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

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

Ephesians 2:14-16 (NASB)

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

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

Continued from Part 1.

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

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

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

-ibid, p.52

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

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

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

-ibid

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

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

-ibid, p.53

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

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

His explanation is complex, but in short:

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

-ibid, p.54

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

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

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

-ibid

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

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

-ibid

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

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

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

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

-ibid, p.55 (emph. mine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now before someone asks, Leman ends his blog post…

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

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

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

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

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

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Abraham, Ephesians 2, and the Unique Jewish Mission, Part 1

I am writing this article to a specific segment of this generation of Jews: those who follow Messiah Yeshua, whether we are in Messianic congregations, synagogues, churches, groups of various kinds that meet in homes, or not actively part of a group. I call us all “Messianic Jews,” but the name is not important; what counts is our connection with Messiah.

We are members of both the body of Messiah and what Michael Wyschogrod calls “the body of Israel.” It is essential that we fulfill our calling and destiny in both communities.

To be frank, many Messianic Jews, myself included, have avoided speaking openly and in depth about the meaning and significance of Jewish existence because we do not want to inadvertently offend others. For now I want to say that the “tasks begun by the patriarchs” that are now entrusted to this generation of Jews have positive and profound implications for the nations. Therefore, if you are not Jewish, I invite you to pull up a chair and listen in. You are welcome here.

-Carl Kinbar
“The Promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Part 1 of 3” p.34
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

At two separate seminars I attended in 2009, two speakers presented a different interpretation of Ephesians 2:15; they both claimed that the unity of the “one new man” does not imply, let alone require, a flattening of its Jewish and Gentile members into homogeneity. Instead, the unity spoken of in Ephesians 2:14-16 strengthens the case that Jewish identity of Jews who believe in Jesus is fundamental.

-David B. Woods
“One New Man, Part 1 of 2” p.52
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

Regarding the fourth and most common Christian interpretation, Svartvik said something profound: how would that view fit with “peace to those near” in Ephesians 2? In other words, Yeshua came to bring peace to those near (Jewish people) and far (Gentiles). If he came to nullify God’s covenant with Israel, how is this peace with Israel?

Thus, Svartvik offers a fifth and new suggestion: the dividing wall is not physical or tangible, but is exactly what the text says it is, the mistrust and enmity between Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world in which the apostles founded a movement of faith.

He offers a comparison with another first century text in which a wall is used as a metaphor for something abstract. In 2 Baruch 54:3-5 the image of a wall refers to a block in understanding or perception: “You pull down the enclosure for those who have no experience and enlighten the darkness.”

-Derek Leman
“The Dividing Wall in Ephesians 2”
Published April 9, 2015 at the
Messianic Jewish Musings blog

You may notice that the common thread running through all three of the above-quoted paragraphs (besides Messianic Judaism in general) is the special status and mission of the Jewish people, particularly those who are disciples of Messiah Yeshua, as distinct and separate from the body of believing Gentiles, whether they are affiliated with Christianity, Hebrew/Jewish Roots, or the Messianic Jewish movement.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

Each article provides an excellent springboard by which to launch ourselves into further investigation of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles who are attached to Yeshua, and to define the unique roles and purposes of each population as we exist within the Ekklesia of Messiah.

When I first started reading Kinbar’s article and saw that he had specifically written it to a Jewish audience, I felt as if I’d opened and was reading someone else’s letter, at least until he invited non-Jews to “pull up a chair” and become part of the audience. For it is in the definition of the special tasks that the current generation of Jews, both in Messiah and otherwise, have inherited from the patriarchs, that we find a contrasting role for “Messianic Gentiles”.

Both Woods and Leman tackle this topic through the lens of Ephesians 2, with Woods addressing the so-called “One New Man” (Ephesians 2:15) made out of two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, and Leman focusing on the breaking down of the “barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14 NASB) that previously separated those two groups but, “by the blood of Christ” (v.13) have been made one.

They both, as you might imagine, disagree with the traditional Christian interpretation of what “one new man” is supposed to mean, or what the result of tearing down the “dividing wall” was supposed to bring about. Christianity believes that annihilating that wall and creating one new man eliminated distinctions between Jews and Gentiles by obliterating Jewish and Gentile identity. The “one new man” was “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28) but an entirely new creation in Jesus Christ.

Except that’s not how these gentlemen interpret these scriptures.

I should also say it is a shame that Paul’s letters can only be read in their Jewish context via a “radical” and “new” perspective. That is, of course, how they should have been read all along. But a few issues have understandably blocked Christian readers from seeing the Jewishness of Pauline letters and Ephesians in particular. To make a complex issue simple let me just list a few things. Paul’s letters do not address Jewish believers and their concerns, but rather his burgeoning Gentile mission of the earliest Yeshua-movement. Paul does not give us a theology of Jewish identity in relation to Messiah Yeshua because that identity was already well-known and assumed in the background. Jewish identity in Messiah remained rooted in the covenants with Abraham and at Sinai and through David, but the coming of Yeshua marked a new stage in God’s revealing his plan to Israel. It was only later, when the church interpreted Paul as saying there was a break away from Sinai and God’s covenant with Israel, that Jews must now become Christians, that the idea occurred that it would become “radical” and “new” to read Paul as a Jewish writer who had not abandoned his prior beliefs and practices.

-Leman (emph. mine)

Carl Kinbar
Rabbi Carl Kinbar

It is difficult to distill an analysis of all three articles into a blog post or two, so I’ll just hit the highlights, so to speak. Also, since both Kinbar and Woods are writing multi-part missives, and the latter submissions are not yet publicly available, the picture you are going to receive here will be, by necessity, incomplete. I encourage you to read Leman’s blog post and acquire copies of Messiah Journal, issue 119 and the subsequent two issues, to read their complete messages.

In order to “flesh out” the role of the “Messianic Gentile” related to Messianic Judaism and the Jewish people (in and out of the movement), it is necessary to understand to some degree, the role and mission of Jewish people as a covenant people within Judaism and as devoted disciples to Messiah.

