Tag Archives: unity

Galatians, Adoption, and Unity vs. Division

worldI took Mom to church for the first time in a while. She turned 90 last month and her Alzheimer’s isn’t going to get better, but as long as I’m with her and we take her walker, she’s okay.

The pastor gave a sermon on Galatians, which was the typical sermon on Galatians for the most part (and believe me, I’ve had plenty of experience struggling with that epistle).

He did say a few different things though. The first was that he and his wife adopted three sisters, which I thought was terrific. So many of the opponents of Christianity, particularly those who are “pro-choice” complain that while Christians want to save lives from being aborted in the womb, we don’t care about what happens to kids afterwards. Adoption is one of the ways to care for kids afterwards.

The other thing he said had to do with identity, and yes, he brought up (among other things) gender identity. Of course he also brought up law vs. grace as if non-Jews could ever have been “under the law” in the first place, but I set that aside because I’m way past arguing about it.

But then:

Continue reading Galatians, Adoption, and Unity vs. Division

Peace With Our Neighbors

Washington Post photo by William Booth

I read a story in the Jewish World Review called West Bank Jews invite Muslims over for the holidays to try for some bonding. It was published on October 21st, and describes the mayor of Efrat, a “bedroom community of 10,000 affluent Jews, including many Americans, a few miles south of Bethlehem” inviting “Palestinians from surrounding villages to come to his house and celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkos, the Feast of the Tabernacles.”

A few dozen Palestinians accepted the offer and came. It wasn’t perfect. The Israelis were armed and the Palestinians weren’t. It seems like a good time was to be had but rather tentatively.

I encourage you to read the story because I want to contrast it with what’s currently going on in the United States now that Donald Trump is the President-Elect.

There have been numerous protests over Trump’s win, some of them breaking into such violence that even extremely liberal Portland, Oregon has had enough.

A number of groups feel vulnerable and threatened by Trump including the LGBT community, tech and liberal driven Silicon Valley in California, New Yorkers, College Students, women, Muslims, Mexicans (specifically undocumented aliens), and just about every pundit who can keyboard and has internet access.

The point is, whether you voted for Clinton or Trump, we all have to live with at least four years of a Trump Presidency. It’s one thing to ask what are we going to do with Trump as the President and another thing to ask what are we going to do with each other.

Even in my own little corner of Idaho, some people are upset, although thankfully, the are peacefully protesting rather than rioting.

portland riot
Mark Graves / The Oregonian / Associated Press

Feminists have their own theories about why women voted for Trump rather than Clinton. At least according to celebrity Mike Rowe, we should know who voted for Trump and why. And at least according to The Jerusalem Post, Israel is very optimistic about a Trump Presidency.

But that doesn’t solve the problem of the polarization of America. For the past eight years, Barack Obama has increased the racial divide between whites and people of color dramatically. One would expect an African-American President to be ideally placed to promote racial healing, but instead, he did the opposite, and we’ve reaped the “benefits” in responses such as Black Lives Matter.

The liberal press and entertainment industry, which controls most of what we see on television, films, and other media, think that all America is or should be like them. Problem is, the real America isn’t one thing and it certainly isn’t the progressive ideal, which is how it was possible for Trump to be elected.

Of course people with different social and political views are going to disagree, but that doesn’t necessarily have to translate into violent riots, “cry-ins” on university campuses, and the wholesale belief that Trump is going to dial American law and culture back sixty years.

Trump hasn’t done anything yet except talk and the nation has already panicked. What are we all going to do on January 20th and going forward when Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States?

I don’t know.

diversityI know we all need to see some commonality in ourselves as Americans. We’ll never be a united nation as long as any one group expects everyone else to submit to them. We’re supposed to recognize the differences between each other and accept that diversity.

Unfortunately, that’s not happening. Diversity is accepted only as long as it’s on the official “approved” list. Acceptance and unity doesn’t exist unless it includes everyone, even people we disagree with.

In the end, there will be only one King and all this petty bickering will be silenced. Until then, we have a responsiblity to promote peace with our neighbors, even if we don’t like them.

When the Jewish People are One

Rabbi Mendel TeldonI am not Orthodox.

There. I said it.

Yes, I look like I am. I have a full beard, I am the rabbi of a traditional synagogue and don’t eat anything not kosher. But I am finally comfortable enough with myself and my Judaism to come out and say what has been lying underneath the surface for so many years.

I just can’t classify myself anymore as an Orthodox Jew.

Truth be told, as I look at the membership list of my congregation here in suburban Long Island I feel that none of my community is really Orthodox either.

Please allow me to describe to you my journey on how I reached this conclusion.

-Rabbi Mendel Teldon
“I Am Not Orthodox”
Opinion piece written for
The Jewish Week

And so begins the (you should pardon the expression) “unorthodox” commentary of Rabbi Teldon about Jewish identity from his particular perspective. I must admit, when I read this article, the first thing I thought of was Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann’s article in the most recent issue of Messiah Journal called “The Jewish People are Us – not Them” (read my review of the article for more details).

As his story progresses, Rabbi Teldon relates how, during one Erev Shabbat meal in his home, he asked his (Jewish) guests, “Do you consider yourself Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, None of the above or Other?”

The first guest thought for a few moments and said “I’m not sure. My parents were Conservative, we were married by an Orthodox rabbi, but our kids went to a Reform temple for nursery. I didn’t fast on this past Yom Kippur but my daughter’s upcoming Bat mitzvah is going to be done by an Orthodox rabbi.”

