Tag Archives: messianic

Paul the Advocate for the Gentiles

fish mosaicThe Saturdays when we don’t have the grandkids over is usually when I do my yard work. I know for you out there, both Jews and Gentles who are Sabbath keepers, that may sound scandalous, but my wife, who is Jewish and not a believer in Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ), is out doing a side job today, and in fact left me a “honey do” list with what she wanted me to accomplish in her absence. Since she, as a Jew, isn’t observant of Shabbos, it probably would cause issues between us if I, as a Gentile, insisted on keeping the Sabbath in some manner or fashion.

The last task on the list of things for me to do outside was weeding. I hate weeding. I find it exceedingly boring. There’s nothing to do but sit on the ground with the spiders and pull useless plant matter out of the ground by the roots while hoping to avoid wasps.

My son Michael loves listening to podcasts, particularly about ancient history. My wife listens to podcasts about health and aging while going on her morning walks. Maybe I should take my iPhone out with me and listen to something too.

I have no ideas if there’s such a thing as a Messianic Jewish podcast, particularly a credible one (remember, anyone out there can put on a kippah and tallit and call themselves a Messianic Rabbi or teacher, and then spew all kinds of nonsense).

I used to listen to a lot of the recorded sermons by D. Thomas Lancaster on the Beth Immanuel congregational website. Most of them were quite illuminating.

However, I found it necessary to distance myself from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) which employs Lancaster, not because I dislike the people involved and not because I dislike FFOZ’s teachings, but because, in certain circles, it was believed that on some level I worked for them. That became a problem. My opinions expressed on this and my other blogs are my own and no one else’s. I reserve the right not to have my content restricted, edited, or censored by anyone but me.

So it’s easier to be a lone wolf blogger as well as a lone wolf believer.

But that has drawbacks. I wanted to listen to a lesson of Lancaster’s while weeding. No, that part isn’t the problem. The problem is I can’t listen to anything like that without wanting to write about it. That’s the problem.

I did listen to the first in a series of sermons Lancaster gave on the Book of Romans, specifically The Early Believers in Rome.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and it took the sting out of having to weed.

I’m not going to review the sermon as I might have done in the past, but I am going to write about some of the things it reminded me of.

It reminded me that the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul if you prefer) actually wanted Gentiles to be part of the club. No, not convert to Judaism, and not to take on board Jewish praxis, but he believed that we non-Jews are totally sufficient as worshipers of Hashem and disciples of Rav Yeshua without being Jewish.

That was a minority opinion in Paul’s day, and opinions are divided even today in Messianic and Hebrew Roots circles as to whether or not Gentiles should engage in Jewish praxis to one degree or another. Some Gentiles today feel totally inadequate in Jewish community, deciding to bypass Rav Yeshua altogether and convert to Orthodox Judaism, sort of missing the forest for the trees.

In Paul’s time, some, actually probably most, Jewish believers were of the opinion that no Gentile could come to faith in Hashem and be a disciple of Messiah without converting to Judaism and taking on the full yoke of Torah. Some, maybe most Messianic Jews in that day didn’t want hordes of unconverted Gentiles in their synagogues.

It was interesting because Lancaster explored the history of whether or not there was about a five year period when all Jews were expelled from Rome. He said that if all of the Jews, including believers in Yeshua were absent from Rome, then the Messianic congregations were left in the hands of the Gentile God-fearers.

It must have been very interesting when the Jewish believers came back to find their synagogues run totally by these Messianic Gentiles.

It also makes me wonder if many of these Messianic Jews preferred to have believing Gentiles in their own congregations. It would make sense and have advantages from their point of view. The believing Jews would have their wholly Jewish synagogues, and Gentiles could worship in a more or less parallel way in Gentile congregations.

Lancaster believes that Paul taught a different Gospel than the other Messianic Jewish Apostles.

I remember a Pastor with whom I was once well acquainted chafed at the idea that Paul had a different Gospel since there is only one Gospel of Jesus Christ. What he didn’t understand or chose not to believe was that Paul’s Gospel was good news to Jews and Gentiles alike.

It was good news to the Jews first because Messiah had come as the forbearer of the New Covenant promises of God. He came with evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of the dead, and the promise of the life in the world to come (which, by the way, are all very Pharisaic beliefs, particularly the last two).

But it was also good news to the Gentiles because they too could participate in the blessings of the New Covenant without being named members of that covenant. In other words, the Gentiles could also receive Hashem’s grace and mercy through the merit of Rav Yeshua without converting to Judaism and taking on the total body of Jewish praxis.

Paul had a lot of opposition to this Gospel from most of the other Jewish believers, at least as Lancaster tells it (and I agree with him), since their Gospel was one that was indeed good news for the Jews but only good news for the Gentiles if the Gentiles converted to Judaism.

The Jewish PaulJudaism was an official religion in the Roman empire but not so being a God-fearer, so there was a lot of motivation for Gentiles to believe the Gospel that was not Paul’s.

But Paul persevered. He had the support of James, brother of Rav Yeshua, and the Council of Leaders and Elders in Jerusalem, but the diaspora was a big place. It’s even bigger now.

