Tag Archives: Messiah Journal

Review of Messiah Journal: Christian Theology and the Old Testament

I’ve slowly been reading through the various articles in the latest issue of Messiah Journal (issue 116/Summer 2014) but haven’t had the time to comment on it before this. While there are many good and worthy articles contained therein (as always), I was most taken with the one written by Paul E. Meier called “Christian Theology and the Old Testament” (pp 76-94).

First, a little background:

Paul Meier and his wife, Inge, spent over three decades as Bible translators with Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International in Nigeria before retiring in 1996. Meier and his wife heard Messianic Jewish pioneer Abram Poljak in Switzerland in the 1950s and, since 2000, have worked with friends who knew Poljak to preserve his writings in an online archive at www.abrampoljak.net. To learn more about their experiences in Bible translation, visit their website at www.israel-pro.org.

-from the article’s introduction, pg 76

I’ve spent almost no time on either website mentioned above. I want to focus on Meier’s article and what it means to me both generally and in terms of recent issues in my little corner of the blogosphere.

Meier compares the Bible to a structure with two stories. Access to that structure is on the main floor. To understand the structure as a whole, a visitor must start with the first room on the first floor, visit each room in turn, and only then proceed to the second floor and visit all of those rooms in turn. Upon completing the visits to all of the rooms, the visitor then returns to the first floor, exits the building, and contemplates the experience as a whole to gain insights as to what the structure means.

The first floor is what Christianity calls the Old Testament and the second floor is the New Testament. The building is locked, so to gain entrance to the main lobby, you need a key. This key is “interpretation”. In many Christian churches, the main agent of interpreting the Bible is the Holy Spirit.

But…

If we believe that God inspired the books of the Bible, we must also accept that God had an overarching plan and purpose as he inspired these various texts. Yet if this is the case, we need to ask, why are there so many extant interpretations of these same texts? Why do so many interpreters arrive at different conclusions? How can they all claim to have been led to these disparate conclusions by the same Holy Spirit?

-Meier, pg 77

Meier “hooked” me at “overarching plan and purpose.”, because I believe the Bible is a holistic document describing the historically sweeping panorama of God’s plan for Israel and the world, not something to be carved and sliced like a Thanksgiving turkey (“I only like the drumsticks”). I have asked the exact same question that Meier posed above to Pastors and online religious pundits, and their answers have ranged from “sin” to “not trusting the Holy Spirit” to “being influenced by the interpretations of men.” None of these responses have been particularly satisfying, since you’d expect some subset of Christians who are truly receiving interpretive revelations from the Spirit to all share an identical perception and understanding of the Bible.

And that body does not exist. Instead, we have churches upon churches upon churches and many other congregational groups that all have their individual “take” on the Bible, and even within a single congregation, it’s common to encounter many different individuals who have their own way of looking at different areas of scripture. I think I’m getting a headache.

Meier’s answer makes as much sense as any other one and perhaps more sense than most:

Scripture points out that the understanding of individual believers is fragmental; each one of us has been granted a different degree of insight (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). The dimensions of God’s love are so vast that the whole body of believers is needed in order to comprehend them (Ephesians 3:18). God may give more insight to some than to others; he gives to each one according to the measure of his grace (Romans 12:3, Ephesians 4:7).

-ibid

In other words, not all believers are created equal in terms of how the Holy Spirit will speak to them of the Bible, nor are all believers identical as far as their innate cognitive, perceptual, and interpretive skills sets relative to the Bible. We are each granted the gifts God has provided “according to the measure of his grace” which may have something to do with why we all see the message of the Bible differently.

That doesn’t explain why many of us have contradictory perceptions of the Bible, but what can and does get in the way is our own humanity, our needs, our wants, our “I’ve got to have it this way”. This may also explain why it’s better for us to congregate in somewhat diverse groups rather than go it alone in Bible study or only study with people who think and believe exactly as we do.

Think of it as a group of people all trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together. But the pieces of the puzzle aren’t loosely collected in a central box, they’re loosely collected in the pockets of the different people building the puzzle. First, these people have to come together and be willing to cooperate by sharing their pieces with the others. Ideas of how the pieces fit together will vary, sometimes widely, but (and this is where I think the Holy Spirit comes into my little analogy) finally with all the pieces on the table, one by one, the group begins to see a pattern starting to emerge.

puzzleBut what if you go to a Baptist church, and the person who holds some of the vital pieces to the interpretive puzzle attends a Messianic synagogue thousands of miles away? Interesting problem. We might have to expand our understanding of Biblical hermeneutics to realize that it’s not just the particular method we employ in our interpretive process, it’s the people we have on our team, the necessary talent that they possess and we lack, that will make the difference.

A second principle to keep in mind is the fact that the different texts that comprise the Bible were written in diverse literary styles; furthermore, they were composed over hundreds of years, and each text reflects a then-current understanding of the past, present, and future. Different parts of the story were revealed at different times; God alone sees the entire story from beginning to end.

-ibid

This will likely appeal to dispensationalists and progressive revelationists, and Meier does believe that God progressively revealed himself in history. On the other hand, most dispensationalists believe that the text of the Bible becomes more important and relevant as time passes, leaving the older sections of the Bible to decay and finally become obsolete. This leads most Christians to possess a very high view of the New Testament and a lower to very low view of the Old Testament, with some church Pastors almost never referring to the Old Testament at all in their sermons and classes.

As Meier says (pg 78), the “Christian aversion to the Old Testament is not a modern phenomenon.”

Meier spends some time on the “church fathers,” introducing Marcion (the Heretic) who we tend to dismiss but who nevertheless has an echo of influence on the modern Church. And then there’s this:

Marcion’s contemporary Justin Martyr was one of the first to articulate a position of replacement theology, also known as displacement, transfer, or supersessionist theology. Avner Boskey succinctly described this theological stream as “an expression of Gentile triumphalism in the early church.”

-ibid, pg 81

churchThis hasn’t subsequently gone away. Any church that teaches “the Church” is the primary body of Messiah and the center of God’s attention and relegates national Israel and the corporate body of Jewish people to playing second fiddle is an inheritor of “Gentile triumphalism.” And lest you are tempted to include Jews in “the Church,” I must remind you that the price of admission a Jewish person must pay for entry into “the Church” is a surrender of most if not all that makes that individual a Jew, apart from a string of DNA, including any view of the Torah that has the mitzvot remaining relevant and obligatory for a Jew.

If you are thinking the “men of the Reformation” corrected all of the errors that came in before them, think again:

The great reformers Calvin and Luther modified their inherited filter and read the Old Testament in fresh light; unfortunately, they were not able to overcome their inherited tendency to interpret many Old Testament prophecies allegorically.

-ibid, pg 84

Thus the history of the (Gentile) Church, from its very inception in the second century CE into the modern age, has inherited interpretive traditions and structures that are so integrated into general Christian theology and doctrine as to be indistinguishable from actual “God-breathed” scripture itself. My own attempts to summarize Gentile involvement in the New Covenant, which depart from standard Christian fare, illustrate how tightly bound are inherited interpretive tradition in Christianity to what the Bible does and doesn’t say.

If I could give the Meier article to each person reading this review, I would, because it’s just that important to how Christians interpret and (often) misinterpret the Bible. I can’t describe everything Meier wrote, but I can point to a few important matters related to how we generally devalue the Old Testament and build our New Testament “castle” in the clouds with practically no foundation at all.

The Old Testament is a record of the history of the Hebrew people, the history of Israel. A theology in which Israel has no prophetically significant role in the future is a theology in which Israel has no significant role in the present.

-ibid, pg 79

I point you to recent events in Israel to illustrate Christianity’s (or some of its representatives) disdain for the Jewish people as a result of the devaluation of Israel’s history, the Old Testament.

Further:

If all prophecies concerning Israel have been fulfilled in Christ and all that remains to be accomplished is the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth, then there is no difference left between Israel and the church or between Israel and the nations. (emph. mine)

-ibid

Messiah JournalThis is the classic error in much of Christianity including some portions of the Hebrew Roots movement, and their requirement for this lack of distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the body of Messiah necessitates them making artificial, interpretive shifts in their viewpoint of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, to justify their position.