The next guy said he is Reform since currently he is not a member at any temple but he takes his family to a Reform temple in Westchester every year for the high holidays. Since his parents are on the board of directors they get a good price on tickets so it is worth the schlep. Also, while he hadn’t studied much lately, he feels that his beliefs are more in tune with the Reform movements ideas of Tikun Olam.

The third scratched his head and said, “My friends ask me this same question when they hear I am a member at an Orthodox congregation. My response is “Other” since I don’t fall into any of those categories.”

Not being Jewish, I have no real basis for evaluating the question much less the answer, except in relationship (perhaps) with Dr. Dauermann’s article. Dauermann also discusses the nature of Jewish identity and the vital necessity of Messianic Jews to relate first and foremost as Jews. That point dovetails quite nicely with what Rabbi Teldon says next:

That is when it suddenly hit me.

I am not Orthodox since there is no such thing as an Orthodox Jew. As there is no such thing as a Reform Jew or Conservative Jew.

These terms are artificial lines dividing Jews into classes and sub-classes ignoring the most important thing about us all. We share one and the same Torah given by the One and same God.

That is, from my point of view, the essence of what Rabbi Dauermann was communicating in his article. Jewish identity is more than just a label, it’s more than just whether or not you were Bar Mitzvahed by an Orthodox Rabbi, attend the High Holy Days in a Reform shul, and have your kids go to Hebrew school at a Conservative synagogue. Jewish identity is transcendent across all of these “labels.”

Of course, the Jewish people sharing affiliation across those different Jewish institutions or religious streams might have a problem with a Messianic Jew attempting to enter their spectrum of Jewish experience (and I just violated Rabbi Dauermann’s “Us, not them” emphasis).

I was also reminded of this:

We are on more solid ground if we attempt to define the term “Messianic Jew” – a Messianic Jew is simply a Jewish person who believes in Yeshua. Messianic Jews have all sorts of theological views, ranging from attending shul weekly and treasuring Yeshua in their hearts as a crypto-faith and living out a more Orthoprax Judaism, to attending a Pentecostal church every week, and simply maintaining an awareness of their Jewish identity.

“The shape of the Messianic Jewish movement”
rosh pina project

IntermarriageBut all this introduces a level of complexity into the equation of Jewish identity and Jewish community. When trying to explain these concepts to my Pastor a few weeks ago, he asked me if Messianic Jews had more in common with Judaism or Christianity. He was getting at the idea that in Christ, we are all “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) and are saved through Jesus on the cross, while most streams of Judaism deny Christ as Messiah and as the Son of God.

I don’t think I can adequately answer such a question without being Jewish. I don’t have a lived Jewish experience and a unique identity as a part of Israel. In Christianity, we are taught to revere Jesus above all else and our culture and identity is defined by our beliefs.

Jewish identity and covenant relationship with God is established at birth (with the exception of those who convert to Judaism, “Jews by choice”) and, as Rabbi Teldon said, are defined by the Torah and by God. Any Gentile can enter or leave Christianity, but a Jew is born a Jew and even if they reject that heritage, they can never leave and become an “unJew”.

Historically, as Rabbi Dauermann brought out in his article, Jews have always been required to make a choice when coming to faith in Yeshua as Messiah. Either surrender all Jewish identity, practice, and culture, or forget about becoming a disciple of Jesus and lose (or never attain) your salvation.

I seriously doubt that any Christian past or present has any idea what they were asking of Jewish people who desired to have a relationship with the Jewish Messiah. How can you ask a Jew to leave his covenant people in order to honor the capstone of Jewish history, the Messiah, Son of David, who is utterly devoted to his covenant people Israel?

Then we come to a recent debate in the blogosphere on Jewish apostasy, and by that, I mean Jews who previously were believers within a Messianic Jewish context, denouncing Jesus and re-entering another Jewish religious community. General Christian and Hebrew Roots consensus says that any Messianic Jew who desires to live a completely Jewish lifestyle in honor of his fathers, in honor of the Torah, and in honor of Messiah significantly risks leaving Yeshua-faith because, somehow, living as a completely observant Jew among completely observant Jews and focusing on Messiah are mutually exclusive experiences.

Rabbi Teldon’s commentary may seem heartwarming when applied to any other Jewish population, but Christians consider having Messianic Jews making transitions across multiple corridors of (non-Messianic) Judaism as a severe threat which will result in those Jews leaving Yeshua-faith for “dead” Jewish worship. Even many Gentiles in the Hebrew Roots movement who believe as non-Jews, they are obligated to “observe” Torah, are at least hesitant about if not actively critical of Jews in Messiah who want to actually live as Jews and among Jews. Go figure.

I wrote a review a few days ago on one of John MacArthur’s presentations at his Strange Fire conference, and at the end of my review, I brought into question who Christians should be focusing upon, God the Father, Jesus the Son, or the Holy Spirit? Christianity, including Hebrew Roots, insists that the only valid focus of Christian faith must be Jesus Christ, but if that’s true, do we simply disregard the God of Genesis, the God of Abraham,  the God of Jacob, and the God of Moses? Even at the end of all things, the Bible specifically mentions only “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:3).

I don’t see how it can be reasonable to ask a Jew to stop being Jewish in order to worship the God of Israel and Messiah, Son of David, King of the Jews. What are Jewish families in Messiah supposed to do, shop at the mall on Saturday afternoon and serve shrimp at their daughter’s wedding?

