Much of this discussion has been focused around passages of the Torah detailing “one law” or “one statue” to be followed by the native Israelite and the sojourner (Exodus 12:48-49; Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 9:14; 15:15-16, 29-30). The majority of these passages actually pertain to specific legislation, where a uniform set of instruction needed to be followed. What these passages establish in a wider, theological and philosophical sense, has caused interpreters to draw a number of conclusions. Traditional Judaism widely interprets the “one law” passages as implying that the ger in Ancient Israel was only anticipated or expected to keep a minimum amount of Torah commandments, and this is followed by many of today’s Messianic Jews. Others in the broader Messianic community have held to the position that while the native Israelite and sojourner are not exactly the same, there are too many areas of equivalence, and that the sojourner was anticipated to keep the considerable bulk of the Torah’s commandments, which for many in ancient times would inevitably lead to circumcision and native status being granted.
“Associated FAQs on the One Law Debate,” p. 130
One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit
This is the second part of my two-part review of McKee’s book (I published Part 1 yesterday). As I mentioned, his arguments regarding what he refers to as “Divine Invitation,” “Covenant Obligation,” and “Supernatural Compulsion” regarding how a non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish disciple should respond to the Torah mitzvot (at least within the community context of Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots) form the foundation of his book.
McKee advocates for the “Supernatural Compulsion” argument based on the New Covenant language found in Jeremiah 31 but, as I mentioned yesterday, since the Torah isn’t actually written on anyone’s heart yet and won’t be until the second advent, his stated motivation for a Gentile “keeping Torah” does not yet exist.
McKee dedicates about the first third of his book to explaining in great detail the passages in the Torah (listed above) related to “one law” and how the gerim or (Gentile) resident aliens among Israel were to be included and treated identically to the native Israelite in certain matters, usually related to ritual sacrifice. As McKee himself rightly states, all of the “one law” passages are conditional and do not describe a blanket commandment for Gentiles to simply enter ancient Israel and automatically be treated as a native in every single way.
I give “props” to McKee for his obviously detailed research and dedication to the topic of “one law” in ancient Israel but it almost doesn’t matter. Those passages cannot anachronistically be applied either to the Gentiles entering the Jewish worship stream of “the Way” in the first century C.E. or to we Gentile Christians, Messianic Gentiles, or Gentile One Law devotees today.
McKee even gives us the clue as to why:
…that the sojourner was anticipated to keep the considerable bulk of the Torah’s commandments, which for many in ancient times would inevitably lead to circumcision and native status being granted. (emph. mine)
I have long since asked and answered the question Whatever Happened to the Mixed Multitude and McKee has also just answered it. The commandments related to “one law” and the gerim (resident aliens) were originally created to deal with the “mixed multitude” of people (probably fellow slaves of various nationalities) who came with the Israelites out of Egypt. If they didn’t want to return to their own countries and desired to stay with Israel, what was to be done with them?
“You shall not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land. The sons of the third generation who are born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.”
–Deuteronomy 23:7-8 (NASB)
This is why the “one law” passages in the Torah can never be used to justify Gentile “obligation” to Torah observance in the manner of the Jewish people among Christians in Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots today. They do not apply. This method of assimilation was designed to allow the resident alien, who would never be an Israelite, to enter a path so that their grandchildren would be admitted into the Israelite nation as a native. There was never an intention of a sustained multi-generational presence of Gentiles who remained Gentiles and yet were otherwise treated exactly like Israelites including in their observance of all of the mitzvot.
With the passage of time, the gerim were assimilated culturally and religiously. Doeg the Edomite, for instance, was a worshiper of YHWH by the time of Saul (I Sam. 21:8), as was Uriah the Hittite in the reign of David (II Sam. 11:11). Hence, the ger, in contrast to the nokhri, was required in many cases to conform to the ritual practices of the native Israelite. Thus, gerim were subject to laws dealing with ritual purification (Num. 19:2–10), incest (Lev. 18:26) and some of the food taboos (Lev. 17:10–16; but cf. Deut. 14:21). They were expected to observe the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14), participate in the religious festivals (Deut. 16:11, 14), and fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29). They were permitted to offer up burnt offerings (Lev. 17:8; 22:18; Num. 15:14ff.) and, if circumcised, even to sacrifice the paschal lamb (Ex. 12:48–49; Num. 9:14). Indeed, they, no less than the Israelites, were expected to be loyal to YHWH (Lev. 20:2; cf. Ezek. 14:5–8).
