Beliefs

bookstack3I get a regular stream of emails with questions about something someone read on Messianic Jewish Musings. Sometimes these come from regular readers and sometimes from people who ran across something on a google search. The questioners often are surprised by something they read here. It is not from the paradigm of theology they are used to. And they wonder what I believe about this or that or how I would defend my views.

Toward the end of creating a place for people to understand Messianic Jewish theology the way I see it, I am creating this post with a summary of certain big points in my theology. These are not chosen for being the most important or as a comprehensive list. They are chosen as the sort of un-ordinary beliefs, the ideas most likely to catch a person from a Christian or Jewish paradigm by surprise. I know that un-ordinary is not a word in regular use. But I didn’t want to say “strange beliefs” on the one hand or “extraordinary beliefs” on the other. And “out of the ordinary” might have worked, but it too didn’t quite capture it for me.

This post is just a summary of some key un-ordinary beliefs. I am not attempting here to give evidence for any of them, though I will say a little in order to explain and at least show that there is some reason for a person to consider them.

I welcome responses to any and all of them. Which ones do you have trouble affirming? Which ones do you adamantly disagree with? As always, my request is that we keep the dialogue respectful.

Jewish people have a covenantal responsibility to the Torah of Moses. This covenantal obligation is not somehow erased through faith in Messiah Yeshua. Jews do not leave Jewish life or Torah faithfulness at the door upon setting out to follow Yeshua. The Law-free statements in Paul are not addressed to Jews in the congregation of Messiah. Acts 15 questions a non-Jew’s relationship to Torah but assumes that for Jews in Yeshua, Torah is the way of life. Christians who doubt Messianic Jewish obligation to Torah should consider Acts 21:24 and should also ask, “Why would following a Jewish Messiah lead to Jewish rejection of the way of life God revealed to Israel and called permanent for all generations?” As Mark Kinzer has famously pointed out: The historic Jewish “no” to Jesus has been a “yes” to God. In other words: Christians have sought to convert Jews to Christianity, asking them to leave behind the commandments God gave to Israel. Presented with this false requirement, no wonder most Jews have not taken Jesus seriously. This conversion gospel makes no sense and it divides God. But this is not to say we believe in the continuing covenantal obligation of Jewish people to Torah because it is pragmatic. We believe in commandedness, the sacred obligation of all people to obey God in that which he commands them. His commandments are not burdensome, the apostles tell us, but are filled with love.

The Torah includes sign commandments that distinguish Israel as the priestly nation. Circumcision, dietary law, Sabbath, the wearing of fringes, and a few more commandments are not universal matters of righteousness, but identity markers for the chosen nation. Noah was not commanded to circumcise and neither was his diet restricted (except for eating blood and meat strangled to preserve the blood in it). Rather, Noah was uncircumcised (in spite of a midrashic tradition to the contrary) and allowed to eat all living things (even pigs). Neither did the apostles mandate circumcision for non-Jews in Messiah or restrict their diet beyond the blood prohibition. Acts 15 indicates that the sign commandments of Torah do not obligate non-Jews. Some interpreters try to use Acts 15:21 as a text to reverse the meaning of Acts 15 (as if the non-Jews in Messiah would slowly start keeping Torah), but this reading of Acts 15 is only a way of controverting the apostles. Further, the Torah itself evidences a distinction in God’s requirement for Israel and the nations (Exod 31:13; Gen 17:10; Lev 12:3; Deut 14:21; Num 15:38). These commandments were never given to the righteous of the nations.