Our loyalty to Messiah must be so powerfully integrated into our lives that we are simply unable to conceive of life without him. He must be part and parcel of our lives.

At the same time, being Jewish is a fact of our existence: whether we were born Jewish or converted, it is not even possible to “un-Jew” ourselves. To minimize, ignore, or deny this fact is to minimize, ignore, or deny the meaning and significance of our existence. That said, the fullness of our Jewish identity needs to be internalized just as our loyalty to Yeshua does. Our identity as Jews must be part and parcel of our lives.

Our identity as Jews and our loyalty to Messiah must be internalized and brought into harmony.

-Kinbar, p.35

That harmony is not easy to achieve, and I know of at least three Jewish people, one of whom I am very close to, who fully integrated and internalized their Jewish identities by way of entirely dispensing with their devotion to Yeshua.

What Kinbar said reminds me of an article Stuart Dauermann wrote for issue 114 of Messiah Journal called “The Jewish People are Us – Not Them,” which I reviewed nearly eighteen months ago.

In their separate articles, both Kinbar and Dauermann emphasize the vital importance in Messianic Jewish loyalty and affiliation to the Jewish people and national Israel, but while Kinbar makes his points very well regarding Jewish covenant responsibilities to the Torah mitzvot, to their fellow Jews, and to Hashem, what does this say about we Gentiles?

It all seems to come down to Abraham:

Shaul of Tarsus explains how we receive the blessings in Romans 4, where he writes that when Abraham believed God’s promise that he would have a son, God counted his faith as righteousness. Since this took place before Abraham was circumcised, the blessing is not reserved for the circumcised — that is, for Jews. It is available to anyone who follows in Abraham’s footsteps by relying on God, “who raised Yeshua our Lord form the dead, he who was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” Thus, God’s promise statement that he has made Abraham “the father to many nations” is being fulfilled in the body of Messiah…

-ibid, p.40

Kinbar made what I thought was a very interesting point on the same page:

This changed dramatically when Abraham’s name became more broadly known through the distribution of the Apostolic Writings among the nations of the world. In my opinion, it is not an accident that Abraham’s name appears proportionately more often in the Apostolic Writings than in the Tanach.

And again he says:

Were it not for the Apostolic Writings and the body of Messiah, “the families of the earth” would not have known that they may be blessed in Abraham.

But blessed with what? The evidence is in scripture itself as previously quoted above:

“who raised Yeshua our Lord form the dead, he who was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”

MessiahOur faith and the faithfulness of Messiah results in we Gentiles receiving the promise of the resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, and justification before the Almighty. But remember, these promises are universal because they were given to Abraham before the circumcision. There are responsibilities incumbent only upon the Jewish people based on what was promised to Abraham after circumcision and subsequently promised to Isaac and Jacob:

Everyone who is devoted to Messiah should fear God, but Jews and Jewish communities are uniquely entrusted with the tasks begun by the fathers so that we can confirm the promises that God made to them. Engaging in these tasks is part and parcel of the meaning of Jewish existence: to be a source of blessing to the rest of humanity.

-ibid, p.49

So how are we to understand Woods, Leman, and Ephesians 2 in terms of what I’ve written above? For the sake of keeping this “morning meditation” reasonably short and thus of readable length, I’ll save the answer to that question for Part 2.

Of Dissonance and Hashkafah

Hashkafah is a great Hebrew word without an exact English equivalent. Your hashkafah is your worldview. The term is often used when referring to one’s personal worldview as regards to religion and halachah (Jewish law). It’s the lens through which you view things. It’s how you understand a system. It’s your paradigm of thought. It dictates the way you think about things, and therefore impacts the conclusions you will reach. It’s your ideology and the reason behind your ideology.

-Boaz Michael
“Hashkafah,” p.7
from the Director’s Letter for Issue 119/Spring 2015 of
Messiah Journal

I learned something new today. I learned that my blog is all about discussing my hashkafah, “the lens through which I view things” including my “paradigm of thought” and my “ideology and the reason behind my ideology.”

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. I’m not writing because I think I’m smarter than other people and that I am delivering my learned pronouncements from some virtual ivory tower. I’m writing to explain what I’ve been learning and how it affects the development of my hashkafah.

Actually, Boaz said so much more in his letter that I found quite useful, which is why I’m sharing this with you. Here’s another useful idea:

A person’s hashkafah (worldview or paradigm) is like the DNA that determines both appearances and actions as a fully formed body. If one’s outward appearance is inconsistent with his hashkafah, it will lead to cognitive dissonance and a crisis of faith.

-ibid (emph. mine)

And that’s what I’ve been experiencing, both in my previous attempt to integrate into a local church and, ironically enough, in my encounters with Messianic Judaism.

For instance, for Shauvot 2012, I attended First Fruits of Zion’s Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Wisconsin and I had a blast. I made connections with new people and deepened relationships with old friends.

But the following year, I had started going to church and as a result, I was encountering some of that “cognitive dissonance” Boaz talks about. At the Shavuot conference in 2013, I was confused and conflicted as to who I was and what I was supposed to be doing. I eventually settled in, but not before behaving in such a way that damaged a number of friendships.

The dissonance worked both ways, and not only made it unlikely for me to be invited to attend future Messianic conferences, but ultimately ended up with me leaving church as well.

How do you resolve the dissonance between being attracted to a Messianic Jewish study and practice paradigm and yet not being Jewish?

jackson's bookThis is the reason I’ve been reviewing Pastor Chris Jackson’s book Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing. I’m using my review series as the lens through which to look at whether there’s any likelihood of me returning to fellowship or if I should even try. Since Boaz’s letter speaks to what’s going on behind that concern, I consider examining it here part of that investigation.

Here’s what’s at the core of not only my difficulties with the church but with just about every single religious argument we have in the blogosphere:

Most religious arguments involve bitter clashes over “what we believe” (theology) and “what we do” (praxis). If we do not share the same hashkafah informing our theology and praxis, this type of debate will be pointless and irresolvable.