If Israel has been replaced by the church, either through having been deprived of its original identity or else through having been set aside during the so-called church age, then all the prophecies concerning the future of Israel must be divorced from the context in which they were delivered — the context of the greater story of Israel as told by the Old Testament. (emph. mine)

-ibid

Do you see where this is going? Regardless of whether Israel’s original identity as a unique and especially chosen nation, the Jewish nation, is removed (Hebrew Roots/One Law) and/or replaced with a fused Jewish/Gentile identity, or it is set aside during the “church age” (Christianity), the result is exactly the same, and the cause is a misunderstanding and misapprehension of the content and significance of the Old Testament in being the chronicle of God’s covenant relationship with Israel.

When we do not understand the Old Testament on its own terms, it becomes difficult if not impossible to understand God’s nature, plan, and purpose. We find it difficult to explain why God chose one nation through which to reveal his being to the rest of mankind and to express his desire to bring salvation, because we fail to acknowledge the historical reality that Israel and God have been in covenant for millennia and that God chose to reveal the texts of the Old Testament within the context of this covenant relationship.

-ibid, pg 80

And yet, many, many Christians put the New Testament at a far more exalted level than the Old Testament, ironically enough, cutting themselves (or the true understanding of salvation and the Good News of Messiah to Israel and then the nations) off at the knees.

A third problem is that many Christians believe that the Old Testament must be understood through the eyes of the New Testament.

-ibid, pg 82

Abrahamic CovenantI’ve spoken with Christians, both in person and online, who do not believe that any rendition of living relationships and events in the Old Testament have any intrinsic value or meaning, but only exist as “types and shadows” of Jesus and the Church. Some don’t even believe that the people we see in the Old Testament were real people, only “stories” pointing to Jesus. From their perspective, Abraham and Sarah never existed as actual individuals. Neither did Boaz and Ruth. They were mere representatives of Christian redemption and salvation. Only the Church matters, just “me and Jesus”.

An interesting variant of supersessionism is brought out by Meier, one that I hadn’t considered before. Typically, I have run into a replacement theology that says the Church has taken the place of Israel and the Jewish people in all of the covenant promises and blessings. But something else has emerged:

As a result, he now incorporates, as N.T. Wright has put it, “Israel-in-person.” This type of “fulfillment” theology is merely a new incarnation of replacement theology, regardless of what exactly was fulfilled in the life of Jesus…

-ibid, pg 83

I ran into this “Israel-in-person” theology just the other day in the Jesus-believing blogosphere which illustrates that even with the best intentions, and even with believers who have a strongly stated love for Israel and the Jewish people, it is still quite possible to let a deeply underlying tradition and multi-generational history of how we view the Old Testament and consequentially, the Jewish people, distort the reality of God’s New Covenant plan for Israel (and for Gentile Christians), present and future.

You may be thinking that I’m (again) removing the Gentiles from any connectedness to the New Covenant, for it is only through the blessings of that covenant that we may be saved, but look at this:

Jesus stated that he was sent only to the house of Israel, yet he came to prepare that house to carry God’s message to all humanity. This plan was described throughout the Old Testament (for instance, Psalm 87, Isaiah 49;6).

-ibid, pg 85

JudaismThe plan and purpose of Messiah in relation to Israel, the New Covenant, and inclusion of Gentiles can only be properly understood by taking a high view of the Old Testament and being willing to make the Old Testament the foundation of your understanding of the Bible, reading scripture from earlier to later rather from Paul backward. Otherwise, you end up with what Meier calls a “Christianized Jesus” rather than Moshiach, Son of David, the Jewish King.

One of the key points Meier made was:

God revealed his nature and his intentions progressively across the history of Israel. Yet later revelations do not replace earlier ones; rather, they build upon them.

-ibid, pg 86

If you remove the earlier covenants and their conditions in order to “make room” for later ones, you are removing the foundation and framework of the house in order to put on the siding and the roof. You end up with a structure that cannot possibly stand.

Of all the different forms of replacement theology Meier described, I found the following most illuminating as it describes my current church experience:

On the other end of the spectrum, the most conservative scholars take an overly restrictive stance, teaching that one must rely on these kinds of typological interpretations only when the New Testament explicitly confirms them.

-ibid, pg 88

Have you ever heard a Christian Pastor or lay teacher say that commandments in the Old Testament only remain valid for Christians if confirmed in the New Testament? I have. It’s like saying the “sacrament” of marriage remains valid because it was confirmed by Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:8) but keeping Kosher is not, presumably because of Mark 7:19 and Acts 10:15.

Really, who made that rule up? Obviously someone who didn’t believe “all scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). For if all scripture comes from God, and the only Bible Paul had when he wrote those words was the “Old Testament,” then whatever we have in those ancient scriptures can stand on its own “legs” and doesn’t need the writings of the apostles to support it.

sefer torahThere’s a lot more I wish I could share with you about Meier’s article, but this blog post is long enough as it is. I may write one more “meditation” on something Meier said about how much we do (or don’t) translate sections of the Old Testament into the languages of people in other cultures who have never been exposed to the Bible before. How much of the Bible do we really teach them in their own language, and what impact on their understanding of the true Jesus Christ do missionaries impart who not only distort the Old Testament due to their devaluing it, but who actually leave out much or most of the Old Testament books in their work with new disciples of the Master?

I don’t believe Meier is attributing bad motives to Christians who take a low view of the Old Testament. After all, they (we) are doing what Christians have been taught to do for hundreds and hundreds of years, by a tradition that goes back to the early church fathers and was then inherited and re-enforced by the men of the Reformation.

But a low view of the Old Testament means a low view of Israel in God’s past, present, and future plans, and a low view of Israel fragments the foundation upon which the redemption and salvation of Gentile Christianity is supposed to rest. When we disdain the Old Testament and set aside the centrality of Israel, we not only insult God, we destroy our own future in the Kingdom.

This is why I keep on writing as I do. I cannot allow so many believers to innocently, unknowingly face a supposed salvation in which they feel utterly secure, but in reality, one that is constructed firmly on shifting sand.

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Subbotniks, Proselytes, and Messianic Gentiles

I was reminded of this once again when I recently came across some articles on the Russian Subbotniks. The Subbotniks were a break-off group from the Russian Orthodox Church. They observed a seventh day and also faithfully observed the laws of Torah. When researching their account, I was not only intrigued by its many similarities to the situation of increasing numbers of Gentiles disciples of the Master returning to the practice of Torah, but I was also struck by some dangerous pitfalls revealed by their story. If we are not careful, we might fall into the same traps. In that regard, the tale of the Subbotniks is as inspiring as it is cautionary.

-Toby Janicki
“The Subbotniks,” pg 49
Messiah Journal Spring 2014 (115) issue

In 1451, Pope Nicholas V issued a decree forbidding all social contact between Christians and Jews. The Church sought to stop Christian converts to Judaism; throughout Europe, those who did so were liable to the death penalty.

This Day in Jewish History
For 24 Adar 5774 – March 26, 2014

To be honest, I’ve been avoiding reading Toby’s article because the title just didn’t “resonate” with me, but now I’m glad I did. Lately, I’ve been writing about the nature of Messianic Judaism for Jewish people and just how Jewish should Jews in Messianic Judaism be. However, as I’m always reminded, there’s the other side of the coin; Gentiles who remain devoted disciples of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and yet who are also attracted to the practice and/or perspective of Judaism on their (our) faith.

But I included the quote about Pope Nicholas V for a reason. When I first read it a day or so ago, I found myself wondering why this Pope found it necessary to forbid contact between Christians and Jews and why there was such a “problem” with Christians converting to Judaism in 15th century Europe? How many Christians were converting anyway, and why? What was the allure?

I suppose the story of the 18th century Subbotniks might contain part of the answer. It seems that periodically in the history of the Church, some sub-group of Gentile believers breaks off from their local, normative expression of Christianity and either converts to Judaism or, without abandoning their faith in Jesus, begins to take on more “Jewish” practices and perspectives.

Luther’s open letter of 1538 condemning Sabbatarian tendencies among Christians in Silesia and Moravia after 1527 is a key work marking the transition toward the anti-Judaic attitudes of the late Luther. Marked by a new severity toward the Jews on Luther’s part, the letter had its origin in Luther’s response to a new Sabbatarianism arising among radical Protestants, which Luther saw as a victory for Jewish legalism over sound evangelical teachings.

