Tag Archives: Toby Janicki

God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel, A Book Review

When I first started writing this review, I couldn’t find anything about Toby Janicki’s new book, God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel either on First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ’s) website or through a general Google search. The book hadn’t been released for public sale when I got my advance copy at FFOZ’s recent Shavuot conference, but I didn’t realize it was so new that there was no advance publicity available. I emailed Boaz Michael and he asked me to hold off publishing my review for a few days. As a consequence, this review is a bit different than the one I originally created. Not too different though, and my conclusions are the same.

The question of when the book would become available for purchase was kept as an unexpected announcement for the Shavuot conference. Boaz and Daniel Lancaster wanted to surprise Toby by presenting him with a copy during one of Toby’s presentations. No one, including me, expected to be able to actually get their hands on “God-Fearers” as early as last week. Boaz gave me my personal copy at the conference so I’d be able to write a review soon after I returned home. I had it completely read by the time I had to board my flight at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to return to Boise last Monday night.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I read the book and discovered that it didn’t contain the one piece of content I had anticipated. I think both Toby and Boaz mentioned at the conference that this book would describe Toby’s personal journey from a One Law position to his current theological stance, which I guess we now call (more or less) “divine invitation” (I put that in quotes because when you’re invited but not commanded to take on additional Torah mitzvot beyond what a Christian would consider obligation, the results from one person to the next can be variable). I was really hoping Toby would write what it was like from inside FFOZ as their formal policy and faith structure transitioned into its current form. I was hoping to be able to actually see Toby’s personal journey against the backdrop of FFOZ’s ethical, moral, and spiritual development from what it was originally to what it has become today. At the conference, Toby even shared a story (which I’ll write about in a later “meditation”) about an “epiphany event” in his life that dramatically illustrated for him the dissonance between a Gentile publicly practicing Jewish identity behaviors and how it actually looks to Jewish people. None of that kind of content actually made it into the book.

What did make it into the book is a worthy read, however there is a fair amount of repurposed materials from articles Toby wrote for Messiah Journal (MJ). Since I read MJ regularly, the vast majority of what Toby’s book contained was familiar to me. Of course, if you don’t subscribe to MJ or you want all of this information collected in one place, God-Fearers is definitely for you. The material is also “fleshed out” somewhat so that articles that were only loosely related and published across the span of many months, are integrated into a fairly seemless set of topics focusing on the history and evolution of the presence of Gentiles in the worship of the God of Abraham.

OK, what’s the book about? Toby researches and investigates the history and context of non-Jewish people who, across the long centuries from Sinai to the fall of the Second Temple, have attached themselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but without the benefit of a formal convenant relationship with that God being available (unless you count the Noahide covenant). Toby presents to his audience, a set of pictures of what Gentiles looked like as they became aware of the God of Israel, began to grasp the concept of ethical monotheism as opposed to pagan polytheism (which was universal among the non-Jewish nations throughout the vast majority of our history), and how we non-Jews began to enter, however hesitantly, into the presence of God through the “interface” of normative Judaism.

When Christians think about God-fearers, they tend to think of the Roman Centurion Cornelius in Acts 10, who Jews would tend to call “a righteous Gentile.”

Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” –Acts 10:17-22 (ESV)

Most Christians are familiar with these verses and based on this text, we imagine that God-fearers sprang abruptly into history as fully realized as Cornelius sometime in the late Second Temple period. But Toby shows us that the concept of God-fearers goes way, way back, possibly as early as the time of Moses and the Sinai covenant. His book presents Biblical evidence of God-fearers in the psalms, such as Psalms 115, 118, and 135. He also cites Midrashic references, such as Numbers Rabbah 8:2 and Genesis Rabbah 28:5 to show us that normative Judaism acknowledged the presence of God-fearing Gentiles within their midst across the span of Jewish history.

Conceptualizing the relationship between Gentile God-fearers and the Torah is complex. It can even be complex (depending on your point of view) for the Gentiles who have become disciples of the Jewish Messiah (i.e. “Christians”). We see the bare bones of the expectations for the non-Jews who wanted to enter the Messianic covenant in Acts 15, and the book reveals itself to be a commentary not only of God-fearers the way the church traditionally thinks of Cornelius, but of the Gentile who is on a journey of discovery from first becoming aware of the God of Israel, to attaching to that God, perhaps as a Noahide or something similar, and then finally being adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High when we confess the Jewish Messiah as Lord and Master, formally becoming disciples of Jesus and members of the Messianic covenant.