-ibid

That, in a nutshell, describes the vast majority of the religious arguments that happen in the comments sections of my blog and many other religious blogs, especially in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots spaces.

Although I doubt Boaz intended to, he described exactly what happened between me and the head Pastor of the church I used to attend:

For example, many Christians operate under the hashkafah which assumes that the authority of the New Testament has replaced the authority of the Old Testament. This paradigm holds it as self-evident that any conditions established in the Old Testament remain operative only if restated in the New Testament. So long as that paradigm remains firmly in place, there is no point in arguing…

-ibid, p.8

It took two years to get to this point, but Pastor and I finally arrived on the shores of “there is no point in arguing.”

Boaz, spent much of his letter describing his perspective on the hashkafah of various related movements such as Christianity, One Law, Missionary and Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, and then what he calls Messianic Judaism for the Nations, which is First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) perspective.

I won’t go into all of that here (I may in a future blog post), but for the sake of matters of dissonance and fellowship (or lack thereof), I’ll focus on the portions of Boaz’s letter I consider relevant. He restated the hashkafah of Messianic Judaism from his previous letter in issue 117 thus:

The practice of Judaism coupled with the realization that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the New Testament is true, and the kingdom is at hand.

Boaz Michael
Boaz Michael

My immediate question was how that’s supposed to work for someone who isn’t Jewish. Boaz answers that question subsequently, but does Boaz’s answer work for me? We’ll see by the by.

I do want to mention something regarding Boaz’s hashkafah for Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism since Derek Leman said something similar recently.

Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism is interested in practicing Judaism and maintaining Jewish identity, because Torah is seen as covenantally binding on all Jews. It has an interest in restoring the faith and practice of first-century believers for Messianic Jews, but not for Gentiles. Under this vision for Messianic Judaism, Gentile believers belong in Gentile Christianity identifying as Christians and Messianic Jews belong in Messianic synagogues identifying as Jews.

-ibid, p.10 (emph. mine)

It’s important to remember that Boaz distinguishes his personal (and FFOZ’s official) hashkafah from this Post-Missionary description, but it’s equally important to realize that there is significant overlap. So what does this mean for the so-called “Messianic Gentile?” What is FFOZ’s hashkafah for Messianic Judaism for the Nations?

The practice of Messianic Judaism by both Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles for the sake of continuity with the New Testament and the coming kingdom.

He further defines this view of Messianic Judaism as “the Judaism of the Messianic Era.” As far as that goes, I agree with him, and I’ve said more than once that when Messiah returns, as such, there will be no such entity as “the Church.” There will only be Messianic Judaism as it applies to Jews and to the people of the nations.

Relative to the rest of the Judaism in our world, Boaz states:

Our hashkafah acknowledges Jewish authority. We do not believe the New Testament stripped the Jewish people of the biblical and God-given authority to transmit, interpret, and apply the Torah. Although the rest of the Jewish world may be enemies regarding the gospel, they are nonetheless beloved for the sake of the fathers (Romans 11:28).

morning prayerIn other words, God did not abandon the Jewish people or Judaism nearly two-thousand years ago all for sake of the Gentile Christian Church. He didn’t change horses in mid-stream, and He didn’t jump from Plan A to Plan B in Acts 2 or anywhere else in the Bible, or for that matter, in post-Biblical times. God is with the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) and God is also with His people Israel, the Jewish people, all of them, for the sake of His promises in the Torah and the Prophets as well as the aforementioned Romans 11:28.

As far as Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles, Boaz says:

Our hashkafah distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles and their respective obligations to the Torah. Since we accept the authority of the apostles, who also made that distinction clear, we maintain distinction. We advocate the integrity of Jewish identity as defined by Jewish tradition, with all its associated prerogatives, privileges, responsibilities, and obligations. We advocate the integrity of Messianic Gentile identity with its own prerogatives, privileges, responsibilities, and obligations as defined by the New Testament. Although Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles are two distinct groups, they share one religion.

While I wholeheartedly agree with all of that, I still asked myself where the Gentile praxis is defined specifically. It seems to vary from one Messianic group to the next, and my personal response was to give up all (or almost all) practice that could even tangentially be considered Jewish (I will still occasionally use a siddur).

I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon (I’m not much of a Sabbath-keeper anymore). Last night, my family and I had a very pleasant, low-key, and quite yummy Passover seder. I’m still getting full noshing on left-over matzah ball soup, and matzah and hummus.

This morning, my wife (who is Jewish) went to shul at the local Chabad, and I believe she’ll be attending the second seder night there as well (which means she won’t be home until very late). One of the obligations I believe we “Messianic Gentiles” have is encouraging and supporting Jewish Torah observance. To that end, I’m delighted she can partake of Jewish community as a Jew. I wish the same for all Jews, Messianic or otherwise.

Now if only someone would write and publish the definitive guide to Messianic Gentile praxis within the context of “Messianic Judaism for the Nations.”

I would encourage you to see our various works in our Mayim Chayim series: Mezuzah, Tzitzit, Tefillin, etc.

-ibid, p.12

Tent of DavidApparently there is a praxis for Messianic Gentiles, and after a few minutes and a quick Google search, I remembered that in past years, FFOZ had published a series of small booklets about different aspects of Jewish practice as applied to non-Jews. Toby Janicki wrote about Gentiles and Tefillin in this 2007 blog post. However, a quick search of the FFOZ online store front didn’t yield any positive results, so I can’t point you to where to purchase them. I remember possessing at least some of these booklets in the past, but either I loaned them to interested parties who never returned them, or they didn’t survive one of my wife’s “reducing clutter” projects.

