the overarching expression of Messianic Judaism, but it can also be observed on the “micro” level of the Tikvat Israel community. In that community you have two peoples who are of one mind and one spirit, all working together to build a community for Yeshua with a mission to reach out to the larger Jewish community. To the degree that there are Gentiles present, then it should be obvious that Gentiles are also reached by and respond to this mission, but that is part of the interdependence of Jews and Gentiles within the Messianic body.

To understand the concept of Jewish/Gentile interdependence within the Messianic Jewish community, see my commentary on articles appearing in Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book. The relevant reviews are An Exercise in Wholeness and Interdependence or Collapse.

Rudolph summed up the point of his sermon with the four words of its title: We Need Each Other. The congregation of Jews and Gentiles broke out in spontaneous applause.

I don’t find anything bigoted, racist, or exclusionary about how David Rudolph describes Tikvat Israel. I do understand why Messianic Judaism needs to reach out primarily or even exclusively to the larger Jewish population. Reading the sermons of John MacArthur makes me appreciate how “dangerous” and even “hostile” many Christian venues are to Jewish believers who have chosen not to assimilate into a Gentile Christian lifestyle but who continue to be a part of the larger Jewish community, a part of national Israel, and to be loyal to their covenant connection to Hashem and Moshiach through the observance of the mitzvot.

jewish-davening-by-waterI’ve seen how important it is for my wife to be a part of the local Jewish community, especially since she was not raised in an observant Jewish home. It’s taken a lot of courage and struggle for her to even walk through the doors of a synagogue let alone become a functioning member. This is something that most Christians would never understand but something Jewish people comprehend all too well.

Here’s something else:

Many non-Jews, and increasingly many Jews as well, find Judaism’s stress on endogamy to be racist. That’s nonsense. Membership in the Jewish people is open to any human being who is willing to take on the same commitment as those who stood at Sinai. Judaism does not sanctify gene pools but rather commitment to a mission.

One need not be Jewish to serve God. Judaism is unique among major monotheistic religions in not viewing eternal reward as contingent on becoming Jewish. Yet Jews have always believed that they were chosen for a unique mission.

-Jonathan Rosenblum
“Yair Netanyahu and His Non-Jewish Girlfriend”

Most non-Jews are unconscious of the critical mission required to maintain the tiny population of Jews worldwide rather than let the Jewish people fall into extinction due to assimilation. This is an even more vital and difficult mission in the Messianic Jewish movement with its continual struggle to maintain Jewish distinctiveness in the face of overwhelming Christian (including Gentile Hebrew Roots) pressure to either make Messianic groups more “Gentile-friendly” by de-emphasizing Jewish identity or by demanding that all Jewish identity also belongs to the “Messianic Gentile.” While Rosenblum is unlikely to be Messianic, his assessment of the needs of the Jewish community is spot on and applies very well to Rabbi Rudolph’s mission and message.

While I expect men like MacArthur to be relatively “clueless” to this process, many Gentile Hebrew Roots practitioners, even if they have some familiarity with their local Jewish communities, operate on the same belief that, to use MacArthur’s words, “the Bible would never tolerate a Jewish church and a Gentile church.” Both Fundamentalist Christianity and Gentile Hebrew Roots (yes, I know I’m generalizing) demand the elimination of Jewish uniqueness either by forming “one church/congregation” of one homogenous “non-racial” group, or they play the “racism” card. There can be no “twoness” only “oneness,” no matter what the cost to the continued distinctiveness and even the continued existence of the Jewish people.

I’m sorry if something Rudolph said in a sermon seems distasteful to some non-Jewish (and even a few Jewish) people. Rudolph says he wants to do what Paul tried to do; break down specific barriers that prevent Jewish and Gentile fellowship within the body of Messiah, but all the while, first going to the Jew because of the covenant connection between Hashem and the Jewish people, and only afterward, also going to the Gentile with the good news of the Messiah, that all human beings can be reconciled to God without surrendering their nationality or identity, which includes Jewish nationality and identity, as well as what each of us possesses as people of the nations who are called by His Name.

Read more in Oneness, Twoness, and Three Converts.

Introduction to Messianic Judaism: The Non-Climax of Covenant

sprout-root-of-jesseBeginning with the call of Abraham, the history of redemption is the history of God’s election of his chosen people from among the nations. As Paul argues in Romans 15:7-13, God’s commitment to Israel for the sake of the nations forms the bedrock of the Church’s hope. Viewed from this perspective, Messianic Judaism reminds us not only of God’s faithfulness demonstrated in Israel’s history, and of his grace, now magnified in the Messiah, but also of his promises for the future of his people, to be fulfilled in the final redemption of Jews and Gentiles.

