Tag Archives: messianic gentiles

What Should Shavuot Mean to Me?

Yesterday, I attended a class called “The Laws of Shavuot.” Being relatively new to Judaism, I expected a class similar to those before Passover or Sukkot. Many technical laws. Lots of “do”s and “do not”s.

To my surprise, other than going to synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments, there are very few laws unique to Shavuot. Unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there are no lengthy prayers. And unlike Sukkot and Passover, we can eat whatever we like, as well as wherever we like. Sure there are the customs related to flowers, blintzes, and cheesecakes, but hey, it’s a piece of (cheese)cake compared to the other holidays.

Am I missing something here? Shouldn’t the holiday on which we received the many laws of the Torah have some laws of its own?

-from “Why is Shavuot So Easy?”
Chabad.org

I suppose I should write something about Shavuot. The festival begins at sundown this Tuesday, June 3rd and continues through sundown on Thursday, June 5th. It’s the only one of the Jewish moadim (appointed times) that has a direct corollary in the Christian religious calendar since the Church observes the Pentecost event (Acts 2:1-13), however, while Christians consider Pentecost a one time occurrence, Shavuot, from a Jewish perspective, is an annually recurring celebration.

As the person writing to the Chabad “Ask the Rabbi” column observes, unlike the other Jewish festivals, Shavuot doesn’t seem to have much in the way of customs or commandments associated with it. Of course, neither does the typical observance of Pentecost in churches. In fact, growing up in a Lutheran church, I didn’t even know Pentecost was an event. I only thought we celebrated Christmas and Easter. The same was true when I actually (finally) came to faith (as a child, I never understood I was supposed to do something like “accept Christ into my heart,” so I couldn’t be considered a Christian in those days) in a Nazarene church when in my early forties.

I guess I should correct a point I made above. Shavuot celebrates a one time event also, the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Yet, the Bible commands the Jewish people to observe the moadim in perpetuity, while Church custom added the “observance” of the giving of the Holy Spirit outside of the Biblical canon.

For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

Acts 20:16 (NASB)

In the church I attend, both in the sermons on this verse and in Sunday school class, it is imagined that Paul’s primary motivation to get to Jerusalem in a hurry has to do with the significance of the Pentecost event, the giving of the Holy Spirit, which the Pastor refers to as “the birthday of the Church”. And while Pastor does acknowledge that Paul, as an observant Jew (though he believes that in this “transitional period”, Torah observance was on its way to extinction among the Jewish ekklesia), would also be motivated to return to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot in accordance to the commandment, my Sunday school teacher is all but blind to the “Jewishness” of Paul and focuses exclusively on Pentecost as the apostle’s overriding concern.

More’s the pity. The Church wholly misunderstands Paul and has led the rest of the world, including ancient and modern Judaism, to misunderstand him, too. We also tend to miss why Shavuot would have been so special to Paul as a Jew and especially as the apostle to the Gentiles in the diaspora.

Torah is the life blood of the Jewish people. Our enemies have always known that when we Jews stop learning Torah, our assimilation is inevitable. Without knowledge there is no commitment. One cannot love what he does not know. A person cannot do or understand what he has never learned.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Aish.com

Magnus Zetterholm
Magnus Zetterholm

As I’ve mentioned in one or two commentaries on Magnus Zetterholm’s book The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity, there were always Jews in the first-century diaspora who were at risk of abandoning Judaism and being assimilated into pagan Greek culture. Paul must have seen evidence of this in Antioch and other cities in the galut and I can only imagine how it pained him.

He, of all people, should have known the vital importance of Torah study and observance for Jews, Jesus-believers or otherwise, in order to maintain Jewish identity and covenant integrity. After all, he declared himself…

…a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God…

Acts 22:3 (NASB)

Also, on many occasions after his initial arrest, he proclaimed his innocence, including in Rome:

Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.”

Acts 28:17 (NASB)

The Torah was always close to Paul and in spite of how the Church has distorted Paul’s teachings and his reputation and taught the Jewish people to distrust if not actively despise Paul, the meaning of Shavuot must have been heavily upon him during his last visit to Jerusalem.

What is it supposed to mean to Jews today? What is Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar’s answer to the question of why Shavuot is so “easy”?

Here’s what R. Cotlar says the answer isn’t:

The Torah is often seen as a “bandage” solution. The world is essentially a dark and scary jungle filled with all sorts of unhealthy foods, relationships and forms of recreation. So the Torah keeps us out of trouble.

Essentially, this perspective is saying that there was always a world, stuff, and us. The Torah? That came later on. It wasn’t until 2,448 years after creation that G‑d decided to work on the glitches, or at least provide us a way to maneuver around them.

With this approach, the Torah is an imposed set of laws—one that clashes with the world around us.

Now here’s the correct response:

The Torah is G‑d’s own wisdom. It existed long before there was a world. But G‑d wasn’t happy with this wisdom staying in the spiritual realms. He wanted a physical world where this wisdom would be studied and its commandments observed. To make things challenging, He planted obstacles and distractions, but these are merely masks that conceal the world’s true purpose: An activity center for Torah and mitzvahs, a place where every word can be transformed into Torah, every gadget used for holiness, every dollar turned into a mitzvah.

And because this was the intent from the very beginning, it’s Torah—not the craziness on the outside—that is the world’s true genetic makeup. We need the Torah merely to reveal what the world always was meant to be: a home for G‑d.

ShavuotThe celebration of the giving of the Torah seems so “ordinary” because the Torah represents what is supposed to be “normal life” for the Jewish people, it’s a reflection of what God’s intent for Creation was always supposed to be. R. Cotlar even calls the Torah the “very DNA of the world.”

He concludes:

Each year on Shavuot, when we re-experience Sinai, we show our appreciation for Torah through normal eating and celebrating—without any special rules. For the Torah does not introduce a new reality, but rather sheds light, purpose and sanctity into everything that is already here now. Even cheesecake.

What should Shavuot or “Pentecost” if you will, mean to Christians today? In most churches, not much. Even those churches that observe some sort of Pentecost celebration rarely, if ever, even give lip service to Shavuot. Until I started studying within a Hebrew Roots context, I had no idea what so many “out-of-town” Jews were doing in Jerusalem when the Pentecost event happened. I had no idea that Jews from all over the civilized world would be flooding into Jerusalem to observe Shavuot and to offer sacrifices at the Temple.

Although I won’t have the opportunity this time around, for the previous two years, I’ve seen first hand what Shavuot should mean to Jews and Gentiles celebrating together in response to the ancient mitzvot and through the revelation of Messiah. This year, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) is holding it’s annual National Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin from May 30th through June 5th. Messianic Jews and Gentiles from all over the U.S. and some from other nations, are currently gathering together for a time of worship, fellowship, and celebration in Messiah, perhaps not entirely unlike that early Jesus-believing “Synagogue of the Way” in ancient Syrian Antioch.

A Jew is commanded to learn Torah day and night and to teach it to his children. If a Jew wants his family to be Jewish and his children to marry other Jews, then he must integrate a Torah study program into his life and implement the teachings into his home and his being. One can tell his children anything, but only if they see their parents learning and doing mitzvot, will they inherit the love for being Jewish.

-R. Packouz

But if this is what the Torah, and by extension Shavuot, means to the Jews, what does it mean to those of us from “all the nations (who) will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23)? Do the Jews celebrate the giving of Torah while the Gentiles celebrate the giving of the Spirit?

We can see the application of celebrating the Spirit to both the Messianic Jews and the believing Gentiles, but what about the Torah?

conference2Last year at the Shavuot conference, during the Shabbat and Shavuot Torah services, I was reluctant to participate because of this very question. I had embraced Boaz Michael’s vision of the Tent of David and was attempting to integrate into “church life.” Would I damage that effort by not only participating in but thoroughly enjoying celebrating Shavuot within a wholly Jewish context?

I’m afraid my identity and affiliation confusion made me seem “inhibited” and I lost the sense of closeness I felt toward people the year before. I only started to “get into it” at the very end but by then it was too late. And when returning home, almost before the plane landed back in Boise, I thought I shouldn’t go back the following year. I felt like I embarrassed myself in front of many of the people I respect, people who I consider friends but who now seem distant.

