Reasons Gentiles Should be Equal Members in MJ

I have written and said much about Gentiles in Messianic Judaism. It is not hard to figure out why. I am a Gentile leader in Messianic Judaism. My own story is different than most. I am a Gentile in process of conversion. Many other Gentiles in this movement are married to Jews. If there was a widespread conversion opportunity in MJ, many of them would likely be converts. But a large number in MJ are Gentiles who do not plan to convert and do not need to.

Why are these Gentiles here? Well, many fell in love with Israel and Torah through their own scriptural study. Many have joined with Israel in a meaningful way. Many support and love Jewish people and see that commitment as an integral part of their faith and practice. Some do not choose to be fully Torah-observant. Others do make that commitment.

There are many good arguments to be made for either keeping Gentiles out of MJ or segregating them within MJ. That is, either keep us Gentiles out or make us lesser members, ineligible to serve in leadership or follow certain Jewish customs alongside the Jewish members. Just yesterday at this UMJC conference, a Jewish friend told me, “You Gentiles have thousands of other places to go. This is the only place I can go. I have no problem discriminating against Gentiles in this movement.” By discriminating, he meant not allowing Gentiles leadership or voice.

I said to him, “You need to rethink your theology of Gentile inclusion in the Torah and in Judaism.”

I sympathize with the need to keep MJ a Jewish movement. I think MJ is becoming more Jewish every year. Even the old-school MJ that I often pick on is becoming more Jewish in practice. MJ is growing up. More and more people are finding Judaism a wonderful expression of faith in Yeshua.

I cannot agree, however, with an apartheid Messianic Judaism or with excluding non-Jews from MJ congregations. More importantly, let me say to my fellow Messianic leaders and friends, God is on record calling for Gentile inclusion, not exclusion. If you are working for exclusion or segregation, you are working against HaShem, not with him.

In a moment, I will briefly list some scriptural/theological reasons for FULL INCLUSION of Gentiles in MJ. Before I do that, I want to relate something I heard at the conference this morning that encouraged me and helped me see this more clearly.

I was taking in a lecture about intermarried couples and Messianic Judaism. MJ is “the best kept secret in the intermarried community.” That is, Jewish-Gentile couples generally see about three choices: have no faith, have a split family with spouses in both faiths, or choose one faith or the other. I was surprised to learn, most choose to have one faith: Christianity (though usually only in a nominal sense). Few realize they can have Judaism and faith in Jesus in the same family without contradiction. Messianic Judaism is the unknown reality. Most intermarried couples either don’t know about MJ or confuse MJ with mission agencies such as Jews for Jesus.

Dr. David Rudolph, who was giving the lecture (and who wrote an excellent book on the subject), said something that really got me thinking. If MJ invites intermarried couples in and then the Gentile spouses find a culture that denigrates non-Jews, they will leave. Reform and Conservative synagogues are dealing with that reality, the reality of discrimination and sometimes bigotry in the synagogue. Intermarried couples leave when the Gentile spouse gets wind that they are second-class.

As a movement, we simply must get this right. Let me close with a few reasons Gentiles should be included:

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).

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).

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).

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About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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15 Responses to Reasons Gentiles Should be Equal Members in MJ

  1. pbandj says:

    derek

    i seem a little shocked, because i must have wrongly understood you in the past. you seemed in the past to have said that gentiles couldnt serve in leadership in MJ. i must have drastically misunderstood your position. anyone, good post.

    peter

  2. Good stuff here, Derek.

    As for the person who said he had no problems discriminating against Gentiles and that you have thousands of other places to go, I don’t think he has a clue what MJ is about.

  3. Peter:

    Yes, I do change my mind sometimes.

    Adam:

    We have very different reasons for believing Gentiles are equal members. I do not subscribe to the same replacement theology you do. Gentiles grafted in do not become, essentially, Jews. What say you?

    Derek

  4. PB and J says:

    derek

    good to know. i think there are many of us who do the same all the time. i myself am still working out what i believe God called gentiles to, Torah-submission or not.

    as far as replacement theology, does gentiles “becoming jews” have to be a part of replacement theology? cannot a person both believe that gentiles become part of israel and not believe in replacement?

    peter

  5. GracieRuth says:

    I am also a gentile. However, I cannot agree that gentiles should be equal members in the messianic-jewish movement.

    There are those gentiles who are married to Jews. There are those gentiles who have a special calling, a charism, to the Jewish people. These have a place within the Messianic Jewish community. There are a very few gentiles called to a genuine conversion, to Israel.

    But one of the purposes of Messianic Judaism is to call Jews back to covenant faithfulness. Gentiles do not have this calling. When the majority of the Messianic movement is gentile, this purpose becomes confused and ultimately thwarted. Not only are the majority of Jews within Messianic Judaism not observant to any significant degree, but many gentiles within the community have strange notions that they themselves are somehow Israel. The state of things is, generally speaking, a mess. The result of this is that the Messianic community has no ethos with the Jewish community at large, and anything we say regarding the messiah goes in one ear and out the other.