-Scott J. Hafemann
“Chapter 19: The Redemption of Israel for the Sake of the Gentiles,” pg 206
Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations
David J Rudolph and Joel Willitts, editors

I reviewed most but not all of the chapters in the Rudolph and Willitts book and I probably skipped this one. I tried to be thorough, but all together I wrote eleven separate reviews of different portions of this book. It’s really worthy of that kind of attention, and I’m grateful to the book’s publisher, Zondervan, for including links to my reviews in an email they sent to their academic readers.

I bring up the Hafemann chapter because last Wednesday, my Pastor, who’s been reading this book, mentioned that he had just read it and really enjoyed what Hafemann had to say. I have to admit that I read this book only once and that was months ago, so I didn’t immediately recall the content. I decided to re-read Hafemann’s article to see what Pastor Randy might have liked about it. I was curious, since we don’t always agree on the nature and character of Messianic Judaism.

Before continuing, I should say that I’ve written blog after blog on how we non-Jewish believers in the Jewish Messiah are dependent upon the covenant relationship God established with the Jewish people and Israel for our own redemption and salvation and, without Israel, we would have no link to the God of Heaven at all. As Hafemann says:

Given the development of this Jew-Gentile theme throughout Romans, it is not surprising, though often overlooked, that it is precisely the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, both in history and within the church, that forms “the climax of the epistle…”

-ibid, pp 206-7

Most Christians probably wouldn’t get this, since historically, supersessionist theology has taught that the church replaced Jews and Judaism in the promises of God. Most non-Jewish believers don’t recognize any sort of relationship with, let alone a dependence upon, the Jewish people by the Gentile Christian Church. More’s the pity.

However, Hafemann’s focus is not just on the past or even the present, but on the future of this relationship and what it means for us all.

We must be cautious at (Romans) 15:7, however. Redemptive history is not over for Jews and Gentiles as Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s careful use of the Scriptures in Romans 15:9-12 makes it clear that the present church, made up of a small remnant of Jews and Gentiles, is not the final fulfillment of Israel’s hope for restoration, as if God’s covenant promises “climaxed” with the first coming of the Messiah.

-ibid, pg 207

Given my recent conversations with Pastor, I’m a little puzzled at his enthusiasm over statements like this one, or perhaps we simply are reading this material differently. What I read is a couple of things. First, within the body of Messiah (i.e. “church”), Jews remain Jews and Gentiles remain Gentiles. The distinctions continue to exist, which for me, means that distinctions based on separate or overlapping responsibilities to God, relative to Torah, continue to exist in the present. The Second point is that the first coming of Messiah did not “finish the job,” so to speak, and that Christ’s work of restoring (notice Hafemann said “restoration,” not “salvation” … there’s a difference) Israel will not be addressed and completed until his return.

LichtensteinPastor and I go ’round and ’round about what “fulfilled” means, and he says a lot of Jewish identity and the Torah is “fulfilled” as in no longer active except in pointing to Messiah. To me, “fulfilled” is to “fill full,” as in, the Messiah is the perfect example of what it is to be a Torah observant Jewish person, and the example and role model to be emulated by all Jewish believers everywhere. The Torah goes forward in time and as 19th century Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein observed, Jesus as Messiah gives the fullness of meaning and holiness to the performance of the mitzvot for an observant Jew.

I don’t think the above-quoted paragraph of Hafemann’s can be true unless Rabbi Lichtenstein’s life experience as an observant Jewish believer is true.

My Pastor is a great believer in the future of Jewish Israel in eschatology, which is what Hafemann is discussing a well. Israel has a future role in the plan of God and the rest of us are dependent on Israel meeting and fulfilling that role for the sake of humanity.

My Pastor tells a story that illustrates how rare Hafemann’s and Pastor’s perspectives are. Pastor was at a conference on one occasion some years ago when, by chance, he was seated next to a rather well-known and published Christian author and theologian (Pastor mentioned his name, but I didn’t recognize it and, in any event, it would be poor form on my part to use it here). The conversation turned to Revelation and eschatology, and the topic of the 144,000 (see Revelation 7:4-8) came up. Pastor believes that they are literally the twelve tribes of Israel, 12,000 per tribe, while this renowned Christian writer and preacher said that the 144,000 represented the church in allegory.

Pastor said that if their conversation had ended at that point, they probably would have parted amicably, but Pastor added one more sentence. He said something like (I’m paraphrasing, of course), “I suppose one tribe would be the Baptists, and the next tribe would be the Presbyterians, and the next tribe would be…”

Our highly esteemed Christian theologian pointedly shifted around in his chair to show Pastor as much of his back as possible in a very obvious snub.