Now as I said, so far, I agree with Boaz on most or all of the points he makes in his letter. But in terms of my own situation and especially the last two-and-a-half years of my personal history, here’s the kicker:

I should point out that I do not believe that Gentile believers need to leave their churches and join a Messianic synagogue or Sabbatarian group in order to be part of Messianic Judaism. As I advocate in my book Tent of David, I feel the best place for most Messianic Gentiles, at this point in history, is to remain in their respective churches, supporting the local church’s efforts for the kingdom and becoming an ambassador within that church for this message of restoration. Yes, it may be lonely, one may face theological opposition in the form of subtle anti-Semitism and not-so-subtle replacement theology, but disciples of the suffering servant should expect to suffer a little bit. If we greet only those who greet us and love only those who love us, what reward will we get?

-ibid

Now let’s compare that paragraph to two of Boaz’s previous statements:

Most religious arguments involve bitter clashes over “what we believe” (theology) and “what we do” (praxis). If we do not share the same hashkafah informing our theology and praxis, this type of debate will be pointless and irresolvable.

And…

For example, many Christians operate under the hashkafah which assumes that the authority of the New Testament has replaced the authority of the Old Testament. This paradigm holds it as self-evident that any conditions established in the Old Testament remain operative only if restated in the New Testament. So long as that paradigm remains firmly in place, there is no point in arguing…

I think Boaz’s suggestion works with some Messianic Gentiles in some churches under certain circumstances. I don’t believe it can be universally applied to all Messianic Gentiles in all churches under all circumstances. Of course, that’s not what I think Boaz is suggesting, but still, we must acknowledge that in terms of the “Tent of David” ideal, one size does not fit all.

Don’t worry. It’s not like I’m pounding on the doors of some Messianic Jewish community demanding to be let in. Far from it. As I’ve said many times before, my current family situation would prohibit such a thing, even if the perfect Messianic shul was just down the street from my house.

As far as church goes, I went in with the idea of being an ambassador and left to avoid being a nudnik (pest), at least any more than I’d already become.

To be fair, Boaz also said:

At the same time, I believe that the Messianic synagogue should function as a daughter of the holy Temple: “A house of prayer for all nations.” What would it look like if Messianic Judaism was to open its doors to the many Gentiles who come flocking to Messianic Judaism seeking leadership, direction, and spiritual guidance? What if Messianic Jews took up our role as the head, and not the tail, and we began to lead and shepherd our Master’s flocks? What might that look like?

alone-desertGiven the goal of maintaining Jewish identity and distinctiveness, all of that is easier said than done. Boaz says “Messianic Judaism is the Judaism of the Messianic Era–practiced today.” Well, sort of. There’s still so much we don’t know about exactly how Messiah will consider Jewish vs. Gentile devotees. It would be nice to believe there’s a way to smooth out all of the rough edges between Jews and Gentiles sharing Jewish community in Messiah, but I can only have faith that this is something Messiah will accomplish when he returns.

What’s the bottom line for me? Like my reviews of Pastor Jackson’s book, while I can see what both of these authors mean, and I can see it working for others, I don’t see a personal application. I’ve said before that I was willing simply to surrender the idea that I must be in community at all. I have limited social needs, so it’s pretty easy for me to be self-contained and to progress forward as an individual. Relative to my faith, it’s what I do at home anyway. It was only the concerns of a friend that had me return to this topic and take another look.

I’ve finished reading Pastor Jackson’s book and I’ll continue my reviews soon.

Final Note: I realize that every time I mention Boaz Michael and First Fruits of Zion, those people who have “issues” with him and his organization tend to make a number of rather “uncomplimentary” remarks in the comments section of my blog. I insist that you stick to the actual issues I’m discussing, that is the hashkafah of Messianic Judaism for the nations as contrasted with Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism and with Christianity as applied to my personal situation. If you can’t comment within the bounds of decorum and avoid committing lashon hara, then consider not commenting at all. Thank you.

If Israel is the Light of the World, What Happens to the Church, Part One?

After the exiles are gathered and Israel’s enemies destroyed, those who are left from the nations will not only dwell peacefully with the nation of Israel, but all peoples will come to recognize the one God of Israel and will serve him. It will be a worldwide revival such as we have never seen before. While it is Messiah’s job to bring this global repentance about, it will be accomplished through the agency of the Jewish people and will come about when they dwell securely within the land. Indeed, this awakening can only happen when the children of Israel are connected with the land of Israel.

-Toby Janicki
“Light to the Nations,” p.43
Messiah Journal issue 118/Winter 2014

I think most Christians would agree that Messiah (Christ) will inaugurate an era of worldwide peace and tranquility upon his return, but they might be puzzled as to what the Jewish people and the land of Israel have to do with it. Isn’t the Church supposed to rule and reign with Jesus? Aren’t the Jews supposed to convert to Christians and effectively eliminate any and all Jewish presence on Earth for the first time since Abraham?

One of the reasons I don’t share a theological perspective with most of my Christian brothers and sisters is because, even though there may be those who recognize that the Jews have “some part” in God’s future plans to redeem the Earth, couldn’t possibly imagine that it is national Israel and the Jewish people, not “the Church,” which is the principal mechanism by which we will all be saved, even as the Master said, “salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22).

However, Toby Janicki in his article makes the argument that the children of Israel was and is God’s chosen people and nation for a very good reason, and that reason stretches all the way back to Sinai.

To fully understand how the Jewish people will bring the nations to the knowledge of HaShem, we need to understand why God singled out and chose Israel in the first place. We need to examine the Jewish people’s role as a light to the nations. This begins with HaShem designating Israel as his chosen people.

-ibid

Toby cites Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 14:2, Deuteronomy 32:9-10, and Romans 3:1-2 to define and support Israel’s continued election from among the nations. But the “choseness” of Israel has always been a bit of a problem to the rest of us.

In today’s modern society the idea of this kind of election can be troubling. The premonition of God choosing one nation out of all the others does not sit well with our Western sense of egalitarianism. But before jumping to conclusions, we must ask the question, what does it mean that Israel is chosen?

-ibid, p.44

Christianity has attempted to respond to Israel’s chosen status in a couple of ways. The traditional response of the Church was to establish a binding tradition declaring the Christianity and the community of (Gentile) saints as having replaced Israel’s special status with God as an act of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.