The apostles recognize two distinct branches in the congregation of Messiah. Peter and James led the way in the mission to the Jewish people and Paul, Barnabas, and others led the mission to the Gentiles. The Jerusalem congregation prayed at the Temple, kept Sabbath, and was characterized by zeal for the Torah according to Acts. The congregations in the diaspora (outside Israel) looked to the Jerusalem congregation as the mother. James, not Peter, presided over the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 because James was the leader of the Jerusalem congregation. The Jewish Yeshua-followers remained a part of synagogue life in the diaspora and at first the Gentile Yeshua-believers did as well. Yet Paul’s letters evidence the formation of congregations outside the synagogue which were for the Gentiles and which were Law-free (by Law-free I mean not bound to the sign commandments of Torah–I don’t mean they were libertines). Paul distinguished Jews and Gentiles (Rom 11:17-21) and did not erase distinction. Much of the difficulty in recognizing this distinction between the Jewish and Gentile wing of the congregation of Messiah is because much of it was assumed by the apostles. They would never advocate Jews in Messiah abandoning Torah and this realization is the unspoken assumption behind Acts and the epistles. In spite of the lack of clarity on this matter, a number of Christian and Jewish scholars have arrived at such a theological position as detailed in Mark Kinzer’s Postmissionary Messianic Judaism.

Israel’s election as the chosen people of God is not replaced by the church’s election. There are many kinds and forms of supersessionism (replacement theology). The common form is Christianity assuming that Israel has forfeited her place and the church has stepped in. Incautious readings of Yeshua’s parables and Paul’s epistles have furthered this sad movement in history. Yet Paul’s statements in Romans and particularly in Romans 11 ought to make clear that Israel has not been cast off. The seed of Abraham remains the nation of God and redemption continues to work through Israel and will culminate with Israel. Another kind of supersessionism has risen in the recent Torah movements loosely associated with Messianic Judaism (Hebrew Roots, One Law, Two House) and involve non-Jews assuming Israel’s place as the Torah-keeping people and equating themselves with Israel on the basis of phrases in the New Testament such as “grafted in” and “commonwealth of Israel.” Israel in the flesh resists its own election (as Michael Wyschogrod poignantly observes) but cannot rid itself of this covenantal connection with God. Christianity too often disdains Israel, but as Markus Barth has gracefully observed, “no Gentile can have communion with Christ or with God unless he also has communion with Israel.” Yet for many Christians, that communion with Israel is unrecognized. The God of Jesus is the God of Israel and there is no other God. And God’s curse remains on those who dishonor Israel (Gen 12:3).

Messianic Jews are both “the Church in Israel” and “Israel in the Church.” This form of expression is found in Karl Barth, a theologian whose works I do not read but who has coined some useful terminology here (Church Dogmatics II.2, 235, 273; see Kinzer p. 176). As the “Church in Israel,” Messianic Jews represent Yeshua and the renewal only he can bring to the Jewish people. Messianic Jews are Messiah’s leaven amongst the chosen people. As “Israel in the Church,” Messianic Jews represent the link between Christians and Jews. The very existence of Messianic Jews is vital to the Church’s claim that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. The relationship between Messianic Jews and Israel is of one character and between Messianic Jews and the Church is of another character. There is solidarity with both. Messianic Jews must not remove themselves from Judaism and the Jewish people. But Messianic Jews must also maintain relations with Christianity as brothers and sisters in Messiah. A Messianic Judaism that is anti-Judaism is false and in danger of denying God’s work amongst the chosen people not only in the past and future, but also in the present. A Messianic Judaism that is anti-Christianity is equally false and in danger of denying God’s work amongst the nations. There is a lack of holiness and health in all forms of Judaism and Christianity, but God does not reject either and so we must not reject what God loves.

The renewal of Israel (the Jewish people) will come only in and through Yeshua. A Messianic Judaism which downplays Yeshua is anathema. Messianic Judaism represents the people within Israel who recognize and serve the Messiah of Israel as the only redeemer and healer sent by God to restore Israel and heal the world. If we deny him before men he will deny us before the Father. Our commitment to the way of Yeshua must show in our actions so that our words will be heard. It is insufficient to evangelize. We must be the people of Yeshua. We must reflect the values of Yeshua as Jews keeping the covenant and working for the healing of the world.