-Dr. Lowell H. Zuck
“Luther’s Writing Against Emerging Sabbatarianism”
ConcordiaTheology.org

Apparently, the Reformation didn’t end of the problem of Christian Sabbatarians anymore than Pope Nicholas did.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

I’ve often thought that the authors of the Reformation didn’t take things far enough. Sure, they stood up against the errors and abuses of the Roman Catholic church as it existed in the 16th century, but they didn’t change as much as you might imagine. They still kept the Sunday worship day and continued to adhere to and enforce theologies and doctrines that were anti-Semitic and anti-Judaism, even accusing “the Jews” of attempting to mislead Christians (probably relative to the Shabbat):

I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that these miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them. I would not have believed that a Christian could be duped by the Jews into taking their exile and wretchedness upon himself. However, the devil is the god of the world, and wherever God’s word is absent he has an easy task, not only with the weak but also with the strong. May God help us. Amen.

-quoted from “The Jews & Their Lies” (1543) by
JewishVirtualLibrary.org

I’ve been accused in the past of bashing Luther a little too hard, so I’ll try to be a little less aggressive here, but the history of Christians being attracted to aspects of Judaism doesn’t seem to be an isolated one.

Why? What’s the attraction?

Initially, these former members of the Christian Church continued to view both the Old and New Testaments as divinely inspired, but they believed that nothing in the New Testament abolished the commandments of the Torah, including the laws of kashrut (dietary laws). While still considering themselves disciples of the Master, the Subbotniks wrestled with the traditional Orthodox Church’s teaching on the Trinity, and they developed some of their own thoughts regarding Christology and Yeshua’s role as a prophet and miracle worker. They also squarely rejected icons and frescoes of the Orthodox Church as idolatrous.

-Janicki, pg 50

shabbos1My guess is when my traditionally Christian readers hit the word “Trinity” in the quote above, you may have decided that the Subbotniks were heretics and wrote them off, but hang in there. Also, for the Protestants out there, you may be thinking that the Subbotnik reaction to the “icons and frescoes” of the Orthodox Church may have been appropriate, but they certainly wouldn’t have that sort of issue with Protestant Christianity today. They certainly wouldn’t have left a (for example) Baptist church to take up Sabbath-keeping, would they?

Having spent some number of years in the Hebrew Roots movement (which meant I also exited traditional Church worship and thought), I’ve interacted with many, many people who “left the Church”. They (we) have a lot of reasons for doing so. For me, it was that the Christian Pastors and church members (Sunday School teachers, rank-and-file in the pews) weren’t able to answer all of my questions about the Bible and why Christians do and teach certain things (a Sunday Sabbath, replacement theology). But some people felt much, much worse about Christianity than I ever imagined.

Some people were actually angry at their former churches and their former Pastors. Some people felt lied to. They had discovered, through various processes, that the New Covenant didn’t say what many churches teach, it isn’t a recipe for replacing Israel with the Church in God’s covenant promises, and it isn’t the “swan song” for the Jewish people and Judaism. Many of these people, and some expressions of Hebrew Roots, attempted to follow a path similar to those of the Subbotniks, remaining believers in Jesus (or Yeshua, if you will), but adopting many of the practices of modern Judaism to varying degrees of observance. The logic is that if the fundamental theology and doctrines of Christianity are wrong because they are anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and misrepresent the “Jewishness” of the foundations of “Christian” faith, the true answer to how we Gentiles are to be devoted disciples of Jesus can only be found by seriously revisiting the first century Judaism of “the Way” and building a worship practice and teaching from there. That point of view also accuses the Reformation of not going far enough or perhaps not going far enough back in time as I previously mentioned.

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

As I quoted Toby saying, the example of the Subbotniks and of all the various non-Jewish groups across history who have devoted themselves to Jesus by devoting themselves to Jewish study and practice is inspiring for modern-day Messianic Gentiles like me, but he also said their story is a cautionary tale.

Toby relates that the Subbotniks were persecuted by the Orthodox Church and the government, but it’s fairly unlikely Messianic Gentiles in the western nations would face the same treatment today. The separation of church and state means the U.S. government has no vested interest in enforcing a state religion as such, and how exactly is a Catholic or Evangelical (or any other kind of) church going to persecute us? No, we won’t be persecuted. Some Christians and some Churches are actually curious about Messianics. Up to a certain point, they find it interesting or even a little fascinating to be just a little more “Jewish” as Gentile Christians and to even “allow” a certain level of Jewish practice among Jewish believers.

But when they finally grasp just how people like me think Jewish believers should be completely Jewish, these Christians back off while rapidly raising their “you’re under the Law” shields. Even Christians like me, who don’t have a significant “Jewish” practice but who utilize a Messianic Jewish informational and educational platform in interpreting the Bible, are at best thought of as intelligent but mistaken and at worst as a member of a cult or even a heretic (what do you mean “the Law” wasn’t nailed to the cross with Jesus?).

But Toby’s right. Messianic Gentiles walk a fine line, at least potentially. We must never mistake Jewish perspective or Jewish practice as the object of our faith. The true focus must be Messiah as the “doorway” by which we may approach the Throne of God.

At the same time, the story of the Subbotniks cautions us about potential pitfalls. What began as a life-giving revelation ended in causing the people to deny Yeshua as Messiah — the very one who had brought them to the truth. This story is not just an interesting footnote for the history of religion. Both Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement face the same issues today that the Subbotniks did.

-Janicki, pg 57

I don’t have any numbers to draw from, but anecdotal information suggests more than a few Gentiles in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements have “swung to the other side,” so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism. One of the best arguments “the Church” has to dissuade Gentiles from becoming involved in Jewish practices and studies is the danger of apostasy and conversion. This is as big a problem now as it was five-hundred years ago. The understanding that the Church labors under a set of misunderstandings, some of which go back to the very foundations of (Gentile) Christianity, creates the false impression that Christianity is bad and Judaism is good.

jewish-traditionI’m not denigrating Judaism, but I am saying that, for my part, it is a lens through which I gain a clearer (in my opinion) focus on what the Bible is actually trying to say, and a better view of the original intent of the Bible writers including the ever controversial Apostle Paul. One of the reasons I limit my “Jewish” practice is to avoid falling into the trap that captured the Subbotniks and that pulls many believers out of Yeshua-faith and into conversion to normative Judaism every year (I should say though, that it’s not my only reason).

In my opinion, Messianic Gentiles will continue to struggle with our own “identity” issues, regardless of whether we find ourselves in a Messianic Jewish synagogue or a traditional church. I’ve participated in adding some resources to a website called MessianicGentiles.com, created by Rabbi David Rudolph, in order to assist in building a positive identity for people like me. While I believe that it is vital for Jews in Messianic Judaism to have authentic Jewish community in the movement so as to not be cut off from larger Jewry, just like Messianic Jews, Messianic Gentiles must never forget that the central focus of our faith is not our practice but the Messiah.

If Judaism were the focus, then Jews in Messianic Judaism could find community in any synagogue of any of the other branches of Judaism. And if Judaism were the focus for Gentiles, then our answer would be to convert to some branch of normative Judaism and that would be that.

But then we end up denying the Master, Yeshua…Jesus. Having come this far under difficult circumstances, being dismissed by other Christians, trying to help our families understand why we do what we do, being accused of being “wannabe Jews,” are we to fail now in our faith and apostatize by becoming Jewish proselytes and casting Messiah aside like an old love affair?

Christianity’s Love for Israel and Other Pretty Lies

Christians love IsraelI just read a profound essay on the relations between Christians and Jews in America, Why Don’t Jews Like the Christians Who Like Them? by James Q. Wilson. It’s deep, thoughtful, intriguing and asks a very legitimate, even existential question.

Wilson, who passed away in 2012, was a favorite of American conservatives, especially since he is considered the father of the “broken windows theory.” On the unusual relationship between evangelicals and Jews he wrote:

Evangelical Christians have a high opinion not just of the Jewish state but of Jews as people. That Jewish voters are overwhelmingly liberal doesn’t seem to bother evangelicals, despite their own conservative politics. Yet Jews don’t return the favor: in one Pew survey, 42 percent of Jewish respondents expressed hostility to evangelicals and fundamentalists. As two scholars from Baruch College have shown, a much smaller fraction—about 16 percent—of the American public has similarly antagonistic feelings toward Christian fundamentalists.

