No topic has stirred so much passion on this blog and similar blogs than the place of non-Jews within Messianic Judaism. The cliché about more heat than light has sometimes been a valid assessment of the discussion. And I am not claiming to have risen above the fray in all cases.
There are a few happenings impelling me to develop more theology on this subject.
First Fruits of Zion, in Messiah Journal, will run an interesting article in a soon-coming issue, an article by Seth Dralle which puts a little history-of-Messianic-Judaism perspective behind the issue of non-Jews in this movement. MJTI professor of New Testament studies, David Rudolph, is working on some theological and ethical implications of a bilateral ecclesiology which he calls “bilateral ethics.” A member of my congregation turned me on to a conservative rabbi who actively seeks out Gentiles in Messianic Judaism for conversion to Conservative Judaism. hear rumors of a major Messianic organization defining an interesting category with historical and theological promise for Gentiles in Messianic Judaism (but I am not at liberty to discuss this as yet).
On top of these recent happenings, a commenter or two of late have asked me to rethink and redevelop my thoughts on Gentiles in Messianic Judaism.
There are two directions for going about this problem that I am finding more and more unhelpful.
The first is a direction I have been guilty of uncritically following myself on many occasions. As I am in process of conversion through the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (ourrabbis.org) it has been all too easy for me to take a line that is too limiting for Gentiles in our Judaism. “Just convert ‘em all,” is not a line I have actually stated, but in some old blog posts I have no doubt written in ways that leaned this direction.
If you were to search the Gentile category here at Messianic Jewish Musings you would also find that I have contradicted myself. At times I have been an advocate for a prophetic inclusion of Gentiles in MJ. At other times I have implied that there was little or no place for Gentiles here.
The first unhelpful direction is “keep the Gentiles out and let us maintain our ethnic purity!” If they must come “let them be converted.”
I am all for conversion. I think that many, many Gentiles in this Judaism are candidates for conversion and I hope to see the success of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council on this matter.
But there is another unhelpful direction, which I have spoken against many times. It is an uncritical position in which non-Jews assume that in Messiah Yeshua they have now come to occupy the role of Israel in the world.
The taglines for this view include, “We are grafted in,” and “We are children of Abraham,” and, “We are Ephraim.”
The problem with using these kind of statements to defend a Gentile takeover of Jewish identity is that even the ones which are true (the first two) were never intended to be used that way. The New Testament has a complex take on Gentiles and their relationship to Israel, a view which we call Binary Ecclesiology (Yeshua’s congregation has a Jewish and a Gentile mission, which are unified and yet distinct). Many times people believe that one true statement (“we are Abraham’s children”) completely captures the essence of an idea, while omitting the interplay of other equally true ideas (“let no one take away your freedom”).
The second unhelpful idea is “move over Jews, we have come to occupy your place.”
Notes on Some Inclusive Movements in Mainstream Judaism
In the coming weeks I plan to develop a number of statements working toward a theology of an inclusive Messianic Judaism, a Messianic Judaism that sees a place for Jews, Intermarrieds, and Gentiles who share the calling of Messianic Judaism.
For now, I would like to share two instances of a more inclusive view in contemporary mainstream Judaism.
The first is a Conservative rabbi in Skokie, IL, named Jonathan Ginsburg. He has a host of videos on youtube about conversion. In his tags he uses Messianic Judaism. In other words, people searching Messianic Judaism on youtube will run across videos by a Conservative rabbi who wishes to offer them conversion (assuming they are ready to depart from viewing Yeshua as Messiah and as divine).
Rabbi Ginsburg is proactive in seeking converts. He has no problem believing that Judaism will be improved by an influx of Gentiles. He reads the traditions of Judaism and takes a different tack than many other rabbis. Many, out of concern for a loss of Jewish identity, have not taken seriously the streams in historic Judaism that favor conversion. Being reticent, many rabbis have adopted a policy of discouraging converts.
Not so Rabbi Ginsburg. He hangs his shingle out on numerous websites, including jewishconversionchicago.com. On the site he lists a few reasons he believes are valid for conversion. And a few items on his list bring to my mind the thousands of Gentiles in Messianic Judaism and its offshoots (Hebrew roots, One Law, Two House, and more).
Ginsburg’s number one reason for conversion: “You are and have been a ‘spiritual seeker’ and Judaism seems to be fulfilling to your spiritual needs.”
This is very similar to the reason many Gentiles have for being in the movement: “You are a spiritual seeker and the Torah seems to be fulfilling to your spiritual needs.”
If you asked me last week I would have said, that is insufficient reason for Gentiles to be in Messianic Judaism. But Rabbi Ginsburg’s opinion has made me think. Perhaps a person’s motivation begins with Torah and hopefully, over time, a love for the people of Israel comes along as well.
Another rabbi whose work has me interested is Gary Tobin of The Institute for Jewish and Community Research as well as Bechol Lashon (jewishresearch.org and bechollashon.org). I have on order two of his books: Opening the Gates and In Every Tongue.
Gary Tobin demonstrates that Judaism has never been about ethnic purity, either conceptually or in practice. The modern tendency to discourage conversion is not the historica attitude of the Jewish people, he argues. Jews in every place come to resemble the surrounding peoples through intermarriage and conversion.
In Opening the Gates, Tobin is calling for Jewish synagogues to pursue Gentiles via participation and conversion. He argues that Judaism should be in every tongue and people group. Judaism will only be enriched by the inclusion of people from all ethnicities and cultural groups.
