Since my professor, Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, is reading this blog, I do hope I don’t get into trouble for posting a school assigment on the blog. I wrote this paper as one-fifth of my final exam for Messianic Jewish Spirituality, a course in preparation for ordination in the UMJC (umjc.net) through the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute (mjti.org). This paper is longer than one of my usual posts, but I do hope you will read it anyway and interact.
Cornelius, Nicolaus, and Peter
Jewish and Gentile Roles in Messianic Judaism
Messianic Jewish congregations who are serious about being a Judaism need to find models to distinguish the roles of Jews and Gentiles in the Congregations. This is a matter of integrity as well as theology.
For those who have already made a commitment to a binary ecclesiology, a term coined by Mark Kinzer in Messianic Judaism: Genus and Species as well as in Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, we are already comfortable seeing Messianic Judaism as the Jewish wing of the body of Messiah. It would be easy to simply say, “Gentiles have millions of churches; let them stay separate.”
The first and most obvious problem with keeping the Gentiles out would be the many intermarried couples who come to our congregations. How should we incorporate the non-Jewish spouse and non-Jewish children of such marriages?
A second category of great importance are the converts to Judaism who come into our congregations. Which conversions, if any, should we regard as legitimate?
Next, there are the numerous Gentiles who came into Messianic Judaism because of their love for the Bible, their desire to keep the Biblical holidays, and to adopt some or all of Jewish life and Torah life for themselves. How shall we deal with these Torah-loving Gentiles? What if they love Torah but show no appreciation for Jewish identity and God’s continuing covenant with Israel? What if they seek conversion? What if they repudiate any distinction between Jews and Gentiles?
Finally, what about the many Gentiles who do not commit to a Torah-life, but who identify with the Jewish people in other ways?
This paper represents a tentative beginning to addressing these issues. It is not my final word on the subject, as I look forward to interaction with my colleagues and mentors in the UMJC. I speak as a Gentile seeking conversion. I speak as one highly sympathetic to Gentile inclusion. If I err on the side of inclusion, I hope my point of view will be understood.
To begin to address this topic, I find it important to briefly catalogue some biblical and historical precedents for Gentile inclusion as well as differentiation:
Torah Precedents for Gentile Inclusion in Israel’s Worship
Gentiles (Sojourners) may approach God’s altar and offer sacrifice (Num. 15:14-16).
Gentiles in the land (Sojourners) must keep Shabbat (Exod. 20:10; Deut. 5:4).
Gentiles in the land (Sojourners) must avoid Chametz at Chag HaMatzah (Exod. 12:19).
Gentiles in the land (Sojourners) may join in Temple Worship for Shavuot and Sukkot (Deut. 16:10-14).
Gentiles in the land (Sojourners) must deny themselves on Yom Kippur (Lev. 16:29).
Gentiles in the land (Sojourners) are included in the binding covenant of Torah (Deut. 31:12 and Jos. 8:35).
Torah Restrictions on Gentile Participation
Gentiles (Sojourners) may not eat the Pesach lamb unless they are circumcised (Exod. 12:43, 45, 48).
Torah Omissions of Gentile Inclusion
Only native Israelites required to live in booths at Sukkot (Lev. 23:42).
Prophetic Inclusion of Gentiles in Millennial Israel’s Worship
Will come to the temple to learn Torah (Isa. 2:1-5; Micah 4:1-5).
Some will keep Shabbat and be received by HaShem (Isa. 56:6-7).
Some will be taken as Cohanim (Isa. 66:21).
Egypt and Assyria will be God’s people just like Israel (Isa. 19:24-25).
Sojourners will be absorbed into tribes and be given land (Ezek. 47:22-23).
Prophetic Differentiation of Gentiles in Millennium
Gentiles accepted as Gentiles (no conversion required, Amos 9:11-12).
New Testament Differentiation of Gentiles in Present Age
Gentiles not required to circumcise or keep Torah distinctives (Acts 15 and other passages).