    That’s actually quite a few different reasons, each one all by itself sufficient enough to say that gentiles should not have equal standing.

    Gentiles have churches. The churches need to be educated, but the churches don’t need to become Messianic Jewish synagogues. Let Jerusalem be Jerusalem, and Antioch be Antioch.

  6. GracieRuth:

    If you know me or if you read a lot of past article on the blog, you will know that I am not advocating MJ diluting its Jewish practice in order to include Gentiles. You will also find that I completely understand that Torah differentiates between Jews and Gentiles.

    I simply believe that: (a) prophetically Gentiles will worship with Israel more and more as the days of Messiah come upon us and (b) there is a precedent for partial inclusion of Gentiles already in Jewish history.

    May God Bless and Keep You,

    Derek

  7. Marc says:

    Hi Derek,

    I’m a bit confused.

    This blog post seems like a different view that your post Warning: This is a Long Post on Gentiles in MJ.

    Can you elaborate some so I get a better understanding.

    Marc

  8. Marc:

    I do change my views sometimes. I believe scriptural honesty demands it. Beware of someone who has it all figured out and buys into some pre-packaged theology. The scriptures constantly sharpen us.

    Yet I do not think I made any substantial change between “Warning: This is a Long Post on Gentiles” and now. I advocated then a Full Inclusion of Gentiles in MJ with a strong Jewish identity for the Jewish believers. I still believe that.

    Derek

  9. <>

    Precisely why I, a Gentile, left the MJ movement, and probably the death blow to my marriage, which ended in divorce after 24 years.

  10. PB and J says:

    to “a gentile who was discriminated against”

    you said, “Precisely why I, a Gentile, left the MJ movement, and probably the death blow to my marriage, which ended in divorce after 24 years.”

    i can see why you wouldve wanted to leave if you were treated with contempt as an outsider. i personally have not had many experiences like that (although none in MJ). however, i think you are unfair. because we are not to judge our actions upon others. we are supposed to seek to reconcile those who have hurt us. it may not always work, but we must try.

    and as far as your divorce goes, i think its very irresponsible to blaim your divorce on the MJ movement. you made your own decisions.

    peter

  11. Tirzah L says:

    Derek, my whole problem with your stance rests upon one sentence. Let me quote, “I am a Gentile in process of conversion.” I cannot for the life of me understand why you would consider this is even appropriate, much less acceptible. To what would you be converting since Messiah Yeshua is, according to your testimony, already your Savior and Lord? Are you converting to “Judaism?” Let me assure you, as a Jewish woman married to a Conservative Jew; Rabbinc Judaism of today is by it’s very nature contrary to honest faith in Yeshua. Surely NONE of us are attempting to gain any acceptance in that realm?

    Are you talking about taking on more of the “Torah?” How is that possible, since Moses was the mediator of that covenant in which Gentiles have no full status. Yeshua’s covenant, is it not much better? I have to ask also; do you honestly believe that G-d is calling any of His people these days into some sort of confusion between Biblical faith with modern Jewish cultural expression?

    Seriously Derek, which Jewish culture are you going to adopt? Askenazi, Sephardic..or perhaps Kurdish or Karaite? How did Yeshua express his “Jewishness?” Do we even fully know? I can tell you this…He didn’t wear a kippah…a tallit kattan…or even wear a star of David. I can also guarantee that he would NEVER endorse or bless ANY cultural expression that replaced or denied the fulfillment of the Moedim by the death, buriel, resurrection and immenient return of our Messiah . And let me tell you Derek that much of the way that Judaism focuses its “celebrations” of the Holy Days does just that. What amazes me is to see Messianics adopt these things that only take away from the REAL Biblical meaning of these Divine appointments….

    Non-Jewish folks are by nature excluded from Jewish culture, not because Jewish culture is somehow “better….” not by ANY stretch of the imagination. Jewish culture has its nuances related to what part of the world your family heralds…Often, Jewish culture clashes with the New Testament. Heck, it even sometimes clashes with the Tanakh. So, I have to ask? What are you thinking?

    If I am a white person, I may adopt African American culture, but I will never fully understand what it means to live within the “skin” of an African American, and no matter how much of the culture I adopt, I will never be able to say with straight face that I am an African American. Why? Simply put…because of blood, experience, and family history. How effective would a caucasion person be in the role of head of the NAACP?

    In like manner, how effective is a person who has absolutely NO familial connection to the Jewish people at all (and I’m not talking about faith here) in leading a ministry to the unique needs of Messianic Jews? If your honest you have to say that there are just some things you will never be able to understand unless you were born into a Jewish family. Does that mean Jews and Gentiles have absolutely no connection? Of course not. Why do we have separate ministries to women and men in our congregations? Is it because one is better than the other?