I am enthusiastic about an inclusive Messianic Judaism. I believe that this is not a free-for-all anything-goes proposition. I am committed to a binary ecclesiology and to the eternal role of Israel as God’s revelatory people.
I think as we define and sharpen our theology of inclusion, Messianic Judaism will be the leader in this area of Judaism. And we will do this without overstepping, without Galatianizing the churches, without abdicating the centrality of Israel in the divine plan of mutual blessing. It will be a realization that in the Jewish mission of Yeshua’s congregation, many from the nations have been called to join in alongside.
Derek my friend, thanks for this post. There’s a lot to be discussed here.
I must admit, I hold very little hope that Derek Leman will come to a conclusion different than that of his employer. Still, I hold out hope nonetheless! :-)
Here are some of my thoughts on the issue. (Not that you or your fine blog readers are at all interested in my boring ideas, but mostly just because I must get them off my chest and out into the wild blue yonder of the internet):
-I’m not against gentiles converting to Messianic Judaism. At the same time I must ask, does the apostolic Scriptures support such a conversion? Do people in the New Testament “convert” to anything? I honestly don’t know the answer — do any of you fine folks know?
-I’m a two house advocate. I am because Scripture has two-houses-of-Israel prophecies graffitied all over the place. Many remain unfulfilled, and are meant to be unfulfilled until the Messianic era. While I don’t believe all gentiles have lost Israelite genealogy, I do believe that somehow, someway, God will bring both houses of Israel together. I think the gentile influx into MJ has something to do with this.
-What happened to the commonwealth of Israel? Derek, you said gentiles are “sons of Abraham”, but not “Ephraim”. Ok, that’s the standard MJAA view. So let’s ask another question specially crafted to make you squirm. ;-) Are gentiles part of Israel? If not, does Scripture support the distinction between Israel and the Ephesian 2’s Commonwealth of Israel?
So there it is, random thoughts by this Messianic dude on the interwebs. ;-)
I’m new here and just came across this site today. After reading several articles, I’m somewhat confused and of a different perspective. To my knowledge, I am not Jewish by any birthright. In that, by all terms used here, I am a Gentile.
I became a believer in 1990 and only learned of the “Jewish Roots” movement last year.
I have been going to a home study group that believes as Messianic and is a varied mix of faiths. What we have in common is a desire to learn about Yeshua and his life and the traditions of the 1st century. We have Jews that believe Yeshua is Messiah and Gentiles that believe they are or can be “grafted in”. The Gentiles I know don’t consider themselves as Jewish, but rather want to understand and learn Torah as it was taught to and taught by Yeshua. We study the festivals and try to learn the history and meanings behind the them as one who was raised as Jewish would.
As Gentile we are happy to worship our L_ord with Jewish members in our group and learn from them. we don’t consider ourselves any better than or less than others in the group. Members in our group hold Shabbat and have attended Synagogues within the region.
The central focus of our meetings and lessons is Yeshua, trying to understand the Bible as it was before Roman influence on the writings, and His lessons from Torah.
We’re not a “Jews for Jesus” MJ congregation as I seem to be understanding from comments here. As Gentiles we don’t feel a superior attitude from persons of Jewish decent within the group is appropriate and neither is a common Christianity attitude towards Jews about the cross. Any of that stops at the door before you walk in.
Our focus is where it belongs… on Yeshua. We study Torah passages to learn what his life was like, His teachings, and lessons from G_d and our ancestors.
In our group, when there is any discussions of conversions, it’s usually along the lines of helping to make Gentiles and other Christians aware of there real Jewish Roots of the Bible and the need to learn Torah and the Festivals as lived in a Jewish perspective. We pray for and leave conversion of Jewish to those appropriate and properly knowledgeable within our group. We look forward to local Shabbat and Festival observances to be officiated by an ordained Rabbi.
But in the mean time, our study sessions are simple and focused. We study the teachings of Yeshua from the New Testament, focus on their origins in the Torah and rest of the Old Testament. We honor His name, the name of G_d, and worship together as one group of believers, not separate peoples. Everyone leaves their egos, preconceived notions, and prejudices somewhere before they walk in the door.
Thanks for stopping by. If I am summarizing accurately, you seem to be saying, “None of the things you talk about in this post are a problem in my group.”
As you mentioned, you are new to all of this.
I do believe in time you will become attuned to the kind of issues I am talking about.
Meanwhile, I would caution you about some potential problems your words hint at. You say your group is trying to get back to a pre-Roman influence interpretation of scripture. This could be a good or bad thing. Some use this kind of rhetoric to suggest they are giving the guaranteed, 100% interpretation which has eluded Christians for 2,000 years. This is subject to abuse, believe me.
A lot of poorly researched and foundationally flawed material is available, especially via Google search, about “Hebraic roots” and so on.
I would urge you and your group to be aware of academic materials and writings available to avoid some of the errors. Any yahoo can write on the web. Better material comes from people writing in media that are subject to review and critique and only make the light of day because of the qualification and credibility of the author.
Thank you all for your thoughts:
Judahgabriel – I tried to stay out of this discussion, but I wanted to respond to your questions. I would like to greatly caution you about your “Two House” leanings. Much of the “Lost Tribes” myths are mostly just that – myths. As scholars and anthropologists, we know what happened to them. And in most cases, they were not “lost.”
The issue of “two-house” scriptures MUST be read in context. “Are non-Jews part of Israel,” you ask. Physically it is easy, No! Spiritually, Paul does mention in Ephesians that through faith we are part of one new humanity (i.e. One New Man). However, in Romans 9-11 Paul also explains further what that looks like. Although in matters of redemption/salvation we are equal, in certain other matters distinction is maintained.