Additionally, Toby describes many of the detailed questions a lot of us have in terms of Gentiles and Jewish identity markers such as Shabbat, tzitzit, tefillin, the Festivals, and other examples of the mitzvot. Please keep in mind that in writing this review, I’m shooting through material that covers over 150 pages in barely 1600 words so I’m just hitting the high points. There’s a lot more elucidating information contained in Toby’s “God-Fearers” book which of course, you’re going to have to read for yourself.

god-fearers mosaicI can see “God-Fearers” being a really great resource either for a non-Jew just entering into the Messianic movement, or for someone who has been active in the movement for awhile but who experiences significant gaps in understanding the role of a non-Jewish disciple in a Messianic Jewish context (I met many people in both of these groups last week at the conference). For those of you who fear that FFOZ is using this book to say, “Gentiles can’t study and take on anything in the Torah,” this book will reassure you that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the book represents a great deal more flexibility as far as what Gentiles are allowed and even obligated to do under Torah than I originally anticipated (I discovered this when I read part of this material in Messiah Journal some months ago). If you keep an open mind and let the book tell its own story, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed as a non-Jewish person who feels “called” to some form of Torah mitzvot observance.

As I mentioned before, I really was hoping that at least the last chapter would have told something of Toby’s personal journey. It’s one thing to provide scholarly information about “generic” non-Jews and how we relate to the Torah and the Messianic movement, but I think the book would have really come alive if Toby had shared his personal thoughts and emotions as FFOZ and he both moved away from the One Law perspective. I got a sense in having talked with Toby for a bit at the conference (he was really busy for those four or five days so I didn’t get to spend any significant time with him) that there is a lot more for him to tell than what finally made it into God-Fearers.

Do I recommend Toby’s book? Absolutely. I think it’s an extremely valuable asset for the audience I described above. I hope if this book goes to a second printing or, if it be God’s will, a second edition, that Toby will include some of his lived, personal experience into the text. The intellectual, emotional, and spiritual value of God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel would increase immeasurably if he did. That said, if you get your hands on a first edition now, consider it a terrific resource and possibly even a collector’s item.

As I mentioned before, I have a story to tell about Toby (he knows I’m going to share it on my blog) and how it is part of my own.

Blessings.

Not Ashamed

Gentiles in Messiah have been transformed by Yeshua’s redeeming work and, as we shall see, are more than just mere Noachides or first-century God-fearers. Those of us from the nations should be proud of who God created us to be. We have an important opportunity to be a light for HaShem and his kingdom that only we can be. Together with our Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah, we must work towards establishing Messiah’s kingdom and the rule of Torah, while at the same time accepting our own unique roles. At the same time, some may wonder whether it matters if a person is called a Jew or a Gentile.

Aren’t we all one new man in Messiah? Doesn’t the Torah say that there shall be one law for both the stranger and the native-born alike? In the next chapter, we will consider the context of those passages that seem to apply the same standard and obligation of Torah law to both Jews and Gentile believers.

-Toby Janicki
from his soon to be released book:
God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel
Chapter 1, pp 24-25

This book just became available from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) but I managed to get my hands on an advance copy last week at the FFOZ Shavuot conference, so I was able to read it several days ago. The first thing I thought of when I finished chapter one was the 1992 Newsboys pop song I’m Not Ashamed (boy, it was good to hear that song again). Of course the song focuses on Christians who are hesitant to share their faith in a world dominated by secular values, but I applied it to how a lot of non-Jews in the Messianic movement seem “ashamed” or “embarrassed” just to be Gentiles in a Jewish religious context. I’ve met more than a few non-Jews in the movement who somehow feel that being a Gentile just isn’t good enough. They seem to think that being Jewish is where the “action” is.

I’ve already written about the absolutely fabulous role that Gentiles play in God’s plan in the redemption of national Israel and the return of the Messiah (see Redeeming the Heart of Israel, Part 1 and Part 2). That means I certainly believe we have no reason whatsoever to be ashamed, embarrassed, or put off about not being Jewish and still worship and honor God in Messianic Judaism. Nevertheless, these emotions are ubiquitous among Gentiles in the various flavors of Messianic Judaism. I suspect this is the motivation, conscious or otherwise, for some Gentiles to be attracted to either the One Law or Two-House theologies (although I know this isn’t true of everyone in those two traditions), each of which require some “equalization” of Jews and Gentiles within Messianic Judaism though a process of homogenization of Jewish and Gentile distinction.

About the only other “cure” (besides just getting past this insecurity and being delighted in who God made you to be) for this condition among some (but far from all) Messianic Gentiles, is to leave the Messianic movement entirely, abandoning faith in the Jewish Messiah King and converting to some other form (usually Orthodox) of Judaism. This is pretty much “throwing out the baby with the bath water” and our movement has been torpedoed (yes, I said “our” since even though I’m a Christian, I can still embrace Jesus as the Jewish Messiah within his correct context) on multiple occasions by people who are struggling with personal faith and identity issues.

I must admit, I can hardly be critical of these folks since more than once I’ve been severely tempted to “throw in the towel” myself, not only in terms of the Messianic perspective, but as far as any faith tradition at all. This life can be miserably hard and lonely and it would be easier to follow the path of least resistance and to either join and blend into a traditional church or just forsake Jesus altogether and enter into the masses of the secular herd.