While conceding that “it is quite possible that Orthodox Jews welcome evangelical support while Reform and secular ones oppose it,” Wilson nevertheless tries to explain this phenomenon from conservative eyes…

-Yori Hanover
“Must Jews Dislike the Christians who like Them?”
JewishPress.com, Originally published Jan. 7, 2014

I read this article with interest mixed with a dash of dismay. It’s the Jewish voice saying to evangelicals, “Yes, like us, love us, just keep your Christianity to yourselves.” That’s actually a reasonable request from a Jewish point of view. To punctuate that statement, here’s more of Hanover’s commentary:

As an observant Jew, I endorse all the facts in Wilson’s article, and offer an honest, heartfelt response. Accounting only for my own feelings, but certain they are common to many Jews like myself, I must tell Evangelicals: You annoy the goal post hockey stick hockey stick out of us.

For a Christian, to love someone is inseparable from sharing with that person (or group) the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the message of personal salvation, the invitation to convert to Christianity and to share the blessings of a risen Jesus.

But for nearly two thousand years, that invitation of Christians to Jews has been seen by Jewish populations as an extreme threat, in many cases resulting in pogroms, torture, maimings, and murder. While such violent means are not currently employed against Jews (and others) by “the Church,” the “racial memory” in Jewry is long and intransigent. Most Christians are so inured, so hopelessly devoted to the system of the “salvation plan” for everyone (especially Jews), that they can’t see why Jewish people feel so threatened by the “love” of Jesus Christ.

Hanover goes on to say:

I have no problem with your discovering Jesus and embracing Jesus and putting your faith in Jesus – I actually support that.

But why can’t you keep it to yourselves? Why must you insist that I, too, reject my grandfather’s Torah, stop praying the way my family has done since the minus fifteen hundreds, and accept your Jesus, and in my heart, no less?

I suppose I could invoke the modern Messianic Jewish movement and the Messianic Jewish luminaries of the 19th century, but it would still be difficult to break through the preconceptions most Jewish people have about Jews who actually have come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, as Hanover describes:

The majority of you don’t speak Hebrew well enough to even understand my Bible, never mind assert foolish things about prophecies predicting Jesus. And those of you who do have a half decent command of Biblical Hebrew either lack the scholarship to understand why those “proofs” are idiotic, or are outright swindlers, looking to mislead innocent, ignorant Jews.

judeo-christianFrom necessity, normative religious Jews must believe that any Jewish person who has converted to Christianity is ignorant of the truth of the Jewish scriptures, and thus easily swayed by the inaccurate Christian interpretation of said-scriptures. Worse, some Christians are characterized as “outright swindlers,” wolves in sheep’s clothing, out to do what the Holocaust started, destroy Jews and Judaism, not by murdering Jewish people in gas chambers, but turning them from Jews into Goyishe Christians, effectively reducing or eliminating the remaining Jewish population of our planet.

In other words, while I and my fellow faithful Jews like the fact that the next pogrom will not come from an Evangelical torch and pitchfork crowd, we still don’t trust you. You can’t say you love me for who I am, because who I am includes a thorough rejection of the essence of your ideology, all of it, completely, I hold that there’s no truth to it whatsoever.

I’m sure it must be painful for many Christians who authentically love Israel and the Jewish people to discover that you (we) are not trusted by the objects of your (our) love for the reasons I’ve stated above and for the reasons Hanover outlines.

And this is an amazing follow-up question:

Now do you love me? Do you love me in a future in which Jesus doesn’t come, and you continue to hold on to your faith, and I to mine?

Christianity, and I include the Hebrew Roots movement and all of its divisions here, loves the Jewish people only as long as the Jewish people are Christians/Messianics. We talk about love of Jews but those are only the Jewish people we know and who we imagine believe and think about God, Messiah, and the Bible the same way we do.

But what if they don’t or worse, what if Jewish people who were once Christians or Messianics leave the fold?

I previously wrote a blog post on this topic called Apostasy, Pentecostalism, and Other Things That Go “Bump” in the Night that took heavy criticism in multiple arenas of the “believing” world. One reason I was criticized was because the author of a blog significantly disapproving of Jewish “apostates” (from Christianity) said he was only looking “at several examples of apostasy among friends and family, and what steps we can take to strengthen faith.”

However, that can be taken as, “I love the Jewish people and Israel only as long as they profess faith in Jesus Christ, and the minute they undergo a crisis of faith, and for any reason whatsoever leave the faith (in Christ), I will publicly brand them with a scarlet letter ‘A’ and make an already agonizing personal and spiritual situation and decision more difficult and embarrassing for each and every one of them.”

I included commentary on John MacArthur and his Strange Fire conference in my previous blog post because I believe MacArthur’s approach to Charismatics/Pentecostals was in the same vein, as if he were saying, “I love you but if you fail to accept my interpretation of your religious practices, I will ‘demonize’ the whole lot of you as publicly as possible.”

I consider the conference and book, Gifts of the Spirit produced by First Fruits of Zion to be a much more measured and reasonable approach to the issues raised in an examination of those “gifts of the spirit,” but where is the more reasonable Christian/Hebrew Roots approach to the world of non-Messianic Jews?

Stuart DauermannDo we love those Jewish people and that Israel? Is our “love” so conditional that we automatically condemn and defame the majority of Jewish people living on the earth? Do we defame and humiliate their ancestors, from the great Rabbinic sages to the lowly Jewish farmers or shepherds who were struggling to barely support their families in some part of Eastern Europe or Russia while, Tevye-like, they all opened their hearts to the God of their fathers?

I previously reviewed Dr. Stuart Dauermann’s article “The Jewish People are Us — not Them,” written for the Fall 2013 issue of Messiah Journal where part of this concern is addressed.

It’s tragic to imagine that Jews who have come to faith in Jesus within a traditional Evangelical or Pentecostal framework assign the identity of “otherness” to their Jewish brothers and sisters who are not Christian/Messianic. It’s as if, even from a believing Jewish perspective, faith in Jesus Christ separates a Jew from the larger Jewish community and Judaism rather than expressing the height of what it is to be a Jew.

Of course, Christianity and Judaism have traveled wildly differing trajectories over the past twenty centuries or so, but if Gentile and Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah are ever to experience any unity before the throne of the King of the Jews in the Messianic Era, then those trajectories must be reunited.

In reading Hanover’s article, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the different spiritual trajectories traveled by me, a Christian husband, and my spouse, a Jewish wife. For her, like Hanover, any overt “Christianity” must “annoy the goal post hockey stick hockey stick out of” her.

If it were just a matter of me being “annoying” to Jewish people because I’m a Christian, I could cure that in an instant by withdrawing from any contact with the Jewish community (although I must say that currently, I am not involved in any sense), but this is personal and this is family.

To be fair, my wife accepts and shares my viewpoint on supporting Israel and sends me emails and even the occasional religious/rabbinic commentary if she thinks I’ll find it interesting. But I can’t get past the idea that she must think she’s “sleeping with the enemy,” so to speak.

I don’t know. My faith says that I must share the truth of the good news of the Messiah with everyone. Further, as I’ve stated many times on this blog, I believe the good news is actually good news to the Jews first, and then also to the Gentiles (though “the Church” has this completely backward).

If I were to follow the “apostasy police” model, I’d have to offer my wife a divorce since she refused to “convert to Christianity,” as well and embarrass her in as public a manner as possible, all for the sake of “love” and “strengthening the faith” of my fellow Gentile and Jewish believers.

But I’m not going to do that, not to Jewish friends and absolutely not to my Jewish family. I’ve already said that if the Apostle Paul never abandoned his unbelieving brothers and sisters, I certainly don’t think God left them in the dust either:

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:1-5 (NASB)

But intermarriage, just like an “interfaith” community, doesn’t come without strings attached, as Hanover concludes:

But you must keep your missionary urges to yourselves. You can even lie to me and say you don’t have them – I’ll accept it. I’ll lie to you in return and say that my tradition says your teachings have value. We can co-exist this way for generations, bettering our societies and contributing good to the world. (emph. mine)

Just do something about your impulse to convert me.