Nothing has changed. We face the same problems Paul did, and I should point out that Paul never came to an ultimate resolution. All of the congregations Paul himself established believed in his Gospel for Jews and Gentiles, but Paul didn’t establish the congregations in Rome.

Nor did he establish (at least not directly) the Messianic congregations, and certainly not the mainstream Christian churches of today (though those churches probably believe something different). Paul probably would have no idea what was going on in a modern church service if he could visit one today. And while maybe he would have some difficulty with a modern Messianic Jewish service, even one closely modeled on traditional Orthodox Jewish practice, he would understand very well the problems facing believing Jews and Gentiles.

That’s what this sermon reminded me of. It reminded me why I no longer affiliate with any organized religious community (well, there are many reasons actually). It also reminded me that he truly believed I should be part of the club. Not me personally, but Gentiles like me. That we could come to faith and be disciples of Yeshua, and it’s okay if we’re not Jewish. He didn’t even have a problem with Jews and Gentiles worshiping together. Only his believing Jewish contemporaries did.

Yeah, just like today.

Thanks be to Yeshua for choosing Paul to be his special emissary to the Gentiles. Thanks be to Paul for staying the course, not giving in to peer pressure or any other kind of pressure, and being a relentless defender of both his people the Jews, but of those of us on the outside, the Gentiles who are attracted to the God of Israel by way of Jewish teachings and practice.

I’m glad there was someone pulling for us back in the day. I wish someone would take up that mantle today, but there are no more living Apostles.

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ…

I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Romans 1:1-6, 13-15 (NASB) emphasis mine.

Can You Help Us Find a Bible Study for the Coming Year?

The third month was chosen for the revelation because everything that is closely connected with the Torah and with Israel is triple in number. The Torah consists of three parts: The Pentateuch, The Prophets, and the Writings. The oral law consists of Midrash, Halakhah, and Haggadah… (Pesikta de Rav Kahana, ed. Buber pp. 186-187)

-quoted by Max Arzt in
Part 2: “The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur),” p.285
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement

My friend Tom and I have been toying with the idea of studying Torah together for quite some time, but the recent events that have seen me leave (once again) church have added emphasis to the proposal. This past Sunday, Tom and I were talking over coffee and started to define some of the parameters for our study.

First of all, I’m not sure a study focused on Torah is the best way to go. Sure, the timing is right. We are very close to the end of the current Torah cycle, and the new cycle begins with Torah Portion Beresheet on October 18th, less than three weeks away.

But Tom said that he wants to have a study that specifically focuses on Messiah and what he means in our lives. I don’t know if I want to study the sidra for each Shabbat with the idea that I must find the Messiah within its pages. What if I don’t?

The second goal of our Torah study is that we might be able to see the Messiah clearly in its pages. Remember Luke 24. This chapter establishes for us one of the key hermeneutic principles of approaching Torah. Here Yeshua tells us specifically to look in the Torah in order to see Him. “And beginning with Moshe and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).

When we first started looking for Yeshua in every Torah Portion, we were concerned that we would not be able to find Yeshua anywhere. However, much to our surprise, after beginning the work we found it difficult to stop! We have discovered that the person and work of Messiah are evident in even the most technical sections of the Torah. And the more we see Him, the more we can worship Him.

-Ariel Berkowitz
“How to Study the Torah”
MessianicPublications

While I don’t always agree with everything presented at this website, I’ve found Berkowitz’s insights valuable in the past and, when I saw this link show up in my Facebook feed, I decided to have a go at it. Seems Berkowitz has no problem seeing the Messiah in the Torah, but maybe another approach would work better for Tom and me.

I started reading the Berkowitz article with an idea to base our Bible study upon its principles. I said I found Berkowitz valuable, but that doesn’t mean I always agree with him. In taking the text at face value (and not allegorizing), he says:

This also applies to what appear to be legal sections. If God said to put a fence around the top of our houses, for example, He does not mean to build fences to protect the Torah! Literally, what is being referred to is a protective enclosure being placed around the top of a house to prevent people from falling off. (In that part of the world, most dwellings had flat roofs, which facilitated people congregating on them.) We have no permission at this point to go beyond the literal face value of the text.

D. Thomas Lancaster
D. Thomas Lancaster

Well, yes and no. Yes, I can agree that it’s a bit of a stretch to create a midrash stating that the Torah commandment to build a fence around the edge of your flat roof also means building fences around the commandments, manufacturing additional barriers to keep the observant from getting too close to the “edge” of sin. I do however, think that we can take the particular commandment and infer a general principle from it (this isn’t my original idea, I got it from one of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermons). I believe the specific commandment about building a fence around your roof can be expanded to the general principle of removing all physical hazards on your property that could potentially cause injury to family and guests. These would be acts of kindness and express concern over the well being of the people around you. I don’t think there’s too much of a stretch involved here, but it does require we think beyond the immediate situation described.

Berkowitz says:

Also associated with this principle is the necessity of determining the intended meaning of the passage. Since Moshe was the writer of the Torah, we must try to put ourselves in his shoes as he wrote it, even as we attempt to discern the Lord’s intent in giving each teaching. Moreover, we also need to put ourselves into the shoes of the people who first received the Scriptures and seek to know how they understood the text.