The Precedent of God-Fearers in Second Temple Judaism
A proselyte or convert was a Gentile who was circumcised and went through a conversion process to become Jewish. A God-fearer or Sympathizer was any Gentile who took a sort of half-step toward Judaism. Sometimes this involved merely a favorable attitude toward Jews and donating to synagogues and Jewish causes. Many times God-fearers attended synagogue and we welcomed. Many kept the Sabbath. Many kept the dietary laws. Some were Jews in everything but circumcision.
The following is a partial list of evidences outside of the Bible for the existence of a group of Gentile God-fearers (cf. Louis Feldman, Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993).
-In 139 B.C.E., the Roman Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio attempted to stop Jews from “infecting the Roman customs with the cult of Jupiter Sabazius” [a Roman way to say Adonai Tzebaot]. (Valerius Maximus, Epitome of Julius Paris, 1.3.3).
Suetonius describes a famous Grammarian named Diogenes who only gave public lectures about Grammar on the Jewish Sabbath. Once the emperor Tiberius requested an audience with him and he told the emperor he would have to wait until the Sabbath. (Suetonius, Tiberius 32.2).
-Augustine of Hippo quotes the Roman Seneca as complaining during the reign of Nero that “Jewish customs have gained such influence, they are now received throughout the world. The vanquished have given laws to the victors.” (Augustine, De Civitate D-i 6.11).
-Near the end of the first century, the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, questions why some people choose to be halfway between a Jew and a Roman. He notes that if they would just get baptized [for Jewish conversion] they would be a Jew and be called one. (Arrian, Dissertationes, 2.19-21).
-The early second-century satirist Juvenal spoke of the fact that some people started keeping the Sabbath and believing in one God. Then their children went all the way and got circumcised to become Jews. He sought to discourage people from being God-fearers lest their children cease to be Romans (14.96-99).
-Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher, noted that since the Jews of Egypt [where Alexandria is] failed to practice circumcision on Gentiles, that none of the proselytes in Egypt were actually Jews. They were in between, he said. (Quaestiones in Exodum 2.2).
Josephus, the Jewish historian, pointed out that many Greeks attended synagogue and “in some measure” incorporated with the Jews. (War 7.45).
-Josephus gives a few hints that the very wife of Nero Caesar, Poppaea Sabina, may have been a God-fearer, because she sided with the Jews in a dispute brought before Caesar by Herod Agrippa. The Jews built a wall so that Agrippa would not be able to see the sacrifices being offered from his palace. Agrippa appealed to Caesar to have it removed, but Nero’s wife convinced the emperor to rule with the Jews. (Antiquities 20.195).
-The Jewish midrash and Talmud refer to Yirei Shamayim, Fearers of Heaven, amongst the Romans. (Deut. Rabbah, 2.24; Megillah 74a).
Problems with Gentile Inclusion
Before offering suggestions about the inclusion of Gentiles in Messianic Judaism, I would like to address some concerns and issues. The first, and most important concern, is that Torah-loving Gentiles can and do seek to make Jewish identity a non-issue.
There are many in Messianic Jewish congregations and related Hebrew roots or One-Law groups who place no value on Jewish identity. Many advocate a new kind of supersessionism, “We are grafted in, Torah belongs to all of us, and Jew and Gentile are one and the same in Messiah.”
Further, having Jews and Gentiles together in congregations encourages intermarriage. If not handled properly, such intermarriages also threaten continuing Jewish identity.
Another common problem is the mishandling of Jewish sancta (although the presence of Gentiles is not a prerequisite for this problem). Shofars and tallitot are misused and misrepresented. The Torah scroll is not respected properly. Siddurim are treated casually.
Related to the mishandling of Jewish sancta is the halakhic ruling that Gentiles may not use the tallit or tzit-tzit, tefillin, or handle a Torah scroll. How should our mixed Messianic congregations respond to this halakhah?
The overall problem of Gentile inclusion is that it dilutes or eradicates Jewish identity. Our critics in traditional Jewish groups may rightly criticize us for confusion and assimilation. How can we address these issues?
Some Models for Jewish-Gentile Issues
I am aware of several existing models:
One-size Fits All: Jews and Gentiles participate equally and with little concern for Jewish identity. Intermarriage is encouraged.
Jews Only Need Apply: I am aware of at least one congregation where non-Jews are practically not allowed unless married to Jews.