However, instead of arguing scripture, I would rather just simply throw out scientific facts that should be considered against “Two House” theories:
1) All genetic studies indicate that European claims of Israelite ancestory are not supported. However, time and time again studies performed on Jews upholds the fact that Jews are descended from the Middle East from common ancestors. Jews make up a closer genetic make-up to Kurdish muslims than to any Europeans. Christian “Lost Tribe”/Ephraimite claims do not hold up genetically. For just one example of this, here is a recent article from the Jerusalem Post.
2) Following the conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE, many of them were taken captive back to Assyria. However, many of them also escaped to the Southern Kingdom rejoining Judah. How do we know? Archaeology supports a population explosion in Jerusalem at this time, as refugees fled to the safety of Jerusalem (which was not conquered until 586 BCE by the Babylonians).
Those who were taken into exile to Assyria, archaeology traces their destinations, and lives in Assyria, and indicates sometimes their assimilation, but more often than not, their regathering back into wider Jewish popultion with the addition of refugees and captives from the Babylonian exile. Both groups, re-emerged together, were known as simply Jews. This is supported in multiple ways. By the time of the Second Temple, Judea was not just made up of “two tribes – Judah and Benjamin” but of members of all the tribes. This is referenced numerous places. One example Biblically is James’ reference to the “12 tribes in the Diaspora.”
The tribes were not “lost,” rather the majority just merged back together, forming once again a cohesive group in Judea. These Judeans were simply known as Jews. Not because they were all from the tribe of Judah, but because Judea in Hebrew is also “Yehudah,” and in Hebrew these people are called “Yehudim” – Jews.
G-d is indeed doing amazing work among Christians, and there is indeed a move within the Church back to Jewish understandings. The reason is because this is prophetic in itself, not because of an identity crises.
As I have posted before on my ministry website, there are a lot of problems out there with the populist Two-House teaching that has been promoted. This is a teaching that espouses if a non-Jewish person is present in today’s Messianic movement, then obviously he or she must automatically be a member of the Lost Tribes. Combined with this are a great deal of other agendas, such as those of the Sacred Name Only movement, the Karaite calendar, a lot of anti-Christian rhetoric, a largely anti-traditional and anti-Jewish approach toward the Torah, and a lot of end of the world/Year 6000 hype and sensationalism. If this is all you are looking at, then I honestly cannot blame any person for wanting to stay away.
With this said, I would respectfully submit that not all people who believe in *a* Two-House teaching approach the subject matter this way. Rather than believing in any kind of mythology about the Lost Tribes, British-Israelism, etc.–we instead see a whole litany of what we read are unfulfilled prophecies in the Tanach. We are asking ourselves, “Are these prophecies fulfilled? Might more be going on in today’s Messianic world?” What do various pre-millennial theologians, for example, say about a passage like Ezekiel 37:15-28? As they always taught us at Asbury Seminary: Go to the text!
I agree that there is a great deal of work to do in order to promote an approach that is focused on eschatology, rather than identity. I have a (growing) list of over forty Biblical references that is related to the subject matter in some way. Each reference is worthy of an exegetical paper, and only by examining each passage in detail can (1) the current populist Two-House teaching be moderated, and (2) we can all enter into appropriate, constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, many of the so-called leaders of the populist Two-House teaching (not my leaders, I assure you!), spent more time in the 2000s having conferences and promoting their agendas, rather than seeking ways on how they could refine their beliefs.
Let us give one another some space and time to write those papers and do that research, as more moderate voices emerge that can discuss this. Perhaps over the next few years when some of the rhetoric has died down we can examine the subject matter again.
I would like to state that my identity in the Lord and as a part of the one new humanity (Ephesians 2:15) is assurred. My acceptance before Him is contingent on my trust in the completed work of Yeshua at Golgotha. Furthermore, I know who my ancestors are, where they came from, and I thank God for grandparents and great-grandparents (on both sides) who did diligent geneological research.
I don’t know anything about the Two House theory, I don’t know the origins of Messianic Judaism, and I am not sure where I stand on the whole issue of Israel. I am a Gentile (as I stated before) who has seen the importance of Jewish roots in Christianity.
What bothers me most about discussions like these are the constant concerns about identity. Establishing identity is not a problem for me. Identity defines who we are, where we came from, and hopefully, where we are going. Identity separates us and brings us together. Sometimes the biggest issue for converts is the wrestling with one’s “new” identity. With all of this said, we must remember that identity is not the most important issue. No matter what you believe, the most crucial question, the epitome of all things, is “Is Jesus/Yeshua King of the Universe, Lord of everything?” I would claim yes, and even if you disagree with the statement, it doesn’t change His status. If you were to say, “I have no parents,” it does not magically alter your life so as to have no parents, it just means you don’t like your parents. I can deny God, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist.
The question of identity is important, but it does not supersede our standing before Jesus, before God. These discussions (about Jewish identity and Gentile conversion) are so wrapped up in man’s view of himself that I am afraid we are forgetting our standing before God. If I have theology, and not love, I am a sounding gong. If I am without Christ than I am nothing. We are nothing. If I am a Jew without Christ, I am nothing. If I am a Gentile without Christ, I am nothing. Reread the Old Testament, reread the New Testament. You will find accounts (and plenty of them) of people whose identity were rooted in Judaism or Hellenism and they still succumb to the wrath of God.