Oh, not everyone thought Rabbi Teldon’s article was heartwarming. Here are a couple of comments from the blog post:

Dear Rabbi Mendel,

Will you daven in a shul that is not Orthodox? Will you sit next to a woman who is also davening, and consider yourself yotse? Will you pray in any shul, regardless of denomination? Do you recognize those with non-Orthodox smicha as rabbis? Do you count women in a minyan? Will you daven, in tefilla b’tzibur, if there are women forming the minyan of ten? Will you share a pulpit with a woman who is a Rabbi in doing a wedding, or leading a service? I imagine that you would say yes to all of the above, since you have publicly claimed you are not an Orthodox Rabbi. If you cannot say yes to all of the above, I encourage you to publish an apology and a detraction of your public statement about being not being an Orthodox Rabbi. If you cannot say yes to all of the above, to claim one is not Orthodox is both disingenuous and inaccurate.

Thank you.

And another comment…

What do you expect? He’s a Lubavitcher. For Lubavitchers, every other Jew from unaffiliated to Satmar is classified as either Lubavitcher or not-yet-Lubavitcher. Everyone is conversion fodder to them. If one regards O/C/R as affiliations, he’s not affiliated with any of the other Orthodox orgnaizations – Lubavitch institutionally does not join with other Jewish institutions.

Except that Orthodoxy, according to R’ Micha Berger, is not a movement, but an attribute a movement can have. OU, Agudah, Lubavitch organizations, they’re all Orthodox because of their adherence to certain ideas. IOW, this is a marketing move. Since R’ Teldon finds that his congregants eschew labels, he’ll eschew labels too. Doesn’t change what he believes.

judaismIn the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements, the concept of Jewish identity is fiercely discussed, but it’s obviously a matter of concern among all of the other Judaisms as well.

I think Rabbi Teldon has the right idea. I think that the core of being Jewish must cut through all other distinctions. When the Nazis came for the Jews, it didn’t matter what the synagogue affiliation (if any) of their victims were. Jews were simply herded into cattle cars and taken away as slave labor or to the gas chambers.

While there may be some “bumps in the road” between different Jewish streams regarding who is or isn’t considered Jewish, no other form of Judaism attracts masses of non-Jews like Messianic Judaism. This has been a really BIG “bump in the road” for Jewish Messianics who desire a truly Jewish life and worship experience.

Derek Leman, who like many other congregation leaders in the Messianic movement, oversees a congregation of mostly non-Jews, and yet he also sees the need for “Jewish” Messianic Judaism, as he blogged recently. Naturally, his blog post generated a lot of discussion in the comments section, since many non-Jews associated with the movement and certainly most traditional Christians, are at least confused about why Judaism is such a big deal, to outright offended at the suggestion that Jews converting to Christianity is not God’s real plan for them.

Gentile involvement in Messianic Judaism, although well established historically, results in an interruption of Jewish community that Rabbi Teldon and those at his Shabbos table couldn’t possibly imagine. And yet, without Gentile Christian involvement and support, the vast majority of Messianic Jewish communities would not be able to exist. On top of that, most Jewish people I know in the Messianic movement originally came to faith within a Christian church context. It would seem that continued Christian Gentile involvement or crossover into Messianic Judaism is inevitable, regardless of the other problems this raises.

But God, one by one, calls back each of His Jewish children to stand before Him at Sinai and to recall the Torah of their fathers. God speaks to each Jewish person, reminding them of who He is and who they are in Him.

The apostle Paul probably understood this dilemma best. He was a Jew, a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day, zealous for the Torah, the Messiah, the Temple, and Hashem. And yet, he associated with many, many Gentiles. Yes, he always went to the synagogue first whenever he entered a town in the diaspora, and he told of the good news of Moshiach to the Jews first, and also to the Gentiles.

And yet, the Biblical record testifies that as Paul lived and eventually died among the Gentiles, he never compromised who he was as a Jew, nor was he required to make such a heinous compromise by Messiah in order to be an emissary to the Gentiles. If anything, Paul’s Jewish “credentials” underwent the most strenuous scrutiny and the apostle clung to who he was as a Jew with outstanding fidelity (see Acts 21 and subsequent chapters for multiple examples).

It was a difficult road to walk, and it is no wonder that Jews in the Messianic movement today struggle to find a path. If only it could be as Rabbi Teldon relates. If only the binding link between all Jews could be Hashem, and Torah, and the promise of Messiah, who is realized among Messianic Jews. A Messianic Jew living as a Jew among other observant Jews should never violate zealousness for Moshiach at all. It never once dimmed Paul, the Jewish emissary to the Gentile’s vision of the Messiah King.

I know both Christians and Jews will disagree with me in all that I’ve said. But when I read the Bible and factor in the historical, cultural, linguistic, and yes, Rabbinic (proto-Rabbinic) context of Paul’s world, that’s how I see him. I see Paul as a shining example that a Jew who is zealous for Torah does not have to compromise his observance or his Messianic faith in order to honor the King and to worship Hashem.

Messiah is the lynchpin, the capstone that holds all believers together, Jewish and Gentile alike, but there is a dimension possessed by Jews in Messiah that we non-Jewish disciples, by definition, cannot apprehend. God created at Sinai an identity and an experience of what it is to be Jewish in community with other Jews that is unique to the living descendants of Jacob. The Messiah means a great deal to Christians, and we would be hopelessly lost and separated from God without him. But he is even more than all that to the Jewish disciples.