Of course this makes Messiah a traitor to his own people and the nation he loves. Can Yeshua turn away from God’s treasured, splendorous people, HaShem’s Am Segulah (Deuteronomy 14:2), wholly decoupling himself from the Jews, the Jewish land, and his very identity as a Jew, and cleave only to a foreign people, making himself, in essence, a foreign god?

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “no”.

There is another competing opinion that sadly treats the Jewish people no better. What if Jewish election is meaningless? What if the work of Messiah was simply to take all the Gentiles who become his disciples and make them “Israel” too? That would mean in the Messianic Kingdom, there would only be two people groups, Jewish and non-Jewish Israel, and the unbelieving Gentile nations. Since the former group, by definition, are resurrected and immortal, and the latter group is not, after the latter group dies, only “Israel” made up of Jews and non-Jews remains and there are no nations of the earth. Being Jewish would mean nothing since the Gentiles in “Israel” would be every bit as “chosen” (although much later in the game) as the Jews.

This violates more prophesies than I have room to cite and both of these misguided theories eliminate God’s original choosing of the children of Israel as His chosen people and nation, either by removing that status from the Jews or making to totally meaningless.

It seems people have to rewrite God’s original work to fit their own needs and requirements, more’s the pity.

But if Yeshua is the light of the world (John 8:12), why does he need Israel and the Jewish people to fulfill his mission to be a light to the world? Why does he need anyone at all?

But what if he and Israel are inseparable components within that light?

Toby quotes Rabbi Levi Welton to answer the question he asked above.

In other words, one separates something to do something, not just to be something. So the Jewish people were separated for a purpose, not to carry a higher rank or be a “favorite.” This purpose is to tell the world that they are also “chosen to do good,” as Isaiah says it, “to be a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6).

-ibid

This suggests that the Jewish people had and still has a special mission to bring knowledge of monotheism and the One true God of Creation to the rest of the nations. But how were they supposed to do that, especially since post-Biblical times, most Jews do not acknowledge Yeshua as the Messiah?Up to Jerusalem

According to Toby:

In the minds of the sages the Jewish people’s exile (galut) from the land of Israel was not only punishment for Israel’s sin but also served a redemptive purpose for all mankind?

-ibid, p.46

That’s bound to bend the minds of some Christians since it means that the Jewish people as a whole were still being used by God in post-Biblical times as exiles among the nations, and that non-Jesus believing Jews are fulfilling God’s purposes to this very day.

According to one source:

Eleazar also said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, did not exile Israel among the nations save in order that proselytes might join them, for it is said: ‘And I will sow her unto Me in the land’ (Hosea 2:23); surely a man sows a se’eh in order to harvest many kor!” (b.Pesachim 87b)

-ibid

Toby continues:

…and therefore this saying is a metaphor for the knowledge of HaShem being spread among the nations of the world through the exile of Israel.

-ibid

This would seem to create some problems. First, it puts Judaism and Christianity in direct competition to make proselytes (converts) as part of spreading the knowledge of HaShem in the former case, and the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ in the latter case.

It also means that, from a Jewish perspective, if spreading the knowledge of HaShem requires making proselytes, then no Gentile person could benefit unless they converted to Judaism, which is also against many of the prophesies in the Tanakh (Old Testament).

But there’s a catch:

Although we have seen some fulfillment of Israel enlightening mankind throughout history, and although the nation’s exile has served a redemptive purpose, Israel’s call to be a light to the nations can be fully fulfilled only when they dwell securely within their land with their own sovereign monarchy.

-ibid

So here we have a connection between Israel as a light to the nations and Messiah, since one of Messiah’s critical tasks is to re-establish the sovereignty of Israel and to return all of the Jewish exiles to their Land. If Israel can’t be a light to the nations until those events have occurred, then Messiah is absolutely required in order to allow Israel to complete her mission.

This brings up a question about the role and function of Gentile Christianity. If everything hinges upon Israel having complete rule over her nation, all the Jews returning to Israel, and King Messiah being established on his throne, what happens to us? Toby writes all this as future events, but we are here now, aren’t we? What are we, chopped liver?

Toby doesn’t address this question and he seems to indicate that only Israel will participate in the worldwide revival and return to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I can see those non-Jews who identify as “Messianic Gentiles” within some recognized form of Messianic Judaism participating in a supporting role, but with no mention of the Church in this scenario, I can imagine many Christians feeling left out in the cold.

lightAnd yet, I know of many Christians who live holy lives, who do good, and who are devoted to God, and yet they do not have a “Messianic Jewish” perspective on the scriptures, nor do they anticipate Israel having such a “stellar” role in God’s redemptive plan. They fully expect that it will be the Christian Church who will step in and be “the light of the world” alongside Jesus Christ.

I wonder what happens to them?

Since Toby’s article is rather packed with information and meaning, and since I want to cite another author in the current issue of Messiah Journal, I’m going to stop here. See you in Part 2 of this article.

Messianic Judaism for the Rest of Us

In November of 2014, the Caspari Center in Jerusalem invited me to participate in a panel discussion titled “Four Different Views on Messianic Judaism.” It wasn’t a debate, but rather just an opportunity for the panel members to express their own thoughts on the subject.

-Boaz Michael
from The Director’s Letter: “Four Different Views on Messianic Judaism,” p.8
Messiah Journal, issue 118/Winter 2014/5775

I’ve been having an interesting discussion in a closed Facebook group dedicated to Messianic Judaism in relation to my blog post Will Our Children Have Faith. Some of the dialogue addressed issues of Jewish and non-Jewish roles and responsibilities within the Messianic community and whether or not there should be any significant presence of Gentiles in Messianic Jewish synagogues.

Then the current issue of Messiah Journal arrived in my mailbox and I start reading Boaz’s latest “Director’s Letter.”