I agree with this wholeheartedly and I think many Bible students and scholars don’t take this far enough. Remember, almost without exception, all of the writers of the Bible are Jewish people and the Bible’s contents (with the exception of some of Paul’s letters and a few other portions) were intended to be read exclusively by Jews.

We have to at least attempt to understand what the writer was intending his readers to get out of the document, including any allusions, less than obvious references, traditions, and interpretive praxis that could be employed to derive meaning. The answers to all that are likely not easily gleaned from the plain meaning of the text and require some knowledge of the Judaism of the time period in which the document was authored.

A really good example of this is a lecture that Boaz Michael delivered some years ago called “Moses in Matthew”. I don’t think a recording of that teaching is available commercially, but I managed to get a copy of it and reviewed its contents in a blog post called “The Jewish Gospel”, Part 1 and Part 2. Rabbi Joshua Brumbach also reviewed it on his blog about three years ago.

Ariel Berkowitz
Ariel Berkowitz

I don’t want to attempt to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, so for the details, you can click on the links I’ve provided. In brief though, Boaz aptly illustrated that without understanding the highly specific mindset of Jews living in occupied Palestine in the late Second Temple period, we sometimes misunderstand (sometimes to a great degree) what Jesus (Yeshua) was teaching, leading us to a far less than perfect comprehension of the message of Messiah to his people Israel and, across history, to us.

Berkowitz continues in his article making statements I believe are in support of what I just said above:

For example, it makes a difference to our understanding of the Torah if we know that each of the ten plagues was brought against one of the gods of Egypt. It changes our perception of the book of Deuteronomy if we are aware that its format virtually follows that of other middle to late Bronze Age suzerainty treaties and covenants. Moreover, are we aware that our knowledge of ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets can help us understand the structure of Genesis, as well as why Rachel stole the family idols from Laban? Finally, what is meant by the designations “Way of the Philistines” and “King’s Highway?”

Closely connected with this rule is the principle of studying the Torah in Hebrew, its original language. There are sometimes words, thoughts, or concepts in the Hebrew of the Torah that are almost impossible to express in a translation. For example, it is helpful to know that the Hebrew word sometimes translated into English as “sacrifice” is the word korban (קָרְבָּן), which has the same root as the word meaning “to draw close.” Hence, a sacrifice is that which helps us draw close to God. In addition, there are virtually no English equivalents for the Hebrew words tahor (טָהוֹר) and tamei (טָמֵא) (often rendered pure and impure, or clean and unclean, respectively).

Again, and specifically speaking to the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles, we would also have to know how other Jewish teachers of that time period wrote, what common allusions and references they shared, the midrashic associations the readers were supposed to make, and so on. Reading Jewish texts of any time period requires knowledge of not only the religious and cultural Judaism of that point in history, but what it was to live as a Jew listening to or reading the teachings of the Rabbis.

This isn’t information always available to us.

But if we don’t always have the past at our fingertips, we do that the present:

Jewish practice and interpretation of the Torah began centuries ago—in many cases even before the time of Yeshua. Although we do not believe in the authority of the oral law, it nevertheless contains much that is useful for us today (such as an incredibly insightful periodic interpretation of the Torah). It is helpful for us, therefore, to read some of the best of the modern Jewish commentators (at least those of both the Rishonim and Akharonim), because in them we may find accurate interpretations of the most difficult passages of the Torah. Moreover, it can also be helpful to examine some of the rabbinic applications of the Torah, as some of these halachic teachings might shed some light for us on a given passage.

Jewish Man PrayingChristians don’t always take me seriously when I say that in order to understand the Bible, including (especially) the teachings of Jesus, you have to understand something about Judaism. However, this is true. Christianity has its interpretive traditions which, from their earliest inception, were designed to minimize if not outright delete any “Jewishness” from the Jewish texts. And yet, as I’ve seen time and again, ignoring a Jewish interpretation of the Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, has led to tremendous errors in the development of Christian theology and its resultant doctrine. This isn’t to say that Christianity has completely missed the boat. The Church grasps the principles of loving God and doing good to other human beings very well. They just don’t know what to do with Jewish people as having a unique covenant relationship with God, and especially have not a clue how to understand the Judaism of Jews in Messiah.

Unfortunately, Berkowitz had to employ this rather reductive list of the three rules of interpretation, which I’ve previously encountered:

  • First ask, “What does the passage say?”
  • Next ask, “What does it mean?”
  • Finally, ask, “What does it mean to me?”

Not to say that this list is bad, but if you didn’t understand that it must be expanded to include what I’ve described previously about comprehending the entire historical, cultural, linguistic, midrashic, and every other area of context in which a particular text of the Bible was written and read, then you’ve going to miss a lot.