What grinds my gears about this blog (although I enjoy reading it) is your lack of discussing who Yeshua is. I don’t mean whether he was Jewish or not, but what did he say? Who did his followers say he was? There is so much conversation about Messianic Judaism, but very little about the Messiah. Maybe I haven’t read enough of your entries, but I get an overwhelming sense that you are concerned more with identity of the flesh than the creator who has created your flesh. I want to see more postings on who Christ was and why you believe he is the Messiah. I want to see more of Yeshua pouring through your writing. Enlighten me, teach me about the beatitudes. Tell me about the cross. Share the gospel. Make us better disciples.
With much love,
My blog is not a substitute for a congregational community, although we certainly have community here.
I do hope you have a community with whom you study and live out the character and calling of our Messiah, Yeshua.
I do not accept your proposal that all topics are not worthy of discussion unless we have first spent the majority of our time discussing who Yeshua is and how to live for him.
There are many topics important to discuss in God’s great big world. The topic you are objecting to my spending so much time on is ecclesiology, certainly regarded as a worthy topic in church history and I have never read a Christian theologian who said, “We should stop publishing books and articles on ecclesiology until we have written more on Christology.”
I also do not believe Paul’s I am nothing statement meant what you think it means. Rhetoric should not be taken literally. Paul and Yeshua and the prophets often made hyperbolic statements. God does not view humanity as nothing.
I do hope you will keep reading and that you will come to understand the profound struggle we discuss here, which affects real people and families.
We have discussed this issue before (even in Jerusalem:P) but still I wanted to leave a comment for the interested reader.
Oftentimes people in MJ/Hebrew Roots Christianity (or whatever label you want to give it) when trying to distinguish what it means to be a non-Jew among the people of God look at the Tanach, and I myself did so as well.
In the Tanach there are various views but in some passages – most noteworthy Isaiah 56 which Judah Gabriel keeps bringing up, and of course the mixed multitude in Exodus but also verses in the Torah; one law for the home-born and one for the stranger – the point of non-Jews keeping Torah seems to come out.
The problem with this is that this view was changed after the Babylonian Exile. I wrote a short article about this, heres an excerpt:
With this in mind, its no longer possible to simply equate yourself with the foreigner in the Tanach, it would be more adequate to see those as proselytes, although this would be anachronistic, because the possibility to convert and become a Jew also came only as late as after the Babylonian exile.
I dont know if this helps anyone but to me this gave great insight, and in a sense liberty, knowing that as a non-Jew I was not obligated to take on the full yoke of the Torah.
First off, I am not asking for your blog to be a substitute for a community. Secondly, I did not once say that discussing ecclesiology was wrong or not worth discussing. As I have been preparing for the ministry, I have had many people (both pastors and layman) remind me that theology is not the end of all things. Which is true. Perhaps God doesn’t view humanity as nothing, perhaps he views it in a stronger sense. To be nothing would be non-existent. “Those who are not for me are against me.” This is a place I would not favor. It may be hyperbolic, but it still has truth to it.
Derek, I am not attacking your site. I am not attacking you. I am not attacking Jews or Gentiles. The question I am wrestling with, as I wrestle with these issues you discuss here (your last statement seems to suggest I have no place in these discussions – am I not a “real” person), what is the end of all theology, Christology, ecclesiology, etc? What is my purpose and how am I fulfilling it?
You cited how the boundary between Jews and non-Jews was raised to a higher level after the Babylonian captivity.
But if that barrier wasn’t God-created, why would anyone allow it to influence their theology?
My view is borrowed from Ephesians 2: God didn’t build this wall between Jew and gentile, on the contrary, Messiah tore it down by opening salvation, membership among God’s people, and citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven to both Jew and gentile.
I reacted to you as I did because, yes, you did throw out a harsh critique of this blog. You said I don’t talk enough about Yeshua and I spend too much time on issues you deem as nothing compared to knowing who we are in Yeshua.
If you didn’t mean to say what you did, you can always retract and say, “I made a mistake and I apologize.” Otherwise, if you still stand by your first comment, then stand by it.
It is not good to offer criticism and then, when your criticism is answered, come back and say, “I wasn’t criticizing.”
While I did not say you are not part of the discussion, I did imply that right now you don’t seem to resonate with it. You haven’t experienced the communal angst, which I have seen break up marriages, end friendships, and create very confused people.
Now, either you agree with my last paragraph or you don’t, but don’t waffle.
Thank you for your thoughts. I don’t think Derek intended his thoughts to be taken the way you have read them. He did not mean that you are not a “real” person. The way I read his comment was that the issues discussed here are very real issues affecting many people.
Just to clarify, you mentioned above that “I don’t know anything about the Two House theory, I don’t know the origins of Messianic Judaism, and I am not sure where I stand on the whole issue of Israel.” You have also alluded to being a little wet behind the ears on Messianic Judaism.
As such, being that this is all so new to you, it has not/does not affect you in the same way (as you yourself mentioned above). However, there are indeed very real identity issues affecting those involved in the Messianic Jewish Movement over the last 30-40 years or so. That is why these discussions have come about. They have arisen to address real problems as people grapple with what it all means.
I will leave you with one example. My experience as a leader within this Movement (especially among the next generation) are similar to the conclusions of the few studies that have been done on the Messianic Jewish Movement in regard our children. The majority of people who choose to worship in a Messianic Jewish congregations very rarely ask the question, “How might this choice affect my children?” In reality, studies and experience have demonstrated that very few children raised in Messianic Judaism choose Messianic Judaism when they grow up. Why? The challenges of identity are just too much, or too confusing.