In the past year, I find I don’t really fit in at church though I’ve tried to remain devoted to my mission. I seem to be making a mess of all of my relationships on both sides of the aisle. I’ve been reconsidering my purpose in church, but I’m rapidly running out of options and ideas except maybe continuing to attend while keeping my head down and my mouth shut.

My wife surprised me a few weeks ago. Actually, it was on the day she called me arrogant for thinking I had a purpose to change anyone or anything in any Christian church. She asked me why I wasn’t going to this year’s Shavuot conference.

I was more than surprised by her asking. I didn’t even realize she was aware that another conference was coming up. I told her the truth. First off, we always have a “discussion” about the financial cost of my attending, even though I’ve received generous support in the past. I also mentioned (again) the relative level of embarrassment I cause her in the local Jewish community, not only as a church-going Christian, but as a “Messianic” and one who periodically associates with “Messianic Jews.”

But she’s worried about my “fellowship,” which she brings up from time to time (again, to my surprise), and she said that for those people in the Jewish community who she’s closest to, my being a Christian probably doesn’t make a difference one way or the other. It’s not as if I interact with any of her Jewish friends, or at least I haven’t for many years.

Shavuot is a time of community. I suppose you could say that of any of the moadim, but on Shavuot, God forged the nation of Israel at Sinai, He created a Covenant relationship with Israel and delivered, through Moses, the conditions of that relationship, the Torah, which gives joy and is a tree of life to all those who cling to her. We grafted in Gentiles, by clinging to the garments of the Jewish people through faith, apprehend salvation and some of the covenant blessings. Through faith in Messiah who leads us to the Father, we can sit at the same table as the Jews in Messiah as equal co-participants, and be blessed as well as be a blessing as the crowning jewels of the nations.

Up to JerusalemThis Sunday (today, as you read this), I expect to be in Church listening to a sermon on Acts 21 and 22 and discussing Paul’s initial defense against the charges leveled against him by some Jewish agitators, largely due to his close association with Gentiles, both in the diaspora and in Jerusalem.

Yet Paul fought tremendous opposition to his return to Jerusalem, and many of his closest friends and advisors thought it was a mistake for him to enter the Holy City. Nevertheless, he went, for he was traveling not of his own accord but in response to God’s will. He knew it would be the last time he would see Jerusalem and that he was quite likely to die. His dedication to the Torah, to the Temple, and to the Jewish people was brought into question and many believed him to be a traitor, but he was responding to a higher purpose, not higher than Temple and Torah, but higher than criticism, insult, and even threats of death.

What should Shavuot mean? It should mean choosing (or being chosen, if speaking of the Jewish people) a way of life that isn’t comfortable and for some, isn’t even safe. It’s recognizing that God comes bearing gifts, but those gifts aren’t always easy to carry. Actually, the yoke of the Master is light, but in my case, I find the burden of my human character flaws to be an unwieldy weight that I stagger under and yet cannot release.

Shavuot means accepting what God gives in obedience and realizing your life isn’t your own anymore. It never was of course, but the illusion of “self-ownership” is swept away. Shavuot may be a time of fellowship, but can also bring near the realization that your “ekklesia” may be nowhere nearby, and in the stillness and quiet, you, or rather I, turn to the One who has taken my life and the One to whom I willingly surrender it.

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.”

John 6:66-68 (NASB)

Shavuot is a reminder to accept whatever comes from the hand of God, whether bitter or sweet.

Why No One Comes to the Father Except Through the Son

It is true that we do believe the same things about the same God and read the same Scriptures as those Jews who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. In Messianic Judaism, we are even part of the same religion. Despite all that common ground, there is one great difference between us. The difference is not in what we believe about God but how we believe about God.

Devout Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah believe the same things about God that we believe, but they do not do so in the light of the revelation, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They believe outside the light of that transforming, from-faith-for-faith experience that Paul spoke of when he said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 4: Faith Toward God,” pp 55-6
Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity

I read this book not long ago but decided not to review it since it leverages material from Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, including portions I haven’t listened to yet. I’ll probably intermix my comments on certain parts of the book in various blog posts as I come across the corresponding material in the audio series.

Except for this part. This part is special because it answers a question that has been bugging me for a long time, a question I haven’t been able to adequately answer until recently. I mentioned this question just the other day.

Prior to the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Torah laid out exactly what a Jew had to do to worship and relate to God within the context of the Sinai covenant. Yes, there were the sacrifices and the Temple rituals including the moadim (the appointed times or festivals), but Jews also had (and have) a day-by-day relationship and interaction with the God of Israel. Jews pray directly to Hashem. We see this all over the Bible and we see it in the modern lives of observant Jews.

And yet Christianity is telling Jewish people (and everyone else) that you can’t worship God directly anymore. It’s not possible. It’s not effective. You have to worship God by worshiping Jesus.

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one will come to the Father except by me.

John 14:6 (DHE Gospels)

That seems quite plain…and final. I have heard an interpretation that likens Yeshua (Jesus) to a door and once we enter through the doorway, we encounter the reason we entered the ekklesia of the Way, we encounter God the Father, the God of Israel.

But in many churches, this verse is used to make it seem as if Jesus replaced God the Father, as if God the Father retired and is sunning Himself on a beach in Florida while Jesus the Son is running the family business, and in a very different way than “Dad” ever did. But if God is unchanging across time and if Jesus doesn’t do anything except what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19, 30), then how can there be a discontinuity between Son and Father, between Messiah and God?

How can the Son replace the Father as the object of worship for the Covenant community, for Jews who are born into the Covenant and for Gentiles who are grafted in?

What did Jesus change when he inaugurated the New Covenant era at his death and resurrection? What does he bring to the table? How does he fit in to the plan of God as the New Covenant is beginning to unfold?

I know how the Church would answer, but the answer is full of supersessionism and replacement theology. Jesus came to replace the “ceremonial portions” of the Law (Torah). He came to replace behavioral obedience with grace and mercy. He came to release the Jews (and arguably, everyone else) from the Law so they could be free in his grace. For Jews, instead of going to the Judges and the Priests and the Temple and the Torah to get to God, you go through Jesus. He is now the gatekeeper, he holds all the keys, he guards all the doors. The Torah (or major sections of it including just about everything that defines a Jew as a Jew) has gone “bye-bye” and Jesus is large and in charge and is here to stay.

Except that makes absolutely no sense.

two sistersFirst of all, I previously said that there is abundant evidence that in ancient and modern Judaism, living a life of obedience to God’s mitzvot is a joy, not a horrible burden. Further, the Torah is a tree of life for all who cling to her. What could Jesus possibly add to all that to become such a game changer and yet still not violate all of the Torah and the Prophets, including the actual New Covenant language found principally in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36?

That’s where Lancaster’s commentary I quoted above comes in. In order to explain his point, he tells a parable. I’m going to include it here in its entirety because I think it clears things up a lot.

Remember, this is a parable, a metaphorical story:

Once, a man who had two daughters went off to war. Before he left, he promised to return to them, and he also promised them, “When I return, I will bring you each a fine string of pearls and a summer dress.” No one except the two girls knew about the promise. After many years, the man had not returned, and everyone presumed him dead. His daughters, however, continued to hope, believe, and wait. A decade passed, and they grew to become adult women, but neither of them forgot their father or his promises. Deep in their hearts, they continued to hope and to believe. One day a messenger came seeking the girls. Finding only one daughter, he told her, “I have news of your father. He is returning, and he sends you this gift.” The messenger presented her with a fine string of pearls.

Now both girls still believed in the promise of the father, but one had received a token of the promise, and the other had not. One had faith in the father’s promise on the basis of her hope and confidence in the father’s promise, but the other had faith in the father’s promise on the basis of the good news that she had already received and on the basis of the partial fulfillment of her father’s promise. She already had the pearls. She had no question in her mind that she would soon see her father face to face. Think of that girl’s confidence, certainty, and joy. She no longer had any doubt that her father was coming. She knew that he would bring the summer dress because she had already received the pearls.