Messiah is the culmination of the prophesies from the Tanakh which all speak of the personal, community, and national redemption of all Jews and of Israel. Messiah is the link that allows the people of the nations to come alongside Israel and share in the prophetic blessings. To demand that a Jew in Messiah stop being Jewish and stop participating in Judaism is to deny Biblical prophesy, deny God’s sovereign plan for Israel and the world, and frankly, when we are dumb enough to make such a silly demand, we Gentiles are shooting ourselves in the foot (remember, the Jews would offer sacrifices to God for the atonement of the nations of the Earth, and the Romans destroyed that atonement in 70 C.E.). Without Jewish Israel and Judaism, what links us to Messiah and to salvation at all?

Capstone archSomeday, Messiah will be the capstone, not only for the (mixed) body of Messiah, but for all Jews everywhere, as they flock to Jerusalem to celebrate the return of the King. We Gentile believers will also celebrate, but it is our job to help conduct the exiles back to their Torah and their Land in accordance to the will of our Master and the will of Hashem.

The party will be first and foremost for the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, the Holy people of God who He gathered to Himself at Sinai. We of the nations who are called by His Name are grafted in by a faith learned from Abraham and through the grace of Messiah and the providence of God.

Rabbi Teldon ended his article with these words:

When we are able to focus on the fact that while we have differences but a family truly remains connected eternally, it will reconfirm what we already knew: Am Yisroel Chai!

There must be a way for this to be accomplished also for Messianic Jews, because they too are part of the family, regardless of other differences. Paul is part of that family, as are James, Peter, John, and for that matter, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Messiah is part of that family, and he leads that family and that nation, for he is, first and foremost, the Jewish King.

How can Gentile believers in the Church not understand that being Jewish is a gift and demand that Jews return that gift to their Father in Heaven in exchange for Gentile Christianity? Someday what Rabbi Teldon describes will become an overwhelming reality in a way we cannot possibly imagine. Someday Messiah will bring all of his people, all of Israel home. And on that day, I and my other non-Jewish brothers and sisters will line the highway leading up to Jerusalem and loudly, jubilantly applaud the return of the lost remnant of Judaism, and cheer in joy and gratitude that the will of God has finally come to pass…

…and  we will bless God that we among the nations were allowed to humbly be a part of it all.

Introduction to Messianic Judaism: An Exercise in Wholeness

intro-to-messianic-judaism-bigSimilarly, New Testament scholars have long-held that the Jerusalem community headed by Ya’akov/James was (1) primarily composed of Yeshua-believing Jews who (2) remained within the bounds of Second Temple Judaism and (3) lived strictly according to the Torah (Acts 15:4-5; 21:20-21). Michael Fuller, Richard Bauckham, Craig Hill, Darrell Bock, Robert Tannehill, and Jacob Jervell are among the many Luke-Acts scholars who maintain that the Jerusalem congregation viewed itself as the nucleus of a restored Israel, led by twelve apostles representing the twelve tribes of Israel (Acts 1:6-7, 26; 3:19-21). Their mission, these scholars contend, was to spark a Jewish renewal movement for Yeshua the Son of David within the house of Israel (Gal 2:7-10; Acts 21:17-26).

-David Rudolph
“Chapter 1: Messianic Judaism in Antiquity and in the Modern Era” (pg 22)
Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations

I very recently discovered this book in the “New Books” section of my local library. When I saw it, I immediately checked it out (on Thursday) so that means I have only two weeks to read it before I have to return it (no renewals for new books). I was pretty excited to find this book in my local library system (which covers several counties in Southwestern Idaho) since I’ve never seen any book that could remotely be called “Messianic” in our collection of libraries before. Congratulations Rudolph and Willitts for “breaking the barrier,” so to speak.

But what made me write this “meditation” based on the Introduction and Chapter 1 of this book was the focus on a topic that has been near and dear to my heart these past few months: the ancient Messianic Jewish world and how it impacted newly minted Gentiles disciples of the Jewish Messiah.

You all know the argument. In Acts 15, what exactly did James and the Council do? Did they cancel the Torah for all disciples of Jesus or only for the Gentile disciples? Opinions vary widely (and sometimes wildly), with most Christians seeing the chapter as the final death knell of the Torah and a minority Hebrew Roots group stating that it was the foundation of universal Torah obligation for everyone.

Messianic Judaism as I’ve come to understand the movement, somewhat splits the difference.

As F. Scott Spencer points out, “The representatives at the Jerusalem conference – including Paul – agreed only to release Gentile believers from the obligation of circumcision; the possibility of nullifying this covenantal duty for Jewish disciples was never considered.” If the Jerusalem leadership had viewed circumcision as optional for Yeshua-believing Jews, there would have been no point in debating the question of exemption for Yeshua-believing Gentiles or delivering a letter specifically addressed to these Gentiles. Michael Wyschogrod rightly notes that “both sides agreed that Jewish believers in Jesus remained obligated to circumcision and the Mosaic Law. The verdict of the first Jerusalem Council then is that the Church is to consist of two segments, united by their faith in Jesus.”