Responding to a comment, I came up with a list of points that is a good corrective to some ideas about Gentile relationships to Torah and Israel that arise in Hebraic Roots groups:

1) Non-Jewish followers of Messiah are not Israel, but are now in the commonwealth of Israel.
(2) Full Torah observance is neither an obligation nor a higher way for Christians.
(3) Jews and Gentiles remain distinct in roles and equivalent in blessing.
(4) The distinction will not disappear in the world to come.
(5) Israel is the Chosen People through descendancy from Jacob and Israel’s election is free and irrevocable.
(6) Christianity is not any more or less guilty before God than Judaism.

17 Responses to Beliefs

  1. Tishrei says:

    These are good and I would agree with your “un-ordinary” beliefs.

  2. Very well expressed, Derek! And thanks for a great blog.

    You might like to add for similar future “un-ordinary” summaries a comment on the fact that the Jewish and gentile believers in Yeshua are “distinct yet united”. That “there is no Jew or gentile, male or female” in Messiah is an argument for unity, not homogeneity – there very definitely are both males and females in the body of Messiah! We don’t all become ‘neuter’. Similarly, Jewish believers remain distinct from, yet are united with, gentile believers.

  3. Darvari says:

    Hi Derek,

    if you don’t mind me asking, I’d like to get an idea of how do Jews today deal with the fact that for at least 2600 years, God did not intervene definitively against the oppressors (through his Messiah or not), and has allowed Jews to undergo tremendous persecution, pogroms, holocausts. The Jewish Scriptures have instances where God has intervened at a national scale and saved the nation, but why hasn’t he done so for 2600 years?

    Thanks.

  4. Darvari:

    I answered you on the blog, here: http://wp.me/p2Cp3-v8

  5. jewtina says:

    Hi Derek,
    I enjoy your blog…I have a question about this. Did the law not change with the order of Melchizedek and was it not in place until “the seed came”. I am very confused about this, as I want to obey G-d and His commands, but everytime I talk about this with my peers, they tell me we are to obey the Law of Messiah and that the Law of Moses was for a time, until the seed (Yeshua) came. Also they refer to the vereses-the Letter kills and the Spirit gives life…and not on tablets of stone verse. Any help you could give me would be appreciated. Todah!

  6. jewtina:

    You are working through the challenging issues of the Torah, faith, Jews, Gentiles, and so on. There is no substitute for each person, family, community doing its own study.

    Since you asked my opinion, no, Torah has not changed in any dramatic sense. Torah is for Jews and Gentiles do not follow the sign commandments of Torah. If you’ve read much on my blog, you’ve gathered that. I have a book, Paul Didn’t Eat Pork (available on amazon), which goes over it all in more detail.

    Derek Leman

  7. jewtina says:

    Thank you, so do you go over those verses I mentioned in there? I do follow your blog, and I went thru the search bar using-Torah, Law etc. I still have not found answers to those verses. But i will continue to do so and I will buy your book and continue to study.
    Thank you again and Hashem has given you great wisdom and talent! Blessed be He.
    Shalom aleichem

  8. J.W. Wartick says:

    Thank you for this blog. I will be spending some time reading through some issues on here. I have a question, however. Who exactly do you believe “Yeshua”/Jesus is? Is he God, as Christians (like myself) claim, or something else? Why do you believe either way? I tried to get the answer from this page, but I can’t quite figure out what you’re saying about Yeshua. Thanks.

  9. asadia says:

    This was my first belief coming into the Messianic movement, but as time progressed I became more One Law. Now as I pray and study more, I have come full circle to what was originally shown to me as truth (the story of my life: always going back to the first thing). Thanks for reaffirming the Truth!

  10. mjdykstra says:

    Derek, what is your understanding when Paul says (I Cor. 10:1) that the members of the Corinthian church, which included both Jew and Gentiles, that they were brothers and that the forefathers were their forefathers. That means Abraham was the forefather of Gentiles through faith in Christ. Am I reading this correctly?

  11. mjdykstra says:

    Derek, what are your thoughts on Galatians 3:23-39, esp. vs 25, “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” Is the “law” the law of sin? Or Torah? Is the “we” Jew, Gentile, or both?