-Lancaster, pg 56

The Father made a promise to the nation of Israel and to all Jewish people everywhere that He will return the exiles to their Land, defeat all of Israel’s enemies, and not just restore national Israel’s fortunes but elevate her to the head of all the nations of the Earth. Also is the promise of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life for the covenant people, as well as having the Torah written on human hearts rather than stone or paper so that human beings with the full indwelling of the Spirit will naturally obey all of God’s commandments, the conditions of the Sinai and New Covenants, the Torah. All of Israel’s sins will be forgiven. The world will be made completely peaceful, all people will be safe and secure, and a King from the line of Judah and the house of David will sit on the Throne in Jerusalem forever.

And Jewish people have been waiting ever since but so far, those promises haven’t been fulfilled…any of them…

…or have they?

Talmud Study by LamplightIt should be obvious that the two daughters are two branches of Judaism. The metaphor actually doesn’t work completely because the two daughters must initially be all Jewish people. Then one daughter received the gift sent by her father and believed a messenger. The messenger is Jesus. He is from the Father, from God. He brings a gift, something to confirm that God will fulfill His promises in due time. The messenger does not come to fulfill all the promises but in fulfilling some of them, he brings a guarantee that they will all ultimately come to pass.

But what promises did Jesus fulfill? Did he rebuild the Temple? Did he return all of the Jewish exiles to their land? Did he place Israel as the head of all nations? Is he sitting on the Throne in Jerusalem reigning with justice and peace?

No. He didn’t do any of those things…yet.

How do we know he’ll do any of them at all? Because he brought a gift. Actually, more than one.

He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven you.” Those reclining with him began to say in their hearts, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in shalom.”

Luke 7:48-50 (DHE Gospels)

Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here; for he has risen. Remember what he had spoken to you while he was still in the Galil, saying, “For the son of man must be handed over to sinful men and be crucified, but on the third day he will surely rise.”

Luke 24:5-6 (DHE Gospels)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?”

Acts 10:44-47 (NASB)

And that’s not even the entire list. Jesus the messenger from Heaven, brought several “gifts” with him, a sort of down-payment on the promises of God, an illustration and evidence that God will someday do all that He promised. Here’s what Messiah demonstrated:

  • The forgiveness of sins through faith.
  • The resurrection from the dead.
  • The giving of the Holy Spirit.

These weren’t the “full meal deal,” so to speak, but only an appetizer. Jesus forgave the sins of those who had faith as an illustration of how someday all of Israel’s sins will be forgiven. Jesus died and was resurrected as a confirmation that someday there will be a general resurrection of the dead (see Matthew 27:52-53). The Holy Spirit was given first to the Jews who believed, and then later to believing Gentiles also, to show that one day the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28).

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 1:10-14 (NASB)

Jesus, the messenger, comes as a pledge of our full inheritance as believers, first to the Jew but also to the Gentile, that God will redeem His own and fulfill His Word.

a woman of valorThe metaphor Lancaster used, as I mentioned, doesn’t exactly fit. One daughter has to choose to believe in the messenger, that he really is from their father, and that the gift he brings is genuine and can be accepted by faith as from their father as a promise that he will come and bring his other gift.

One daughter would choose to believe the evidence of the gift and the other wouldn’t. In Lancaster’s parable, this draws a distinction between Jesus-believing Jews and all other Jews, but we can also apply it (since the rest of the world has the potential to be grafted in) to believing and unbelieving Gentiles.

Based on everything I’ve just said, Jesus is now cast in an almost completely different role. Instead of being a replacement for the old, worn out, obsolete Law, he’s the bringer of “better promises” (Hebrews 8:6), not that the previous promises were bad, but as good as things were, God has something even better in mind, something that builds on what happened and what was given before rather than replacing it. It’s as if God is saying, “If you think the Torah is the Tree of Life, you haven’t seen anything yet. Don’t believe me? Here’s a small sample of what is to come.”

Jesus has been called the capstone (Matthew 21:42), the one key object in the structure that completes it and holds it all together. Without that stone, not only would the whole structure remain incomplete, it might actually fall apart.

So, in his first coming as Yeshua ben Yosef, Messiah came as the messenger from Heaven bringing gifts as a guarantee that all God had promised would be fulfilled. And he did this without replacing anything at all. In fact, if he had replaced anything previously promised or established by God, then Jesus would have failed in his mission to bring the Good News to Israel. When properly interpreted and understood, the teachings of Jesus and those of the apostles, including Paul, show us that Jesus brought exceedingly Good News to Israel and also to the Gentiles, that God intends to do great good to Israel and as one of the results of His actions, even the Gentiles will receive blessings.

Unfortunately, when the Gentiles split off from the Jesus-believing Jewish ekklesia to form their (our) own religion called “Christianity,” they “reinterpreted” the ancient Holy Scriptures as well as the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to make it seem as if the Good News was only good for Gentiles. The Christian “good news” was only good for Jews who were willing to give up the original promises of God (and give up being Jewish), for Jesus brought those “new” promises, according to the Christian Church, to replace the old.

That’s when the craziness, the bizarre disconnect occurred between different parts of the inspired, “God-breathed” Word of scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That’s when the two sisters drifted apart, but the hope and the promise is that someday their father will return to reunite them as a family.

Have I proved my case? Will non-believing Jews read this and be convinced?

Probably not.

First of all, my commentary on the role of Jesus and all that he did is hardly comprehensive. A detailed and scholarly analysis would certainly reveal much, much more. No doubt there will be people who will never be convinced and who would even be insulted at my efforts (not that it is my intension to insult anyone).

But I’m trying to show both Jews and Christians that the way they are looking at the Bible and looking at Jesus isn’t really how the Good News was originally presented. The original Jewish Good News didn’t require an evangelical approach that says Jews are “cursed” or that they’re “hypocrites”. Sadly, the Christian Church is its own worst enemy, not even by intent, but by continuing to accept a flawed interpretation of the Gospel that was forged with the early “Church Fathers” and cemented by the men of the Reformation.

The Jewish PaulWithout a strong and sustained effort by mainstream Christianity to set aside their traditions and to look at the Bible, and particularly Jesus and Paul, with fresh eyes that take into account that Israel is the entire focus of God’s Good News and blessings, we Christians will continue to be a curse upon Israel and the Jewish people, and as a result, only a fraction of Gentile believers, a remnant so to speak, will continue to bless Israel, to elevate Israel, and to await the return of the messenger who will be King.

What curses await all those others who perpetually, even without meaning to or desiring to, set aside the centrality of Israel and the place of honor at God’s table for the inheritors of Sinai, the Jews?

Not everyone who says to me, “My master! My master!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but rather the one who does the will of my father who is in heaven. It will be on that day many will say to me, “My master, my master, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many wonders?” Then I will answer them, saying, “I have never known you. Depart from me, workers of evil.”

Matthew 7:21-23 (DHE Gospels)

I beg those Christians reading this to take my message seriously, because this isn’t just me popping off and being difficult to live with, this is your life and your relationship with God.

A person should always be flexible like a reed, and not rigid like a cedar.

-Taanis 20a

Yesterday was the newest holiday on Israel’s calendar, Jerusalem Day or Yom Yerushalayim. Jerusalem is where the Temple was and will be again. Jerusalem is where he was condemned to die. Jerusalem is where he will one day return as triumphant King and be enthroned in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The ekklesia, the body of his devout ones, who believed the promises, who held tightly to the gifts in faith, who realized that Jesus was and is a vital messenger in the plan of God for Israel and for the nations, will be there celebrating with joy. But part of the foretaste, the sample that Jesus brought is that we can experience a little joy right now.

Many who observe a proper Shabbat have joy in the day of rest as a preview of the future perpetual peace on the Earth. Shavuot is less than a week away and for those who choose to observe the festival in some manner, that too is joy, for we celebrate the giving of the Torah and also of the Spirit. Even now, there are Jews and Gentiles who call themselves Messianic and who share a common vision of who we are and what the future holds.

