I started a conversation about Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement. I stated from the beginning that I accept the binary ecclesiology found in the writings of Mark Kinzer. That is, I believe it was the intention from the beginning for the body of Messiah to have a Jewish wing and a Gentile wing with some crossover.
In my first post on the subject, titled “Warning: This is a Long Post on Gentiles in MJ,” I advocated for full inclusion of Gentiles in Messianic Judaism with certain provisos (such as: they must buy into the Jewish vision, they must see MJ as Judaism, they must participate out of a connection to Jewish people, and there should be no Gentile rabbis). I used the historical precedent of Godfearers in Second Temple Judaism and the Torah precedent for the Sojourner (Ger), who was even allowed to bring a sacrifice to God’s holy altar (Num. 15:15-16).
Carl Kinbar, Provost at MJTI (mjti.org), responded with an essay so eloquent and persuasive that I posted it today as “Carl Kinbar on Gentiles and Torah and History.”
Carl raised some challenges with my thesis, especially with my use of the Sojourner in Torah and the Godfearer in Second Temple history. Here is a summary of Carl’s points:
1. We are omitting for the moment new realities imposed by Yeshua’s incarnation and the extension of the kingdom to non-Jews.
2. Sojourners (gerim) were not merely allowed to keep Torah, but required to, as they were permanent residents with the Jewish people.
3. The issue with Sojourners is not being in the land, but living with Jews, so that it parallels any Gentile today living with the Jewish community and desiring to be one among them.
4. The Sojourner in later Judaism became the Convert (Proselyte), not merely a Godfearer.
5. Godfearers, as far as we know, were not members of synagogues, but merely attenders and supporters.
6. Godfearers and Converts were a tiny minority (Roman statements about vast Jewish influence are likely exaggerations).
7. Godfearers play no role and Converts only a small one in Rabbinic Writings.
8. If a Korean Church had only 20-30% Koreans in it, one might question their Korean identity.
9. If Gentiles join a mostly Gentile congregation, then they are not joining something Jewish, and hence are not parallel to the Sojourners.
10. For this whole thing to be legitimate, Gentiles as Godfearers or potential Converts must see themselves as guests in a Jewish world, not equal participants ready to change social structures and leadership.
11. We are not free to make our own definitions of Jewish identity.
12. If a Gentile joins a Messianic Congregation, Torah is not then optional to him or her. The Sojourner must keep Torah.
13. Majority Gentile Congregations should prayerfully consider better ways to handle issues regarding Jewish identity.
Carl’s arguments are persuasive and well-researched. He does raise some issues that call into question my thesis that Gentiles can and should find full inclusion in Messianic Jewish Congregations. However, I think Carl has overstated the case on some of his points. I agree with #1 and wonder how kingdom extension to the nations should impact our congregational roles. I am delighted with point #3. I agree with #5 and admit that Second Temple Synagogues were not as inclusive of Gentiles as Messianic Congregations are. I certainly agree with #11. Yet on Carl’s other points, I wish to offer some challenges:
On Point #2: There is a problem with saying the Sojourner (Ger) was required to keep Torah. Several verses of Torah disprove this. Deuteronomy 14:21 permits the Sojourner to eat meat found dead, something forbidden to a Jew. Exodus 12:48 and Numbers 9:14 are easily read as meaning a Sojourner MAY choose to eat the Pesakh, not that he or she must. The Sojourner is curiously not required to dwell in booths at Sukkot. The Sojourner is not equivalent to a Native in the Land, but has equal right to Justice in the land (this is how I take the oft-repeated refrain in Torah about one law for Sojourner and Native).
As for point #4, I know less than Carl about Rabbinic Literature, but I think I am right in saying the Sojourner is interpreted in Rabbinic Literature as being a Convert. I see some problems with that, not least Deuteronomy 14:21. How can a Convert be allowed to violate Torah? I think a Godfearer is a much better parallel with the Sojourner.
I must disagree with point #6. It was not merely Romans, but also people like Josephus who claimed the number of Godfearers was legion. Some have declared that 10% of the Roman Empire was considered Jewish and that this large number is only possible because of a large number of Godfearers.
As for point #7, it is easily explainable. I am not surprised that the rabbis speak little of Converts and less of Godfearers after the First and Second Jewish Revolt. Being Roman by birth could not have been popular.
Point #8 is misleading. Korean culture is far less permeable than Jewish life. Intermarriage may be the only door into Korean life, but God built conversion from the beginning into Jewish life as a possible way to join with Israel. Therefore, I would not be surprised, as we approach the last days, to see the prophetic picture coming to pass: congregations full of Gentiles learning Torah. I simply think we must teach these well-meaning Gentiles (I am one) what Jewish life really means. It would be tragic if we allowed Gentile enthusiasm, a prophetic sign, to ruin Jewish identity, a Torah calling.
I can agree with point #10 if it is slightly reworded. I do not think Gentiles should come into MJ planning to change of influence vision and direction. But I think Gentiles can grow into leadership once their understanding of the vision of MJ has grown. I simply cannot abide by an apartheid Messianic Judaism. Forgive me if the term is offensive, but I think you understand my meaning. (I am not implying that Carl in any way advocates a kind of apartheid.)
Finally, a few words about point #13. The congregation I lead is 70% non-Jewish. I agree with Carl that we need to find ways to handle certain Jewish identity issues. One example is how to handle the Torah blessing. It assumes the one uttering the blessing is part of the Covenant People who received Torah. I think we should consider an altered blessing that allows Gentiles to bless the Torah in truth and with integrity. In a subsequent phone conversation with Carl, we agreed that this is something that would best be handled by a consensus of Messianic rabbis. We need a standard for the community and not to have every congregation doing its own thing.
I will continue to mull over Carl’s challenges. I still consider my position tentative. I am advocation Full Gentile Inclusion With Strong Jewish Identity. I am taking issue with Limited Gentile Inclusion, a model in which Gentiles may not read Torah or wear a tallit. I continue to feel the Sojourner was not a Convert, as evidenced by Deuteronomy 14:21 and Exodus 12:48, and yet a Sojourner could approach God’s holy altar. Therefore, how can I prevent a non-Jew from reading God’s Torah in the congregation? They have drawn near. They have learned Hebrew. They have prayed with Israel. They are Sojourners, Godfearers, and Potential Converts. I know, I am one of them.