  12. drake82dunaway says:

    Derek,

    Opening thoughts:

    As far as the Sabbath, was that not consecrated upon creation of the Earth, before the Jewish identity? And does not Zechariah discuss all nations coming to celebrate Sukkot? Torah going forth from Zion, etc… If the 10 commandments only apply to Jews and I am only under the Noahide Laws or some form thereof, why were the sons of Noah judged on honoring their parents? And don’t get me started on Ezekiel and the vision of the future…

    I have trouble with these questions and how they seem to clash with Paul.

    I consider myself a messianic gentile (I wince when my relatives call me Jewish) and simply want to serve G-d. But the picture painted for a gentile without One-Law seems like a rather bleak one:

    0 Sabbaths, 0 Common Place of Worship, 0 God-Given Laws for Gentiles, 0 Feasts, 0 Liturgy, 00000000000000000…

    Is it incumbent on the Gentile to “make up” his religious life once Paul leaves town and simply be nice? Can you empathize how a gentile believer would have pangs of conscience about this? In my soul, I genuinely feel that I am to live above lawgivers like Confucius or the Dracon of Athens…all those icons that appear on secular/state monuments.

    If there were a person named…I dunno…a hypothetical “Blake Calloway” for instance…and he were to keep Sabbath, the feasts, etc. And he did so not out of simply a feeling of obligation, but also a means of heart-felt expression of love for his Messiah and G-d, and at least felt rewarded for having done it… and if he makes pains to do much of these in private, away from public spectacle…would not G-d accept that sacrifice and love him for taking the time? Or would He dismiss it as a hobby?

    How does a goy order his life?

  13. Drake:

    I understand you fell in love with the One Law teaching and it became a basis for a new identity by which you saw yourself. When First Fruits and others made cogent arguments that the One Law doctrine was a house of cards, it was upsetting for many people.

    The whole thing could have been avoided if people had approached theology from the beginning not as an entitlement, but as learners in submission to God’s revelation.

    Our identities come from God. There is no reason to be angry or upset with the identity God has given each one of us. And when we reflect deeply on the meaning of Jewish or national identities, we find there is no better or worse, only different and gloriously reflective of the creative powers of God who made many ethnicities and cultures, all in redemptive relationship with him.

    The Sabbath, dietary law, circumcision, and tzit-tzit are not required of you. This is not reason for disappointment any more than the fact that you are allowed to eat raisins, unlike a Nazirite, should upset you.

    If you love Sabbath and dietary law, keep them. In doing so, I hope you will equally consider that Yeshua’s followers should value the continuing role of the Jewish people and should not assume a Jewish identity. You can keep Sabbath as a Judeo-Christian without adopting all Jewish forms or by participating with your Jewish friends as a Judeo-Christian coming alongside. I don’t recommend wearing tzit-tzit. I recommend that Judeo-Christian and Messianic congregations find alternative prayers for non-Jews which do not assume that the one praying is part of Israel. We can distinguish and gentiles who love Torah can practice it in a way that maintains the distinction between Israel and the nations. I hope you are part of a congregation where such issues are being addressed.

    And, meanwhile, I hope you know that the various Christian traditions have equal sanctity with Jewish traditions. The Baptists and Episcopalians and other denominations have their own beautiful ways of worshipping God. There is nothing wrong with their forms in general. All traditions have room for disagreement and variation and all can be judged point by point as true and untrue. Jewish tradition is a large tent with true and untrue ideas just as Christian traditions need to be judged in light of the scriptures. But overall, Jewish traditions are no better than Christian traditions as ways of worshipping God. Jewish traditions are for Jews and the various Christian traditions are for gentiles.

    In between are the gentiles who have a great love for Israel and wish to worship alongside Israel. I think this desire is holy too. And those who choose this path should not look down on Baptists and Episcopalians. And those who choose this path should also be careful to preserve Jewish distinction and not assume Israelite identities.

    Derek Leman

  14. drake82dunaway says:

    Hmmmm…

    Interesting input. Thanks, Derek. But I must say, I think there are 2 types of people among gentiles in the Messianic Movement.