In the Messianic Kingdom, there will be Israel and the nations, the Jewish people and also the Gentiles who are called by His Name. We will be many peoples but we will have one King and one God. Jesus came first to bring the Good News that God’s promises will be fulfilled and he brought gifts as proof. By faith, we continue to believe in the message and the messenger. By faith, we continue to wait. By faith we experience joy.

Someday all of the promises will be fulfilled and we will have joy in His Presence forever.

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

-Karl Barth, Swiss theologian

Be grateful. Be joyful. We have received the Good News. The King is coming.

Next week’s review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon Faith Toward God will speak more on this topic.

Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and the Problem of the Gentiles

In spite of this disheartening picture of the relations between Jews and Gentiles in Antioch there is, rather surprisingly, evidence of Gentiles who felt drawn to Judaism.

More relevant for the present discussion is whether there was a group of Gentiles with a clear interest in Judaism who may even have adopted several Jewish customs and who participated in the activities in the synagogue without having converted to Judaism.

-Magnus Zetterholm
Chapter 4: “Evidence of Interaction,” pp 121-2
The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity

This is both what Judaism has to offer and teach our confused and self-indulgent age. In the words of the psalmist, “Blessed are they who dwell in Your house.” (Psalm 145:1) The circuitous path away from the constricted focus on the self through the expansive world of the other. When we find renewal in the synagogue, we will have gained access to Judaism’s greatest boon: this-worldly salvation.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Holiness is a Communal Experience,” pp 431-2 (May 17, 1997)
Commentary on Torah Portion Emor
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

[This is a long “meditation.” Pour yourself a cup of coffee and give yourself the time to take it all in.]

This is something of a counterpoint to my previous blog post Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and Today’s Messianic Judaism. The prior write up was a look at the Judaisms operating in Antioch, including the “synagogue of the Way,” as they existed in the first century CE, through the lens of Zetterholm’s book and research. Today, we use the same lens to see how Gentiles were brought into this wholly Jewish religious stream, what the Jewish disciples understood about the social role of Gentiles, and how unconverted (to Judaism) Gentiles could participate in the New Covenant blessings.

It seems (and I’ve said this before) it wasn’t all that clear how to bring Gentile disciples into fellowship, and even among the Jews in the Way, opinions differed.

I’m going to focus on only part of this chapter, which is Zetterholm addressing “the Antioch incident” (Galatians 2:11-21) because the thirty some odd pages this author spends interpreting the conflict between Paul and Peter contains a great deal of commentary on the struggle to understand how Gentiles could be co-participants socially and benefit from Jewish covenant blessings without undergoing the proselyte rite and without being considered mere God-fearers (though God-fearers could not apprehend the covenant blessings).

Citing New Testament scholar J.D.G Dunn in his article The Incident at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-18), Zetterholm wrote:

Having evaluate[d] different exegetical alternatives, Dunn suggested that table-fellowship in Antioch involved observance of at least the basic dietary laws, since the Jesus-believing Gentiles were originally god-fearers. The men from James, shocked at what they regarded as too casual an attitude, demanded a higher degree of observance, especially with regard to ritual purity and tithing. According to Dunn, they referred to the earlier agreement made in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1-10), where Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was agreed upon but where the specific issue of table-fellowship was never considered.

Zetterholm, pp 130-1

You’ll notice here that Dunn (apparently) believes in a “common Judaism” (see my previous article on Zetterholm) shared by all Jewish factions but variability in how to observe the mitzvot or at least to what degree to observe ritual purity customs within different synagogues of the Way. Zetterholm referencing Dunn states that it is likely the Jerusalem contingent, the home of James the Just, brother of the Master, and the core group of apostles and elders, held to a more strict observance of ritual purity than the Jews of the Way in Antioch.

Peter, as one of the original apostles of Jesus (Yeshua), may have originally held to the Jerusalem point of view, but his experiences with the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:28-29) modified that opinion. However, confronted with the more strictly observant emissaries from James, Peter gave in to peer pressure.

Notice, this doesn’t mean that Jews were eating non-kosher food, so the issue was about the competing halachot of the two Jewish communities relative to eating with Gentiles:

Dunn argued that this agreement in no way changed the obligation to torah observance for the Jesus-believing Jew.

According to Dunn, the reason why Peter suddenly withdrew from the table-fellowship was that “[h]e could not deny the logic of Jerusalem’s demand, that a Jew live like a Jew.” Continued table-fellowship could therefore lead to a severe loss of authority in relation to Jewish-Christian communities of Palestine.

-ibid, pg 131

J.D.G Dunn
J.D.G Dunn

I don’t know if I completely agree with Dunn’s and Zetterholm’s conclusion here regarding the compromise of authority, and it seems that Paul certainly didn’t think his halachah of table-fellowship with Gentiles was a problem based on his criticism of Peter. I do think this brings into sharp relief the potential differences between Paul and James, especially prior to the Acts 15 halachic ruling regarding the legal status of Gentiles in (Messianic) Judaism.

Of course Dunn isn’t the only New Testament (NT) scholar to have an opinion on this “incident.” P.F. Esler, according to Zetterholm, didn’t think it was a matter of the degree of observance but an outright halachic ban across the board on Jews eating with Gentiles, with perhaps only a few exceptions. From Esler’s perspective, this was a matter of the preservation of Jewish identity, which could only be maintained by a strict separation of Gentile and Jew with no table-fellowship between the two groups, period.

E.P. Sanders didn’t agree with either Dunn or Esler, and Zetterholm tends to favor Sanders’ viewpoint most of the time. Sanders didn’t think the issue had anything to do with ritual impurity, since most Jews are in a state of impurity (which has nothing to do with sin) most of the time, and must only be pure when participating in a Temple ritual. He also didn’t think it had much to do with social interactions, particularly in Antioch which, like other diaspora communities, required fairly free transactions between Jewish and Gentile inhabitants.

Sanders really did think it was the food, not that the Gentiles were insisting on eating ham, but the Gentile origin of the food itself was an issue. How could the Jews be sure that at least some of the meat hadn’t been sacrificed to idols?

I tend to think Dunn may have the most accurate perspective on the matter, especially given B. Holmberg’s opinion:

Holmberg suggested that James demanded a higher degree of observance not on the part of the Jesus-believing Gentiles but on that of the Jesus-believing Jews, and furthermore, a virtual separation of the Christian community into two commensary groups.

-ibid, pg 134

According to Holmberg, both Paul and James believed that the Gentiles benefited from the covenant blessings that issued from being grafted into the Jewish root, but their perspectives were different. While Paul advocated for Jewish and Gentile interaction and fellowship within the community of Messiah, James advocated for separate communities of Gentiles and Jews operating side-by-side rather than intermingled. This was to preserve the integrity of Jewish identity. Paul (according to Holmberg) disagreed.

To James and Peter, the Jerusalem agreement made no difference in how the Jesus-believing Jews related to torah, while Paul requested that the demands of a Jewish identity should cede to those necessary for maintaining a common Christian identity.

-ibid

This isn’t to say that Paul was advocating for a Torah-free practice for the Jewish believers, but rather for a more lenient halchah relative to Jewish/Gentile fellowship and co-participation in worship and social interactions.

Rabbi Mark Kinzer
Rabbi Mark Kinzer

It’s interesting that Holmberg’s perspective on James, Peter, and the Jerusalem community maps at least somewhat to that of modern Messianic Jewish author and scholar, Rabbi Dr. Mark Kinzer who wrote the rather controversial book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People.  R. Kinzer advocates for a position called “bilateral ecclesiology,” which essentially establishes two communities within the body of Messiah, one for Jews and the other for Gentiles.

While many in the Church and in Gentile Hebrew Roots feel R. Kinzer’s position is a recent development, we see now that at least one NT scholar, Holmberg, suggests that it (or something very much like it) existed within the early Jerusalem Messianic ekklesia at the highest levels of leadership. What would this have said for Yeshua’s perspective on the matter?

We can’t know the answer to that one with any certainty, but it’s a compelling question. Yeshua rarely had dealings with Gentiles and stressed that he came “for the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). He only issued the directive to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28-19-20) after the resurrection and (shortly) before the ascension.

