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).