In 1970, singer Joni Mitchell wrote a song called The Last Time I Saw Richard which includes the lyrics:

You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies pretty lies

Joni MitchellI can’t stop being who I am and that’s a disciple of the Master, King of the Jews, and I can’t stop walking the path that the Master has set before me, but I won’t let that path take me into the fork in the road that leads to “crypto-anti-Semitism,” either. So what’s left? Unlike the person in Mitchell’s song, I can’t shut out reality and listen to “pretty lies” about the peaceful co-existence between Christians and Jews, and I do believe there will be a co-participation between Jews and Gentiles in the future Messianic Kingdom (and if it be Hashem’s will, before).

Maybe the modern Messianic Jewish movement is the “first fruits” of that “re-unity,” but I have to believe that, both personally and corporately, we still have a long way to go before the love of many Christian/Hebrew Roots folks for the Jewish people and Israel is more than just a “pretty lie” with strings attached.

I know this all sounds very cynical, but if you are a non-Jewish believer who says you love the Jewish people and Israel, remember that for the most part, those people and that nation may not love you in return and may never desire to hear the “good news of Jesus Christ.”

Tell me, do you still love them? Do you still accept them unconditionally as who they are, knowing they believe that Jesus could never, ever be the Messiah?

I didn’t plan on writing this “meditation.” I didn’t want to open up wounds that never seem to quite heal, especially in public. But the scabs keep getting picked at whether I want them to be or not.

The Jewish People are Us — not Them: Commentary on Dauermann in Messiah Journal 114

stuart_dauermannSecond, I will briefly outline the biblical concept of Achdut Yisra’el — the unity of the Jewish people — and explain theologically why the Jewish people are “us,” not “them.” Third, I will seek to establish the connection between Achdut Yisra’el and Ahavat Yisra’el — love for one’s fellow Jew.

-Stuart Dauermann, PhD
“The Jewish People are Us — not Them,” pg 55
Messiah Journal Issue 114/Fall 2013

I previously said this was one of the Messiah Journal (MJ) articles I wanted to address in more detail and I’ve finally been able to delve into it.

I won’t dissect the entire write up, but there was a section that especially got my attention: A Biblical and Theological Basis for the Jewish People Being “Us,” not “Them”. Critics of Messianic Judaism in general and what Haim Ben Haim called Postmissionary Messianic Judaism (PMJ) in his article (referencing Mark Kinzer’s book, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People) in particular say, that Messianic Jews put their ethnicity above the Bible, the Messiah, and God. They say that Messianic Judaism places Jewish tradition and commentary above the authority of the inspired Word of God, and that the Bible is less important to them than the Mishnah.

So naturally, I was curious as to how Dr. Dauermann was going to present the Biblical basis for Messianic Jews being part and parcel of the larger Jewish world and of Israel. However, to comprehend this, we have to back up a bit in Dauermann’s article to understand more about where he’s coming from.

On page 57 of his rather ample essay, Dauermann quotes Tsvi Sadan’s paper “Keruv as Guiding Principle for Proclamation of the Good News,” presented at the Borough Park Symposium, East Elmhurst, NY, 8-10 October 2007:

I started to see the world as divided into two groups of people: the good guys — the “believers” — and the bad guys — the “non-believers.” Among the “bad guys” were, of course, the Catholics and … Protestant denominations that did not cater to my newly acquired Evangelical mindset. In this tightly knit scheme I viewed the “non-believing” Jews in the same way I viewed any other infidel, be they Muslims, Presbyterians, or Buddhists.

Dauermann comments on Sadan’s statement, also on page 57:

How tragic and shameful that a Sabra like Tsvi came to view his fellow Israeli Jews as “other,” believing that only a very narrow band of Christians, defined in a sectarian manner, deserved the status of “us.”

I read a terrible irony in Dr. Dauermann’s words because there are so many Gentile Christians in the world (including, strangely enough, those in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements) who look at non-believing Jews not only as “other,” but as “bad guys,” quite the contrary to what God said to Abraham:

And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.

Genesis 12:3

The term “am echad” appears four times in the Tanach, providing a cluster of insights foundational to our concept of Achdut Yisra’el.

-Dauermann, pg 57

Unity of the Jewish people. The first time in the Tanakh we see “am echad,” according to Dauermann, was in reference to the people building the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 34:16, we see the term in reference to the people of Shechem having their men circumcised and becoming “one people” with Jacob’s family.

It is crucial to see here that brit milah is not simply a covenant with HaShem. It also makes us am echad with all others in that covenant. We tend to miss this in Scripture, even though it is there. Conditioned by post-Enlightenment presuppositions, we miss the horizontal nature of the covenant that binds us together as one people…

-ibid, pg 58

Dauermann is establishing linkage that should be obvious but isn’t, relative to Yeshua-faith. Jewish people are the only population born into a covenant relationship with God and with each other. Regardless of the circumstances and beliefs of any individual Jewish person, that person can never become “unJewish,” and can never surrender their connection to other Jewish people and to God, even if they sincerely want to. And yet, for nearly two-thousand years, the Christian Church has demanded that Jewish believers in Jesus do just that if they want to join the community of faith. If God were capable of being confused, I could imagine Him being confused by watching Jewish people claim a covenant connection with him through Christ while disengaging themselves from the Mosaic covenant and from almost all there Jewish communities on earth. Paul didn’t have to do that. Why should any other believing Jew?

In this section of his argument for the Messianic Jewish people considering larger Judaism as “us,” Dauermann provides a handy bullet point list illustrating “am echad:”

  • A family
  • In covenant with God
  • In covenant with each other
  • Sharing a unique body of laws, and thus strengthened by common obedience
  • Sharing a common language, and thus strengthened by good communication
  • Sharing a homeland where they either live, or from which they are dispersed
  • Empowered by unity, weakened by division

rashiI’d have to say this is “am echad” in its ideal sense. Although the covenant blessings and responsibilities in the first two points exist, not all Jewish people, Messianic or otherwise, acknowledge these relationships. That certainly would affect the third bullet point as well. Not all Jews share Hebrew (or Yiddish) as a common language, but I will admit that when a Jew beings to engage the larger community, language is one of the first things they address. I know I’ve seen The Joys of Yiddish sitting by my wife’s chair in the living room from time to time.

The homeland exists, but many Jewish people are quite comfortable in the diaspora and both they and the Land of Israel itself will remain in exile until Messiah comes and brings all of his people, the Jewish people, back to their home.

And yes, Jewish people everywhere are weakened when lack of unity exists.

Rashi infers that at Sinai, Israel was “ke’ish echad blev echad/like one person with one heart.” By this comment, he bears witness to the centrality of unity as a core value of Jewish community, and furthermore, that this unity arises from our covenantal relationship with HaShem and therefore with each other. The ideal of Jewish life is that all Jews should live “ke’ish echad blev echad.”

-ibid, 58-9

The connection of the Jewish people to each other is tied to the connection the Jewish people have with God. The two relationships are inseparable and, if you are born Jewish, inescapable.

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NASB)

The Master makes a parallel statement using the same linkage. One does not love God without loving his fellow, which in the case of the Jewish community, is your fellow Jew, “Ahavat Yisra’el.”

Adonai said, “Should I hide from Avraham what I am about to do, inasmuch as Avraham is sure to become a great and strong nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by him? For I have made myself known to him, so that he will give orders to his children and to his household after him to keep the way of Adonai and to do what is right and just, so that Adonai may bring about for Avraham what he has promised him.” (emph. added)

Genesis 18:17-19 (CJB)

Dauermann inserted this quote into his article to establish another, very vital point to his argument.

Here already, in Genesis, Torah theologizes that this “am echad” will be characterized by obedience to the body of law. Furthermore, in chapter 26, HaShem tells Yitzchak (Isaac) that he will multiply his descendants and give all these lands to those descendants “because Avraham heeded what I said and did what I told him to do: he followed my mitzvot, my regulations and teachings” (Genesis 26:5 CJB). Here again we see, even in a foreshadowing of that other basis of Achdut Yisra’el, the covenant with our people at Sinai.