Just to summarize, the explanation behind the “Antioch incident” was the degree of ritual observance for Dunn, food for Sanders, social intercourse for Esler, and Jewish vs. Gentile identity (related to observance issues) for Holmberg. Depending on your theological preferences, you can choose the scholar that fits your perspective. I think we all tend to do that and I’m just as guilty of the practice as the next person. Hopefully, I can cut through some of that and present a reasonable case for my conclusions, such as they are.

Zetterholm said that the problem is…

…that the text contains several gaps that must be filled in through an act of interpretation. The fact that scholars put forward different and sometimes even contradicting suggestions to solve a given historical problem often emanates from the character of the text: what we want to know is simply not in the text but must be supplemented from outside the text world.

-ibid

Not a very comforting thought, especially if you are a proponent of Biblical sufficiency.

I presented, in my previous blog post on Zetterholm, the nature of Jewish communities in Antioch and their implications for modern Judaism including Messianic Judaism. Now, I’m trying to solve the puzzle of how or if Gentiles could have been reasonably integrated into a Jewish community without compromising the Jewish nature and identity of that community. I think it’s clear Paul was convinced this was possible, but as history shows, it didn’t work out so well. I can only believe all this has profound implications for modern Messianic Judaism and the role of Messianic Gentiles within that Jewish context.

The issue for Paul in his letter to the Galatians was the Gentiles and encouraging them to maintain a Gentile identity within the Jewish Messianic movement, which did not require them to undergo the proselyte rite, become circumcised (males), and take on the full yoke of Torah observance. This is the same issue (Gentile role and status) within the Antioch synagogue (Acts 15:1), which most Christians would call “Paul’s home church.”

The challenge though, wasn’t just how to smooth over the wrinkles added by including Gentiles in a Jewish religious and social space, but how to understand the covenantal relationship (if any) Gentiles apprehended when they became disciples of the Master. I know in my own studies of the covenants, it is very clear how Jewish people and Judaism are in covenant with God, but Genesis 9 and Noah aside, when a Gentile comes into relationship with God through Messiah, just how does it work? There’s no clear and easy path in the text explaining it.

D. Thomas Lancaster
D. Thomas Lancaster

I came to my own peace with Gentile inclusion in the New Covenant about a year ago and more recently, in my multi-part review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s What About the New Covenant lecture series, I affirmed some of my convictions and discovered new information.

But what did this look like to the various groups inside of the Jewish Messianic movement in first century Antioch, or for that matter, from the perspective of James and the Council of Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem?

Based on various scriptures in the Tanakh (Old Testament) you could conclude that either Gentiles were cursed and would ultimately be wiped from the face of the Earth (for instance, Micah 5:9-15, Zephaniah 2:4-15), or that Gentiles had an eschatological future wherein at least some members of the nations and perhaps all nations would come into relationship with God and worship Him and Him alone (Isaiah 19, Isaiah 56:7, Zechariah 14:16).

From my point of view, I reconcile the opposing viewpoints in these texts by believing any nation (or any Gentile individual or group) which goes against Israel will ultimately be defeated by God and be cursed for cursing Israel, and any nation (or any Gentile individual or group) that joins with Israel in supporting her and her precious, chosen people, the Jewish people, will one day be called up to Jerusalem along with the returning Jewish exiles to worship God and to pay homage to the Jewish King.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “on the wrong side of history” in the news or social media recently, but applied to the Gentile nations and their relationship with Israel (for or against), those words take on a whole new meaning.

Believe it or not, I’m still talking about the Antioch incident, since how the Jews in the Way saw the Gentiles in relationship to the Jews, including socially and in the nature of their eschatology, was at the heart of the conflict.

If, however, we assume that he (Jesus) confirmed that Gentiles were to be embraced by the final salvation, it is not strange that within the early Jesus movement different concepts developed of how to relate to Gentiles and of how the actions of the god of Israel, through Christ, would also relate to the nations of the world.

-ibid, pg 140

Zetterholm, citing Sanders, said that the Jewish believers had no issue with Israel’s relationship with God since the Torah provides the means of atonement and…

…everyone living within the boundaries of the covenant and remaining in the covenant through obedience and atonement will be saved.

-ibid

But…

The soteriological system was, of course, for Jews only. Exactly how the Gentiles would be saved is less clear.

-ibid

The Church today takes its status of being saved rather for granted, although I doubt most Christians have ever seriously studied the New Covenant and encountered the challenge of finding themselves anywhere in the text. If they did, they might have some small idea of what the Jewish believers were facing when trying to insert Gentiles into the Jewish community, short of formal conversion to Judaism.

Magnus Zetterholm
Magnus Zetterholm

Zetterholm is convinced, citing T.L Donaldson and others, that what was not required ultimately, was the need to circumcise Gentiles and have them brought under the Torah in the manner of the Jews. But since circumcision was tied directly into the covenant relationship, it remained a mystery (apparently) to the first Jesus-believing Jews, exactly what status and role uncircumcised Gentiles played in Judaism and in covenant (if any). Salvation comes from the Jews, but how?

The Acts 15 decision was designed to settle all of this and render “halakhic clarification”, since, as Zetterholm says (pg 144) it was believed that the end of the present age was at hand and Gentile status had to be settled quickly before the Messianic Era arrived.

Zetterholm puts Luke’s Acts and Paul’s epistles in tension with each other, believing that Luke may have represented Paul differently than Paul actually saw himself. Zetterholm believes that Paul’s epistles are a more valid representation of Paul and how he saw Gentiles in covenant with God, but that view, given the complexity of Paul’s letters, isn’t all that clear.

We do know that Paul did support the continuation of Torah observance for Jesus-believing Jews as a given while at the same time, did not impose said-Torah observance along with circumcision upon the Jesus-believing Gentiles.

It is clear that under no circumstances would Paul accept that the torah be imposed on the Jesus-believing Gentiles.

If Paul accepted the apostolic decree (Acts 15) was applicable to Jesus-believing Gentiles, this would not mean that he imposed torah on them, since, strictly speaking, the halakhah for righteous Gentiles or god-fearers was not the torah but something to be observed by Gentiles not having been blessed with the gift of the torah.

-ibid, pg 148

This doesn’t answer the question of how Gentiles are included in the covenant blessings, but makes clear that Paul, as Zetterholm understands him and agreeing with Mark Nanos, believed the Sinai covenant and its conditions outlined in the Torah, was not the covenant operating that provides salvation for the Gentiles and brings them into relationship with God.

I do want to say that Zetterholm seems to more strongly relate the Noahide Covenant (which Zetterholm says was fully documented in the Tannaitic period [10-220 CE]) with the status of Jesus-believing Gentiles than I would. The Noahide covenant defines a very basic relationship between God and all humanity (all flesh, really) but if that were it, then Gentiles wouldn’t need an additional covenantal connection to God that required faith in the Messiah. The New Covenant, though made only with Israel and Judah, I believe is also apprehended by Gentiles who are Jesus-believers (see Lancaster’s New Covenant lecture series for details).

Finally, through his very long and winding narrative, Zetterholm came to the same place where I have also arrived.

The inclusion of the Gentiles meant for Paul the inclusion in the covenant, since it was the covenant that provided the ultimate means of salvation. By connecting the inclusion of the Gentiles with the promise given to Abraham in Galatians 3:7-29, Paul interprets the salvation of the Gentiles in covenantal terms, since the promise given to Abraham is a covenantaly promise as stated in Genesis 15:18: “[o]n that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.”

-ibid, pg 157

Mark Nanos
Mark Nanos

This allowed Gentiles to remain Gentiles, remain uncircumcised, and to be accountable to a different set of conditions of covenant than the Torah (or conditions with some overlap), and yet be able to enjoy the blessings of a covenantal relationship with God. It was and is that Abrahamic faith in Messiah that opens the door to our drawing near to God in a way denied to the ancient God-fearers and the modern Noahides.

Zetterholm concludes that both James and Paul agreed the Gentiles enjoyed covenant blessings, but James…

…demanded a separation of the community into two commensality groups, one for Jews and the other for Gentiles, since too close social intercourse would have confused the boundaries between Jews and Gentiles.

