Yesterday, the Rosh Pina Project (RPP), whose work in challenging those who support Arab terrorism against Israel I greatly respect, published a blog post called Messianic Jewish “Rabbis”: The New Testament is part of the Torah.
The blog post itself is a very short commentary on the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council’s decisions and self-definition of what it is to be a Rabbi in Messianic Jewish community.
However, what really got my attention occurred in the comments section of that blog post.
I’ve always been a little baffled when Jewish people willingly convert to (Gentile) Christianity, disdain the Torah, the mitzvot, the Shabbat, and the Biblical moadim (festivals) in favor of Christmas, Easter, and the “freedom” to eat ham sandwiches.
OK, I’m being a little snarky here, but remember, I have been married to a Jewish wife for over 30 years (although she hasn’t been “religious” all that time, and even now, her observance isn’t as full as I wish it was), so I have a rather unique perspective on what being Jewish means to her, including her special and precious covenant relationship with Hashem (God).
I don’t know the history or background of most of the people commenting at RPP, but it seems that at least some of them are believing Jews in the vein of “Hebrew Christians,” Jews who attend church along with their Gentile Christian counterparts, adopting the lifestyle and beliefs of the believing “Goyim,” and being Jewish in name and DNA only.
To me (but who am I to talk?), a large part of being a Jew of faith is living a life of Jewish praxis, of lighting the Shabbos candles, davening with a minyan, attending the prayer and Torah services in synagogue on Shabbat, donning a tallit and laying tefillin to pray, and many other things that are inexorably intertwined with observing the Torah mitzvot and living life as a Jew.
Even as I’m writing this, one or more comments responding to the one I made at the aforementioned RPP blog post, are being published, so it’s going to be interesting writing this while commenting there.
I feel like I’m repeating myself in making my points, but to believe the traditional Christian view of Galatians 4 that the Torah is slavery or Hebrews 8:13 that the Torah is obsolete, and thus replaced rather than augmented by the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36) means that God lied to Israel when He gave them the Torah at Sinai and when He promised to redeem Israel as Israel in the New Covenant promises.
I’ve written so much about the New Covenant, why it adds to and augments the Sinai and other covenants God made with Israel, why Israel, that is, the Jewish people, have been and always will be special and unique to God, even among the ekklesia of Jews and Gentiles who worship the God of Israel and bring honor to Yeshua, our Rav and King. I don’t want to write it all down again in a single blog post. It wouldn’t be an essay, it would be a small book (and believe me, I’ve thought of collecting certain of my blog series into a book, but who’d publish it?).
To understand my perspective on the nature of the New Covenant as summarized in a single blog post, read The Jesus Covenant Part 11: Building My Model.
I went through something of a crisis of faith a few years back when I realized that there is nothing whatsoever in the New Covenant language that promises salvation or a place in the world to come to non-Jewish, non-Israel people who believe in Jesus. The fact that Yeshua mentions the New Covenant in his blood in Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, and Luke 22:20 has no apparent connection to Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 at all.
So I spent somewhere around nine months or so complaining in the blogosphere, asking for help from anyone I thought would/should know how to make that connection. Ultimately, I made it myself through a lot of study and investigation. No wonder most Christians just take the “this is the new covenant in my blood” statement and how to interpret it for granted. If you really look at it, the statement is like a castle built on air if you don’t understand how all of the covenants work together. The Church doesn’t teach that part. You have to dig it out for yourself.
Recently, I wrote a blog post that clarified how we non-Jewish disciples do not have a covenant relationship with God at all, but rather, we rely on faith and trust alone to assure us that God’s great mercy and grace allows us to participate in blessings of the New Covenant without being named parties.
But for the Jews, it’s a different matter. Acts 15 makes it clear that our participation in God’s blessings does not require the same rigorous involvement in covenant mitzvot as God requires of the Jewish people and nation. Nothing in the New Covenant language states that it replaces the old.
Paul’s Hagar and Sarah midrash in Galatians 4 challenges the traditional Christian interpretation of Torah as slavery, and my review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon Glory to Glory clarifies the meaning of a previous covenant becoming old and growing ready to disappear. It’s not the conditions and requirements of the Sinai covenant (Torah) that are disappearing, it’s the difference between the Torah being external and internal. In the Messianic Age, Jews will have the Torah written on their hearts; wholly internalized so it’s natural for them to be obedient to God in performance of the mitzvot, thus it will be humanly possible to serve God without sin.
I think I know where the fine folks at RPP are coming from. A month or so ago, I wrote Exploring Reformed Theology: The Fallacy of Covenant Equality Between the Church and Israel. Doing this investigation actually helped me understand why Christians think it’s logical and Biblical to believe that Jesus observing the Torah mitzvot perfectly “fulfilled righteousness,” and thus rendered it unnecessary for Jews to continue to be Torah observant, and eliminates the requirement for the Sinai covenant.
I just happen to believe that interpretation is in error and was ultimately created as a consequence of the ugly divorce that happened between the Gentile novices and their Jewish teachers and mentors within the first century or less after Yeshua’s ascension, and ended up becoming the Christian Church’s two-thousand year old mistake.
I know from a traditional Christian point of view, the continued practice of Rabbinic Judaism for the past nearly twenty centuries, is considered to be the “mistake.” From that point of view, Jews should have abandoned Jewish praxis, if not Jewish identity, and converted to Christianity the way Paul did in Acts 9 (except he didn’t convert, he just changed Ravs and took on a more Judaically enlightened perspective and purpose based on his supernatural revelation).