Interestingly enough, Pastor and I were both trying to make a point based in this sort of behavior, but we were making different points.

His point is that no matter who in Christianity has such beliefs and attempts to delete Jews and the Jewish tribes from future redemptive history, their opinions don’t matter because they aren’t speaking from Scripture. My point was that Christianity is still dominated by such poor attitudes of future Judaism and that most of the believers sitting in the pews, and particularly those who read this gentleman’s books, are going to swallow his story hook, line, and sinker and believe that it’s all “gospel.”

The conclusion to Hafemann’s chapter tells the story that the Gentile Christian church should read and take to heart.

Our passage thus gives no ground for seeing Israel’s identity and eschatological hopes reconfigured into Christ and/or the present Church, having been transformed by Paul into exclusively present realities. Redemptive history does not become abstracted into the “Christ-event” or personalized into an eschatological “community,” but continues on after Christ’s coming and establishment of the Church just as concretely and historically as it did before. The “climax of the covenant” remains Israel’s future restoration for the sake of the nations. Moreover, it is precisely this climax to the covenant that secures the believer’s salvific hope in the return of Christ. In light of God’s promises to the patriarchs (Romans 15:8), the Messiah, as the servant to the circumcision, must come again to judge the nations in order to restore Israel and save the Gentiles (15:12; cf. 11:29). Messianic Judaism puts flesh on the (Ezekiel-)bones of this crucial conviction.

-ibid, pp 212-13

ancient_jerusalem(As an aside, I’m just a tad uncomfortable with Hafemann’s referring to the united Jewish-Gentile body of Messiah as “Church,” since the word implies removing the Jewishness from the Jewish members, but I think I know where he’s coming from.)

I can’t read the above-quoted paragraph any other way but to say that there is no “climax of the covenant” at the cross and in fact, this “climax” will not occur until the return of Messiah and all that must be done is finally completed. In fact, the covenant can’t climax, according to Hafemann, until Messiah returns, restores Israel for the sake of the nations, and judges the nations for the sake of Israel.

The logical implication of Hafemann (and no, he didn’t say so explicitly) is that if God’s covenant relationship with Israel didn’t climax at the cross, and must not climax until after the second coming and the progression of all the events subsequently required by prophesy, then Jewish covenant identity and responsibility to God has not been reduced, eliminated, and certainly is not “fulfilled” at the cross and is not done in the present age (with the understanding that many of the mitzvot are held in abeyance since the Temple, the functional Priesthood, and the Sanhedrin currently do not exist).

Jewish people remain distinctly Jewish people in the covenant, which includes all of their covenant responsibilities, the Torah mitzvot, to God.

My understanding of this small chapter probably is different than my Pastor’s, at least on this point, but again, I can’t see any other way of reading Hafemann. The Torah didn’t “climax” at the end of the Gospels and indeed, the covenant remains for the Jewish people, including and especially the Jewish believers in Yeshua, until his return and for some time afterward.


broken-crossThe eye sees, and the heart desires.

-Rashi, Numbers 15:39

People cannot help when an improper impulse comes to mind, but they certainly can stop themselves from harboring the thought and allowing it to dominate their thinking. Yet, sometimes one may be responsible even for the impulse itself.

While some impulses are completely spontaneous, others arise out of stimulation. If a person reads, hears, or sees things which can provoke improper thoughts and feelings, he or she is then responsible for the impulses that are the consequences of that reading, listening, or observing.

This concept is especially important in our era, when not even a semblance of a code of decency exists as to what may or may not be publicly displayed. All varieties of media exploit our basest biological drives.

Given the interpretation of the right of free speech under which such provocative displays occur, the government has no way to restrain them. However, each person has not only a right, but also an obligation to be his or her own censor. No one has to look at everything that is displayed nor hear everything that is broadcast. Those who fail to exert their own personal censorship are tacitly stimulating immoral impulses, and for that alone they are liable.

Today I shall…

…try to avoid looking, hearing, and reading things which can have a degenerating effect.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 16”

I know that Rabbi Twerski was thinking of something else entirely, but when I consider trying to avoid exposing myself to things that have a “degenerating effect,” I have to include the world around me, including the world of “religion.” Well, “degenerating” isn’t the right term. “Discouraging” is.

Although you won’t read this until Sunday morning, I’m writing this on Thursday in response to my Wednesday night meeting with my Pastor. We were supposed to be discussing Chapter 8 in D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, but we got sidetracked on a few things.