This is especially true of non-Jewish children within this Movement. Because the boundaries between non-Jews and Jews/Judaism are so blurred it creates terrbile confusion and identity issues for kids. Many of these children did not choose to be Messianic, their parents did. When they go to school, their Jewish friends don’t understand why they go to a synagogue if they are not Jewish; and their Christian friends don’t understand why they go to a synagogue if they are not Jewish.
As such, they grow up with a very real identity crisis. And it is not just non-Jews. These are very real issues for Jews who grow up in MJ as well. Although it is still too early to have more solid data, it is clear that we need to address some serious issues. And identity is one of them.
So Christian, I hope this helps to understand just a little why the discussion of identity is such a hot topic at the moment.
Thanks for participating!
It’s interesting you bring up the question, “How might this choice affect my children?” I do not have children, but my fiance and I are getting married soon and have already discussed children. Although we would like to wait until I am done with seminary, it is ultimately in God’s hands. In light of this, I have been asking myself that very same questions. That is why I have been searching for answers. That’s why I subscribe to blogs like this one and yours. I am searching answers not only for myself, but for my future children. In a way, I am trying to be Moses, knowing that I will never see the Promised Land myself. I don’t want my children (or your children, if you have any) to grow up disconcerted, confused, or even angry. I want my children to the serve Yeshua in everything they do. Identity is important, but I am looking for Yeshua. I grew up hearing of a gnosticized Christ. It has only been in the last year or so that I have been made aware of Christ’s Jewishness – of the whole Bible’s Jewishness. I want my children to see Jesus in all his Jewishness.
With much love,
Thanks for the reply. That helped release some pressure. I do not communicate well via web. I am a personal person – if you know what I mean.
Erik, it’s really great to see that you’re interested in learning about the Jewishness of Jesus. Might I suggest that you start a bible study group at your church, and gather with other lay people (or seminarians) who are interested in this topic for weekly discussion, study, and prayer? Beginning with a few of the resources that Derek has recommended, you could all work through a book or series of articles …
It’s a very Jewish thing to study biblical texts jointly (rather than in the “I’m the educated teacher, you’re the uneducated student” format most common in evangelical groups) and to wrestle together with your questions, doubts, and challenges to the text. (It’s also totally acceptable to leave unanswered questions on the table for awhile and try to pick them up the next week.)
It’s so important, for your children’s sake, that you figure out a way to contextualize all of the things that you learn within the four walls of your church and/or seminary. I’d challenge you to include your pastor and/or professors in this weekly bible study (not as the guy who’s responsible for organizing the study or teaching for an hour – more work! – but as a fellow learner) … and to learn and grow together in your understanding of Jesus’ Jewishness. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised by your leaders’ openness to continued learning … and it’s incredibly empowering to be part of their own internal dialogue as they struggle to steer a congregation full of very different people.
I mean Christian … not Erik. Whoops.
One of the most beautiful things I admire about Judaism is the community. I love the oneness. Some of the churches I have been involved with have been more like a group of individuals. It is also interesting to note that one of the few passages in regards to Jesus’ childhood involves Christ learning and teaching with other rabbis.
I have been trying to read so much on Judaism and Messianic Judaism and Christianity that I feel like I am going to explode. But that’s because I have been doing it all by myself. My fiance has been interested and encouraged, but she lives hours away from me, so we never have the chance to study together. I need to find a community to discuss these topics. I used to have friends that I could sit down and discuss these topics, but I have moved away from them. In some ways, I feel like a hermit climbing the theological mountain.
Thanks again for the encouragement!
God bless and with much love,
Christian Eriksson A.K.A. Erik (It happens all the time, but I think that’s the first time in the blogosphere)
Christian, I can completely identify with just how frustrating it is to live in perceived theological isolation. It’s easy to feel that every other believer you meet is swallowing unsupportable assumptions, and hard to empathize with their resistance to new ideas or information. I’ve had to learn the hard way, however, that inviting fellow believers to learn together with me is much more productive than steaming over our lack of instantaneous common ground.
I just want to reinforce that you shouldn’t feel pressured into feeling that the only place to learn about Jesus’ Jewishness is within Messianic Judaism. Culturally, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for most non-Jewish people to raise their children in synagogue … and the primary purpose of most Messianic Jewish synagogues and communal institutions is to provide a spiritual home for Jews who follow Yeshua.
I’d love to see you get the education you desire, without getting sucked into complicated identity politics or feeling like a stranger in a spiritual space that isn’t exactly in the business of accommodating you.
My best advice is to consider taking something of a leadership role within your own church or academic community on this issue. You’re not alone in exploring what feels like very new concepts. If anything, the tremendous influx of non-Jews into Messianic synagogues is a salient indicator of the tremendous amount of interest in “the Jewishness of Jesus” among non-Jewish Christians.
If you’re willing to collaborate with fellow non-Jewish learners to explore the Jewishness of Jesus, you’ll have a bright future in ministry ahead of you … as you’ll be in HUGE demand. You’ll also be able to impart this new knowledge to your future children, and work with your kids to figure out how to contextualize this new knowledge within existing Christian faith communities.