-ibid, pg 166

Paul, on the other hand, declared:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 (NASB)

Zetterholm explains:

Paul, however, stressed that, “in Christ,” all distinctions between men become, on one level, superfluous. But here comes the paradox: this unity “in Christ” is arrived at only when the social distinction between Jew and Gentile is maintained. It is as “Jew” and “Gentile” that mankind becomes “one in Christ,” since the god of Israel is the god not only of the Jews, but of all humanity.

-ibid, pg 164

How does this speak to the relationship between Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles in community today?

If it seems like there’s been a lot of bickering, confusion, and debate over the status of non-Jews in the Jewish religious space called Messianic Judaism, but this is actually revisiting very old territory. It is, in some sense, a replay of what Paul went through in advocating for a Gentile presence as co-participants in Jewish community and fellowship, and in the covenant blessings of God. That the Gentiles are included in the New Covenant blessings, as difficult as that can be to trace down in the scriptures, isn’t the big problem, though.

The big problem is how to integrate Jews and Gentiles in Messiah in a religious, social, and halachic context. What role does the Messianic Gentile play in Messianic Jewish space? What are our obligations relative to Jewish obligations (which are far more clearly spelled out)? What does table-fellowship look like? Was James right in demanding social segregation between Jews and Gentiles, or is it more likely Paul, as Messiah’s special emissary to the nations, was correct in stating halachah should be constructed to allow closer social interaction and intermingling while still maintaining identity distinctions between the two groups?

Answering the ancient questions, if such a thing is possible, would also help answer our modern questions.

But while Paul was convinced within himself as to the intentions of God toward the nations in relationship with both God and Israel, others in the Way may not have been convinced. Zetterholm’s view of the Paul – James conflict is an educated opinion. At the level of the Christian sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, we all want to believe that the apostles were in complete unity with one another and that early “Christianity” presented a complete and undifferentiated whole within itself, only opposing the other Judaisms and pagan idol worship.

But what if Paul, Peter, James, and the rest were human after all? What if they disagreed, especially on such an emotionally hot-button topic as Gentiles within Judaism?

DaveningIf all that is true, it means we can look to the New Testament to help us understand what the problems are that we’re experiencing today, but no final solutions may be coming our way this side of the Messiah.

But as my quotes of Zetterholm and Schorsch at the very beginning of this missive testify, there is something about being in community that transcends all of the petty bickering. As a Gentile, I’m envious (I guiltily confess this) of Jews in a minyan, the reciting of the morning prayers, the special connectedness of synagogue life. Maybe it’s because I never quite feel integrated in the church. Maybe, like my first quotes above attest, I am one of those Gentiles who sees holiness in Jewish community, since that’s where we come from and I believe that’s where we’ll be returning to in the Messianic Kingdom.

For more on this and related topics, see my commentary on Shaye J.D. Cohen’s book From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Second Edition.

Mission to the Church

Question:

I read on Aish.com that “Every Jew is equally important to our mission.” Pardon my question, but exactly what is our mission?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

No need to apologize. The only bad question is one that remains unasked.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l wrote an article for Israel’s 50th anniversary, which was published in Azure magazine. There he writes:

“Tikkun Olam” is the basis of what drives the Jewish people to greatness. It all started back with Abraham. His business was to go out and teach what it means to be “created in the image of God.” He demonstrated how a human being has to take responsibility for the world. Abraham’s undertaking was the first progressive, liberal movement the world had ever seen. And look how it succeeded!

Tikkun Olam is the Jewish legacy. In looking back at the first 3,000 years of Jewish history, we don’t recall the names of any great entertainers or athletes or corporate executives. We recall the great teachers of the Jewish message: Moses, King David, Maimonides, the Vilna Gaon. That is the essential Jewish legacy. The message was engrained in our souls at Mount Sinai and it is the single defining characteristic of our people.

Torah methodology is universal – for Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular, Israel and the diaspora, left and right. The Torah is alive and relevant for today. And for the Jewish people, the ability to effectively communicate this message is our single most important undertaking.

I hope this helps answer your question. Though this raises a whole new question: What are you going to do about it?!

-from “Jewish Mission”
Aish.com

We don’t often think of Jews as “missionaries.” In fact, except for arguably the Chabad, religious Judaism doesn’t really practice anything we’d call “outreach. And yet we see in the above-quoted text that the Aish Rabbi, referencing Rabbi Noah Weinberg, not only believes that the “Torah methodology is universal – for Jews and non-Jews,” but that the “Torah is alive and relevant for today,” and like Abraham, it should be used to teach everyone that we were all “created in the image of God” as a responsibility the Jewish people have to the entire world.

About a year ago, Rabbi David Rudolph delivered a sermon to his congregation Tikvat Israel called Our Mission in which he outlined the specific mission for his synagogue to reach out to the larger Jewish community in Richmond, Virginia.

Others objected after listening to the recorded sermon, stating that R. Rudolph was being exclusionary and that the mission of any Messianic Jewish group should be equally to Jews and Gentiles. Interestingly enough, I find R. Rudolph’s approach to be quite Pauline in nature (Acts 3:26, 19:8-10, Romans 1:16, 2:9). Rudolph’s complementary sermon is called ”We Need Each Other” (find it by going to Sermons and then scroll down and look under the “Unity” category) illustrating that Jewish and Gentile disciples in Messiah need really do need each other.

I chronicled all of this in two blog posts: Twoness and Oneness: From the Sermons of David Rudolph and Oneness, Twoness, and Three Converts. In a sense, this mirrors the larger normative Judaisms of our day in that the mission of religious Judaism is to bring secular Jews back to the Torah and to reach out to the people of the nations of the world, teaching them (us) the lessons of ethical monotheism and our responsibilities to the world as beings created in God’s image.

new heartI’ve been thinking of my own “mission” (so-called) to the Christian Church to share the “good news” of the Messiah, that all of Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26), that the Gentiles who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12) will come alongside Israel to raise the fallen tent of David, that the Temple will be called a house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7), but only if we will take hold of the tzitzit of a Jewish man (Zechariah 8:23) who I believe is a very specific Jewish man, Messiah, Son of David, whom the Church calls Jesus Christ.

It hasn’t gone so well and frankly, I’m concerned that any sort of effectiveness I may have once experienced is rapidly waning. I guess good news for the Jewish people doesn’t sound so good to Christians who are used to sitting in the Catbird seat, so to speak.

I recently read an objection to the Noahide laws that religious Judaism applies to the rest of the world as the minimum standards by which the nations are expected to live. I also recall a story Pastor Randy told me about his time in Israel. He noticed a Jewish man would sit just outside a Christian church or seminary (I can’t remember which one) and after engaging the man in conversation, Pastor realized this man was trying to live out his “mission” to be a light to the nations. I think my friend Gene Shlomovich is trying to do the same thing and for pretty much the same reason. From their point of view, the Noahide laws are incumbent for all of humanity, Jew and Gentile alike. And if we are to take the Aish Rabbi at his word, Torah, in some manner or fashion is also applicable on all of humanity, not just the Jewish people.

But it depends on what you call Torah or instruction, and it depends on how you want to apply the specifics of all those instructions on the Jewish people vs. the rest of the world.

Actually, as far as people go, the Noahide laws aren’t a bad place to start. They are expressed as a list of (mostly) “negative commandments,” that is, a list of “don’t” but could easily be rephrased to be the opposite. Here’s how they’re listed at AskNoah.org:

  1. Do Not Worship a False Deity
  2. Do Not Commit Blasphemy
  3. Do Not Commit Murder or Injury
  4. Do Not Have Forbidden Sexual Relations
  5. Do Not Commit Theft
  6. Do Not Eat Meat Taken from a Live Animal
  7. Establish Laws and Courts of Justice

That actually doesn’t sound bad at all. Click the link I provided just above this list to read all of the explanatory text accompanying those commandments and you’ll see there’s more to them than meets the eye (the origin of the Noahide laws can be found in Genesis 9).