I bring up the book because of my Pastor’s response to it. He told me that he was having difficulty accepting some of Lancaster’s assertions early on in the book out of concern that if he assented, he would end up traveling down a trail he didn’t agree with. That’s how I felt last night as Pastor and I talked about salvation, Jewish people, and the future of Judaism and Torah. I felt like I was being led to agree with doctrines that I wasn’t comfortable with but didn’t know how to refute. In going over the little pamphlet about Baptist Distinctives (that is, what makes the Baptist church different from all other churches), I could feel myself being tugged down the “garden path,” so to speak.

I ended our meeting by stepping out of the bowl of alphabet soup, all the letters and words of denominational doctrine and distinctives, and exploring actual experiences and relationships.

Well, sort of.

I’ve often imagined what it would have been like to live in the late Second Temple period in Jerusalem. What would it have been like to go into the Court of the Gentiles at the Temple. How many people would be there? Who would I see? What would the air smell like? Then, I’d humbly kneel and pray to Hashem. This close to the actual “house of prayer for all peoples,” would I feel the tangible presence of the God of Israel? Would I hear the songs of the priests ministering in the inner court?

0 RI’ve often imagined what it would have been like to be one of the non-Hebrew shepherds tending the flocks of Abraham in Canaan. In the heat of the day, I watch him in the distance, studying his mannerisms and appearance, knowing that this is a man, among all human beings, who has spoken to God “face to face.” In the evenings after a meal, around the fire, would he teach us of his God? What would he tell us about a relationship with Him? How does one pray to the God of Abraham as a humble shepherd? In blessing Abraham, would I be blessing God and also myself? What a hard and yet simple life, living close to a prophet and to the One God.

We read “Bible stories” about “Bible characters” as if reading morality fables or fairy tales. We “know” that they’re real, but do we? It’s just words on a page. Does “Biblical inerrancy” result in forgetting that Abraham was and is a real human being? Do we discount the moments of his life we don’t find in the Bible but nevertheless, moments that must have occurred? When, in reading the Bible and praying, do we allow Abraham to stop being a work of “fiction” and become a living, breathing, talking, experiencing human being?

Religion is all about systems, and Christianity, in all of its flavors, is just another series of systems. The systems exist to tell us what the Bible means and how we are supposed to live our lives. The systems tell us what is right and what is wrong, who is right and who is wrong, and what, if anything, we’re supposed to do about it.

But the systems totally ignore awe, majesty, terror, magnificence, and everything else everyone from Abraham in Canaan to a lowly, nameless goy in the Court of the Gentiles would experience in a living, breathing, bleeding, authentic, moment-by-moment encounter with God; the sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes, thoughts, feelings, and dreams of actually being there instead of just reading the Bible and especially instead of filtering the Bible and everything else through religious systems that so very much remove us from authenticity and the jarring, electrifying, naked connection to our Creator.

I tried to explain how I thought that Jews and Gentiles both are a part of the unified body of Christ and yet the Jewish connection to the Sinai covenant and its conditions, the Torah, are not undone by that unity. I drew a diagram, which I’ve reproduced below, to explain my thoughts. “But the Jewish people haven’t accepted Christ, so they can’t be saved,” he says (I’m paraphrasing). “Not just faith in ‘a Messiah’ but ‘The Messiah,’ in Jesus,” he says (I’m paraphrasing again).

Something’s wrong. I’m agreeing to things I’m not sure about. My Pastor is so sure of so many things that I think we can only see through “a glass darkly,” and that exist as much in the realm of God as they do in the material world. I don’t know how to explain it, so it’s difficult to know what to say.

covenant_chart1And there are so many other people who seem so sure about unsure things. I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me that U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning, just one day after being sentenced to 35 years in Federal Prison for releasing 700,000 secret military documents to Wikileaks, should come out as transsexual and declare that he wants to live the rest of his life as a woman, obviously changing how prison will be “applied” to Manning.

Religious systems. We craft them saying that we see their foundations in the Bible. But we craft them to say whatever we believe is important to us, and thus they reflect the political and social agendas and imperatives of the occupants of these systems. Extracting religious systems from the Bible is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit, but because human beings are involved, they end up dramatically contradicting each other, sometimes (often?) based on generational changes in attitudes.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think I’d make a good Baptist, not because I have anything against Baptists per se, but because I don’t think any denomination or modern religious stream, old school or new, holds all the keys and unlocks all the doors.

I know they think they do. They all think they do. But being an outsider, I can see a different perspective. I can see lots of perspectives, and none of them make a lot of sense. Pastor pretty much agrees with what he reads in Thomas Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law and I can barely stand a single thing Schreiner wrote.

Pastor is also reading Rudolph’s and Willitts’s book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations. He’s just finished the chapter written by Scott J. Hafemann, “The Redemption of Israel for the Sake of the Gentiles” and he likes it very much. I’m going to re-read it to refresh my memory of the text. What did the Pastor see in this chapter that we can agree upon?

