MAPPING MESSIANIC JEWISH THEOLOGY: A CONSTRUCTIVE APPROACH
Richard Harvey, Paternoster, 2009
This is our Messianic Jewish Musings survey of chapter 4 of Richard Harvey’s newly published study. MJT stands for Messianic Jewish Theology. See here to find MMJT on Paternoster and here to find it on amazon.
The following excerpt from the introduction to Harvey’s fourth chapter captures a great deal of what follows in his rather detailed survey of MJT on the nature of God. I will abridge Harvey’s comments as noted by the ellipses, but I include his remarks at length because they are so informative:
Messianic Jews have yet to develop a full ‘Doctrine of God’, for three reasons. First, Messianic Jews work without a developed theological and philosophical tradition, whereas ‘mainstream’ Judaism and Christianity have centuries’ worth of systematic and philosophical reflection about ‘God’, worked out in diverse historical contexts, upon which they can draw. And whilst the 19th an 20th century forbears of the modern Messianic movement such a Joseph Rabinowitz, Paul Levertoff and Jacob Jocz were concerned with such issues, their works are not generally referred to by contemporary Messianic leaders.
Secondly, Messianic Jews have focused on issues relevant to their own particular apologetic, pastoral and cultural needs. Where Messianic Jews have discussed God, the emphasis has been on the Trinity and the Incarnation . . .
Thirdly, the task of investigating both Jewish and Christian theological traditions, then synthesizing them creatively and coherently into a new theologoumenon is a challenge. It is relatively easy to map the theological trajectories of Judaism and Christianity, demonstrating points of comparison, similarity, contrast and mutual influence or contra-distinction. But there have been few attempts to construct a doctrine of God that produces a coherent statement from a study of the two traditions.
Harvey, in his survey of Messianic documents concerning the nature of God makes the following observations:
(1) When Messianic groups use a doctrinal statement, these are always aligned with Christian views of God and are careful to be orthodox. (Note: Doctrinal statements are more common in Messianic organizations tied to support from Christian organizations and are not a Jewish phenomenon.)
(2) A few have used Christian ideas and Hebrew terminology in a simple attempt to synthesize the two streams.
(3) In a number of studies of the nature of divine revelation, most are reflective of Reformation, Protestant, and evangelical ideas. One unpublished study, the lectures of Mark Kinzer for Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, also reflects a wider array of concerns, including historical critical views of the Bible, the role of tradition and community, and the priority of halakha (practice) over aggadah (story).
(4) A few studies attempt to correlate the Trinity to Jewish concepts (more below about this).
(5) A few studies treat the doctrine of God in light of special Jewish concerns, such as Louis Goldberg’s reflections on the problem of the Holocaust and the nature of God (in God, Torah, Messiah, the posthumous book of his theological writings edited by Rich Robinson of Jews for Jesus and available here).
(6) In his conclusion, Harvey suggests that the doctrine of God is an area in need of much work in MJT. Most studies take the common ground between Judaism and Christianity for granted, but do not get into the nuances of difference, variety, and so on. Harvey lays out a few requirements for a fuller MJT on this topic.
Some MJT Reflections on Trinity in Light of Jewish Traditions
At different levels of complexity, a few Messianic writers have tackled the topic of God’s unity with a view to bridge Jewish and Christian conceptions.
Arnold Fruchtenbaum has written about Maimonides’ use of yachid rather than echad, when formulating his Thirteen Principles of Faith in Judaism. Fruchtenbaum argues that yachid is a stricter kind of unity used by Maimonides in preference over the Biblical word echad in order to more clearly exclude the Christian idea of a Triune God.
David Stern has discussed avoiding the errors of unitarianism (one God, undifferentiated) on the one hand and tritheism (three gods, related) on the other. Stern argues that there is not a need to get too specific in answering the mysteries of God’s plural nature, but to accept it as revelation.
Louis Goldberg has argued that the Hebrew Bible does not rule out the plural nature of God and cites Rashi on Metatron in Exodus 23:20 (Metatron is a late rabbinic conception of the angel of the Lord). Goldberg argues that there is room, even in strictly monotheistic writings for a complexity in God’s unity.
Mark Kinzer, in an MJTI lecture for “The Shape of Messianic Jewish Theology,” speaks of differentiation within the Godhead. God’s creation is characterized by unity in tension with differentiation (for example, man and woman). Kinzer argues that the man/wife relationship is an analogy to the God/Messiah relationship. We should expect to see differentiation in God’s nature and realize God’s own complex nature is reflected in the diverse unity of his creation.
In Harvey’s fifth chapter, dealing with the nature of Yeshua (Christology in Christian theological terms), he will explore the writings of Tsvi Sadan, an Israeli Messianic scholar who explores kabbalah as a paradigm for understanding a differentiated unity of God. (Note: while many have a knee-jerk reaction against kabbalah, it should be noted that some aspects of kabbalah are very closely related to Biblical texts).
What Messianic descriptions of the Trinity have you heard and found wanting?
What is your take on the idea of Trinity (please, no dissertations)?
Is the concept of Trinity compatible with Judaism?
Is Judaism’s view of God characterized by deliberate protection against any concept of plural unity in God’s nature?
How has the issue of the Trinity impacted your community or someone you know? Has it been a source of controversy?