-Rudolph, pg 23

Sometimes when I’m having these debates with Pastor Randy in his office, I feel like it’s just him and me (well, it is just the two of us) with my tacit partner being D. Thomas Lancaster, since it is his book we are using as the object of our talks. In finding the Rudolph/Willitts book suddenly available to me, it’s a little like finding gold or a golden information treasure trove that links back to numerous, scholarly information sources, all supporting the basic belief that the ancient Jewish believers in Jesus (Yeshua) never saw being released from circumcision and Torah observance as an option. The only question on their minds was whether or not the Gentiles had to be circumcised and thus obligated to said-Torah observance as Jews.

It’s no secret that I depend on First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) as my primary information repository for all things Messianic (and by inference, all things Christian), but no matter how reliable a source they may be, they are still one source. It’s sort of like putting all my eggs in one basket. I know better than to believe a single source of data without searching for corroborating support. While the authors and contributors of the “Introduction” book (Rudolph and Willitts are the primary authors of the book, but there are multiple, scholarly contributors as well, so the book reads like an anthology) share many of the views espoused by FFOZ, they don’t share all of them, and that variability lends itself quite well to my corroboration requirement. Do other scholars in the Messianic and Christian academic spaces support the basic belief of early believing Jewish adherence to the Torah that was considered normative and not anachronistic or transient, and do they also share the belief that Gentile disciples were united with their Jewish counterparts in the body of Messiah without having to ever accept obligations to Torah observance that were identical to Jewish observance?

ancient_jerusalemI’ve only read the Introduction and Chapter 1 of the Rudolph/Willitts book as I write this, but so far, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Rudolph cites Philip S. Alexander’s “Jewish Believers in the Early Rabbinic Literature (2d to 5th Centuries) from the book Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries (ed. Skarsaune and Hvalvik), 686-87:

They lived like other Jews. their houses were indistinguishable from the houses of other Jews. They probably observed as much of the Torah as did other Jews (though they would doubtless have rejected, as many others did, the distinctively rabbinic interpretations of the misvot). They studied Torah and developed their own interpretations of it, and, following the practice of the Apostles, they continued to perform a ministry of healing in the name of Jesus….[T]hey seem to have continued to attend their local synagogues on Sabbath. They may have attempted to influence the service of the synagogue, even to the extent of trying to introduce into it the Paternoster [the Lord’s Prayer], or readings from the Christian Gospels, or they may have preached sermons which offered Christian readings of the Torah. The rabbis countered with a program which thoroughly “rabbinized” the service of the synagogue and ensured that it reflected the core rabbinic values.

According to Rudolph, this is a description of Jewish believers who lived in the Galilee during the Tannaitic period or during the first two-hundred years (or so) of the Common Era (CE). In other words, according to Alexander, Jewish believers in Messiah continued to live as observant Jews after the lifetimes of the original Jewish Apostles of Christ.

I know I’ll get some criticism on a couple of points: the first being “circumcision” since it’s not Biblical as a means of conversion from being a Gentile to being Jewish (it certainly is Biblical in terms of the Abrahamic covenent which was re-enforced for the Jewish people by the Mosaic and New Covenants). I’m not going to get into a big argument. The Torah doesn’t presuppose circumcision as a sign of conversion because in the days of Moses, it wasn’t possible to convert to Judaism. One does not convert to a tribe or later, to a clan. By the days of the Maccabees forward, tribal and clan affiliation as a primary definition within national and covenantal Israel had been lost and Jewish religious authorities halachically introduced the process of allowing Gentiles entry into the covenants through ritual conversion.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte (convert)…

Matthew 23:15

Even Jesus accepts that the Pharisees and scribes (scribes can include other sects of first century Judaism including Essenses and Sadducees) were converting Gentiles to Judaism.

walking-together2The second point of criticism I’ll receive is how I believe that Jewish but not Gentile believers were obligated to full Torah observance as a result of the Acts 15 ruling (I’d receive a different criticism from most Christians by my belief that the Jewish apostles and disciples remained “under the Law”). See the earlier quotes in this blog post plus my six-part Return to Jerusalem series for my opinion and text supporting said-opinion on this topic. Again, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this point. I have something more important to talk about.

The beginnings of this book go back to England. Joel Willitts and I met as PhD students in the New Testament at Cambridge University, where we studied under the same supervisor…

Joel and I became good friends and found that much mutual blessing took place whenever we had conversations about the Bible and theology. I valued Joel’s perspective as a Gentile Christian and Joel valued my perspective as a Messianic Jew. There was a synergy in our exchange that often led to fresh insights and unforeseen avenues of theological inquiry. My experience at Tyndale House with Joel and other Gentile Christian friends taught me that there is indeed a God-designed interdependence between Messianic Jewish and Gentile Christian ecclesial perspectives, and that one without the other is woefully inadequate.

Those were magical days in Cambridge. Joel and I talked about what we wanted to accomplish after we completed our doctoral programs and agreed to write a book together.

-Rudolph from the book’s Introduction, pg 18

The result of that dream is the book that’s sitting next to me on my desk as I compose this blog post. A Gentile Christian and a Messianic Jew collaborated together as co-authors, co-editors, and close friends to do what in all likelihood, they could never have done independently. In fact, it took twenty-six Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians to create Introduction to Messianic Judaism. The product is a physical example of an ecclesial reality. Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians need each other. Apart, each one is only half of the whole. Together they…we are the body of Messiah.