Can there be a peace? Or is the only peace in the presence of God and to heck with the systems?

Zondervan Academic Update: My “Introduction to Messianic Judaism” Reviews

Greetings from Zondervan Academic! This month, we’re also posting a roundup of reviews and book mentions around the Internet. Enjoy!

Introduction to Messianic Judaism, edited by David Rudolph and Joel Willitts. This new post series explores several of the book’s chapters. View the posts.


I know this probably comes under the heading of “shameless self promotion,” but someone sent me an email showing that my collection of reviews on the different chapters in Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations is being promoted in the Zondervan Academic Update email for April (click the link I provided above the image to see summaries and links to all eleven reviews in one place).

I have to say that I’m absolutely thrilled that my little missives have received this bit of attention and I’d like to thank Zondervan Academic (should they happen to read this blog post) and the person who let me know about it (who I agreed shall remain nameless) for this sort of promotion of my weblog.

But what I think is actually important is that the message of Messianic Judaism and what it means is being noticed outside our own little corner of the world. I’m creating this “extra meditation” to communicate just how important this message is and to show who else is paying attention. I have a rather diverse audience (my awareness of who reads my blog is based on not only the comments people make publicly, but on the emails I receive that are not viewable to anyone else besides me), and I’d like all of my readers to know that what I’ve been writing about (and what Rudolph, Willitts, and the other contributors to their book have written about) isn’t just some “niche doctrine,” but rather, a topic of wide interest in scholarly and popular interest realms.

The relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers in Messiah and at the intersection of the two worlds to which we belong, is not only important but is vital, and will become critical as we progress forward seeking an encounter with God and anticipating the arrival of Messiah.

“We’re here to bring Mashiach, we will settle for nothing less.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Blessings and thank you.

148 days.

Addendum: May 9, 2013: Jacob Fronczak just wrote a very good review for the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) blog. I highly recommend reading it to get further insight into the book with an “in-a-nutshell” presentation.

Introduction to Messianic Judaism: The Last and Greatest King

messiah-prayerThe Messiah precedes creation, precedes the nations, precedes the election of Israel, precedes the historical reality of the Jewish people. Apart from the Messiah these other realities would not be. They are because the Messiah first is, and because the Father wills them to be through the Messiah. The Messiah who is himself the gospel is before all. When he is born in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, and is “apocalypsed” in Israel, he comes to “his own” people (John 1:11). Before he belongs to this people, they belong to him. Because the messianic gospel is prior to all, the apostle Paul can declare that this gospel was announced beforehand (proeuengelisato) to Abraham (Gal 3:8) and that its content — blessing to the nations and resurrection from the dead (Rom 4) — was the same in the time of Abraham as it is in the time after the Messiah’s historical arrival, for the Messiah himself is that content.

-Douglas Harink
“Chapter 26: Jewish Priority, Election, and the Gospel” (pp 273-4)
Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations

Like yesterday’s morning meditation, I’m not sure I’m receiving this essay in the way the author intended. For much of the past week in the comments section of my blog posts, I’ve been trying to defend the primacy of the Messiah, of Jesus, above all things. If not for the coming of Jesus and his presence both in our world and in the Court of Heaven at the Father’s right hand, we non-Jewish believers would have no relationship with God at all, and certainly no avenue to salvation and the life of the world to come. We would still be “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace… (Ephesians 2:12-13)

In debating Messiah with my friends and associates in the Hebrew Roots movement, we have been debating the avenues by which Gentiles are brought near to God. In the ancient days of Moses, a Gentile could become a resident alien among Israel but not a tribal member. They were aliens and foreigners, with no more rights than the widow or orphan. Only by intermarrying with a tribal member and having offspring would the third generation of their union be considered “Israel.”

But then, the Gentile distinctiveness of their line would vanish, fully assimilated and absorbed into Israel.

If that was the fullness of God’s plan, then all Gentiles who desired to join in the blessings of the covenants God made with Israel would have to join with Israel in the way of the Ger and their family line as people from the nations would cease to exist. There would be no way for the people of the nations to come and worship God and remain as people from among the nations. Only Israel would have the privilege. The rest of the world would be shut out.

But that was not God’s plan.

…hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.

1 Kings 8:43

…and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Micah 4:2

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”

Zechariah 8:20-23

I know you’ve read all that before and quite recently, but it bears repeating, if only to drive the point home that God has always had a plan for the Gentile to bow to Him and worship Him without becoming a citizen of national Israel.