    1. Gentiles who are enamored with the cool hats, foreign language, ancient ciphers, and arcane knowledge. There are white suburbanites who sincerely wish they were ghetto. Anime gurus who wish they were Japanese. Metal, punk, skaters…they all got posers. It’s part and parcel with any sociological phenomenon.

    2. Other gentiles who are sincerely seeking to rectify the spinal incongruities of their doctrine. People who value consistency, thoroughness… Gentiles who seek to reconcile old and new, streamline them. Ones who emphasize that G-d does not change.

    In all honesty Derek, I never viewed it as an identity shift. Japhethites have a proud history of world conquest, empires, artwork, invention, etc. I never considered myself a Jew. Not now, not ever.

    But yes, FFOZ’s bellwether fiat admittedly did feel like the soul-equivalent of a 12-gauge. Not in the realm of identity as you say, but simply that much of the Bible is reading someone else’s dossier, or that every offering I had given hitherto might have been perceived of as totally worthless to G-d, or even upsetting to Him.

    I always felt that the Sermon on the Mount was speaking directly to me. Through my childhood I used images of Yeshua like that of artist Albrecht Duerer with his burning, personal gaze. Understanding otherwise is desolately sad. Perhaps I had a naive understanding of Zion as a synecdoche for all of humankind, like in Stephen Vincent Benet’s stories. Maybe the same way a migrant views the Statue of Liberty.

    It does sting somethin’ awful to ponder that you could be correct. But artists do escape to fantasy land. Maybe I’ll pup my sukkah in Middle Earth.

    Keep well Derek,
    -Dw>>

  15. burningbushministries says:

    What do you say to the Gentile and Jew who are married, does one keep the law and the other is not required to (are they one flesh)? What if the Jew has lived as a Gentile, do they return to the law? It is clear that you value the separation, and I agree that Paul’s writings in Hebrews, and Romans do lead one to see that a distinction is clearly defined. I wonder how this really looks to the Father? I believe that as a Gentile, I am equally qualified to worship the Lord in any capacity that the Jew would. The Lord is distinct in his addressing of double-standards (he hates/despises them). Therefore, what benefit is it to the Jew to deny the Gentile (ingrafted branch) the freedom to make an altar, observe sabbath, celebrate the feasts of the Lord? These are outward expressions of love for Our Creator. Not only do these acts enrich our lives (Jew or Gentile alike) they also increase our knowledge and understanding of how Jesus lived. Paul is reassuring us that these things are not required of us because “the righteous are justified by faith”. We also know that no Jew, outside of Jesus has kept the law in its entireity. I agree that the chosen people are still the chosen people, but why do you think that the Gentiles aren’t welcomed to worship as the Jews would? You go as far as to say we should have “alternative prayers”, so that we are not assuming the “one praying is part of Israel”. The fellowship of believers is a single fellowship. We are not a divided house, but a scattered remnant. We are one. I was circumsised (medically), but I haven’t begun to keep the law, because I am not obligated by it. If we observe the law it is out of reverence for the Lord, not out of obligation to the law. The law is powerless to bring about salvation and righteousness. The just are made righteous by faith.

  16. Derek Leman says:

    burningbushministries:

    You have reacted to one of the ideas I present here, but you have not read many of my articles on this topic (as I can guess by some of the things you say). If you want to know more about how I arrived at these beliefs, I hope you will read more of what I have written about these topics. There is plenty here, especially the “Non-Jews and Torah” series. To answer your long set of questions here would be like writing a whole blog series in and of itself. In many cases, the things you wrote in your comment misunderstand where I am coming from. I will give one example.

    You say, “The law is powerless to bring about salvation.” You imply that I indicated otherwise. I did not.

    I often delete comment like these, in which people wrongly assume things about my belief due to limited exposure to things I have written. I’m letting yours stand because I do think you raised good questions. I took the liberty of changing your references to God’s name to “the Lord.” I do not prefer anyone to spell out God’s name. Also, the name of God you used in your comment is incorrect.

    Derek Leman

  17. Pingback: Jewish POV: Messianic Judaism | Derech HaTorah

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