-Dauermann, pg 59

I know you might be thinking that Dauermann is stretching his point, since the Torah had yet to be given, but he continues:

In parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20), HaShem confirms the Mosaic (or Sinaitic) Covenant, stating, “But I am not making this covenant and this oath only with you. Rather, I am making it both with him who is standing here with us today before Adonai our God and also with him who is not here with us today.” (Deuteronomy 29:14-15 [13-14], CJB).

-ibid

Torah at SinaiNot only covenant belonging and covenant relationship, but covenant obedience are the “common currency” among the Jewish people, at least in the idealized expression of God’s intent for Israel.

I’ve said before that it was always God’s intent to carry the covenant forward, not just in the immediate sense of Sinai, but extending into future history, across all of the unborn generations of Jewish people down the timeline, everywhere, including every Jewish person alive today.

Dauermann continues with this thought invoking Jewish tradition which says, “All Israel is responsible for one another” — kol Yisra’el averim zeh bazeh. He goes on to say:

Because we have been brought into covenant with God, we are therefore inescapably in covenant with one another, and as such, we are each and all responsible for one another. For this reason, even if for no others, the Jewish people are “us,” and not — no, never — “them.”

-ibid

I know what you’re thinking. Well, no I don’t, but I can imagine. I can imagine someone reading this will say that they’ve read stories of terrific conflicts between secular Jews and the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel and elsewhere. Dauermann spends some time going into this, addressing even the worst of these conflicts as “family fights.” Sometimes families fight terribly, even to the point of violence, but they are still family.

But the one thing that can separate Jewish people the most is faith in Jesus:

Tsvi Sadan as well as the Hashivenu leadership group and many others have been conditioned to think of our fellow Jews as strangers, and “them,” as no longer fully our brothers and sisters. Messianic Jews are conditioned to think of other Jews as simply “unsaved Jews” who remain familiar strangers to us unless and until they accept Christ.

-ibid, pg 60

At this point, although the overriding emphasis of Dauermann’s article was on Jewish interrelationships, being Messianic notwithstanding, I started to wonder how all of this would affect the bond between Messianic Jew and believing Gentile, the bond we should also share as disciples of Moshiach and co-participants in the blessings (and there’s always the competing dynamic created between focus on Judaism and Jewish belonging vs. focus on Messiah as the very core of Jewish and Gentile faith).

Dauermann continued in his article discussing how the Jews in the Messianic community needed to return to being “ke-ish echad blev echad” — one person with one heart — with the larger Jewish community. He cited Jeremiah 32:39 in describing how God would give Israel “one heart,” and Ezekiel 36:26 in saying God would put a new spirit within Israel and give them a “heart of flesh.” Even Acts 4:32 speaks of the Jewish believers having “one heart and soul.”

Dauermann built up such a strong interconnection between and within the Jewish community, across all belief systems and lifestyles, that even I started stumbling over the following:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded 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 formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 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 2:11-16 (NASB)

The linkage goes both directions. Yes, I believe that Jews in Messiah are still Jews, not just in terms of a string of DNA, but in terms of covenant connectedness to God and to all other Jewish people, but that doesn’t mean the body of Messiah, which contains both Jews and Gentiles, is so much chopped liver. Dauermann’s article doesn’t bring this issue up at all, probably because it is out of the scope of his topic, but ultimately, you can’t establish Jewish “Us-ness” between Messianic and all other Jews without also explaining how the body of Messiah is supposed to work.

That, I suppose, is yet to come.

At this point, although Dauermann is still writing within the “Biblical” section of his article, he seems to depart from it quite a bit, although I can see his point:

Often such a cry for being “biblical and nothing but biblical” is code language for eagerness to reject tradition. But every community has its traditions, even those that imagine themselves to be based on nothing but the Bible. And the traditions of men are not wrong except when they are used to displace or annul the commandments of God. Yeshua himself urged keeping of Jewish traditions when he urged the scribes and Pharisees as a class to remember the centrality of justice, mercy, and faith without neglecting their extra-biblical traditions (tithing mint, dill, and cumin, something never commanded in the Torah) (from Matthew 23:23).

-ibid, pp 61-2

jewish-traditionI know what my Pastor would say, but I have to agree with Dauermann. Even in Fundamentalist Christianity, there are many traditions, including those that say there are no traditions, and those that say Biblical interpretation is based on the Bible alone without an intervening historical and traditional lens being employed.

Still the path will feel “dangerous” for a lot of Christians who have had it drilled into their heads that Jewish traditions, the “traditions of men,” are bad, bad, bad.

The last, or almost the last, Biblical reference Dauermann makes is this:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

This is Dauermann telling us that even Messiah did not call for an end to the Torah until heaven and earth pass away. I know that many Christians, including my Pastor still can’t accept this, so I’ll point all interested parties to the First Fruits of Zion television program and specifically to the episode The Torah is Not Canceled, rather than try to include all of the article’s supporting points here.

The very last point Dauermann made was this:

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20 (NASB)

In context, a Jewish believer cannot say he loves God if he hates his fellow (non-believing) Jew. This, of course, takes us back all the way to the Torah again:

…you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18 (NASB)

Was Dr. Dauermann successful in establishing that the Jewish community is to be considered as “Us” among Messianic Jews and not “Them” as a founded in the Bible? I’m not sure. I can see the trail of Dauermann’s logic, but it doesn’t lead just through the Bible. There’s a realm you enter that encompasses all things Jewish and Judaism that leaves the existence of tangible things and becomes spiritual and metaphysical. I can’t go very far into that realm because I’m not Jewish, but even I, a Goy, can see the shimmering threads of covenant and community linking one Jew to another. Some Jews may choose to disregard those threads, but they exist anyway, even if only in the will of God rather than the vision of men.

Fundamentalists are uncomfortable with spirituality except on its most surface levels, but where, after all, does God exist? Where, after all, does “the Church” expect to be “raptured?” How can fundamentalist Christianity deny something upon which they depend so much, even if only in a dim, Messianic future.

Being Jewish (I can only imagine) is a lived, experiential existence. Certainly Jews all over the world don’t experience the same Jewish life, but that’s why it will be necessary for Messiah to gather in all the exiles, physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, of Israel, give them one heart and one spirit, and remind them of who they are. Scripture even says that one of the jobs of the Gentile nations will be to convey and escort the exiled Jews back to Israel.

There’s something in Dr. Dauermann’s article that serves as a reminder for the Messianic Jewish community, to remember who they are, to remember that they are first and foremost Jews. They chose the path of Messiah, but they are still Jews and the path of Messiah is a Jewish path. Messianic Jews are just as much a Jewish people as those who have not (as yet) seen that Yeshua is indeed the Son of David and the firstborn of Israel.

But once a Jewish Messianic comes to this realization, how does he relate to Gentile believers, or does he? This is a question that remains. Maybe it’s important for modern Messianic Jews to re-capture what Paul experienced in his journey within and between Jewish and Gentile worlds. Paul was a zealous Jew, “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6).

And on his path, whether among his fellow Jews or among the Goyim, the central focus of Paul’s entire life and ministry was not on either tradition or lifestyle, but above all else, on Messiah…on Yeshua.

Once modern Messianic Jews within a Postmissionary Messianic Jewish (PMJ) framework arrive at where Paul was, maybe how Paul managed to also negotiate the world of Gentile believers while fully retaining his identity as a Jew and as Israel will become apparent.

Fidelity: Commentary on Haim and Dauermann in Messiah Journal 114

mj114Some years ago Dr. Mark S. Kinzer coined a term for the new and revolutionary approach that many Jewish followers of Yeshua have adopted in regard to their relationship with Judaism. The term “post missionary Messianic Judaism” (PMJ) initially caused ripples that have grown into waves and that we are bringing about a paradigm shift among Messianic Jews. The PMJ paradigm sets a new trajectory for the community of Jewish followers of Yeshua, establishing its role within Judaism and its partnership with the faithful among the nations. In this article, I will attempt to convey my understanding of PMJ, its crucial role, and its ramifications or the Messianic movement.

-Haim Ben Haim
“Postmissionary Messianic Judaism in Practice,” pg 42
Messiah Journal Issue 114/Fall 2013

The Jewish people are “us,” not “them.”