And in describing interpretation, Berkowitz doesn’t mention that interpretation begins at translation. He admits that most people don’t have a sufficient command of the Biblical languages to read them, and thus tend to rely on translations, but he doesn’t say that some translations do heinous violence to the text. The English Standard Version, for example, changes Greek verb tenses in some of Paul’s letters and in the Epistle to the Hebrews to make the scriptures read as if the Old (Sinai) Covenant has already completely passed away and that it has totally been replaced by the New Covenant. However, the verb tenses in the actual Greek indicate that the old is in the process of still passing away, and there is no indication in the originals that the New is even here yet.

Berkowitz does say that there are a number of good study aids available and I would add to that list a variety of different translations and a lexicon to help with some of the problems modern translators have introduced.

Berkowitz states that the number one requirement in Bible study is to “rely on the Spirit of God to be our teacher.” I can agree, but I’ve argued with a few people here on my blog that the Spirit doesn’t have to exist in isolation from other resources and that we don’t have to “check our brains at the door,” so to speak.

In addressing the use of commentaries, Berkowitz says:

Some people simply will not use commentaries or study aids when studying the Bible. They say they want God to teach them, not man. The problem with this statement is that God has specifically blessed certain people in the body of Messiah with the gift of teaching. We are not disputing the fact that people can discover wonderful things in the Torah by themselves. But God’s usual method is to gift certain people who can, in turn, teach others the truths of His Word. Hence, we all need to rely on the God-gifted Torah teachers whom the Holy One places in our path.

Furthermore, we must also realize that most commentaries were originally sermons or verbal teachings before they appeared in print. If we are willing to ask another person his or her opinion about a given passage in the Bible, we should be willing to consult a commentary. There is no difference, other than the fact that one is a verbal opinion about the Torah and the other is written.

We are not islands unto ourselves. We are members of the body of Messiah, each equipped with certain areas of understanding which, when combined, help bring to all of us a more complete understanding of the Bible. Thus, we should not throw away all the books and say “we will just study the Bible.” God never meant for His people to function like that. In the resources section of this Web site we provide a continually growing list of Bible study aids, such as commentaries, that we recommend. There will undoubtedly be others, especially in other languages. But this is a good beginning for those who are new at Torah study.

TanakhI’ve come the long way around to ask a simple question. Tom and I (and whoever decides to join us) need a structure and format for our studies. We could just shoot from the hip or talk off the tops of our heads, but that’s rather self-limiting.

We need a study that is focused on the Messiah. We’d like to not have the study devolve into a “what’s right” and “what’s wrong” about theology and doctrine, which, for example, so many of these religious blogs tend to do. We would like the study to be specifically Messianic rather than traditionally Christian. If at all possible, we’d like the study not to be too expensive. Unfortunately, a lot of good teaching material out there also costs a proverbial arm and leg.

I’m open to suggestion (without the obligation of having to take everyone’s suggestions). Any ideas?

In advance, thank you for your help and insight.

Oh, and by the “coming year,” I mean within the next few weeks to a month or so, not the beginning of 2015. Thanks.

The Face of the King

lion-in-the-stormThe sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.

Ezekiel 37:20-23 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

This is a time yet to come. This is a time when God will restore all of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as a single, united people. The kingdoms will not be divided as they were in days of old. One Israel under One God.

“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”’”

Ezekiel 37:24-28 (NASB)

More over, united Israel will be ruled by One King, King Messiah, Son of David. But look at this. Messiah, the King of Israel and Ruler of the World will be their prince forever.

That would be pretty hard to do if Messiah were merely mortal. Of course, in the Messianic age, many will be resurrected, never to die again, so we could say the same of Messiah. But as a Christian, I must believe that Messiah is more.

God also says that the people of Israel, the Jewish people, will “walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.” I know I recently wrote about all this, but I’m going through my notes on my recent reading of the latter portion of Ezekiel, so I thought this would be a good time to try to pull them together. I hope I can avoid repeating myself too much.

One puzzling thing I found was this:

Then I heard one speaking to me from the house, while a man was standing beside me. He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever.

Ezekiel 43:6-7 (NASB)

I checked a large number of translations of Ezekiel 43:7 and all except one said that the Divine Presence would inhabit Ezekiel’s Temple, the Temple of the Messianic Era, forever (Young’s Literal Translation says “to the age”). You can read the larger context of that chapter to confirm that God is speaking of inhabiting the Temple of Jerusalem in the Messianic age forever. Why is this such a big deal?

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

Revelation 21:22 (NASB)

This describes events after the arrival of the New Jerusalem, after the thousand-year reign of Messiah, after all that had to come to pass has come to past. Humanity is restored in the Garden as such, and God dwells with His people as He did in the beginning.

temple_jerusalemSo how can God dwell in Ezekiel’s temple forever if in the New Jerusalem there is no temple. More to the point, God and the Lamb are the temple. I’m not even sure what that means. I posed the question to a friend of mine and he suggested that as human history ends and we all move into eternity, maybe “forever” ends, too. After all, Messiah said that the Torah wouldn’t pass away until heaven and earth passed away (Matthew 5:18). At some point, heaven and earth, as we understand them, must pass away and something eternal must come in their stead.

Still, one of the things I’m trying to accomplish on this “mission” is to discover any dissonance between how the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament depict the Messiah and the age to come. The above definitely seems to qualify.

Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord,
For what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you?
It will be darkness and not light…

Amos 5:18 (NASB)

We all want the Messiah to come to rescue and repair our broken world, but we also forget that it won’t be *poof* Messiah comes and instantly everything is fixed. There is going to be terrible war against Israel’s enemies which probably will include everyone. It won’t be pretty. Good thing the Church will be raptured up to Heaven for those seven years (I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek).

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Revelation 7:13-14 (NASB)

Wait a minute. Who is coming out of the tribulation?

Verse 14 doesn’t identify these people beyond saying that they are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, but they can’t be the Church, at least from a Christian point of view, since the last we see of the Church on earth is in Chapters 4 and 5. Everything in Chapters 6 through 19 is about the tribulation which the Church misses…

…or do they (we)?

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. (emph. mine)

Revelation 13:7-10 (NASB)

What are “saints” doing on earth during the tribulation and undergoing such harsh conditions for the perseverance of their faith? Of course, they could be people who came to faith after the Church was raptured, but would they be called “saints?” Usually people in the Church are called “saints.”

waiting-for-mannaThe doctrine of the Rapture didn’t come along until the 17th century, so it wasn’t as if the concept most Christians are pinning their hopes and dreams on has been around since the beginning. In fact, Googling “rapture doctrine” returns a series of links, many of which lead to web pages (of unverified validity) that criticize this very recent Church doctrine.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 speaks of apostasy or “falling away” of the faithful that will occur when many are deceived by the “man of lawlessness.” I can’t directly tie any “falling away” to Christians expecting a rapture to Heaven that never arrives, but I could very well believe that a lot of Christians will indeed fall away once the tribulation starts and they’re still here during the war between Messiah and Israel’s enemies. Why weren’t we given the break and free passage to Heaven we were promised from the pulpit?

I’m not saying all this to be mean-spirited but as a cautionary tale. What if Amos 5:18 is talking to believers, explaining to us that we shouldn’t be so quick to desire the coming of Messiah because it will be “the great and terrible day of the Lord.”

“I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
“And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.”

Daniel 7:13-14 (NASB)

This is obviously a vision of Messiah’s coming, but I’ve always wondered why Daniel phrased it “one like the Son of Man?” Here we have a description of the Son of Man’s Kingdom never being destroyed, we have a vision of him coming on clouds of heaven (as opposed to just being born and being a great but totally human Jewish leader as most of Judaism believes of the Moshiach), and we get the sense that he is more than human.

Renowned Talmud scholar Daniel Boyarin wrote a book called The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, which I reviewed on more than one occasion. Boyarin, who is Jewish and not a believer, makes a credible case for why a large number of first century Jews in Israel and the diaspora came to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah. Part of his evidence for why Yeshua would be seen as a legitimate candidate for Messiah comes from Daniel 7.

This classic and mysterious Jewish text by a well-known but possibly not a well understood prophet may be one of the keys to unlocking the identity of Moshiach. I sometimes receive criticism from Jewish people for my continuing faith, but somewhere between traditional Christian evangelism and Jewish anti-missionaries, may be an unbiased truth in the reading of the Bible. We must seek it out in order to escape our “religious blinders” about Messiah, so that we can see him as he truly is, not as how one doctrine or another imagines him to be.

And the children of Zion, rejoice and jubilate with the Lord your God, for He gave you the teacher for justification, and He brought down for you rain, the early rain and the late rain in the first month.

Joel 2:23

the-teacher2I had to go to Chabad.org to find a translation that describes Messiah as a teacher. Most Christian Bible translations render “He gave you the teacher” as something like “He has given you the early rain…” (NASB translation).

The Douay-Rheims Bible says “he hath given you a teacher of justice,” and Young’s Literal Translation says “He hath given you the Teacher for righteousness.”

The Jewish understanding of Messiah is that, among other things, he will come to teach us what we need to know of his ways and how we should serve him. Christianity expects a warrior, a priest, and a King, but we miss how he will teach us the Torah of justice and righteousness, tzedakah if you will (see my review of the FFOZ TV episode Seek First the Kingdom for a more detailed description of the relationship between tzedakah [charity] and justice and righteousness).

So what can we conclude from my brief (and hardly comprehensive) review of Messianic prophesy?

  • Messiah will come as the One and eternal King of Israel, return the exiled Jews to their Land, the Land of Israel, and unite them as a one people in one Kingdom ruled by one King Messiah forever.
  • The “law of the land” (Israel) will be Torah, and the Jewish people will walk in God’s statues and ordinances as in days of old, but with the Torah written on their hearts rather than on scrolls.
  • The Divine Presence will once again inhabit the third and final Temple in Jerusalem forever (though we have difficulty reconciling this with Rev. 21).
  • There will be “saints” going through the tribulation who suffer and who are killed for the sake of their faith, drawing into sharp dispute the accuracy of the modern doctrine of “the Rapture,” which states “the Church” will be literally removed from earth and into Heaven for the entire length of those troubled days.
  • The Messiah is the Son of Man and the Prince, who seems to be more than a man, who will reign eternally, who will come on the clouds of heaven, possibly in direct contradiction of modern Jewish religious thought (for the most part) which states Messiah will be completely human with no supernatural (and certainly no Divine) nature.
  • Of his many roles in the age to come, Messiah will be a teacher of justice and righteousness.