Christianity, in general, is the ultimate in inclusionist movements. Any one from any place can turn to Messiah and be accepted. No prior experience required. As it turns out in reading Rudolph, his vision of Messianic Judaism is one that isn’t whole without including Gentile Christians. Our differences complement each other, as do the differences between a man and a woman in a marriage. We aren’t complete without each other.

I look forward to continuing my reading of Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book. So far, it is inspiring hope.

Debate or Beer?

beerOne of the glories of life in the Messianic Jewish community is the unity of worship and service between its Jewish and Gentile members within a specifically Jewish context. In recent years, however, a trend has developed that challenges the Messianic Jewish community on this very issue. This trend involves various groups and movements that teach that all Jews and Gentiles under the new covenant are called to keep the same Torah in all regards.

In so doing, these One Law movements not only misinterpret a great body of Scripture, but they also miss the unique calling of Jews and Gentiles within the Body of Messiah, robbing both groups of the biblical richness of their identity. They lose the new covenant vision of unity in Messiah between Jews and Gentiles and replace it with a man-made rallying cry, which One Law advocate Tim Hegg has expressed as “One people, One Messiah, One Torah.”

-Daniel Juster and Russ Resnik
“One Law Movements: A Challenge to the Messianic Jewish Community” (January 2005)
As downloaded from Messianic Jewish Musings
Original Source: MJ Studies

This has already started something of a minor “buzz” in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots blogospheres. I wasn’t going to write about it, but since a certain amount if misinformation (or disinformation) is already becoming promoted (no, not at Derek’s blog) on the web, I felt it necessary to present a more balanced perspective. Also, since the Juster and Resnik paper significantly mentions Acts 15 and since I’ve already spent a lot of time and effort addressing Acts 15 from the current perspective of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) as published in D. Thomas Lancaster’s commentary in Torah Club Volume 6, I thought my perspective might provide just a little illumination.

I also want to say that FFOZ is mentioned in the Juster and Resnik paper and not in a complementary fashion. The paper was published in 2005 and references material produced by FFOZ from 2003 which was written by then-contributor Tim Hegg, a well-known Hebrew Roots scholar and proponent of “One Torah.” Since that time, FFOZ has shifted its theological and doctrinal perspective to be quite a bit more like that of Juster and Resnik as documented in their paper. It’s not identical but it’s pretty close. Unfortunately, this dates the Juster/Resnik paper somewhat, but the other content they present is fairly well “spot on.”

A few things.

By the time of Yeshua, an interpretative tradition was developing concerning the requirements for Gentiles. These later became formulated as the Noahide laws, binding on all people and rooted in the covenant with Noah. Already in the first century, Judaism made a distinction between universal requirements and requirements that were the particular responsibility of Jews.

Juster/Resnik, pg 4

This statement could be misconstrued to suggest that Juster and Resnik believe the Acts 15 letter is a reworking of the Noahide Laws and that such laws were the only restrictions incumbent upon the Gentile believers in Christ from the perspective of James and the Jerusalem Council. However, a further reading of the paper reveals this is not entirely true.

As has been noted, these are very similar to the Noahide laws. This does not mean that Gentiles are free to murder, steal, and dishonor their parents. The passage assumes a universal morality, as do Paul, Peter, and James (who were present that day), and John in their writings. As Romans 2 notes, Gentiles can perceive the law of God, even without the revelation of Moses, and are responsible for many standards that are also expressed in the Bible. For example, classic Roman moral law taught the ideals of monogamous marriage, honoring parents, honesty and much more. The essential and unique addition of New Covenant ethics is the sacrificial example of Yeshua.


noah-rainbowI disagree that the halachah developed by James for the Gentile believers was a reworking of the Noahide Laws although this is a commonly held belief by many scholars and laypeople. But according to Lancaster, it would make little sense to require the Gentile believers to comply only to the Noahide Laws when in fact all of humanity is accountable to God by those standards. In fact, as I’ve mentioned on one of my blog posts, Lancaster states that James only uses the Noahide Laws as a starter and seems to leverage Leviticus 17 and 18 to forge a distinct Gentile identity in Messiah based, to some degree, on the stranger or “ger” in Israel.

In those chapters, the Torah describes the sins of the Canaanites, warns the people of Israel against imitating their ways, and prescribes four prohibitions which both the Israelite and the stranger who dwells among the nation much keep. “These correspond to the four prohibitions of the apostolic decree, in the order in which they occur in the apostolic letter.” [Richard Bauckham, “James and the Jerusalem Church,” in “The Book of Acts In Its Palestinian Setting, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 459]

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Mishpatim (“Judgments”) (pg 461)
Commentary on Acts 15:20-31

I would also direct the reader to Toby Janicki’s article The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses, found in issue 109 of Messiah Journal (Winter 2012), pp 45-62 to understand how the deceptively brief “four prohibitions” are extended to provide a rich and robust Torah observance for the non-Jewish believers that does not intrude on Jewish identity or unique covenant obligation to God.

Having read one staunch critic of the paper as well as Leman this morning, I agree that the Noahide Laws cannot be applied to the “fourfold decree” of the apostles, but that doesn’t shoot down the foundation of Juster’s and Resnik’s argument opposing the position of “grafted in” Gentile believers and Jewish believers forming a fused and completely uniform corporate identity. The so-called “One Law/One Torah” position by necessity, essentially eliminates the Jewish people in Messiah and replaces them with “One Torah” cookie cutter produced humanity. This may be inadvertent replacement theology on the part of One Law/One Torah advocates, but it is replacement theology nonetheless.