In an earlier letter presented in issue 117, Boaz said:

When I say that “Messianic Judaism is the practice of Judaism,” I mean to imply that we should regard ourselves more of a functional sect of Judaism rather than another Protestant Christian denomination.

In the current letter (pp.7-8), Boaz acknowledges:

I realize that this definition of the Messianic movement is not to everyone’s taste, and that many Messianic Jewish leaders would phrase it differently, but I believe that Messianic Judaism should be a real Judaism — not a Jewish flavored sect of Protestant Christianity.

I agree that statement would not work very well for many, most, or all Protestants, and probably not for many, most, or all Hebrew Roots Gentiles either. But here’s where I think Boaz is coming from. Remember that Boaz and his family made Aliyah and moved to Israel, specifically Jerusalem, some months ago. He stated earlier in his letter:

Messianic Judaism in Israel is faltering and fragile, and Messianic Jews here face enormous pressures. For the most part, Messianic Judaism in Israel has been raised up under the heavy influence of Missionary Messianic Jewish theology, and the Messianic congregations in Israel are sometimes more like Pentecostal churches than Messianic synagogues.

-Michael, p.7

I know nothing of Messianic groups in Israel, but I’ve attended plenty of Gentile-driven Hebrew Roots groups over the years here in the U.S., and their services are often some form of “Jewish-lite,” with a few really seeming like typical Evangelical or Pentecostal churches with a little Hebrew thrown in for seasoning (and to be fair, a few of them strongly attempt to map to a more authentic synagogue service).

But Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity is where the movement came from decades ago and the influence of the Church on the Messianic movement can still be keenly felt, particularly, as Boaz points out, in Israel.

However, I’m building to a point which is to call out a few details about the four perspectives Boaz presents in his letter. The presenters, other than Boaz, at the Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies were Seth Ben-Haim (UMJC; MJTI), Baruch Maoz (Soli Deo Gloria), and Alec Goldberg (Caspari Center).

Mr. Maoz’s perspective on Messianic Judaism matches how Evangelical Christianity sees the role of believing Jews; that Jesus replaced the Law and that a Jewish Christian is no longer obligated to observe the mitzvot. Mr. Ben-Haim’s view is the polar opposite and coincides with Rabbi Mark Kinzer’s conception of Bilateral Ecclesiology as presented in his book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People.

Boaz’s definition of Messianic Judaism is represented by four points, which I’ll present in summary here except for point four which I’ll quote in its entirety:

  1. Peace, particularly between believing brothers and sisters and between Jews and Gentiles.
  2. Torah observance for the Jew in Messiah.
  3. Observance of the traditions in Messianic Judaism.
  4. Gentiles: I stated that, since the kingdom is represented by both Jews and Gentiles worshiping together, Messianic Judaism today should have a mechanism and broad enough self-definition to include Gentile disciples in positive and affirming ways. This is the message of Messianic Judaism for the nations.
Boaz Michael
Boaz Michael

As you can see, Boaz’s definition of Messianic Judaism is very inclusive of non-Jewish disciples, although it’s true that he didn’t specify what sort of mechanism should be used to “include Gentile disciples in positive and affirming ways.” He did mention the phrase “Messianic Judaism for the nations” which also appears on the website of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship located in Hudson, Wisconsin. Beth Immanuel is led by one of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) head teachers D. Thomas Lancaster who has also been a good friend of Boaz’s for many years. The fact that Beth Immanuel seems to have a leadership that is mostly Gentiles and presents itself as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations” may be the mechanism Boaz had in mind.

But this doesn’t change the need of Jews in Messianic Judaism to belong to wholly Jewish community and to live completely Jewish lives of performing the mitzvot and observing the traditions, just like their other Jewish brothers and sisters in other branches of Judaism.

Going back to the panel discussion, the wild card in the deck seemed to be Alec Goldberg. Boaz expected Mr. Goldberg to agree with Mr. Maoz’s understanding that Jesus replaced the Law, but he was in for a surprise:

He said, “I have come to realize that as a Jew, I am called to live out the Torah.” Goldberg explained that the prophetic-kingdom promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 had revealed to him that the Torah is part of the new covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Moreover, he had come to realize that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 which exempted Gentiles from circumcision and obligation to the Torah’s Jewish identity markers said nothing at all about exempting Jews from any aspect of the Torah. Since the Jerusalem Council did not address Jews in their ruling, he deduced that they intended Jewish believers to remain faithful to Torah.

-ibid, p.10

Actually, from my perspective now, Mr. Goldberg’s conclusions seem fairly obvious, since the problem the Jerusalem Council was trying to solve was what to do with all the Gentiles, not how has devotion to Messiah changed Jewish obligation to Torah. Jews and the Torah weren’t on the table, so to speak. Only trying to figure out how Gentiles were receiving the Holy Spirit without first converting to Judaism. The answer was that conversion was not necessary and thus Gentile Torah observance was not incumbant upon them, only an Abraham-like faith in God through Messiah. But like I said, Jews and Jewish Torah observance weren’t even on the radar screen.

At one point in his letter, Boaz wrote, “I could hardly contain my enthusiasm over Mr. Goldberg’s remarks.”

It seems that on occasion, a person’s long-held and firm beliefs can be changed thanks to regular and diligent Bible study and the influence of the Holy Spirit upon a human life.

I’m writing this “meditation” for a few reasons. I wanted to present the fact that there’s no one, overarching definition of Messianic Judaism. I wanted to show that there are Jews who (sadly, in my opinion) view Messianic Judaism in the same way as Evangelical Christianity, taking a low view of Torah, of religious Judaism, and of the traditions. I wanted to show that, at least in this one limited context, the majority of Jews present supported Messianic Jewish Torah observance as well as adhering to the traditional lifestyle of religious, ethnic, and cultural Judaism. And I wanted to show that at least one of those definitions was accepting of a Gentile presence as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations.”