Who is the King in the age to come? Who is Messiah, Son of David, Son of God?

Christians know him as Jesus Christ. Most religious Jews see him as King Messiah. Any similarity between the two is faint at best and at worst, nonexistent.

But if you believe in a Messiah at all as either Christian or Jew, you have a duty to set aside your preconceptions and what you have been taught (and what has been assumed by your religious stream for hundreds of years) and investigate for yourself what the scriptures say. In my case, this is paying close attention to any dissonance that may occur between the Old and New Testaments. Messiah is an objective being, apart from our need to paint his portrait one way or the other. Instead of seeking his portrait, I need to see his face.

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.

5 Days: Practicing Christianity

pakistani-christians-singing-hymnsBoth the Jews and gentiles recognized that the Jews denied the gods of the nations and claimed that their God alone was the true God, the Lord of the universe, but for both Jews and gentiles the boundary line between Judaism and polytheism was determined more by Jewish observances than by Jewish theology. Josephus defines an apostate as a Jew who “hates the customs of the Jews” or “does not abide by the ancestral customs.” He defines a convert to Judaism as a gentile who, through circumcision, “adopts the ancestral customs of the Jews.”

-Shaye J. D. Cohen
Chapter 3: The Jewish “Religion”, Practices and Beliefs
From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, 2nd ed.

Many years later, as recorded in Acts 21, the apostles reaffirmed that the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were all “zealous for the Law.” To clarify the key difference between Jewish and Gentile believers, they continued: “But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 21:25).

Based on this ruling and on the revelation Christ gave to him personally, the apostle Paul staunchly fought for the right of Gentile believers to remain Gentiles. This is actually what Paul was arguing for in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, the body of Messiah accepts everyone as they are – it doesn’t matter whether you’re slave or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile. You don’t have to become something you’re not in order to follow Yeshua.

-Boaz Michael
Introduction, pg 20
from his book
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile

That’s comforting to know. God is the ultimate supporter of diversity. No matter who you are, where you come from, what your race, ethnicity, nationality, language, heritage, or anything else is, you can be reconciled to the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, Yeshua HaMashiach, the Savior of the world and the Jewish Messiah King.

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (ESV)

This is Paul, saying the same thing we read in Galatians 3:28 and it fits very well with how Cohen states Josephus defines a convert to Judaism. Since we know that Paul opposed Gentile believers becoming circumcised when they came to faith in God through the Messiah, then we understand that the Gentiles did not convert to Judaism. They retained their Gentile identities. If we compare the message of Acts 21 with the rest of the definition of a convert as presented by Josephus, we can reasonably believe that the Gentile disciples of Messiah were not required to adopt the full yoke of the Torah and not commanded to perform the entire body of mitzvot.

I know I’ve talked about this before in The Uncircumcised Convert, Part 1 and Part 2, but when I started reading my actual, official, published copy of Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David (yes, it finally arrived) and in parallel, took up Cohen’s book again (I couldn’t access it for a while because I needed to get my Kindle Fire replaced – battery problems), I immediately saw how what both Michael and Cohen wrote dovetailed into this message.

christian-coffee-cultureI know it seems as if I’m off on another religious harangue designed to bring the so-called “One Law” or “One Torah” movements within Hebrew Roots (as opposed to Jewish roots and as more opposed to Messianic Judaism) to task, but this is more personal, or more to the point, this has more to do with my personal identity.

After a recent encounter, I’ve received a very strong message that I need to redouble my efforts to return to church, stay there, and become part of the body of believers within their walls and their context. Part of that effort is picking up, to whatever degree I’m able, the identity of a Gentile believer, a Christian. Boaz Michael in his book plainly defines a “Messianic Gentile” as:

While these believers are still Christians, for the sake of clarity and definition I will call them by the term “Messianic Gentile” (the term “Gentile” meaning nothing more than “non-Jew”). A Messianic Gentile is a non-Jewish Christian who appreciates the Torah, his relationship with Israel, and the Jewish roots of his faith.

-Michael, pg 17

There are probably a fair number of Christians in churches who are also “Messianic Gentiles” based on that definition, but who just haven’t thought of themselves in such a light.

Based on my recent coffee encounter as well as other factors, not the least of which is Boaz’s book, I know I have to go to church and stay in church. It still doesn’t particularly thrill me at this stage, but I must proceed hopefully. And I know I’m not going in to change anyone or to present myself as some sort of “expert.” I’m certainly not going to bill myself as a “Messianic Gentile,” though I suppose the definition fits me after a fashion.

But who I am needs to fit better with other Christians. I can study the Jewish texts forever, and forever I will be isolated and alone because I’m not Jewish. It’s not my “Messianic Gentileness” I’m taking into the church and it’s not even my Christianity…it’s my desire to encounter God within the context of his non-Jewish disciples. Perhaps at some point, my voice will be added to theirs but for now, I need to be a learner and not a teacher.