The problem is, in Hebrew Roots, the Torah tends to precede the dominance and Kingship of Messiah. For many in Hebrew Roots, the Torah has become so central, so important, so vital in their practice, particularly the ceremonial portions of Torah, (wearing tzitzit, laying tefillin, keeping kosher, observing Shabbos), that Messiah has become eclipsed and overshadowed.
Simchat TorahTorah is the foundation of scripture to be sure, but is it greater than the living Word? In Jewish mysticism, the Torah was at creation and was required for creation, but we know, as Dr. Harink wrote, that Messiah preceded everything and is over everything including the Torah.

The priority of the gospel — that is, the priority of the Messiah — is also declared in the New Testament in respect to Israel’s Torah. In the Gospels Jesus displays an authority over the Torah that is noticed by all those who see his deeds and hear his words. That authority is nowhere more evident than in the familiar section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21-48) where Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…” The point here, as Jesus himself makes crystal clear, is not that his authority cancels (katalusai) the Torah and the Prophets; rather, Jesus by his own authority fulfills (plerosai) the Torah and Prophets (Matt 5:17). By his authority he authorizes their ongoing authority in Israel until “all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18), that is, until the messianic age arrives in fullness. But it is just as clear in the Gospels that the authority of the torah and the Prophets is subordinate to and dependent upon the authority of the Messiah as the Lord, and that their authority consists in their being read in the light of, and as witness to, the singular, normative messianity that is enacted by Jesus of Nazareth in his life, death, and resurrection.

-Harick, pg 274

When I was in the Hebrew Roots movement, I was taught that the Torah was the written Word while the Messiah was the living Word. They were interchangeable and basically equal to one another. The human life of Messiah was the personification of Torah in the flesh.

However, as we see from Harick, the Messiah must be in harmony with the Torah but ultimately, the Messiah must be King over all, including the Torah. We must worship Messiah, not Torah. We must bow to the King, not his scrolls.

This is not to say that the Torah becomes meaningless for Israel. Quite the contrary.

To observe Torah, then, is not primarily or essentially to “obey the rules”; it is, rather, to participate through concrete bodily practices in the very goodness and order and beauty of creation brought about by God through preexistent Wisdom and revealed to Israel in Torah.

-ibid, pg 275

We all observe Torah and participate in goodness, order, and beauty, Jew and Gentile believers alike, however, we do so in ways that illuminate and distinguish the Israel of God and the people of the nations who are called by God’s Name. Really, only a tiny fraction of the mitzvot are reserved to Israel alone. In most circumstances, Jewish and Gentile believers share equal responsibilities to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the widow, and to honor God in worship and prayer.

Woman in the darkBut above all the mitzvot is the one who is greater than the mitzvot, that is, King Messiah, Son of David. If he had not come and done a new thing in the world, we among the nations would be left out in the dark, locked out of the Kingdom, gnashing our teeth, shivering in the cold, and awaiting certain destruction.

We elevate Torah over the King at our own peril and we all should know that the Torah has never been greater than Messiah, for only faith in Messiah can save. Only the Messiah can reunify what has been separated, and only he can bring final peace in the world.

His messianic mission to the nations is for the sake of Israel; his solidarity with Israel is for the sake of the nations (Rom 11:11-12). The mystery of the gospel is messianic peace between Israel and the nations, a peace that is even now, in the single messianic “day” that reaches from the Messiah’s arrival in suffering to his arrival in glory…

…Jews and Gentiles together in the messianic theopolitical reality called the ekkesia — where Jews as Jews practice Torah, the telos of which is given in the Messiah, and Gentiles as Gentiles work out their own salvation in fear and trembling in the Messiah…

-ibid, pg 279

I suppose it’s only fitting that I end the last review at the end of the David Rudolph and Joel Willitts book with the conclusion written by Joel Willitts. We saw how David Rudolph began the book with is personal story and an exercise in wholeness, as I called it.

Willitts describes himself as an “outsider” to the Messianic Jewish movement while also maintaining close ties to this community, especially through his close friendship with David Rudolph, forged in their days as doctorate students at Cambridge.

It is because of our friendship and my continued interest in the Jewish context of the New Testament that the present book has emerged. It’s two parts neatly paralleled my relationship with David and his community on the one hand, and my passion for reading the New Testament and its message in more thoroughly Jewish ways on the other.

-Joel Willitts
“Conclusion” (pg 316)

Christians typically have no problem keeping Christ as the head of everything, the King above all Kings, and conversely subordinating the Torah way too far below where it needs to be and Israel along with it. In some ways, it’s Gentile Christians like Dr. Willitts who are the bridge between two worlds. As Messianic Judaism is the linkage between Messiah and the larger Jewish community, Gentile Christians with a passion for the “Jewish New Testament” connect that passion back into the church.

