The Eternal Torah: A Response to Rich Robinson

I would like to thank Rich Robinson for his article explaining why he and many others in the Jewish missions community do not embrace Torah-observance. Rich’s article was thoughtful and I appreciate his relatively high view of Torah (for a Christian theology, it was better than most). But, as I will argue in this response, Rich’s views on the subject are part of the Old Paradigm of Supersessionism. I do not mean by this that Rich accepts the tenets of supersessionism. The most egregious form is punitive supersessionism: God has rejected Israel and left them on the planet in order to make them suffer (and we are allowed to help God in this task). Another form is standard supersessionism, where Israel is regarded as rejected and replaced, but anti-Semitism and violence are repudiated. Finally, there is structural supersessionism, and I believe Jewish mission agencies fit into this paradigm, where Israel’s continuing role in God’s plan is relegated to the end times for the most part. God’s election of Israel is largely irrelevant in the present era. Israel is simply the people from whom the Bible and Messiah came. They are beloved, but on the shelf. In the coming age, God will again be working through Israel. See R. Kendall Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology for more. Anyway, I will critique Rich’s article (”Rich Robinson and PMJ, Pt 2”) and argue that it comes from a supersessionist paradigm. . .

Rich Robinson says that the Torah as a covenant “was only intended to be temporary” and that this is understood. The New Covenant has replaced the Torah (Old Covenant). I contend that this is based on centuries of supersessionist biblical interpretation because:

1. Only by reading the Bible with supersessionist glasses is it possible to miss the fact that Jeremiah speaks of the New Covenant being made only with the house of Israel and Judah. In fact, when Yeshua says that the cup of his Last Supper represents the New Covenant in his blood, again he is speaking to Jews. I am not denying Gentile inclusion in God’s promises, but the fact that Christian theologians read Jeremiah 31 as a text for the church is by definition supersessionist.

2. Only with supersessionist glasses is it possible to assume the New Covenant replaces the Torah. (I would argue this is not the point being made in Hebrews 8, where a Messianic Jewish group is being warned not to abandon Yeshua and leave aside the greater promises of the New Covenant). The reason I say the New Covenant is not a replacement of the Torah is that it includes the Torah, which will be written on the hearts of all Israel and Judah. I would add that two other texts, which can easily be seen as parallel texts to Jeremiah 31, also show that Torah is part of the New Covenant: Ezekiel 36:27, where it is said that Israel will walk in God’s statutes after being given new hearts, and Deuteronomy 30:6, where it is said that Israel will love God heart and soul as the Torah requires.

3. Where is it “understood” that Torah was only temporary? Is this Rich’s interpretation of certain New Testament texts? Or does Rich mean the Torah itself gives evidence of being temporary? If the latter consider verses like: “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you…'” (Exod. 31:13).

I would contend that in order to properly do justice the Word of God, the Jewish mission community and Christian theologians need to reevaluate the permanence of Torah. Instead of reading the Hebrew Scriptures with a supersessionist grid, let the text speak for itself.

Rich presents a theory that the dietary law of the Torah was intended to separate Israel from the nations. I agree. The rabbis agree. No disagreement. However, his next assertion is that in the New Covenant (again, he sees this as a replacement for Torah) Jews and Gentiles are not to be separate, but together. Therefore dietary law is no longer necessary and may be considered repealed.

I think Rich and others should be open to the idea that their view of Jewish-Gentile relations may be overly simple. Galatians 3:28 says there is no Jew or Gentile, but it also says male and female. Yet same-sex marriages are repudiated by the same theologians who wish to abolish the Jew-Gentile distinction. Unity with distinction of roles is a credible reading of the Jew-Gentile, one-new-man theology of Paul. (I understand that there are texts where Rich could press this point and I would be forced into special pleading to argue otherwise, namely Ephesians 2. I think, however, the exegesis of Markus Barth bears consideration.)

I do hope that Rich and others in the Jewish mission community will reevaluate their theology of Torah and Israel. The same old answers that have come down since the time of Justin Martyr and other church fathers simply will not do. A theology formed by a supersessionist church needs refashioning when supersessionism is repudiated. God’s purpose in the people Israel is not fully appreciated in theologies such as the one Rich is proposing. Israel is not simply God’s vessel for the past and the future, but also the present. The Torah is not an obsolete covenant, but is still to this day God’s will for his people Israel.

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About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Messianic Jewish, Supersessionism, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Eternal Torah: A Response to Rich Robinson

  1. Rich says:

    Derek,

    A very brief response here and hope it does not count toward my third longer post! I’m reminded of Ronald Reagan during his presidential debates. His response to his “conversation partner” (i.e. political opponent) was often: “There you go again!”

    And that’s what I have to say to your response. “There you go again! Chalking up everything to supersessionism.” But as another less famous figure once said – H. Dermot McDonald, a theology prof of mine at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School – “You don’t damn something by putting a label on it!” Just to keep crying “supersessionism” doesn’t resolve anything. If something can be demonstrated from the OT itself and from the NT, which is the entire argument here (requiring I know more than a few posts), then it cannot be supersessionist, can it?

    It is of course possible to read through supersessionist glasses (the point of my first post was on examining our influences from culture, our own inclinations, etc.). But it is equally possible not to.

    I do agree that issues such as the present (not just ‘end-time’) role of the Jewish people need much more examination. But that is for another day.

  2. Rich:

    My point about supersessionism is this: Christian theology regarding Torah and Israel is based on it. If we repudiate it, we must reevaluate texts in light of that repudiation. My assertion is that you have not reevaluated your theology of Torah to eliminate supersessionist assumptions.

    My case is simple:
    1. God foretold a covenant with Judah and Israel in Jeremiah 31.
    2. Supersessionists replace Judah and Israel with the church.
    3. Reading the New Covenant as God’s covenant with the church is replacing Judah and Israel with the church.
    4. This reading is, by definition, supersessionist.

    If I am wrong, then show me how the original context of Jeremiah 31 can be ignored, skipped over, and applied willy-nilly to a different people without this being a supersessionist reading. Further, how can Torah in Jeremiah 31 conveniently mean something other than the Torah of Moses. Jeremiah didn’t read Christian interpretations of Paul, so I would say it is anachronistic to interpret Jeremiah using Torah in some Christian sense of the term instead of the biblical one.

    Derek

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