-from “Strangers and Gentiles”
Jewish Virtual Library
If you click on the link I provided just above, you can read a more detailed treatment of the subject from a Jewish point of view, but as we can see in the above-quoted paragraph, there is a long history of gerim entering Israel as resident aliens and as they married and had children, eventually their descendants were assimilated into Israel and their Gentile past was forgotten.
In order for any “one law” portions of the Torah to apply to Gentiles today relative to their (our) status among Jewish believers and our duty to the Torah mitzvot, there would have had to have been a sustained presence of Gentiles among Israel who continued, generation by generation, to remain Gentiles and yet to observe the commandments in the manner of the Israelites…
…and that population never existed. It’s as if McKee wasted the first third of his book making an argument that in the end doesn’t matter.
The later part of the book has a section called The Torah Will Go Forth from Zion and specifically analyzes the impact of Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4 on the Messianic and One Law communities today. McKee does well in his description of these nearly identical portions of scripture up to a point. Then he tries to force Ephesians 2:11-12 and 3:6 into the picture.
Let’s have a look. I’ll use the NASB translation:
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
…to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…
–Ephesians 2:11-12, 3:6
Now here’s part of McKee’s commentary (pp. 112-13)
Later questions posed in the Apostolic Scriptures, such as whether or not the nations of the Earth are somehow made a part of Israel’s polity by acknowledging the Messiah…
This does and doesn’t seem to say that the rest of the nations of the Earth somehow “become” part of Israel, as if national Israel expands to encompass those nations, eliminating their former identities (America, Canada, Japan, China, and so on) and simply all becoming “planetary Israel” if you will.
McKee spends a great deal of time in this part of his book, which supposedly addresses Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4, on the effort of including the nations as part of Israel rather than vassal nations serving Israel and her King in the coming Messianic Age, and his most outrageous statement is this:
…but it forms the thrust of what it truly means for born again Believers to truly make up the “one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:15, NRSV/CJB) that the Lord wants to see emerge. Nowhere in the Bible do we ever see the implication that the community of Israel is to remain an exclusively Jewish entity… (emph. mine)
I thought I was done having to tolerate the Christ at the Checkpoint anti-Israel diatribes for this year. This is the worst possible example of anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish Israel in Christian rhetoric. It’s doubtful McKee meant to come off that way. He sometimes tries to bend over backward to establish mutual respect of Christianity and Judaism. But the implications of his statement are both startling and dismaying. It’s like finding the spirit of Haman in the Church. Even the Koran claims that Israel belongs to the Jews.
And just so you don’t think I’m exaggerating, here’s a quote from the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference About Us page:
Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.
Do you see the parallels between the two statements?
McKee seems to be invoking the Wesleyan philosophy of “mutual submissiveness” and any theology that makes one party in the Messianic Ekklesia somehow superior to or even different (though equal) from another violates this principle. The idea is that Jews and Gentiles in Messiah are mutually dependent upon each other.
I actually agree with that part of it as far as it goes and as was stated by Rabbi David Rudolph in the first chapter of his (and Joel Willitts’) book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, but equality does not mean uniformity. I think McKee is forgetting that Jesus is coming back as a King! As his subjects, we will serve the King of Israel, he won’t be as submissive to us as we are to him. Also remember:
For thus says the LORD, “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, And shout among the chief of the nations; Proclaim, give praise and say, ‘O LORD, save Your people, The remnant of Israel.’ (emph. mine)
–Jeremiah 31:7 (NASB)
If Israel is the “chief” or the “head of the nations,” that means two things: 1). Israel is the leader of all the nations and the other nations of the Earth are subservient to Israel, and 2). There are other nations besides Israel in the Messianic Kingdom.
Even a quick reading of Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4 lets us recognize language such as “the peoples” and “many nations” in contrast to national Israel. If we all become “Israel” and “every knee shall bow” (Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10), then there can be no other nations, only Israel with a citizenry that is multi-ethnic containing the remnant population of the entire world all as Israelis. Too many Messianic prophesies, including those cited by McKee, specifically mention Israel and the nations.
All this hinges on a single word in ancient Greek: Politeia (πολιτεία). However, I refuse to create an entire theology based on one word that’s used once in only one of Paul’s letters.
McKee’s logic is typical of the one law argument:
- Politeia means “citizen”
- Gentile believers are citizens of Israel
- As citizens of Israel, Gentiles must obey the same national laws as the Jews, that is, the Torah
That’s probably too simple, but you get the idea. Except that the meaning of being separated from citizenship into (or the commonwealth of) Israel is assumed. Verse 13 states, ” But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” At least in English, being “brought near” is not the same as “being made identical to.”