Here’s the list again, reworked to a list of positive commandments:

  1. Worship the One, true God and obey Him only.
  2. Sanctify the Name of God and bless Him.
  3. Preserve and sanctify human life.
  4. Cleave to and honor your spouse, forsaking all others.
  5. Only that which is yours may you use and consume.
  6. Treat the lesser beasts with compassion, committing no cruelty to them.
  7. Establish just laws and courts in judging your fellows because your God is lawful and just in judging mankind.

wrapping paperBefore complaining that you don’t have enough of God’s laws to obey, check and make sure you’re meeting even the minimum standard I’ve just listed here.

If you’ve been paying attention, you should have noticed that each of these laws is quite Biblical and expresses the desires and will of God. They read like a condensation of the laws of the Torah and each of these laws can be unpackaged to produce a lot of detail.

For instance, it would be difficult for a single individual to establish an entire court system for his or her nation, but we can take that commandment to also mean that we should treat other people in a just manner. In fact, part of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4) includes the phrase “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” implying (or outright saying) that God will forgive our transgressions in the same manner as we forgive those who have sinned against us. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

If this is a large part of the mission of the Jewish people to the rest of the world, it’s not so bad at all. In fact, you can see the Noahide laws as the place where Jesus was starting with the non-Jewish people, principally through Paul but ultimately through all of the apostles, and then trying to elevate us, first with the four Acts 15 particulars, and then ultimately in defining how the Torah of Moses is applied to Gentile believers.

God entrusted Noah with a basic set of laws that were to be applied to all humanity. This was in the days before Abraham, and thus mankind knew or should have known what God expected of them…of us. Then, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and through Jacob’s children, the twelve tribes, the Israelites, the Jewish people, were entrusted to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6).

See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:7-8 (NRSV)

lightAs you can see, Israel was to be a light to the nations from the very beginning. It is true that Israel has had great difficulty in fulfilling that mission. The Tanakh (Old Testament) is a litany of blessings and curses God has heaped upon Israel for cycle after cycle of obedience and disobedience. And yet as we’ve seen from D. Thomas Lancaster’s New Covenant lecture series, the intent of the New Covenant was not to change the Law and how it was applied, it was and is intended to change people so that we will be able to obey the law God has given us as applied to Jews and to the Gentiles called by His Name.

Jesus was the ultimate example of Israel’s “light to the world”:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12 (NRSV)

And he transmitted or rather, reaffirmed Israel’s mission to be a light to the world to his Jewish disciples:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)

And that light was to be shown to everyone by the Jewish disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

The Master selected Paul as a special emissary to take this “good news” to the Gentiles as well as to Israel:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel…”

Acts 9:15

And it was first revealed to Peter that even the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit and be saved:

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Acts 10:44-48 (NRSV)

Unfortunately, the actual “good news” of the New Covenant blessings to the Gentiles has become rather warped in its meaning and in many cases, that it is good news to the Jew first has become forgotten, even though it is plain in the Biblical text (Romans 1:16 for example).

Spirit, Torah, and Good NewsThe Jewish mission is to repair the world (Tikkun Olam) by returning the secular Jew to the Torah and to be a light to the nations, informing us of the good news of God. From a Messianic Jewish perspective (a viewpoint I have adopted), the perfect example of the “world repairer” is Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus). He assigned his disciples to be a light to the Jewish people and to the nations, and particularly Paul was to both return the Jewish people to a more specific observance of Torah (this was illustrated in articles written by Derek Leman and David Matthews at AncientBible.net) and to illuminate the Gentiles in the diaspora with the light of Messiah.

But while the Christian Church has done much good in the world (and sadly in its history, also great evil), it is currently suffering from mission drift and is in desperate need of what you might call a Messianic Reformation. I think that was Boaz Michael’s intent in writing Tent of David and subsequently traveling back and forth across America giving Tent Builders seminars.

And so it is now up to we Messianic Gentiles inhabiting our churches to carry that light back into the Christian community. But history teaches that we won’t always be successful and that some will reject our offer of good news, substituting what they already believe they have for what Jesus intended apostles like Paul to teach. We know from Paul’s own history that he received “mixed reviews” and that while some eagerly accepted the gospel of Messiah, others vehemently rejected it.

And so it is with us. All we can do…all I can do, is to be a voice in the wilderness, a small ship on a vast and turbulent sea, crying out, raising my sails, hoping someone will have ears to hear and eyes to see, and for those who do, it is wonderful. For those who don’t, may God send another emissary who may gain better “traction,” and if He chooses not to (for did he send someone after Paul to all those who rejected Paul?), then may he forgive me for my failure and may he forgive all of us who do not or have not listened, as the Master taught, “forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Not all Christians are going to help raise the tent of David. Sometimes, they’ll let it fall.

Addendum: since writing and publishing this blog post, I revisited something I wrote almost a year ago called Conquering Wrong with Right. It was not so much a record of my own dissonance with normative Christianity but the Church as seen through the eyes of a millennial blogger; a young woman who doesn’t want to give up on the Church but who doesn’t see Christians living up to the ideal of Christ. I thought it was a fit addition to the current message.

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?

Practicing Messianic What?

studying_tanakh_messiahBy now, most Christians have at least heard of “Messianic Jews,” that is, Jewish believers in Yeshua of Nazareth who have retained their Jewish identity and continue to observe the Torah and practice Judaism in loyalty to Yeshua and their biblical heritage.

Less well known and less understood are what we can call “Messianic Gentiles.” I identify myself as a Messianic Gentile, and I am not alone. There are a lot of us, and our numbers are growing, but what exactly is a Messianic Gentile?

The Messianic Gentile is a Sabbatarian and Torah-keeper practicing Messianic Judaism, not as a wanna-be Jew, but as a Gentile. The holy Torah of Moses has commandments for both Jews and Gentiles. Judaism is a universal religion. It is naturally centered around the Jewish people (and the Jewish Messiah), but its scriptures and practices extend out to all nations, encompassing all of us in the final consummation of the Messianic Era. A Messianic Gentile lives for the Messianic Era, an idea that our Master called “the kingdom of heaven.”

-D Thomas Lancaster
“I’m a Messianic Gentile” (June 26, 2011)
FFOZ Blogs

You probably think I’m crazy even asking if Christians practice any form of Judaism. The vast, vast majority of both Christians and Jews would answer a resounding “no.” Only a tiny population of Jews and non-Jews in what is referred to as the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements (they overlap somewhat but are hardly the same thing) even ask such a question. Moreover, only some of the people inside of those movements are considering or confused by the answer.

But why even ask such a ridiculous question? First of all, I recently read such a question as it was floating by in the blogoverse and was intrigued by its audacity. One such church-going (non-Jewish) Christian says he regularly tells other people in his church that he practices “Messianic Judaism”. This is just a hair off from his possibly telling other Christians that he’s a “Messianic Jew”. I don’t want to be unfair or inaccurate, and this person did not refer to himself as a Jew, Messianic or any other kind.

-from my blog post
Do Christians Practice Judaism (October 17, 2012)

Well, color me chagrined. I seem to have run headlong into a contradiction. Boaz Michael, President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) posted a link to Lancaster’s “Messianic Gentile” blog on Facebook recently (though I can’t seem to find it on Facebook again), and I registered my embarrassment in a comment there as well (this is related to Michael’s recently published book, Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile).

But I felt the issue needed more exposure so of course, I’m blogging about it.

I really don’t think that a Christian can practice Judaism as such because it seems to muddy the waters between practicing Judaism and being a Jew. Don’t only Jews practice Judaism? It’s confusing because Judaism is more than just a religious movement (Christianity is a religious movement). It’s a people group, a culture or collection of related cultures, a lifestyle, and when factoring in Israel, it’s not just a piece of geography, but the Jewish people and the Jewish nation as well.

If you’re not Jewish, how do you “practice” all that?

According to Lancaster, a “Messianic Gentile” such as he, practices Messianic Judaism by keeping the Shabbat and keeping Torah, “not as a wanna-be-Jew, but as a Gentile.”