Let me begin by saying this: Your views on identity are important to understanding who Christ is. I made it sound like you can separate belief from identity and I apologize. However, I was not trying to “waffle” as you put it. I stand by my criticism. In all sincerity, I hope I did not come across as “attacking” (though you didn’t use the word and I did). My concerns and criticisms of this blog were rooted in my limited exposure to your site and to the whole conversation. However, as someone who stumbled upon your site, I have been waiting patiently for some explanation as to who Yeshua is (or even how you think He would view Messianic Judaism). Granted, I have gotten a great deal of information as to who Jews are in Yeshua, but I am not sure how you came to the conclusions as to who Yeshua is. Your site doesn’t need to be solely christological, and perhaps you could direct me to some postings that do explain more of Christ.
I was naive to think that I could join this conversation. I will never understand your angst as much as I will never understand a black person’s angst. But I have a confused identity, too. I am seeking for truth. Maybe my input doesn’t resonate with your specific agenda, but I am searching for answers. I am losing a sense of community. I have to be careful of what I say and where I study in fear of excommunication (and I am not joking). I have seen families leave churches and I have seen friends tiptoe around the academic minefield. All because we want to understand Yeshua in light of Judaism. There are many young Christians searching for the true Jesus.
Perhaps your site isn’t the site for this sort of searching. But you seem to offer a different spin on the conversation – one that many of us have never heard. One that can be used greatly or greatly abused. As someone who is searching for the true Messiah, I was only trying to explain where I felt frustrated with this site. I wanted you to be aware of people like me.
With much love,
Now I understand.
I have written a book called Jesus Didn’t Have Blue Eyes (available on amazon).
If you look on the sidebar, there is a category chooser. Choose the category “Yeshua” and there are 83 articles. A few of them are arguments about the timing of the crucifixion. Though these are popular, you may want to skip them. I have much on here about Yeshua’s deity and more.
I think the best overall picture of Yeshua in light of the Jewish sources is found in N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and the Victory of God.
I encourage you to order them along with my Jesus Didn’t Have Blue Eyes.
There is MUCH misinformation out there about Yeshua and his Judaism (for example, some picture Yeshua at age five memorizing Leviticus in synagogue school). N.T. Wright will steer you right with well-researched informtion (John Meier is also excellent, but start with Wright).
I have done a lot of reading in the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus. It is a subject I devoted years of my life to. I care about it deeply.
Now, I would be glad to write a blog article answering a series of questions about Yeshua if you wish to pose them.
I find myself agreeing with Judah Gabriel. Although I need to do more research on the term, my theology is looking more like what he referred to as “two house.” I believe grafting will take place and it will look as if God has done the sewing, not man. The sloppy, uneven stitching that I’m seeing presenting as a beautiful but young Messianic Judaism is disturbing to me.
It seems to me that every single Messianic Jewish synagogue I’ve attended lusts after Judaism but can’t seem to love it enough to respect what Judaism is, and what it isn’t. There’s this entitlement “Well this is OUR form of Judaism so live with it” that I wonder how much God has to do with. Maybe it’s man wanting what man wants. I don’t know.
What I do know is that when a movement so genuinely hurts the same people it is supposed to “save” there is something wrong.
Un-messianic Jews aren’t just rejecting Yeshua when they say no to Messianic Judaism. They’re rejecting the dishonesty within the movement and congregations are hiding behind Yeshua’s clothes and saying “they don’t like you, Jesus! But we’ll suffer for your sake.”
More and more I’m finding MJ to be childish in its approach to constructing a valid Judaism. Perhaps that’s because Judaism doens’t need to be constructed- it already exists.
The title of your book “Jesus doesn’t have blue eyes” is interesting and will probably be good for many to read. I’m assuming you are alluding to the fact that many Christians think of Jesus as a WASP.
My Jewish husband has blue eyes though, as does much of his family from the Ukraine. :) But I see what you’re saying.
I just looked it up and no, don’t think I’m in the “Two House” stream of consciousness. What the?
There are a lot of varying views in the two house theology. Some believe that all Christians involved in the Messianic movements are lost Israelites. (I don’t.)
I propose all Scripture-believing Messianics and Christians are 2 house advocates; one cannot read the Scriptures without encountering prophecies related to the 2 houses of Israel (e.g. Ezekiel 37:15-28). These prophecies remain unfulfilled until the Messianic age.
I believe that the influx of gentiles into Messianic Judaism is God’s hand. And I believe that it has some role to play in the reunion of the 2 houses of Israel prophesied in Scripture.
Judah Gabriel, Can you give me a few definitions and maybe an example of what the Two House theology you believe in means? I’m a bit confused.
To be clear, I’m not against Messianic Judaism. I believe the movement is lacking in honesty regarding who it is for and what the goal is.
Yes: There are prophecies to 2 divisions of Israel in Scripture. These remain unfulfilled until the Messianic age. A full restoration of Israel involves both divisions, both houses of Israel.
Messianic Judaism is part of the restoration of Israel. It’s more than “Jews seeking Messiah”.
That’s my view. I talked a bit about gentiles in the Messianic movement: God Let the Gentiles Into Messianic Judaism.
You said: “To be clear, I’m not against Messianic Judaism. I believe the movement is lacking in honesty regarding who it is for and what the goal is.”
Well, I am part of Messianic Judaism. Can you clarify how I am lacking in honesty?
I thought I was drooling honesty on here.
You paint with a broad brush. Are you sure we’re all dishonest?
Although on most matters (concerning behavior and morals to strive toward) the Bible is very clear cut with little if no room for debate, some issues are clearly subject to interpretation. Enough so that Christians are constantly debating other Christians on certain doctrines, outside of and even within their own denominations. It is sad when an individual is forced to leave his or her place of worship (whether voluntarily or they are asked to leave) over legitimate doctrine discussion. Debate is healthy! Now if these debates can be so intense between mainstream Christian groups, you can imagine what a whole new dimension debates between Messianic ethnic Jews and Messianic Christian Gentile Jews takes on!