Also, Ephesians 3:6 speaks of Gentiles as “fellow heirs and fellow members of the body,” but “body” is not the same thing as “nation”. What body?
…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
–Romans 12:5 (NASB)
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
–1 Corinthians 12:27 (NASB)
Put together, what does it all mean? I believe it means we Gentiles, though our faith in Messiah and his atoning sacrifice for humanity on the cross, have been brought into the blessings of the promise of the New Covenant, which includes the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation before God, justification, receiving the Holy Spirit, and heirs of the resurrection and a life in the Messianic Kingdom.
If I have to define my citizenship, I’d have to say that it’s in the promise of what is yet to come in the Kingdom of Messiah, and this Kingdom encompasses the entire planet which will be made up of Israel as the head of all the nations, and then all of the vassal nations that serve Israel and her King.
In that light, I can either choose to let “politeia” be a sticking point or I can factor it in to the larger Biblical panorama and let the overarching plan of God for Israel’s redemption and through her, the redemption of the world tell its own story.
There’s a lot more I could say (I took very detailed notes when reading McKee’s book) but the bottom line is whether or not McKee convincingly made his point that the “one law” passages of the Bible can be applied to modern Christianity as viewed through the New Covenant lens, resulting in a fused or near-fused national identity of Jews and non-Jews as a “Torah-observant Israel”.
As I mentioned, McKee did not convince me that the “one law” passages of the Torah are in any way relevant to modern believers because they were applied in a historical and cultural context that no longer exists. Therefore, “one law” cannot be factored directly into the New Covenant promises and the inclusiveness of the nations in the blessings of those promises.
While I find McKee’s application of “one law” as a “supernatural compulsion” compelling, especially given my own attraction to Jewish studies and practice, I can’t accept that the Messianic Age has already arrived, which is what would have to occur for that “compulsion” to be a result of the “Torah written on the heart.” The best I can give him here is that it is quite possible we will all be living more jewishly in the age to come, but I don’t believe that drive can be seen in the majority of Christians today.
That said, even McKee admits that Christians in the Church today are obedient to eighty or ninety percent of the Torah commandments that can be obeyed today, so perhaps the “compulsion” to obey God’s Torah is more evident than I imagine. Add to that Gentiles like me who seem naturally attracted to Jewish practices and the study of Messianic Judaism as the proper lens for viewing the Bible, and I could even say that a sort of “one law” viewpoint is one way we see evidence of the approach of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Holy Spirit preparing us for the promises of what is yet to come (not, as you can imagine, that I am advocating for “one law” as the best possible application).
And remember, even McKee says he can’t really answer when or how Christians will turn toward the Torah of Moses and the ways of God or even what that will exactly look like.
McKee’s comparison of Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4 to sections of Ephesians 2 and 3 somehow establishing a worldwide citizenship in national Israel made up of a multi-cultural population just doesn’t play. In order to make it work, his protestations aside, he has to diminish God’s promises to Jews as the exclusive citizenry and possessors of Israel.
McKee’s book is an interesting but ultimately disjointed “patchwork quilt” of Evangelical and Wesleyan Christianity and Jewish practice that just doesn’t fit together (and that said, I did enjoy reading it). In denigrating certain parties within Messianic Judaism, he also reduces Jewish influence on their own sovereignty and history, both past and future. The idea that Israel was never meant to be the sole property of the Jewish people in perpetuity completely violates God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In imposing “mutual submissiveness” as a cardinal value in Gentile/Jewish Messianic community, he misses that Kings and Kingdoms are not “mutually submissive” but in fact, Kings rule subjects and we are his subjects.
I admire McKee’s apparent effort in his scholarly investigation into the topic and his willingness to challenge the established norms typically associated with One Law practitioners. I also, as I’ve said before, appreciate his high view of the Church and his respect for traditional Christians and the history of the saints, but his even-tempered viewpoint in these areas does not successfully make all the mismatched moving parts in this theory and theology work together.
A final note. Please understand that this doesn’t mean I don’t like McKee (I don’t even know him) or that I am saying Gentiles shouldn’t appreciate or even perform some practices that are typically considered Jewish (observing a form of Sabbath, dietary restrictions, building a sukkah). There are a variety of reasons for doing so (such as being intermarried). I’m just saying, as a reviewer, that I do not believe McKee made a sufficiently convincing case based on his research, interpretation, and presentation. Your mileage may vary.
Addendum: Pete Rambo just published Part 2 of his review of McKee’s book.