To my way of reading the Apostolic scriptures, the Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua did not cease Jewish practice, did not cease the traditional prayers, did not cease offering Korban at the Holy Temple, and did not renounce the Torah.
You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…
–Acts 21:20 (NASB)
I don’t have the time to pull in all the necessary quotes from the Bible to illustrate my points, which is why I’m peppering this blog post with links to many other of my essays. However, when Paul was falsely accused of “teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs,” the thousands of Yeshua-believing Jews who were all “zealous for the Torah” doubted Paul because of these rumors. Paul had to do something to convince these Jews and their non-Yeshua-believing brothers, that he had never turned away from Torah or Temple and had never taught other Jews in the diaspora to do the same.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work out as planned, but if you follow the progression of trials Paul went through as depicted in Luke’s Book of Acts, you’ll see that Paul never agreed with the false accusations against him. He always maintained his innocence and repeatedly stated that he never committed a crime against Roman law or Torah.
An excellent book describing Paul’s trials is John W. Mauck’s Paul On Trial: The Book Of Acts As A Defense Of Christianity which I reviewed in part in this blog post. Even Christianity Today published an article some years back stating that Paul was not anti-Judaism, and I’ve written a commentary on their viewpoint as well.
Last year, I wrote a response to challenges against the viability of Messianic Judaism as a Judaism, and a couple of years back, I championed the necessity of Messianic Jewish community as a fully-realized Jewish community.
I agreed with Rabbi Stuart Dauermann that the “Jewish people are ‘us’ not ‘them,'” meaning that Messianic Jews are part of the larger community of Jewish people, not “Christians in kippot” who see non-Yeshua believing Jews as something alien and apart.
While I’m throwing in links, let me direct you to the excellent volume compiled by Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm called Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle. There is a growing movement of Jewish and Christian New Testament scholars (and that’s a pretty amazing statement in and of itself) who are re-examining the writings of Paul without peering through traditional interpretive lens of the Church, investigating Paul’s intent and meaning as a Pharisaic Jew rather than a Christian convert.
The results are quite enlightening and, since we depend on Paul for much of our understanding of early “Christian” theology and doctrine, if we reconstruct him back into his Jewish environment and then re-read his letters, we get a very different view of the Apostle to the Gentiles and what he was actually trying to communicate.
Christianity, as we understand it today, was invented by a Gentile majority population within the ancient and short-lived Jewish religious stream of Yeshua believers once called “the Way”. Christianity had to occur in order for these Gentiles to “divorce” themselves, not only from their Jewish teachers, but from the wholly Jewish and Israel oriented message of the Messiah, re-interpreting the ancient Jewish writings to say what they were never intended to say. Only two-thousand years of Christian dogma make it seem as if replacement or fulfillment theology is at all reasonable, let alone Biblical.
The “good news” of Yeshua has always been about the coming of the New Covenant, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, to restore them, to restore the Temple, to restore the Levitical priesthood (start reading at Jeremiah 31 and go forward through the subsequent chapters…it’s all there). It’s always been about good news for Israel first, and then because of that, also good news for the people of the nations, that is, the rest of us.
But if Jewish people, Jewish praxis, Jewish covenant connection with God, and Judaism as a lifestyle and expression of the covenants goes away and is replaced by Gentile Christianity and a Gentile Jesus, not only does Israel’s “good news” go up in a puff of smoke, so does ours. Gentile salvation and reconciliation to God only happens because of Israel’s covenants with God. If you replace them, then you drive the Jews away from God for all time and you destroy any hope the rest of the world has, because we depend on Israel’s covenant linkage to God to metaphorically link us (graft us in), too.
I’m sorry. I know there are many good and faithful Hebrew Christians in the Church and they really do believe the Torah is not only obsolete, but actually an error. It’s incredibly sad, because a Jew is the only person who is born into a covenant relationship with God, whether he or she wants to be or not. For them to be erroneously taught that their unique identity and relationship with God through the Sinai and other covenants, including the New Covenant, has been done away with, is to cause them to stumble in that relationship with Hashem and with Messiah.
It was this sort of Christian eisegesis that finally resulted in me leaving the Church.
In John 4:22, Yeshua famously said that “salvation comes from the Jews” and he wasn’t kidding. If the Church got her wish and converted 100% of the worldwide Jewish population to Gentile Christianity causing them to abandon the mitzvot and the covenants, we would not only be risking Israel’s future but our own.
The Jewish people have been living out their covenantal lifestyle against the constant threat of genocide for thousands of years. Don’t let conversion and assimilation finish what Haman and Hitler started. There is another way, a better way for a Jew to accept the revelation of Yeshua as Rav and Messiah. That way is to accept Jewish devotion to Yeshua and worship of the God of Israel as a Judaism, not Christianity.
No, we non-Jews don’t exactly practice “Judaism,” even when we accept the Jewishness of Yeshua-faith, but we do recognize that Jewish people do have that obligation, even as we come alongside of them in the ekklesia. If you are a non-Jewish Christian, then it is your duty to support observance of the mitzvot among the Jewish disciples of Yeshua. If you are a Jewish disciple in the manner of the Hebrew Christians, at least consider idea that your connectedness to God is much more than what you’ve been taught, that you are more unique and precious to God as a Jew than the Church will ever be willing to admit.
If nothing else, right before the sun goes down this coming Friday evening, say the blessings and light the candles to welcome Shabbos into your home as a Jew. Judaism isn’t an all or nothing religion. It happens one mitzvah at a time. Turn your heart back to the Torah and thus back to God, and He will certainly turn His heart to you.