My Jewish wife once called me a “Jewish wannabe” in the heat of a discussion and among many other events, it has “inspired” me to attempt to embrace my identity as a Christian for the sake of clarity and as a sign that I’m “backing away from her turf.” That Lancaster calls Judaism a “universal religion” doesn’t mean (in my opinion, but I don’t have even the beginnings of the educational and experiential background in religious and Bible studies that Lancaster possesses) that it can be universally appropriated and practiced by anyone anywhere.

There’s a fine line to be drawn here. On the one hand, Gentiles dressing frum and wearing payot would be offensive to Jews and even look kind of crazy, but on the other hand, Isaiah did relate the words of God when he said:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah 49:6 ESV

Jewish in JerusalemThis goes back to something more basic we find in the Torah:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:5-8 (ESV)

Israel, in a sense, was supposed to be an example to the rest of the world by how it obeyed God and adhered to the standards of the Torah mitzvot. The rest of us were and are supposed to observe, be really impressed, and allow Israel’s idealized example influence our nations to become more just, more compassionate, and for all of us to leave our “idols” behind and embrace ethical monotheism.

Maimonidies (Moshe Ben-Chaim) Laws of Kings, Laws 11:10-12 (Capach Edition): “[10] …Can there be a greater stumbling block than this (Christianity)? That all the prophets spoke that the Messiah will redeem Israel and save them, and gather their dispersed and strengthen their Mitzvot, and this (one, i.e., Jesus) caused the Jews to be destroyed by the sword, and scattered their remnants and humbled them, and exchanged the Torah, and caused the majority of the world to err to serve a god other than the Lord. [11] Nevertheless, the thoughts of the Creator of the world are not within the power of man to reach them, ‘for our ways are not His ways, nor are our thoughts His thoughts.’ And all these matters of Jesus of Nazareth and that of the Ishmaelite who arose after him are only to straighten the way of the king Messiah and to fix the entire world, to serve God as one, as it is stated (Zephaniah 3:9), “For then I will turn to the peoples (into) clear speech, to all call in the name of G-d and serve Him unanimously. [12] How (will this come about)? The entire world has already become filled with the mention of the Messiah, with words of Torah and words of mitzvos and these matters have spread to the furthermost isles, to many nations of uncircumcised hearts, and they discuss these matters and the mitzvot of the Torah. Some say: “These mitzvoth are true, but were already nullified in the present age and are not applicable for all time.” Others say: “Hidden matters are in them (mitzvos) and they are not to be taken literally, and the messiah has already come and revealed their hidden (meanings). And when the true Messiah stands, and he is successful and is raised and exalted, immediately they all will retract and will know that fallacy they inherited from their fathers, and that their prophets and fathers caused them to err.”

-quoted from mesora.org

maimoCommentary on this quote found at mesora follows:

With respect, the point is, I think, that although Christianity and Islam are not true, they have played a part in the Divine scheme for the redemption of the whole of humanity by spreading some sort of ethical monotheism involving an albeit incorrect idea of Messiah, Torah and Mitzvot. Although Islam and Christianity are part of the overall process leading to the redemption their imperfect ethical monotheism will be rectified through the adoption of the seven laws.

Naturally, neither Judaism in general nor Maimonides in specific, support Christianity nor the idea that God intended our faith as a mechanism for spreading knowledge of God, and the opinions expressed at the mesora website reflect this. Nevertheless, we can see that Judaism has had a great influence on the world (like it or not) as expressed through Christianity and Islam.

But does “influence” equal “practicing Judaism?” Again, most Christians and certainly most if not all Muslims will strongly deny practicing Judaism in any way or form, but returning to the Messianic Gentile, what about them?

I mainly see “Messianic Gentiles” as having a different perspective than more traditional Christians (which isn’t to say that a self-identified Christian in a church couldn’t have the same point of view). As Lancaster says, they “believe that the Torah is not cancelled, and it contains laws and commandments that apply to both Jews and Gentiles. We keep those laws and commandments as we seek the kingdom.” He further states that:

The idea of practicing Messianic Judaism as a Gentile is not a new thing. Paul’s readers were doing it almost 2000 years ago.

However, in my reading of many of Lancaster’s other works, I don’t believe he is saying that we Christians are all obligated to practice Judaism nor commanded to imitate Jews in every detail in their halalach lifestyle. I don’t think you can find the early Christians who were established by Paul living in such a manner, although I admit that they did live more like the Jews of their day than we Gentile believers do today. I don’t doubt they kept a kind of kosher for table fellowship with Jews, perhaps kept Shabbos as they were able (early Gentile Christianity, unlike Judaism, was not a recognized religion by the Roman empire and Gentiles would not have been absolved from working on Shabbos as the Jews were), davened at the set times of prayer, and even observed some of the festivals (Passover would have been particularly meaningful).

But were even the ancient Christians at the end of the Second Temple era “practicing Judaism?”

A few days ago, I wrote a meditation that outlined the struggles Jewish and Gentile believers had with each other in the days of James, Peter, and Paul due to conflicts in what the Gentiles should and shouldn’t be practicing, and what sort of social bonds (if any) should form between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of the Master…all based on Lancaster’s commentaries.

I don’t think this is an easy issue to deal with. It wasn’t 2,000 years ago, and it doesn’t seem to be in the present. But if the early Christians in their religious life weren’t “practicing Judaism,” what were they doing? “Christianity” as a discrete entity did not yet exist. Were these Gentiles acting as some sort of “quasi-converts” or “amplified God-fearers?” I think the New Testament was struggling with trying to identify who and what the Gentiles were as they entered into “the Way” and never got around to answering the question.

I’m not sure the question has been answered today, either. Some Hebrew Roots supporters have jumped from A to Z and declared that Messianic Judaism is (supposed to be) all-inclusive and there are no distinctions allowed. Gentiles entering the movement acquire a covenant status that’s not only equal to the Jews in the movement, but identical to them in every conceivable detail. A “Messianic Gentile” is just a “Messianic Jew” without a particular string of DNA and (in the case of males) a circumcision.

I’m not trying to be disagreeable to Lancaster, Boaz, or anyone else, but my opinion is that we use the phrase “Messianic Gentile” as a way to describe a Christian who has a very specific view of Jews, Judaism, the Torah, and God, all relating back to what the movement teaches. But does that mean whatever Messianic Judaism is allows both Jews and Gentiles to practice Judaism as a religious or worship form? If my wife and I go to one of the local synagogues and worship together, am I practicing Judaism?

D.T. LancasterWhile my viewpoints and attitudes probably identify me as a “Messianic Gentile” by Lancaster’s definition, I tend not to use the label for a variety of personal reasons. My wife thinks of me as a Christian and I can only imagine that everyone who sees me at church doesn’t give my being a Christian (as opposed to being a Messianic Gentile) a second thought. Of course, at this stage of my life, I don’t observe anything that even resembles a Shabbat and my level of kashrut is what the Chabad Rabbi in our community would call “kosher style.” If I wanted to truly be “Messianic,” I’d have a long way to go.

I don’t lay tefillin, I don’t pray while wearing a tallit gadol, I only wear a kippah if I’m actually going to shul (since all men are required to, Jewish or not), I pray with a siddur very sparingly, I can’t pray in Hebrew (languages are not one of the things I’m good at), and in many, many other ways, I’m not a “Messianic” anything. I certainly don’t practice Judaism, Messianic or otherwise.

I can’t tell D. Thomas Lancaster or anyone else that they aren’t practicing Messianic Judaism, but on the other hand, in my own life, I can’t see how a Christian like me could ever do such a thing. I suppose this is where opinions differ and possibilities for some of us are yet to be realized. Even if my wife and daughter were to suddenly become shomer shabbos and kasher our kitchen, and I were to daven at the set times of prayer, who would I be and what would I be practicing?

I tend not to think that it’s any form of Judaism, in spite of the obvious similarities, but on the other hand, I don’t really know what to call it. One thing’s for sure, especially with the recent issues involving Gentiles at the Kotel and the lack of respect we’ve been showing at this most Holy site, I feel once again diminished (it’s so sad some Christians can’t treat Jews with respect) and I know for certain that we sure aren’t Jews.