I do want to make sure to add one thing:

While I truly do respect Baruch Maoz for his tireless years of service to Messiah, I cannot find much common ground with his theological perspectives. His view that the Torah is canceled and Jewish believers in Yeshua have no obligation to it has been the prevailing view among Jewish believers here in Israel. Mr. Goldberg’s words offered me hope that things are changing.

-ibid

The very first point in Boaz’s definition of Messianic Judaism is peace. While he and Mr. Maoz may disagree, there is no animosity between them and Boaz acknowledges Mr. Maoz’s years of tireless and dedicated service to the cause of Messiah among the Jewish people.

When Boaz mentioned having little common ground theologically between him and Mr. Maoz, I couldn’t help but think of my many conversations with the Pastor of the church I used to attend, and how that lack of common ground finally resulted in me leaving the Church again. The Pastor is an intelligent, well-read, and well-educated man who is faithful to God and a dedicated shepherd to his congregation. He’s a good person in the faith, but alas, we have greatly divergent perspectives, just as do Mr. Maoz and Boaz Michael.

There are some churches and some Pastors who will benefit from the inclusion of a “Messianic” within their midst but I found that my church environment was not one of them. Ultimately, we all have to be the people God made us to be and follow the path He has put before us.

But there’s hope. As Boaz said, people are changing. Jews are recognizing Messiah without the Goyishe mask the Church placed on his face nearly twenty centuries ago, and they’re recognizing that there is no inconsistency between living a Jewish life and being a Jewish disciple of the Master. Gentiles, for our part, are also meeting the “Jewish Jesus” for the first time, and once we get over the shock, are learning to accept him as who he is and accept ourselves as who we are in him.

Messianic WorshipWho we are as Messianic Gentiles isn’t exactly how the Church defines a Christian, but it’s an exciting role which leads in new and unexpected directions. The Bible, studied from within a Messianic perspective, tells a radically different story about God’s redemptive plan for Israel and through Israel, God’s redemptive plan for the world.

I don’t know how it’s all going to work out yet. There are a lot of roadblocks in the way. We must not discount the power of God to make happen what He promised He would do, even if we haven’t a clue about what comes next.

Boaz finished up his letter by saying:

Things are indeed changing, and HaShem is at work restoring his people and preparing us for the kingdom. We are part of something much larger than ourselves; we are part of what God is doing today. I went home rejoicing over the opportunity to participate in the conversation at the Caspari Center, and I thanked God for opening the door.

If God can open the door that Boaz walked through, He can open doors for the rest of us. We must be patient. We must be ready.

As you read this, I am traveling. I won’t be near a computer to approve any comments until this evening at the soonest. I’ll return when I can. Thank you.

A Review of David Hall’s “Homosexuality and the Torah”

I have experienced same-sex attraction for most of my life. When I was seventeen years old, I embraced a gay identity. Almost ten years after I came out, I saw the pain that this addiction was working in my life. I sought help from Outpost Ministries, a Minneapolis-based ministry that helps men and women find freedom from unwanted same-sex attraction.

-David Hall
“Homosexuality and the Torah,” p.59
Messiah Journal, Issue 117/Fall 2014

This is something of an interlude between my first and second review of Jay Michaelson’s book God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality. I’ve still got about sixty pages to go (as I write this) in the Michaelson book, but Hall’s article is only eight pages long (nine if you include the endnotes) so I shot through it a few days ago. As it turns out, Hall answers many of Michaelson’s points on homosexuality and the intent of scripture. It’s not a complete hand-and-glove fit, but it’s close. And Hall’s commentary has the advantage of being written by a person who has “been there,” meaning his opinions should have greater credibility than mine since I’ve never experienced “being gay.”

In his article, Hall uses the acronym “SSA” for “same-sex attraction” rather than the more “socially licensed” labels for the LGBTQ community. His footnote for the term (p. 67) states:

I use “SSA” to describe the emotional and physical attraction to members of the same sex. The term “homosexuality” includes the socio-political self-identification as gay or lesbian predicated on those attractions.

Hall says that two years after seeking help, he was “reasonably healed” to where he could begin working for Outpost Ministries and continued for six years to work on his own healing while helping others seeking help from the ministry to do the same.

I know this is going to push a lot of noses out of joint, particularly those advocates for full inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the church and synagogue, but this is the other side of the coin, so to speak, this is the life that stands opposite those such as Jay Michaelson and Matthew Vines.

I can’t speak for Hall and certainly not for Michaelson and Vines. As I said above, I don’t have a “gay experience”. I don’t know what it’s like to have those feelings or to live that life, in or out of the closet. Like Hall, I don’t have all the answers (p.60), but maybe there is an answer, even if it’s not the one that sells books and makes popular stories in social and news media.

One difference between Hall and other, similar commentators is that he’s addressing this topic from a Messianic Jewish perspective, rather than a traditional Christian viewpoint. The key in all this is that Christianity generally dismisses the Law but in doing so, has also done away with obeying God from a physical/bodily as well as spiritual manner.

I don’t know if I entirely agree since Christians, at least in more conservative denominations, tend to provide strong support for physical purity and marital fidelity, at least on the surface. I don’t see why that wouldn’t extend to purity in the sense of not only marital fidelity but exclusively heterosexual romantic/erotic relations.

However…

I have seen that the church suffers profound confusion about what it means when the Bible says that God created us male and female. I have seen the ramifications of a “freedom from the law” theology.

-ibid, p.66

But the churches Hall seems to be referencing are those on the more socially and politically liberal end of the spectrum.

The ELCA and PC-USA recently approved ordaining openly gay clergy and affirming same-sex marriages. In their debates I saw that the discussions never focused on what the Word says but on the feelings of various groups: “Don’t make people feel unwelcome in the PC-USA” or “I love being Lutheran, but I’m gay — don’t kick me out” were common refrains.

-ibid

DHE GospelsThis is more or less the argument in Part One of Michaelson’s book, a focus on feeling rather than the Word. Of course, Part Two of the book does address “what the Word says”, both from a Christian and Jewish point of view, but Hall addresses that as well.