-Dr. Stuart Dauermann
“The Jewish People are Us — not Them,” pg 55
Messiah Journal Issue 114/Fall 2013

Both Haim and Dauermann have written long and densely packed articles on interlocking topics for First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) current issue of their landmark periodical, Messiah Journal. I have to admit that with my busy work, writing, and reading schedule this past week, I’ve only had the opportunity to scan their write ups. I’m looking forward to giving them the attention they deserve and perhaps even composing a more detailed review.

However, I noted that Haim provided something that may be useful in my weekly meetings with My Pastor. Pastor has repeatedly asked what the current function and use of the Torah is in the lives of the Jewish people, particularly Messianic Jews. It is his opinion that the Torah, however it may be defined, has limited to no use in the current age thanks to the classic Christian interpretation of key passages in the letters of Paul.

Not being Jewish and certainly not being a Torah observant Messianic Jew, it’s difficult for me to articulate the lived experience between the Jewish people and the mitzvot. Pastor lived in Israel for fifteen years, so if either one of us should have the experience of observing the relationship between the Torah and the descendants of the children of Israel, it should be him. However, Orthodox Judaism and the myriad complexities of modern Torah observance, have become a major stumbling block. It’s time to make things a little more manageable.

The implementation of PMJ involves all parts of Jewish life. By way of example, we will briefly consider a few of those institutions that comprise the life of a healthy, vibrant Jewish community: Shabbat observance, festivals, kashrut, traditional prayer, the Torah service, gemilut chasidim, tikkun olam, solidarity within modern Israel, the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, outreach, and Jewish education.

-Haim, ibid pg 48

In a nutshell, this list is a very good place to start in explaining the role of Torah in the life of a Messianic Jew who is facing his faith in Messiah as a Judaism rather than a Christianity.

jewish-christian-intermarriageI won’t attempt to replicate all of the details regarding each of these institutions and elements of Jewish life and community and encourage you to get a hold of a copy of Messiah Journal and pour over these intricacies yourself. Two-thousand years of Gentile Christianity in all of its forms have cemented the idea that the worship of the God of Israel and having faith in the Jewish Messiah King are completely non-Jewish for both Gentiles and the Jewish people, thus any Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah must, by (Christian) definition, renounce all of Judaism and being Jewish (with perhaps some lip service relative to being a “Hebrew Christian”) and emulate the Goyim.

This is not the way it was prior to the destruction of Herod’s Temple and it is my firm belief it will not be that way when Messiah returns. Christians will have much to repent of on the day Moshiach ascends the throne of David in Jerusalem.

To put a different slant on the topic, Dr. Dauermann (pp 55-6) offers seven core values designed to shape a mature Messianic Judaism:

  1. Messianic Judaism is a Judaism and not a cosmetically altered “Jewish-style” version of what is extant in the wider Christian community.
  2. God’s particular relationship with Israel is expressed in the Torah, God’s unique covenant with the Jewish people.
  3. Yeshua is the fullness of Torah.
  4. The Jewish people are “us,” not “them.”
  5. The richness of the rabbinic tradition is a valuable part of our heritage as Jewish people.
  6. Because all people are created in the image of God, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for him. Therefore, true piety cannot exist apart from human decency.
  7. Maturation requires a humble openness to new ideas within the context of firmly held convictions.

Although Dr. Dauermann’s article focuses on the fourth principle in his list, I want to touch briefly on the third element: Yeshua (Jesus) is the fullness of Torah.

When My Pastor hears that Jesus fulfilled the Torah, he understands that to mean once Jesus arrived, the Torah was no longer necessary and thus was rendered inert, at least until such time as Ezekiel’s Temple is rebuilt and the numerous prophecies in the Tanakh require all of Israel to resume the Temple service and most if not all of the other mitzvot.

I’ve tried in different ways (unsuccessfully) to reframe “fulfilled” in this context, but the other night, unable to sleep, inspiration seized me.

You may not be old enough to remember a television commercial for Memorex tape cassettes featuring the wonderful Ella Fitzgerald. The commercial played part of a song recorded by Ms. Fitzgerald and then the artist herself singing the same notes (I’m writing this from decades old memory and only later did I insert the link below to the actual video), apparently shuttering a glass in the process. The idea was to show that the fidelity of the recording was so near the original (Ms. Fitzgerald’s actual voice) that it too could shatter glass. The tagline for the commercial was, Is it live or is it Memorex (link to YouTube video).

If the recording of Ms. Fitzgerald singing is high fidelity, it is still not her. It is as if the recording “points” to her, the perfect original. In singing live, you might say Ms. Fitzgerald “fulfills” the recording, since she is the perfect and absolute embodiment of what was recorded on tape.

ella_fitzgeraldThis doesn’t render the recording useless and inert. After all, how many of us could simply accompany Ms. Fitzgerald around all of the time in the hopes she would burst into song? However, we can carry around a recording of her music so that we can access and enjoy her singing at will.

Like Ms. Fitzgerald (in a sense), Yeshua is the original, the perfect observer of Torah, the absolute firstborn Son of Israel, the goal all other Jewish believers aim toward in their lives, their righteousness, and their observance of the mitzvot. Like Memorex, no Jewish person is quite like the original, but the goal is to achieve as high a fidelity to that original as possible.

I like to compare our work at First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David to that of carpenters building a home. After all, we are disciples of a carpenter.

Our work can be compared to a building contractor who builds a “Spec” home. A “Spec” home is built on “speculation.” In other words, a builder builds a home with the features he believes will eventually appeal to buyers, but he has no guarantee of a sale. Years ago, on a conference call, my colleague D.T. Lancaster encouraged our staff to take a high view of Messianic Judaism. It is easy to get discouraged with the circus of mayhem and competing religious ideologies that calls itself Messianic Judaism. My colleague said, “When we speak of Messianic Judaism we always speak of the ideal — the way it should be. When we create our resources we create materials for a community that does not yet exist — but the materials will help to bring it into existence.”

-Boaz Michael from the Director’s Letter
“Unless the LORD Builds the House”
Messiah Journal 114, pg 8

When I speak in glowing terms of Messianic Judaism, either online or in person, I am sometimes accused of speaking to a fantasy rather than the lived reality we currently experience. This is not quite true however. I take some solace in Boaz’s words that in my attempting to uplift both the principles and practice of Messianic Judaism for Jewish believers, I am in some manner, summoning the future while living in the present. I am addressing the ideal as it will be when Messiah returns, rather than the imperfection we see in the world today.

But I have to start somewhere.

You’re on the right path. Dividing a mitzvah into small steps makes the goal much more attainable. Taking things slowly also adds the important element of stability to your journey towards living a Torah lifestyle.

But don’t look at it as a compromise. Here’s why:

Suppose an adult wishes to learn a new language. Would he be compromising his mission by beginning with basic simple words? What about a child beginning the study of math. Is he compromising by starting with simple arithmetic?

Of course not. It is quite clear that neither “c‑a‑t spells cat” nor 2 + 2 = 4 is the ultimate goal. But they are necessary steps in the right direction.

Mitzvahs are no different.

Regarding mitzvahs, there’s an additional component: Torah is not all or nothing. Each mitzvah is a full-blown relationship with the One Above. Each time we eat kosher, each time we put on tefillin, each time we observe Shabbat, something extraordinary occurs.

-Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar
“Can I Go Kosher at My Own Pace?”
Chabad.org

going_kosherI can only imagine that it may be rather daunting for a Jewish person attempting to improve his or her observance of the mitzvot. If you didn’t grow up in an observant home but you want to live a lifestyle more consistent with the Torah, how do you approach it? If you want to start keeping kosher, do you have to rush out and buy all new pots, pans, and dishes, learn the procedure for kashering your kitchen, and make an immediate and 100% transition between one day and the next?

Rabbi Cotlar’s advice is plain and comforting and it speaks of a Jewish believer’s approach to Messianic Judaism. You have to start somewhere. You don’t have to have perfect or even high fidelity to the original right away.

While Haim, Dauerman, and Boaz (and Rabbi Cotlar) are speaking to a primarily Jewish audience, I want to speak to the Christians (including those in the various branches of the Hebrew Roots movement) who have been critical of Messianic Judaism in general and the PMJ approach in particular. That Jewish people in the Messianic movement aren’t “perfect” in their observance is no grounds for throwing the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.