But I just can’t make myself do it. I can’t make myself walk away. Some incredible drive keeps pulling me back, like an enormous elastic band holding me to the center of God so that I can only run so far away from Him before being snapped back.

The marketing material for Toby’s book wasn’t available from FFOZ when I originally wrote this “meditation,” so my full review won’t appear for the next day or so. I will tell you though, that the direction this book takes dovetails quite nicely with FFOZ’s current and future vision and frankly, it works very well with my vision, too.

Like many Christians who have been involved in the Messianic movement for a while, I’ve gone through the “developmental phase” of almost hating being a Gentile and longing to discover some hidden “crypto-Jewishness” in my genealogy. I never found any, which is fortunate, because if I did, it would have robbed me of the opportunity to discover that God loves Gentile Christians, too and that He has a very specific and incredibly vital role in His plan just for us.

But the most important gift I received over the past week that I want to share with you, is that we don’t have to be ashamed or embarrassed because we’re not Jewish. We don’t have to be jealous of envious of Jews and their unique covenant relationship with God. We have something that is better even than sons and daughters. We have the right to be called God’s sons and daughters. We have the right to be the precious crown jewels among the nations.

I’m not ashamed. You don’t have to be either.

Addendum: I’ve been reminded recently that there are many congregations of non-Jews in Hebrew Roots who are not looking to create their own “Judaism.” Instead, they seek to express their worship and devotion to God in a manner that acknowledges the Jewishness of Jesus. If that’s you and you are perfectly fine being a Gentile Christian in a Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots congregation, then this blog post may not be speaking to you. That’s OK, too.

Review of “The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses”

At the same time, believers sometimes assume that HaShem’s Torah applies only to Jews and not to Gentile disciples at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the fact that the apostles “loosed” the Gentiles from these sign commandments, for the most part they are bound to the rest of the Torah’s mitzvot. It should be emphasized that Gentiles in Messiah have a status in the people of God and a responsibility to the Torah that far exceeds that of the God-fearer of the ancient synagogue and that of the modern-day Noachide (Son of Noah). Through Yeshua, believing Gentiles are been (sic) grafted in to the people of God and become members of the commonwealth of Israel. While membership has its privileges, it also has its obligations.

-by Toby Janicki
“The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses”
Messiah Journal
Issue 109/Winter 2012, pg 45
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

Excuse me. What did you say?

A few days ago when I received the latest issue of Messiah Journal (MJ) in the mail, I commented that was looking forward to reading Toby’s article, but I wondered if what he was addressing was just a rehash of previous write ups on the same topic.

No, it’s not.

Toby does something I’ve never seen done before (not that somebody else couldn’t have written about this and I’m just not aware of it). He takes the four basic prohibitions outlined in the Acts 15 “Jerusalem Letter” and deconstructs them, expanding the specific details underlying the directives of James and the Council, and then tying them all back into the relevant portions of the traditional 613 commandments. Basically, Toby uses Acts 15 as the jumping off point to explain the nature and character of a non-Jewish disciple’s obligations (yes, I said “obligations”) to the Torah given at Sinai.

I did something similar over a year ago, but my jumping off point was Matthew 28:18-20, which is commonly referred to as “the Great Commission.”

To get the true flavor of what Toby is suggesting, let’s review the basics of “the letter:”

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. –Acts 15:28-29

As Toby points out, on the surface, it seems as if the Gentile disciples of Jesus had very few responsibilities to God, but this is deceiving. As he points out in the subsequent pages of his article, each of these prohibitions has an amazing depth all its own that isn’t apparent until you dig into it. This is, as Toby muses, probably why James also said “from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15:21). The Gentile disciples would need to attend the synagogues to learn and understand the many and subtle details involved in just complying with their responsibilities to these “simple” prohibitions.

I won’t go into those details because then, I’d have to recreate large portions of Toby’s article (and you’d be better off getting a copy of MJ 109 and reading the whole thing for yourself). However, Toby doesn’t limit himself to the “Jerusalem Letter.” He responds to some of the criticisms about Christians being limited to “the letter” by explaining some of the more obvious prohibitions against murder, theft, and coveting, which were not written down and were considered “Duh…obvious commandments” (quoting D. Thomas Lancaster from his book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians [pp 252-253]). These “Oh duh” commandments also include loving your neighbor, although I notice Toby did not cite the most apparent example found in the Master’s own teachings:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” –Matthew 22:34-40

Beyond that, Toby digs further and presents some commandments that apply to the Gentile disciples that are not “Oh duh” and not found in Acts 15:

They can rather be derived from a careful reading of the Apostolic Writings in light of Jewish thought. One such set of mitzvot is the Gentile’s responsibility of honoring the Temple.