I consider the following paragraph to be the core of Hall’s article:

You may have noticed that in our discussion of homosexuality, I did not mention the Torah’s prohibitions against the behavior in Leviticus 18. I made my appeal not from prohibition but from created intent. This approach helps us see that God’s law is not simply a list of cold rules but boundaries directing us into holiness, righteousness, and life. Why does God prohibit homosexual behavior? Because he is jealous for his image on the earth as reflected in male and female.

-ibid, p.64

Hall’s opinion is similar to my own. Even if we were to completely dismiss all of the apparent Biblical prohibitions against homosexual behavior, we absolutely do not see a normalization of “loving, monogamous same-sex romantic/erotic relationships” in the Bible. In one of the chapters in Part Two of his book, Michaelson attempts to make a case for such a “normalization,” at least to a degree by citing not only David and Jonathan’s friendship but the relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. I’ll issue my response in more detail in a later review, but even Michaelson admits that “sexual orientation” as such was not understood (or experienced) in ancient times, thus using those friendships (and any sexual component implied is highly questionable) in support of normalization of gay relationships in the church and synagogue today is sketchy at best.

Hall continues:

Have we then implied that a person experiencing same-sex attraction is condemned by God? Absolutely not! We have, I hope, shown that there is more going on underneath same-sex attraction than either rebellion or genetic predisposition…

…The opposite of homosexuality is thus not heterosexuality but righteousness. The question regarding SSA is not “Can I be gay and a follower of Yeshua?” but rather “Can I disagree with God about who he made me to be and still truly be Yeshua’s disciple?”

-ibid

So why do gay people experience their sexual orientation/identity as such an immutable quality? From Hall’s viewpoint, it’s just another sign of “brokenness” in the world and in human beings among all the other ways people are broken spiritually. The very concepts, as Michaelson has confirmed in his book, of sexual orientation and sexual identity have been created quite recently in human history. While we have a long record of homosexual sex, what it meant “back in the day” can’t be compared to what we call it in the modern world.

gay marriageWhat if we’re seeing a “power surge” of “sexual diversity” not because the people who once would have hidden who they were, maybe for all their lives, are being given permission to “come out of the closet” by an increasingly “progressive” society, but because our world is becoming increasingly permissive of many sins once treated as strict taboos, including sexual sins, and including those sexual sins (at least in their physical expression) identified as sexual “orientation” and “identity”?

Like Michaelson, I can’t really prove my points, but if looked at through a spiritual and Biblical lens rather than with what Hall calls “the fruit of cheap grace,” it makes more sense.

Like I said, it’s not a perfect fit. There are men and women who try for years to change, to become attracted to the opposite sex as their primary or exclusive object of romantic and erotic love, but who continue to fail. For many, that is proof that sexual orientation is innate and immutable in human beings, with some minority human population being same-sex attracted. For others, it’s a sign of just how far we have morally fallen, and perhaps a sign of the “spiritual warfare” being directed at the world as the time of Messiah’s return draws near. The spirit of humanity is so wide open to all manner of injury and damage, that it never occurs to us (and in some circles it is forbidden to mention it) these so-called “normal” and “natural” attractions and behaviors are a sign that something is seriously wrong.

After seven years of working through my issues, choosing to live beyond my same-sex attraction, I do not see myself as a gay man anymore. God brought enough healing to my life that, in September 2013, I was married to a beautifully feminine woman who does not see me through the lens of same-sex attraction. She sees me as a man perfectly made for her.

-ibid, p.65

Hall makes many good points in his small article and I’ve only touched on a few of them here. If you are convinced that the LGBTQ community should be fully included in the body of faith, then nothing in Hall’s article is likely to change your mind and you probably will just become angry at Hall and at me. If you are a traditional Christian or devout Jew, you are likely to praise Hall and continue to condemn Michaelson, Vines and others, even though Hall says God does not condemn them, at least not any more than anyone else trapped in a life that God did not choose for them. I’m not writing this to beat up gay people, whether they’re in religious community or not. I’m trying to understand what God is really saying and doing, and since I’m only human, that isn’t always easy for me.

I’ve struggled with the inherit nature of humans being created as Male and Female, as complementary physically and in many other ways, as helpmates standing opposite one another, and also having a long line of gay people saying that they were born that way, that being gay is natural, normal, and part of God’s plan, and that it’s cruel and bigoted to ask them to change what is unchangeable.

But if they weren’t “born that way,” at least as part of a God-sanctioned process, then what?

How much pain, suffering, and injustice exists in the world today that we seem helpless to change? The list is endless. What’s the cause in a God-created world? Man’s fall from grace at Eden. The world changed in a fundamental way such that the universe actually started operating differently, where disobedience became possible and much more likely than it was previously, and where even death existed in a way that was previously impossible.

What if one of the things that changed is the fundamental way that sex and attraction works? I agree, I’m proposing a big of “what if,” but it makes more sense than God forbidding same-sex sex and then creating human beings who are designed to desire same-sex sex/love. The way people experience sex and love has been twisted into just about anything you can imagine. The list of sexual fetishes we have categorized is astounding. But God also gave the Torah and the whole of His Word, the Bible, not as a cold list of “do’s and “don’ts” but as boundaries and expectations, a plan of God for human beings and specifically human coupling, of being created male and female.

jewish weddingThe Bible in no way presupposes the normalization of same-sex love/sex in the community of faith. I’m sure many will disagree with me, particularly because I lack a rock solid alternative for addressing what Hall calls SSA. But I can’t “interpret” the Bible so radically that I see something that is not written on any of its pages. I don’t see modern homosexual relationships, let alone marriages, sanctioned and sanctified by God. I don’t see a path to making them sanctioned and sanctified that can be derived or inferred from the scriptural text.

That’s as far as I can take this little interlude. I’ll publish my review of Part Two in tomorrow’s “morning meditation” and then on Tuesday, will publish Part Three’s “unofficial” review, and later on, a final conclusion based on Torah study.