I know I’m not a Jew and I know based on the Bible, that I’m not required or directed to act like one. Yes, the very early Gentile believers took on a number of the mitzvot such as giving to the poor among Israel, donating to build synagogues, studying the Law of Moses, and the fixed times of prayer.

All these texts imply that the recitation of prayers was a prominent feature of Jewish piety, not just for sectarians like the Jews of Qumran but also for plain folk. Jews who lived in or near Jerusalem prayed regularly at the temple. This is the plausible claim of Luke 1:10, “Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside [the temple],” and Acts 3:1, “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon.”

-Cohen, Chapter 3

PrayingWe know the early Jewish disciples met at Solomon’s colonnade (John 10:23, Acts 3:11, 5:12) at the Temple for daily prayers. The later Gentile converts to “the Way” most likely adopted the times and “the prayers” in their own worship (Acts 10:3) as well as other Jewish customs and practices, but of course, as we’ve seen above, they were not considered converts to Judaism nor obligated to the mitzvot, although it seems like they were certainly allowed to perform the mitzvot in a number of instances. That had limits, particularly in terms of access to the Temple.

When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

Acts 21:27-29 (ESV)

We may never recapture the full history of what the relationship was like between the early Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master, but we can take what information we have and use it to reasonably recognize who and what we are today as Christians. For me, that means pursuing a course of action that requires following both the timeless footsteps of the first Christians such as Cornelius (Acts 10) and the modern Gentile believers, with the firm conviction of who I am and who the Jewish people are in relation to God. If God permits, maybe my role will one day be of some use to Him among His people in the church, but for now, I just need to practice being who I am…a Christian.

Man On A String

interfaithFortunately, sociologist Steven M. Cohen has awakened me from my bloggy slumber with a post on Rosner’s Domain, a blog on L.A.’s Jewish Journal. Journalist/blogger Shmuel Rosner (who updates his blog just a wee bit more than I do) asks sociologist Steven M. Cohen, “Are you biased against intermarried Jews?” In essence, Cohen’s reply is that he has no problem with intermarried Jews, just with intermarriage.

-Julie Wiener
“Some Of My Best Friends Are Inmarried”
from the In the Mix series
The Jewish Week

I’ve missed Julie’s blogs. As an intermarried Christian husband to a Jewish wife, I have a sort of affinity with her favorite topic. On the other hand, even for an intermarried couple, my wife and I are very strange. We don’t fit anyone’s idea of intermarried, mainly because my wife’s parents were intermarried (her mother was Jewish) and she wasn’t raised in a Jewish household.

In a blog post called Being Married to the Girl with the Jewish Soul, I’ve mentioned how I feel about my wife, about her being Jewish, and about my absolute need for her to embrace her Judaism. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so before continuing here. It’ll provide a lot of context and dimension for what I’m going to say next.

Being intermarried is not bed of roses but it’s not exactly a bed of thorns, either. It does define a demarcation point between my wife and I on certain topics, but for the most part, our marriage is just like a lot of other marriages in the U.S. We’ve been married thirty years as of last April. We have three adult children. One of my sons is married and has a three-year old son of his own (my grandson, playmate, and fellow Spider-Man fan).

Another thing that makes our particular intermarriage unusual is my background in the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots movement. As a blogger, I’m remain actively involved in that realm, but only because I tend to write on Jewish and Christian themes. My wife intermittently attends shul and I don’t attend a church or congregation of any kind (long story). We both have our faiths but except for brief moments of passionate interaction on some point, they have lives of their own and rarely show up in the same room. I started this blog fifteen months ago, in part to chronicle what I imagined would be my introduction into her religious world.

When that didn’t happen, I kept on writing because that’s just what I do. I write.

Back to why I’m writing this though. As I was reading Julie’s latest blog, I started thinking about my marriage and how it seems to mirror the larger dynamic between Christians and Jews in the world. More specifically, there is a significant parallel between how I live every day of my married life and the sort of relationship, call it a vision, I would wish upon the Christians and Jews to attempt to connect and interact within the Messianic space.

There’s a sort of debate going on in certain corners of the blogosphere about the exact interaction between Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah and those Christians who are drawn to a more Jewish (or Hebraic) lifestyle and worship template. For years, there’s been a kind of “jockeying for position” among the various groups that reside beneath the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots umbrella regarding whether or not it was Christ’s original intent for non-Jewish disciples to perfectly emulate their Jewish mentors in all things, including a form of “Jewish” identity.

I used to believe that such an emulation should take place and now I don’t. Some people didn’t (and still don’t) appreciate that I changed my mind, let alone my lifestyle.

But here’s the interesting part.

Sometimes, the motives for my change in perspective have been attributed by others to the influence of various individuals and groups in the Messianic Jewish world who advocate for a Jewish/Gentile distinction within Messianism. It was as if I was accused of being a type of Pinocchio to a Messianic Jewish Geppetto; a marionette dancing at the end of someone else’s strings.