Jewish With Limited Inclusion: Some congregations allow Gentile participation, but restrict non-Jews from wearing tallitot, reading Torah, serving as leaders, etc.
Full Inclusion with Strong Jewish Identity: This is the model I will explain below and which I tentatively offer as a model for other congregations.
Cornelius, Nicolaus, and Peter: Suggestions for a Way Forward
I titled this paper after the prominent names of three early believers of differing status. Cornelius (Acts 10) was a God-fearing Roman who attended synagogue and gave alms to Jews. Nicolaus was a convert to Judaism and on the the seven from Acts 6. Peter, of course, was a Jew and a prominent leader in the early Yeshua-movement. There is every indication that they would have worshipped together and not separately (though Cornelius may have lived too far from Jerusalem to worship with the congregation there).
I am in favor of full inclusion of Gentiles while at the same time, taking important steps to emphasize Jewish identity. By full inclusion of Gentiles, I mean that Gentiles may serve as leaders (though not as rabbis), wear tallitot, and read from Torah. By securing Jewish identity, I mean:
1. Intermarriage is forbidden except with conversion of the non-Jewish spouse.
2. Conversion is an option for candidate with mature understanding.
3. God-fearers are accepted as non-Jews participating with Jews.
4. God’s continuing election of Israel and the importance of Jewish identity are clearly taught.
5. The non-Jewish members understand that they have chosen to cross the Jew-Gentile line and participate in a Jewish congregation.
6. The purpose of the congregation is to follow Yeshua together through a Yeshua-based Judaism.
7. Torah standards are maintained for communal functions, though non-Jews are not required to observe Torah distinctives at all times.
I am not suggesting that this model is the only valid model. I can respect the Jews-only-need-apply model. As far as I can tell, a congregation is not required by any New Testament teaching to be open to any and all possible members. In fact, no congregation is so open. All congregations in any religion exclude people who will oppose their distinctives.
I see the Jewish-with-limited-inclusion model as problematic. Some are excluded from leadership and the worship practices of Israel. I do not find this in the spirit of Torah, especially Numbers 15:14-16, where non-Jews were invited to the most sacred of all Jewish sancta. I think this model is unnecessarily discriminatory.
The one-size-fits-all approach to Messianic Judaism must stop. Many congregations practice this model out of tradition. Early Messianic Congregations were less careful about Jewish identity and Jewish sancta. By now, many Messianic leaders have moved into a more careful theology of Jewish identity. It is past time for practice to catch up to theology.
The model I am proposing, full-inclusion-with-strong-Jewish-identity, surely can be criticized. It will be criticized by traditional Judaism. Yet it is not as though we do not have answers:
1. How can you allow Gentiles to read from Torah or wear tallitot? In the spirit of Torah and the prophets, Gentiles who desire to draw near may do so. If the altar of burnt offering was not off limits, neither should the Torah scroll or a tallit be off limits.
2. How can your movement incorporate non-Jews and still be Jewish? The historical record indicates that this was the model of Second Temple Judaism. Gentiles attended, gave to the congregation, and participated in Shabbat, kashrut, and festivals.
Similarly, I expect criticism from Christian and Messianic Jewish sources:
1. How can you practice conversion? Conversion is biblical. Non-Jews have always been able to assimilate into Jewish life and even become part of the tribes of Israel. Caleb the Kenizzite became part of Judah. Nicolaus the proselyte did not repudiate his conversion and became a major leader in the Jerusalem congregation. Arguably, Timothy himself was a convert, circumcised as an adult and incorporated into the Jewish community. Exodus 12:48 legislates this exact custom: circumcision and incorporation thereafter as a native-born.
2. How can you forbid intermarriage when both share Messiah in common? Jewish identity must be preserved. Anyone who desires to marry a Jew must choose Jewish identity and conversion prior to marriage. Anything else is not faithful to God’s covenant and also causes untold problems in identity confusion for the children.
I do not consider my work on this topic finished. I invite feedback, correction, and instruction from others, especially from those already committed to a Messianic Judaism with a strong Jewish identity. In the meantime, may God bless us all as we seek to participate with and/or lead a movement into more careful practices and sound doctrine.