The Torah isn’t all or nothing (and I know someone is going to erroneously reference James 2:10 which only applies if you are attempting to justify yourself before God by your Torah observance, not if you are observing the mitzvot already “saved by faith”). Children growing up in a Jewish home are not expected to master all of the mitzvot by the time they’re toilet trained. Any learning is a slow, developmental progression.

And yet Christianity criticizes and judges Messianic Judaism for an imperfect Jewish lifestyle and thus deems the Torah obsolete, as if we have the right to make such a decision.

Twenty centuries ago, the Jewish religious stream of “the Way,” at the direction of Messiah and by approval of the Holy Spirit, commanded the Jewish disciples to do something that had never been done before. For the first time in history, Gentiles were allowed entry into a Jewish religious stream without having to convert to Judaism and accept the same Torah obligations as the Jewish disciples. Christianity wasn’t “Christianity,” it was one among many Jewish religious streams operating in Israel and the diaspora.

The Jewish disciples of the Master were Jewish and part of Israel. They related to other Jews as “us” not as “them.” The real challenge was to figure out how to bring the Gentiles, the “them” in the community, into salvation alongside the Jewish members of the body of Messiah. Ultimately, the fabric within the community of “the Way” frayed and unraveled, separating into the Christian “us” and the Jewish “them.” The Gentiles rewrote the rules in their (our) own image, only allowing Jews back into the worship of Messiah if they stopped being Jewish.

And here we are today.

up_to_jerusalem

But this is not the ideal, as Boaz points out. This is not where we’ll be tomorrow. Tomorrow, Messiah, Son of David, will take his place on the Throne in Jerusalem. He will redeem his people, the Jewish people. He will redeem his nation, the Jewish nation of Israel. And once again, our positions will be defined as they were before. Gentiles will be allowed to join the Jewish religious stream of the body of Messiah without having to convert to Judaism.

The Body of Messiah is the quintessential Israel, the original, the highest fidelity to the original: Messiah. Prophesy tells us that many Jews and many people from the nations will stream to Jerusalem and to the Mountain of the Lord to learn of Jacob’s ways and to walk his paths. In that day, the ideal being presented by Haim, Dauermann, and Boaz will be reality, and we will worship our fulfillment in the Holy City, and every knee shall bow to the King of the Jews.

Was He Born in a Sukkah?

born_in_sukkahWhen was Yeshua born? The Gospel writers either did not know when the event happened or they did not feel the information was important enough to pass along. We can only speculate.

Two centuries after it happened, Clement of Alexandria discussed the dating of the Master’s birth, but he did not mention December 25 or January 6 at all. Instead, Clement reported one tradition corresponding to April 20 on our civil calendar and another tradition corresponding to May 20. By the middle of the fourth century, however, the Roman church had begun to honor December 25 while churches in the East, Asia Minor, and Egypt observed Jesus’ birth on January 6. Both are late developments and unsupported by early tradition or biblical evidence. No trace of a tradition from the early Jewish believers connects the birth of the Messiah with December 25 or January 6.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“The Birth of Yeshua at Sukkot: Evidence from an Old Source,” pg 21
Messiah Journal, issue 111 (Fall 2012)
Published by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

This is normally the sort of conversation you have in December when the vast majority of the Christian world prepares to celebrate the birth of Christ. One thing we can be certain of is that Jesus was born nowhere near December 25th. But it has been suggested that he might have been born on or near the festival of Sukkot. Could this be true?

I recently had a private request for any information I knew about this possibility. Alas, it’s not something I’ve written on before (although I’ve heard some commentaries on the topic). Fortunately, D. Thomas Lancaster has written on this in the above quoted article in Messiah Journal 111, which was published last year. Does Lancaster conclude that the Master was born during this season and if so, what is his evidence?

Other Sukkot-theory proponents claim, “Yeshua was born in a sukkah because the word ‘stable’ is sukkah in Hebrew.” These arguments are not at all convincing and fall apart under scrutiny. Is there any legitimate evidence of a Sukkot birth, or is the birth of Yeshua at Sukkot just more Hebrew roots movement apocrypha?

-Lancaster, pg 22

That doesn’t sound too encouraging. As much as the symbolism may attract us and fit into the theories and emotional dynamics of certain individuals and groups, is there any real evidence to establish the idea that Jesus was born during Sukkot? What line of reasoning and investigation could we use to support or refute this viewpoint?

Lancaster suggests that we could compare the birth narrative of John the Baptist to that of Jesus. We know, based on Luke 1:26 and 1:36 that the conception of Jesus came about six months after the conception of John, thus we can assume that Jesus was born about six months after John was. If we could determine when John was conceived and/or born, we could reasonably deduce when Jesus was born.

And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Luke 1:20 (NIV)

And now you will be dumb and unable to speak until the day when this has taken place; because you did not believe my words–words which will be fulfilled at their appointed time.”

Luke 1:20 (Weymouth New Testament)

zechariahThese are the only two translations of the New Testament where it specifically mentions “appointed time,” which is important because of the following:

“Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Genesis 18:14 (NASB)

But what’s “appointed time” got to do with it? Doesn’t it just mean some random date God selected for the birth of John the Baptist and Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah?

In the Torah, the biblical festivals are called “appointed times.” According to one Jewish interpretation, “the appointed time” at which Sarah gave birth to Isaac was the first day of Passover:

And how do we know that Isaac was born at Passover? Because it is written, “At the appointed time I will return to you […and Sarah will have a son].” (b.Rosh Hashanah 11a)

In the Gospels, John the Immerser comes in the role and spirit of Elijah. Jewish tradition maintains that Elijah will appear at Passover to announce the coming of Messiah. For that reason, we read Malachi’s prophecy about the coming of the Messiah on the Sabbath before Passover, and Jewish homes set a place at the Passover Seder table for Elijah.

-Lancaster, ibid

Lancaster covers two other traditions. One involving the Biblical record of Joseph and Mary traveling (supposedly) to Jerusalem to attend the festival of Sukkot, and they happened to be near Bethlehem when Mary went into labor. If Bethlehem were on the pilgrim trail to Jerusalem, the multitude of travelers going up to Jerusalem for the festival could account for all the “no vacancy” signs at the inns.

The other tradition has to do with assigning a double meaning to the phrase “the Eighth Day.” Of course, all Jewish boys were to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, but the last day of Sukkot, which is actually a separate festival, Shemini Atzeret, is also referred to as the “Eighth Day.” This would mean Jesus would have been born on the first day of Sukkot and circumcised on the eighth day of the festival. Pretty neat timing.

Admittedly, this is all speculative. The Gospels do not actually indicate that John was born on the first day of Passover, that Yeshua was born on the first day of Sukkot, or that he was circumcised on the eighth day of Sukkot.

-ibid, pg 23

Lancaster’s article goes on for another page or so where he quotes from a “medieval collection of anti-Christian Jewish folklore titled The story about Shim’on Kefa (Aggadta DeShim’on Kefa),” which may offer certain hints suggesting that the early Jewish believers could have commemorated the Master’s birth at Sukkot, but all in all, support for this perspective is very thin.

Sukkah in the rainI’m not saying it couldn’t work out this way and I suppose it would be very symbolic if it did work out that Jesus was born on Sukkot, but in fact, we just don’t know. Evidence from the Gospels and from various Christian and Jewish sources simply do not provide enough light on this matter to bring it to any sort of resolution. Thus, for Christians and other Gentile believers involved in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, we must find other reasons to celebrate Sukkot. Don’t worry, we have reasons enough, as one person said on my blog recently.

It is appropriate, not only that you have built the family sukkah, but also that you should participate in its celebration, as an anticipation of the prophetic fulfillment in the Messianic Era when the nations will come up to Jerusalem to celebrate this feast (or suffer drought), as described by Zacharyah. Indeed, Jewish tradition perceives reflections of a sort of Yom Kippur repentance and redemption for the non-Jewish nations in the Sukkot celebration.

As for Messiah, he temporarily lived among people once in the fragile shelter of a human body. Some day, he will return and be with us forever.

I’ve been reviewing some of my past Sukkot related blog posts and thought you’d find these interesting:

Sukkot: Drawing Water from Siloam.

Plain Clothes Sukkah.

May you drink from springs of living water. Chag Sameach Sukkot!

Addendum: This conversation is continued in A Question of the Division of Abijah.