It’s just like going back to the New Testament Bible days. The debates within the Jerusalem council about what requirements gentile believers had to follow as opposed to Christian ones. Even on matters concerning the issues of circumcision, many believers today still misinterpret it. Paul was not saying that people (Jews or Gentiles) shouldn’t get circumcised. He was simply stating that it was not necessary for salvation (at least for gentiles). Then there is the issue of Peter’s dream/vision (commanding him to eat food thought of as unclean, leading to his visit with the Roman centurion and his baptism of him along with several of his gentile companions). Many believers – Gentiles and probably even Jewish ones – contend that this symbolized a doing away with the Kosher laws. A great many other ethnic Jewish believers claimed “not so” – that this was just G-d giving Peter the “go-ahead” to include Gentiles in the Nazarene community and associate and worship with them. The necessity for everyone to be uniform in certain forms of worship and practice (such as the circumcision and Kosher laws) are still being debated today in Messianic circles. They have been debated for the last 2,000 years, and will probably continue to be debated until the End Times by Christian and Jewish believers alike!
I, for one, was an ethnic mainstream Jew (a “non-religious, ‘just try to be a nice guy’, go to synagogue only on weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and other special occasions” type of Jew) up until about five years ago. Through discussions a co-worker (and of course, the Lord), I came to belief in Jesus. This co-worker is a gentile Presbyterian, but he is very much into Judaism and has attended Messianic congregations. In fact, he introduced me to them. To date we have had many discussions and debates on several topics. Both he and I have adjusted some of our doctrinal views over the years.
Like I stated before, most of the Bible is clear cut, especially for Gentile Believers (the vast majority of Christians today). Mainly, that believers should call on the spirit for strength to guide them in striving to obey the 10 commandments and the teachings of Y-shua.
As far as other things like circumcision, keeping Kosher (which both have great health benefits, by the way) and obeying other Jewish Old Testament rituals and customs, if a person feels comfortable doing so, let them do it. And if they don’t feel comfortable doing so, don’t go crazy trying to talk them into it (Debate is healthy, up to a point!).
Regarding whether a person is a Messianic Jew, a Gentile Jew, a Hebrew Christian, a Jewish believer… whatever label you want to put on them, they put on you, or you put on yourself, at the end of the day (and possibly after much healthy debate) does it really matter? Yes, there is room for Gentile and Jewish believers alike in Messianic worship. There may be some different approaches and slight differences in style and belief. There may not be a clear cut answer on certain issues, such as this topic. But the good news is we can all agree on most things regarding Y-shua and Christianity.
Thanks Judah, thought provoking. I’ll check out your link in the next couple of days.
Derek, I don’t know you that well so I can’t call you dishonest. What I can say is that I find Messianic Judaism dishonest in saying it is for the Jewish people (not just Messianic Jews). I suppose it could be seen as “for” Jewish people the way those homosexual rehabilitation programs are “for” gay people; giving them something they *need* even if they don’t think they need it.
My personal experience in Messianic Judaism is that is like watching someone take a glass of juice and pour shot glass after shot glass of water in it. At one stage the liquid is juice, then it’s mostly juice, then it’s watery juice, and finally it’s water with a juice-ish history. I love water but when I want some liquid apple deliciousness I expect nothing less.
It’s not just seeing tallits being worn as casually as ties or non-Jewish teachers claiming the title Rabbi that I find irksome. It’s the flippant attitude taken toward the Jewish community that has deep concerns and fears regarding Messianic Judaism. Instead of being defensive when it comes to Jews, why not take an honest look at the movement and see where there is disrespect and misrepresentation taking place. If Messianic Judaism was really for all Jews, not just the ones who have recently discovered their Jewish roots, this would happen naturally.
And at the end of the day, Ken, it does matter. Some of us are trying to raise children in this circus. Circuses are only fun for a short period of time. After awhile everyone wants to go home.
The reason I challenged you is I was pretty sure you have not been around Hashivenu-MJTI circles.
Look around mjti.com and hashivenu.org
Read (I think I said this before and you said you were not interested) Mark Kinzer’s Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism.
I think you would be encouraged.
Keep learning, thinking, and growing. If you are like me and most of my friends, your thinking will evolve and change.
Thanks for the suggestion, Derek. Can you name one or two synagogues on the West coast that fit the model you’re writing about?
I have your email address and will respond privately.
Thank you, Derek.
no_tv: I appreciate your concern for proper religious and spiritual observance, as well as your concern for your children. There definitely is a big circus carnival atmosphere out there these days. However, I don’t believe that this “circus” exists so much in any given Messianic, Synagogue, or Church Congregation as it does in certain social and cultural aspects of society as a whole in today’s modern age.
Derek, I think you know I am a supporter of an inclusive Messianic Judaism, but opposed to ritual conversion. I believe Paul’s rulings against “circumcision” are meant to be understood as against ritual conversion. I am a firm believer that all Believers — whatever their background — are grafted into the covenant community of Israel through their faith (Romans 11). No further “conversion” is necessary. Is training necessary? Of course.
Although a Jewish child is born into Israel, they are not considered to be fully responsible “adult” members of the community until they have demonstrated the ability to interact with the holy texts, supposedly both reading and understanding… albeit in recent decades the requirements for both have been lax. Most of the people I know who are bar or bat mitzvah memorized how to cant the maftir and haftarah of their Torah portions and their talk has not truly been on the portion but about what it means to be a Jew in modern society.