Mark is an intelligent guy without formal theological training. He is a mature Christian and intellectually curious. Mark asked me what I was writing and I mentioned this book. He had heard of Messianic Judaism before, but like most Gentile Christians he knew nothing about it. So I began to describe what the book was about. After giving Mark the big picture, he asked the million-dollar question, “So what is its significance to our church?” Mark’s “our church” is my church; it is a larger seeker-sensitive suburban Chicago upper-middle-class church full of Gentile Christians…What a great question.

-ibid, pg 317

It is a great question. It’s a terrific question.

unityAs I imagined Willitts and his friend Mark talking about “Introduction to Messianic Judaism” at their church and discussing what it all means to their church, I thought back to my weekly conversations with Pastor Randy in his office and the significance of those talks to our church. I also thought back to Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David, and I saw that the latter part of the Rudolph/Willitts book (part 1, Chapters 1-12, was written largely by Jewish authors and Part 2, chapters 13 through the end, was written by mostly Christian scholars) and the focus of Michael’s TOD book were virtually the same.

“So what is its significance to our church?”

I don’t want to simply replicate all of the answers Willitts provides, but as you might imagine, the purpose of Introduction for Christians is to do what it has done for me. It informs its Christian audience of what Messianic Judaism looks like on the inside, letting us hear the voices of Messianic Jews tell their story and how they understand the Bible.

It also opens the doorway to a post-supersessionist church, a topic near and dear to my heart, whereby Christians can see and enter into a world of believing Jews and Gentiles who work together, worship together, and love God together, without either side having to surrender the specialness and unique calling God has provided for each branch within the ekklesia of Messiah.

Willitts also discusses the reimaging of church planting and missions using an Israel-centered interpretation of the New Testament, reminds Gentile Christians that we are the branch, not the root, and makes us aware of our responsibilities to the individual and communal requirements of the needy, the poor, the sick and injured among Messiah’s people Israel, and particularly among those who are disciples of Christ.

Willitts ends the book with his personal translation of Galatians 6:16:

Peace on them, and mercy also on the Israel of God.

I hope this series of reviews of David Rudolph’s and Joel Willitts’ book “Introduction to Messianic Judaism” has spoken to you on some level, whether you are Jewish or Gentile. I hope that you can see their intent was to build a bridge between our different worlds. For nearly two thousand years, the Jewish people and Gentile Christianity have traced divergent trajectories across the plane of human history, but God has always planned to bring all people to Him through Messiah Yeshua, Christ Jesus.

This can and will be done without requiring the Jewish people to surrender their Torah, their Talmud, their lifestyles and their shalom as Jews. This can and will be done without requiring all of the people from all of the other nations of the earth to acquire a lifestyle, a culture, a language that is Jewish, without converting to Judaism, and without being told that not being Jewish and not living the lifestyle and observing the mitzvot of the Jewish people somehow makes them…makes us second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God and in the world to come.

We can all be exactly who God created us to be and we can all be delighted that God made us the way He did. The Jewish person is no more loved by God than the Gentile Christian and the Gentile Christian is no more loved by God than the Jewish person. We are all one in Messiah, two unique streams of people within a single Messianic body, bringing infinite diversity in infinite combinations to the “feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 8:11) with the King of Israel as the King over all.

Deeper than the wisdom to create is the wisdom to repair. And so, G‑d built failure into His world, so that He could give Man His deepest wisdom: The wisdom to repair.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson


149 days.

Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Waiting for Salvation

phariseesMartin Goodman, professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford University, has argued that the proselytizing mission we observe in early Christianity, and in Paul in particular, was “a shocking novelty in the ancient world.” In his important book Mission and Conversion he strongly denied that Jews before AD 100 had any interest in seeking converts. A similar conclusion has been reached by Christian scholars Scot McKnight and Eckhard Schnabel; Schnabel concludes, “There was no missionary activity by Jews in the centuries before and in the first centuries after Jesus’ and his followers ministry.”

-John Dickson
“Chapter 24: Mission-Commitment in Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament” (pg 255)
Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations

Dickson’s chapter is meant to redefine our understanding of Jewish efforts to convert Gentiles to Judaism during and prior to Jesus, and citing author and researcher Michael L. Bird, Dickson states that some Jews did engage in some proselytizing of non-Jews,” but that’s not what captured me about the chapter. I found myself reading Dickson’s points for Jewish efforts to convert Gentiles to Judaism as something else.

It is also found in numerous postbiblical Jewish texts, including the pre-Maccabean Tobit, in which we read, “A bright light will shine to all the ends of the earth; many nations will come to you from far away, the inhabitants of the remotest parts of the earth to your holy name, bearing gifts in their hands for the King of heaven” (Tob 13:11).