As far as I can tell, the criticism of the Juster/Resnik paper I read this morning is based on only a single element and since the Juster/Resnik position, as we see in Lancaster, is otherwise well supported, then the basic assumption of the paper remains valid.

Acts 15 specifically declares that nothing should be required of the Gentiles but four laws, three of them related to blood. Galatians 5 warns Gentiles not to receive circumcision or they will be required to keep the whole Torah. The clear implication here is that without circumcision, Gentiles are not required to keep the whole Torah. Colossians 2 warns that no one is to judge the Colossians with regard to Sabbath, New Moons or festivals. These are a shadow; the substance is Messiah. In Galatians 4:10 Paul writes that he fears that he labored over the Galatian Gentile congregations in vain because they were now observing “special days, months, seasons and years.”

Juster/Resnik, pg 2

This is probably one of the more devastating portions of their argument since the statement emphasized in the quote above plainly illustrates that the non-Jewish believers could not be obligated to keep the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews unless they were circumcised (i.e. converted to Judaism).

line-in-the-sandOne of the comments I made on Leman’s blog was that Juster and Resnik seem to draw a hard and clear line in the sand between Jewish and Gentile Torah observance, especially in their belief of how Paul saw the matter, while the Lancaster commentary appears to allow for more leeway, providing a sort of “permission” for Gentiles to extend themselves into more of the mitzvot without an implicit or explicit command to be obligated to full Torah observance over some undefined period of time.

One of the things I liked about the Juster/Resnik paper is that it was very clear in showing what Paul, or James for that matter, didn’t say (I apologize in advance for the length of this quote):

One Law teachers make a big point of James’s statement that “Moses has been read every week in the Synagogue” (Acts 15:21). This is taken to imply that Gentile believers will, in the normal course of their new life, attend synagogue and adopt more and more of the whole Torah. Since Torah life is good and beautiful, why wouldn’t he? On this basis, the verse is taken as an exhortation to further learning and the adoption of the whole Torah. Thus, One Law teachers transform an ambiguous statement into a strong and unambiguous exhortation.

They apparently overlook, however, the fact that these words spoken in the council were not included in the apostolic letter that was circulated among the congregations. If this were such a crucial exhortation to Gentiles, it is amazing indeed that the apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, did not think it important enough to put in their letter!

It is most telling that in all the epistles to congregations there is not a single word commanding Gentiles to adopt the whole Torah, and no direct statement of hope that they will eventually adopt a fully Torah- keeping life in the same way as the Jews. There is no word of such an exhortation or even mild encouragement throughout the whole book of Acts, which is written in part to show the relationship of Jewish-Gentile fellowship!

Even were we to say that Gentiles are free to embrace Torah, the calendar of Israel, and more, there is no word that there is any covenant responsibility for Gentiles to do so. Acts 21 reinforces this impression. Here James tells Paul of the rumor that he teaches Jews who embrace Yeshua to forsake Torah. This of course is not true. So, Paul demonstrates this to be a false rumor by his Temple involvement. James reminds Paul that Gentiles were freed from responsibility for the full weight of Torah. Neither Paul nor James gives the slightest hint that they were encouraging full Torah observance among Gentiles. Paul could have said, “Not only do I not teach Jews to forsake Moses, but I even encourage Gentiles to embrace more and more of the Torah as they come to understand and appreciate it.” This is the emphasis of the One Law teachers, but there is not one word in the New Testament that explicitly encourages Gentiles to grow in keeping the whole Torah.

Galatians 5 is a watershed passage. Here Paul in the strongest terms exhorts Gentiles not to receive circumcision. Some One Law teachers want to allow a legitimate option of circumcision, so they add the proviso that it should not be done for the wrong reasons. Yet, this is not in the text. The New Covenant offers the fullness of God’s blessing upon Gentiles without the necessity of circumcision. This was not the case in the Mosaic order.

ibid, pg 5

white-pigeon-kotelI think when added to the body of work produced by Lancaster, we find ample support for the Juster/Resnik position. I mentioned on Leman’s blog that I hope, given the age of the paper, the authors would be willing at some point to update and expand the document to reflect changes that have occurred in the movement and in research over the past eight years.

But given my numerous blog posts of this week, lest you think I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, I also said this on Leman’s blog:

My blog post tomorrow is my tying up all the loose ends of my “rant” for this week regarding these sorts of debates. One of the problems I have with some of our discussions is they tend to overlook the fact that, even though we disagree, we *all* still are part of the body of Messiah. I believe it is important to point out error and to support a more correct interpretation of the Bible, but how do we balance that against the need to bring organization and some manner of unity to *all* of the members of the body of Yeshua, Jewish and Gentile alike?

Rob Roy, a One Law supporter, said on the same blog post:

Probably a sign that folks are growing tired of this debate.

I’m getting tired of it, too. But my question to Derek stands. In spite of the radical differences in perspective, theology, and theory between Messianic Judaism and certain expressions of Hebrew Roots, we are all disciples of the same Master and members of the body of Messiah. If the internal organs of a person’s body fought each other as much as we do, the person would die. What’s going to happen to the body of Messiah because of us and because of the much wider “battle” of body parts we find in the various Christianites of the modern era?