-Janicki, pg 53

What? The Temple? Most people don’t realize that during the Second Temple period, a non-Jew actually could bring an acceptable sacrifice to Herod’s Temple and expect that it would be received.

While Gentiles were not to bring certain offerings at certain times such as guilt..or sin..offerings, they were permitted and encouraged to bring burnt (olah) and peace (shelamin) offerings. The priest would attend to these offerings just as if an Israelite offered them up, and Gentiles were required to follow the same standard requirements for the sacrifices, e.g., their sacrifices were to be unblemished (Leviticus 22:21) and from an animal seven days or older (Leviticus 22:27).

-Janicki pg 54

Toby goes on to describe how the laws regarding ritual purity relate to the Gentile, as well as the application of set times for prayer (see my article The Prayer of Cornelius for additional details) and mealtime blessings.

Toby’s article does restrict certain of the mitzvot to the descendents of the Hebrews such as the mitzvah of circumcision (brit milah). I had a brief phone conversation with Boaz Michael (founder of FFOZ) yesterday, and he mentioned how the picture of circumcision in Paul’s letters seems like such an obvious demarcation line in terms of those who are fully under the Torah’s yoke, with Titus and Timothy cited as the clearest examples. Yet even in this, Toby said something very surprising:

Gentiles are specifically enjoined not to be circumcised for the ritual covenantal status. We can assume that, like Maimonidies, the apostles would have no problem with Gentiles voluntarily being circumcised for the sake of the mitzvah, but to do so complete with expectation of covenantal status as Jews would be to “seek circumcision” in the Pauline sense.

-Janicki pg 58

I must admit that a lot of this took me by surprise. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never seen the prohibitions in the Acts 15 letter expanded in terms of their scope and tied back into the Torah. I have seen the Seven Noahide Laws expanded into between 80 or 90 different sub-commandments, but traditional Judaism doesn’t generally connect these sub-commandments to the Torah of Sinai (even though they have many thematic and operational similarities). I have seen traditional Judaism confirm that, at least in the time of the Third Temple, that sacrifices of the Gentiles would be accepted, so that part wasn’t a stretch for me.

Has FFOZ changed it’s stance regarding Gentiles and the Torah? I’m not sure (I didn’t specifically query Toby before writing this review). On the one hand, it isn’t quite the same position as the viewpoint FFOZ has previously referred to as “Divine Invitation”. Being “invited” to take on board additional mitzvot beyond a Gentile’s obligation is voluntary and pretty much a “take it or leave it” approach. On the other hand, this article states that a significant portion of what we refer to as “Torah commandments” are obligations the Gentile disciples (Christians) must perform and to fail to do so constitutes a sin against God. It seems (and this is just a guess) that FFOZ is doing what I’m doing: continuing to explore and investigate God, the Bible, and a life of faith and allowing their understanding of each of these to evolve progressively.

Wow!

There are a couple of obvious concerns.

The first is that other Messianic Jewish organizations, such as the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) may take exception to the idea that Gentiles have a greater Torah obligation than previously advertised. UMJC and similar “Jewish-oriented” groups, tend to take a more definitive stance on Gentile vs. Jewish distinctiveness in worship of the Messiah, with advocates such as Tsvi Sadan proposing a complete separation between Messianic Jewish and Christian/Gentile worship of the Jewish Messiah. The content of Mark Kinzer’s book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People, which has gained a “foundational” status in the modern Messianic Jewish movement, likely operates in less then perfect accord to many of the points in Toby’s article as well.

The other concern is how all this applies to the church. It’s one thing to say that the Gentile Christian is “allowed but not commanded” to pray at fixed times (as Cornelius did), keep a “sort of” Shabbat,” and refrain from sexual relations with their wives during their menstrual periods, and another thing entirely to say these are all obligations. Once FFOZ states that there are aspects of the Acts 15 directives and other portions of the New Testament that actually obligate the Gentile believers to specific parts of Torah obedience, then we come to the realization that a very large part of the Christian world is (unknowingly) disobeying God.

OK, maybe I’m overstating the point, but Toby’s article seems to open up that can of worms and it also takes the One Law vs. Messianic Judaism debate to a whole new level. I’ve been actively participating in that debate (again) on this blog for the past several days (and I have the headaches to prove it) and I must admit, Toby’s article tosses some of the arguments presented into a cocked hat, so to speak.

As far as the debate regarding Gentile Christians, the Acts 15 letter, and the refactoring of Christian obligations to the Law are concerned (traditional Christians reading this blog cannot fail to be intrigued and maybe dismayed at this point), Toby Janicki’s article “The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses” may have put us into a whole new ballgame (please forgive the mixed metaphors). I highly recommend that you buy a copy of Messiah Journal, issue 109 for this article alone. Toby’s article is nothing less than landmark.