-Dickson, pp 256-7

Of course, we don’t have to stray outside the pages of the Bible to find a similar portrait of the Messianic future.

…and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Micah 4:2

There are numerous other prophesies that echo such a sentiment, but relative to Dickson’s chapter, do they presuppose Gentile conversion to Judaism? That is likely how some ancient (or even some modern) Jews read these texts, although in much of today’s Jewish world, the role of the Noahide would fulfill these words of scripture.

According to the unknown author of this text (T. Levi 14:1-4), Jewish disobedience threatens one of other purposes of the Law: to bring light to “every man,” which in context must include Gentiles.

-ibid pg 257

It has long been known that the Gentile nations would come to God through Israel and the Jewish people, even in the days of Solomon if not before.

…hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.

1 Kings 8:43

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!

Psalm 96:3-8

But something was missing that would make all the difference in the world…some light.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

up_to_jerusalemIt’s easy to imagine that Israel, as the light to the nations, traditionally saw Gentile conversion to Judaism as the way to bring Gentiles to knowledge of the God of the Jews, and the influx of Gentile God-fearers during and after the time of Jesus on earth, to some degree, must have seemed to confirm this. How else could such a thing be accomplished? But as I said, something was missing. The light of the world had not yet arrived. As the “first son of Israel,” Jesus was uniquely the embodiment of the nation and the people and his purpose was not only to save the lost sheep of Israel, but to pass on his light to his Jewish disciples so that they could “Let their light shine upon others,” the Gentiles, bringing them to God through Messiah.

In reading Dickson, I quite forgot about the matter of conversion of Gentiles to Judaism and was caught up in the vision of streams and streams of Gentiles flowing to Israel, seeking out the Jewish people and their King, seeking Messiah, seeking God. No one was worried about converting to Judaism and perhaps the Torah never even occurred to them as a formal set of mitzvot, since for most Gentiles, it would be a barrier standing between them and worshiping at the House of God.

As a good friend of mine has wisely taught me, “do not seek Christianity and do not seek Judaism, seek an encounter with God.”

At the founding of the temple King Solomon beseeches the Lord: “that all peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel (1 Kgs 8:43). The words “as do your own people Israel” suggest that the “knowing” and “fearing” of these foreigners refers not to enforced submission but to covenant relationship.

-ibid, pp 258-9

I have to disagree with Dickson on one point. Without faith in Jesus, we Gentiles could not be saved and come close to Israel and be grafted in to the Kingdom of Heaven. We could not be considered the (adopted) sons and daughters of the Most High God. Everything hinges on an active, caring, faithful, obedient Messiah. Converting to Judaism in order to become Israel and be justified as members of the covenants God made with Israel undoes the faith of Abraham and our faith in his seed (singular) Messiah. The words of Solomon for me summon the vision of the people from the nations to come to know and fear God “as do your own people Israel.” We do not have to convert and in order to be blessed by Messiah and Israel as people from the nations called by God’s Name.

This is who we are. Not Israel, but knowing and fearing God as does Israel, coming to them, being blessed by them, taking the fringes of their garments (Zechariah 8:23), seeking God and His ways, and desiring to follow Messiah in his paths.

light_from_withinThis isn’t a picture of mass conversions of Gentiles to Judaism or some form of “Jewish-like” life that closely mirrors Israel as if conversion happened in all but name (and a snip of flesh). As the people of the nations we aren’t waiting to be converted to Judaism, we’re waiting for the light of the world, Messiah, so that we can bow our knees to him, so we can acknowledge the King of Israel also as the King of the nations.

“Before God we are all equally wise and equally foolish.”

-Albert Einstein

Israel waits for her Messiah and we among the nations who are called by God’s Holy Name await the lamp of His Salvation.

For the conductor with the neginos, a psalm, a song. May God favor us and bless us, may He illuminate His countenance with us, Selah. To make known Your way on earth, among all the nations Your Salvation. The peoples will acknowledge You, O God; the peoples will acknowledge You — all of them. Regimes will be glad and sing for joy, because You will judge the peoples fairly and guide with fairness the regimes on earth, Selah. The peoples will acknowledge You, O God; the peoples will acknowledge You — all of them. The earth will then have yielded its produce; may God, our God bless us. May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear Him.

Psalm 67 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

To get along with other people, it is essential to be able to see things from their point of view — even if you disagree with them.

Realize that no two people view things exactly the same way. For example, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said that taking away a broken box from a child is equivalent to sinking the boat of an adult.

Being aware of how someone else perceives a matter will decrease the chances of a quarrel — even though you might disagree.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

150 days.