I certainly won’t deny that I have been influenced by various folks in the online and real world Messianic community, but that alone probably wouldn’t have been enough to start me investigating the scholarly and Biblical evidence for Jewish and Christian covenant distinction and relationship. After all, organizational position statements and blogosphere commentaries have never changed anyone’s mind about anything.

But I’m married to the girl with the Jewish soul and that made all the difference in the world.

I know I’ve probably explained this before, but I don’t think people understand how important this is to me. I doubt that even my wife understands any of this. Remember in my previous blog post I stressed how vital it is for me to support my wife being Jewish. Obviously, I can’t direct her observance or her lifestyle, but I know how to avoid standing in her way.

In addition to traveling on my own journey of faith, I’ve been watching my wife’s journey. As the months and years passed, I saw just how critical it was and is for her to be part of the Jewish community, to be thought of and treated as a Jew. Every time I picked up a siddur or she “caught” me praying with a tallit and tefillin, I started to feel as if I were stealing from her. It was as if she walked into the room while my hand was in her purse. It was embarrassing and I felt it was pushing us apart rather than bringing us together.

intermarriageNot that she said anything, of course. She always supported me in whatever expression of my faith I chose to observe (though there were times when she was vocal about not understanding it) but I could sense a growing wedge between us. She tried to discourage me from leaving my One Law congregation and I know she didn’t want to influence any of my decisions about what I believed and how I acted upon those beliefs.

Fat chance. How can a husband not let himself be influenced by his wife if he cares about her?

Setting all of those people, those congregations, those organizations aside who have some sort of stake in Messianic worship between Jews and Christians, I’m still a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife. I’m not the perfect husband of course (and my wife reminds me of that periodically), but that doesn’t mean I don’t love my wife and that what’s important to her doesn’t matter to me.

Being Jewish is important to her. Forging a Jewish identity and Jewish relationships for the first time as she’s well into middle-age wasn’t easy for her. She worked very hard to establish her place in the community of Jews. Being married to a non-Jew isn’t a disaster for a Jew, but my being a Christian does throw a monkey wrench into her machine (she’d deny this). My being “Messianic” and performing traditional Jewish acts of worship absolutely threw a pipe bomb into her machine (she’d deny this, too).

My wife is more important to me than whether or not someone on a blog somewhere thinks I should wear a tallit when praying, devote myself to a day of complete rest on Saturday, and try talking to God in a bad approximation of Hebrew (I know some of you are thinking about Matthew 10:34-39, but I don’t think that applies here). That’s why I do what I do and don’t do a bunch other things that other people do.

This next part is important, so pay close attention here! While I agree that Jews continue to have a special covenant relationship with God and unique covenant responsibilities that are not shared by the rest of the world, (including the world of Christians) what really sent me “over the edge” was filtering all that information through the lens of watching my Jewish wife be Jewish. If you’re not a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife, you don’t have my perspective and you are absolutely not going to get the lived experience of my point of view.

But there’s hope. I think I know how to show you what I’m feeling. I’m getting to that part.

Being married to a Jewish wife has allowed me to see Judaism from a singular perspective. I can see how important it is for a Jewish person to be uniquely Jewish and how some Jews struggle when they see others trying to co-opt that uniqueness for their own use. Part of that uniqueness is the way Jews talk, and pray, and worship, and interact, and what they wear sometimes, and lots and lots of other “identity” stuff.

And I don’t want to put my hand in my wife’s “purse” because I love her and I don’t want to take stuff from her.

Please understand that I’m not dancing at the end of some puppeteer’s strings. I’m just a husband who is looking out for his wife. I suppose my methods of doing so seem strange or unusual, but even for an intermarried couple, we can be strange and unusual. She’s not a stereotypical Jew (if there is such a thing) and I certainly am a very odd Christian.

But that’s who I am and who I choose to be and why I’ve made the choices I’ve made. I don’t think these are bad choices and in fact, I think there is a lot to be gained by we Christians coming alongside the Jewish people, even as I am “alongside” my wife, and being co-heirs with Israel, just as my wife and I share our lives together.

I was discussing some of this with my friend Gene on his blog Daily Minyan, and at one point, I made this observation in response to one of his comments:

When I was at the FFOZ Shavuot conference last spring, I met a young Jewish woman named Jordan. She is a gifted scholar and during one of her presentations at the conference, she referred to the Gentiles who supported the spiritual and national redemption of Israel as the crown jewels of the nations. Your comment reminded me of that and the fact that we Gentile disciples of the Master do have a wonderful gift from God, and He has planned out a terrific future for us.

Jordan’s teaching meant a lot to me, not just because it presented such a wonderfully unified vision of a Christian/Jewish “partnership” in the Kingdom of God, but because it so amazingly resonated with how I see my marriage. If I could give everyone reading this blog a gift, it would be to see the relationship between Christianity (that is, all non-Jews who are disciples of Jesus, regardless of denominational or congregational affilation) and Israel the way I see myself and my wife together. If we Jewish and Christian disciples of Jesus could achieve that level of affection and intimacy toward each other, we would be fulfilling the words of the Master.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” –John 13:34-35 (ESV)

Love and peace.