    Likewise, is it wrong for Jewish folks to want our Gentile brethren to understand that we NEED to have ministry which uniquely fits our way of life? Wasn’t this even the model within the early Church? Wasn’t Paul sent to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews? Why? Was it because never the twain should meet? Of course not. But the Almighty knows that each people group have their own needs. One was never supposed to supplant the other. The fact that the early church became largely anti-semitic and divested itself of any semblance of it’s Hebraic root is proof of that.

    Jews and Gentiles who believe in Messiah Yeshua have something much more important in common than any cultural expressions, which either could, or should divide us. The Bible is Hebraic and all those that adhere to the scriptures through Yeshua are influenced by how the Almighty dealt with the Hebrew Nation. WE all serve a Jewish Messiah. However, no where are non-Jewish folks given the liberty, much less a calling to take upon themselves Jewish cultural identity…not to mention make the serious confusion of calling this “Torah Observance.”

    Here’s my question. If you were to remove all the kippah’s, tallits, candles, and Jewish marker’s from the expression of your own personal faith, what would you have? If you somehow think that what you would have is empty or lacking…then my dear brother, you have lost focus on WHO it is that should be the center of ANY expression of faith for a Jew, or Gentile.

    Messianic Jews should be allowed to simply “be” who we are while walking with our Messiah. We aren’t called to abandon who we are, or our people, but we are not called to place unbalanced importance upon our identity, Jew or Gentile.

    If you were not born a Jew, perhaps you should consider that you have been called to express your faith as you are and be grateful for who G-d made you to be since this is evidently precious in the sight of Him who made ALL people. Wasn’t this Paul’s wisdom?

    1 Cor 7:17-24

    17 Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.

    18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.

    19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.

    20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you — although if you can gain your freedom, do so.

    22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave.

    23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.

    24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
    NIV

    What you and others need to understand is that it is not discriminatory to tell you that you cannot be a “Jew,” neither should you desire to be one, unless you were born one. Why? Because being a Jew hold absolutely no weight to fully experienceing all that G-d offers. What the Almighty offers the world, which is now available to both Jew and Gentile within the New Covenant is sufficient in every way. In the Mosaic Covenant, only a Jew could partake of the Pesach. Not so anymore. Now we celebrate a Passover that was fulfilled by Yeshua Himself, ALL are made partakers…and the circumcision necessary to partake of the Pesach Lamb is now the circumcision of the HEART alone. Blessed Be HIS Name!

    What should thrill you and encourage you to know is that you are now a part of the Covenant that Yeshua made with the entire world. Why this is not sufficient for you and others who consider themselves a part of the Messianic movement is beyond me.

    Tirzah L.

  12. Pingback: Conversion: Responding to Tirzah « Messianic Jewish Musings

  13. "A Simple Jew" says:

    Hi Derek:

    My problem with your position is the ambiguity inherant in the word “equal”. You use the word “apartheid” which of course is a loaded word in todays PC generation.

    <<<That is, either keep us Gentiles out or make us lesser members, ineligible to serve in leadership or follow certain Jewish customs alongside the Jewish members<<<<

    I think you would agree that there is a big difference between telling non Jewish Christians what customs they can observe and the issue of qualification for leadership?

    As you are aware, my concern is that current MJ leadership has dictated to Jews how they should and shouldnt observe Judaism. I have major concerns about the makeup of this leadership precisely because of the monopoly that MJ has over the lives of individuals Jews who happen to be MJ in a given geographic region. Therefore I do have sympathy in some respects with the individual who spoke to you at that conference.

    There is no inherant “right” of any group to leadership. Especially when it affects the “rights” of others. Its the whole issue of “your rights end when your fist meets my face”.

    Conflating these two issues is dishonest and in my opinion is a disservice to the cause that you represent.

    I hope you will reflect on your position and clarify.

  14. "A Simple Jew" says:

    there is a precedent for partial inclusion of Gentiles already in Jewish history<<<<<

    Some of the prominent rabbis of history have come from non Jewish backgrounds. This includes several in the Talmud if memory serves me correctly.

    However all of these people became Jews through a legitimate pathway recognized by the Jewish people and they didnt make Halacha outside of the norms of Judaism. They didnt come in through a back door created just so that these folks could assume “leadership”.

    (Not implying that this is your intetion BTW. On the contrary, I perceive that you want to be a legitimate Jew. If so then I encourage you to do so through the Jewish community. Not everyone has your good intentions. We cant make rules based upon the assumption of everyones good conduce. We have to anticipate the worst case scenarios, which BTW given the precedants of MJ give everyone who cares about the Jewish people ample reasons for concern)

  15. Dan Benzvi says:

    Derek;

    What is the “conversion process” you are going through will do for you? will it make you Jewish? Does circumcision makes someone Jewish? If yes, then go tell it to the Millions of Muslems who undergo circumcision at age 13.

    Are you another “Jew wannabe?” You are waffling on the issue and all you convey is confusion, but then again being a disciple of the Hashivenu bunch will do it to you.

    Blessings

    Dan

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