I am an advocate for ALL Messianics (above the age of 11) to prepare for and then undergo bar/bat mitzvah (obviously if you’re a child you wouldn’t undergo it until you’re old enough). But I also think if there’s a choice between being able to read the text in Hebrew and being able to actually engage it in English (or whatever the local language is) and explain it to the congregation, I choose the latter. (Hopefully they will have both.) I think bar/bat mitzvah should be what we do INSTEAD OF conversion. A part of that should be a basic class in what it means to be a son or daughter of the covenant, but I think we need to think of it and orient it this way.
Now, you will notice that earlier I said “all believers — whatever their background are grafted in.” This includes Jews. Jews — although of Israel — must still be re-grafted in to the Tree of Israel, the community of Israel, by faith. My view is that each of us must again stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai and accept the covenant, the basic foundation of which has always been faith in God and His Messiah (Who is Him).
Anyway, that’s my view basically in a nutshell.
Adam, the entirety of your comment betrays a dangerous assumption that what makes a person Jewish is one’s aptitude, interest, or faith. If this were true, and it were possible to become ‘un-grafted’ through unbelief, then all the promises G-d made to the Jewish people are lies and we’re all wasting our time.
What makes a person Jewish is one’s birth as a child of a Jew. This is the ultimate conundrum of being Jewish. I didn’t choose to be Jewish! G-d chose me to be Jewish! And frankly, if I had a choice, given my family’s history as a hunted and reviled minority, I’d probably choose something else!
The Jewish people cannot work our way out of the covenant through a lack of aptitude, interest, or faith. Likewise, those who are not Jewish cannot work their way IN through aptitude, interest, or faith. (This is what you’ve seemingly proposed through your “b’nai mitzvah for anyone who’s willing to study” program, presupposing that one’s aptitude, interest, or faith can serve as an entry into the covenant between the Jewish people and Hashem.)
Your idea that “the ability to interact with holy texts” is a prerequisite for Jewish adulthood is wholly unsupportable. If that were true, then the poor who cannot afford to study and the mentally disabled who possess limited comprehension would be ineligible for b’nai mitzvah.
Monique, you state:
> Adam, the entirety of your comment betrays a dangerous
> assumption that what makes a person Jewish is one’s
> aptitude, interest, or faith.”
How else do you interpret Romans Chapter 2?
You also state:
> If this were true, and it were possible to become
> ‘un-grafted’ through unbelief, then all the promises G-d
> made to the Jewish people are lies and we’re all wasting
> our time.”
First off, God didn’t make promises to “the Jewish people.” He made promises to Israel, of which the Jewish people are A PART. Secondly, we know that in the end, all Israel will be saved. Period. That means the promises will be kept.
You also state:
> (This is what you’ve seemingly proposed through your
> “b’nai mitzvah for anyone who’s willing to study”
> program, presupposing that one’s aptitude, interest, or
> faith can serve as an entry into the covenant between
> the Jewish people and Hashem.)
Aptitude or interest, no. Faith, yes. That is the entire message of the Apostolic Writings.
And again, not “the Jewish people.” Israel. Israel has ALWAYS included people who were not born of Jacob’s children, ever since the acceptance of the covenant at Sinai.
> Your idea that “the ability to interact with holy texts” is a
> prerequisite for Jewish adulthood is wholly
> unsupportable. If that were true, then the poor who
> cannot afford to study and the mentally disabled who
> possess limited comprehension would be ineligible for
> b’nai mitzvah.
First off, we must define what precisely we mean by b’nai mitzvah and covenant adulthood. It doesn’t mean they’re outside the covenant, in my view.
Secondly, the notion that the poor cannot afford to study is ludicrous. Anyone can study, their income has not a thing to do with it. They just need good teachers. And that’s the job of myself and my colleagues.
Finally… the mentally disabled have always been a protected class. This is no different.
I’m not getting your distinction between “the Jewish people” and “Israel.” The covenant was made between Hashem and “the children of Jacob/Israel” … meaning his direct physical descendants. That would be what is now called in the 21st century “the Jewish people.”
“The children of Jacob/Israel” may have been ACCOMPANIED by non-Jewish people in biblical times … and they may have so thoroughly intermarried with the descendants of Jacob that their future children and grandchildren became descendants of Jacob. But the status of non-Jews as outsiders was continually reinforced through titles such as “sojourners/strangers/foreigners,” “proselytes,” and “G-d fearers.”
Why else was Ruth was always called “Ruth the Moabite,” even after she moved into the midst of the children of Israel/Jacob and married Boaz? Because although she was part of the community, she was not and could not become a physical descendant of Jacob. Her children, however … as descendants of Boaz, were obviously descendants of Jacob as well.
I don’t see Romans 2 as supportive of your philosophy. Paul is calling out people for hypocrisy … and telling Jews that if we preach and observe the minutiae of the law but do not allow it to permeate our souls, and claim piety but do not practice it, we can’t go lording our “specialness” over non-Jews. He’s not actually making a definitive statement that non-observant Jews are magically transformed into Gentiles through their spiritual shortcomings. Neither is he saying that Gentiles are magically transformed into physical descendants of Jacob through their piety. He’s simply saying that if you’re circumcised, you should act like it, and not think too highly of yourself just because you’re a descendant of Jacob!! Also, that perhaps we should take a page from the book of all these newfound righteous Gentiles … who have provoked us to jealousy through their love of Torah … and return to the life of a righteous Jew!