My appeal to “come together” will be published in tomorrow’s morning meditation. In the meantime, we still have to talk and we’ll still disagree. May God have mercy on our limitations and particularly on our foolishness in presuming we know more than our Master.

Now can we all go out for a beer or two and loosen up or are we going to just fragment the body some more?

The Fragmented Body

fragmented-bodyPaul’s two epistles to the Corinthians grant us an up-close and personal portrait of the Corinthian community he was leaving behind. They were a diverse community of Jewish believers, God-fearing Gentiles, and recently converted pagans. They were not perfect people.

They struggled to maintain cohesion after Paul left. They often differed in their opinions and practices regarding such matters as gender roles, sexuality, use of spiritual gifts, and the doctrine of the resurrection. Some found it difficult to adapt to Judaism’s strict standards of modesty in dress and conduct. Sexual immorality was a problem. The Corinthian leadership struggled with censuring members who were engaged in immorality. A lack of qualified leaders to serve as judges in civil suits encouraged the community to use secular courts. The Corinthian believers misused ecstatic utterances and allowed charismatic antics to disrupt worship services. Philosophical monotheists among the Corinthians chafed at the prohibition on things sacrificed to idols and struggled with the concept of a literal resurrection of the dead. Visits from other apostles led to factionalism. Some among the Corinthians began to question Paul’s authority and apostleship. In his letters, Paul addresses these issues and several other problems with genuine pastoral concern.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Ki Tisa (“When you take”)
Commentary on Acts 18:11-23, pg 538
Torah Club Volume 6
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

Sound familiar? No? Consider a recent discussion in the comments section of Derek Leman’s blog. Although the topics and themes aren’t really the same (no apparent problem of sexual immorality, for example) the dynamics and the diversity of populations and opinions on all things spiritual and philosophical is very much in evidence. You have the same mix of Jewish and non-Jewish believers with a few converts tossed into the mix. That brings in a diversity of background, education, perspective, and identity into a single container which, in both ancient and modern examples, is the community of the Messiah; the body of Christ.

And after 2,000 years, we still are having a tough time getting along.

Not that the Corinthian “church” was completely representative of all believing first century communities, but whenever you involve dissimilar populations in a common group, especially a religious group, you are asking for a few “strongly worded” debates. And that’s what we experience today on the blogosphere when we come together (virtually) to have some of the same interactions that the ancient Corinthians did in the days of Paul.

Actually, there’s quite a time gap between the ancient mixed Jewish/Gentile “church” and the modern one. After the schism between Judaism and Christianity, each religion, for they became separate religions, went their own way, only getting together for a pogrom or an inquisition every now and again. The problems of the Corinthian religious congregation faded away into history…until quite recently.

Now that we’re trying to put our theological humpty dumpty back together again, we’re finding out that it would be easier to take an omelet and put it back into the broken egg-shell than it is getting different factions of Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots Christianity (and it’s variants), and more traditional Christianity (or Christianities) to come to any sort of agreement.

I know I’ve written about this before and used Lancaster’s Torah Club commentaries to do it, but in reading this past week’s Torah club chapter right on the heels of Derek’s blog post, the similarities jumped out at me again.

Doesn’t anyone else out there see it?

Was there ever a peace between the Jewish and the Gentile believers? We see strife looming largely in the Messianic world right there around 50-53 CE when Paul was the most active in his “missionary travels.” In Acts 18:1-17, Paul experiences a “split” in the synagogue at Corinth and half the Jewish membership follows Messiah right out of the synagogue and into a building next door. There were actually two competing synagogues, one Messianic and the other not, strongly contending with each other. There wasn’t unity over the Messiah in the local Jewish community let alone between Jews and Gentiles.

But then again, not all Jewish communities experienced the message of Messiah the same way.

And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.

Acts 18:19-21 (ESV)

FallingApartIt seems the synagogue in Ephesus was much more unified in its reception of Paul’s teaching on the Messiah and I’m sure he would have rather spent more time in this particular setting, but he wanted to get to Jerusalem in time for Sukkot.

I won’t pull any quotes from Derek’s blog (you can click the link and read through the comments yourself) but it seems as if the same old debates are being continually recycled. Things haven’t changed a whole lot in twenty centuries. Human nature after all, is human nature. I guess that’s why the Bible is still relevant after the passage of so much time. We’re still the same old creatures we’ve always been, stirring up the pot and making a mess out of the message of the good news.

The Messiah came and then he left. And after he left, his apostles and disciples struggled to keep the new Jewish sect of “the Way” afloat while integrating a large Gentile population in the diaspora along with whoever among the Jews would accept that Yeshua (Jesus) was Moshiach. In the end, it fell apart and all of the broken pieces have been shattered and scattered across the landscape for almost 2,000 years. Recently, we’ve been trying to put them back together again with limited success. We’re encountering pretty much the same barriers that Paul did in his “mixed population churches.” Maybe the “bilateral ecclesiology” people are on to something after all. No mix, no mixed up community.

But I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work out, at least not in an extreme and absolute segregationist sense. Paul didn’t seem to demand that the Gentiles form their own churches, although that’s how things ended up. Here we are, trying to forge new or renewed relationships to pave the way for Messiah’s return. But it seems that it will take the Messiah to teach us to get along, share our toys, and play well together.

We live in a broken world. There are religious Jews who cry out, “Moshiach now!” Given the sorry state of affairs in his “Messianic community,” maybe we should be shouting the same thing. Nothing else we are doing seems to be working out.