Rhetoric from the Moderate Two-House Position

If you don’t know what Two-House is and if you are not in Messianic Judaism, you may just want to skip this post or pay it little attention. We have a discussion going on in broader MJ circles that is, as all testify, wearying. The thing is, it is a vital issue for us. At stake is whether MJ is going to be about renewal of Judaism in Yeshua or a Torah-revival enforced on Christians by those who would tell Christians their practice is inadequate. Needless to say, I think MJ is about a renewal of Judaism in Yeshua.

So, after all the controversy of recent weeks here at Messianic Jewish Musings, Two-House teacher J.K. McKee posts a video and friend and fellow blogger Judah Himango posts it on his blog. If you listen to the short video you will hear that:

(1) Those who believe in bilateral ecclesiology (myself for example, it means that there ought to be a branch of the Yeshua community for Jews and a branch for non-Jews, it means that MJ and the Church are united but distinct) hold this position because we have insecurities as leaders.

(2) That us bilateral folk ignore or downplay the unity of Jew and Gentile theme in Pauline letters.

(3) That the solution is for all Jews and Gentiles who love Yeshua/Jesus to give up Christianity and join the Messianic movement, complete with Torah observance.

His position ignores this fact, agreed upon by practically all Pauline scholars: Paul’s letters indicate freedom from Torah practices such as the Sabbath and dietary law. So, if there is not Jew/Gentile distinction, as these teachers claim, then Paul’s prescription is not for all Yeshua-followers to keep Torah, but for all to live as Gentiles.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too, claim that the Jew/Gentile distinction is erased and also claim that Paul teaches Torah observance in his letters.

Here is the link to Judah Himango’s post and you will see the video by J.K. McKee on the list.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Gentiles, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Rhetoric from the Moderate Two-House Position

  1. judahgabriel says:

    Hi Derek. Let’s be good examples for Messiah in our blogs and in these comments. Agreed? Here’s my response:

    Torah as relevant instruction for all God’s people is not exclusive to Two House. I guess you said that in hopes to isolate us? Oh well.

    A Torah revival enforced on Christians? That’s like saying MJ is a Yeshua revival forced on Jews. It’s a misrepresentation.

    John’s video did not call out bilateral ecclessiology. In the comments to my blog, John clarified that the insecurities he spoke about exist on both sides of the debate.


  2. louiseallyson says:

    Hi Derek,

    I follow your blog and several others but all these posts on Gentiles in MJ is really wearing thin. It is both discouraging and frustrating. This comment by Gene in Judah’s blog is particularly disturbing – Monday, May 17, 2010 10:32:00 PM
    Gene Shomovich said…

    “Don’t you worry, we are working to remedy the situation, so that the Jewish Movement for Messiah can once again focus on its purpose.”

    I have wanted to weigh in on these conversations but I feel that I would be way out of my league and would be shot down in flames. I am a home schooling mother and yes I am a gentile, who has been drawn to Torah, I believe, by the Spirit of God. My life has been so enriched by all I have learned that I could never turn my back on what I now know. I don’t need to convert, I am very happy that God made me a gentile and chose to set His love upon me. Why are you and others trying to separate what God has joined together. It is Shavuot, we remember the giving of the Torah and the empowering of the Spirit to be the witnesses of His grace to a lost and dying world that includes both jew and gentile. That is our mission, to reach ALL the world for Messiah. It seems very much that you want to remain an exclusive club. I very much grieve over all these discussions. I wonder if the Father grieves too.
    Grace and peace to you and all others

    • judahgabriel says:

      Hi Louise,

      Don’t worry. Gene doesn’t speak for the Messianic movement, and he sometimes gets caught up in the heat of the moment (we all do). :-) You’d be welcome in most Messianic congregations, probably even Derek’s.

      There are many of us that see all these gentiles being drawn to Torah and Israel faith, and recognize it as a move of God. Part of the restoration of Israel. I’m one of them, and we’re growing. Be encouraged.

  3. Louise:

    I understand your frustration. I am not sure you understand what this debate is about. There are two main issues:

    (1) I am in opposition to those who claim that the Torah (or the Bible as a whole) should be used to tell Christians they are deficient in their faith and must become Torah-keepers.

    (2) I am in opposition to those who want to make Messianic Judaism about Torah for non-Jews.

    I am not against people who discover Torah and want to learn about it. If they decide to belong to Hebraic Roots groups where Gentiles keep Torah, fine.

    Some Gentiles are drawn to Jewish people, to the redemption of Israel in Messiah, and want to be part of Messianic Judaism. I am not against that.

    But (1) is wrong, I am suggesting, because Torah distinguishes some commandments as restricted to Israel and the New Testament is clear that non-Jews are not bound to the whole Torah. (2) is wrong because MJ is about those from within Israel who are being renewed in Yeshua. Anyone who comes from outside and tries to hijack the movement is doing Israel a disservice.

    A lot of people are confused right now because MJ has been off track for some time now.

    Derek Leman

  4. amiel4messiah says:

    As a Jewish believer in Messiah, I am following this debate with great interest. I am a member of an International Messianic Fellowship and we worship as Jews and Gentiles together on Shabbat. When reading some posts, it saddens me to see the extent of polarisation, but I DO empathise with both camps. It is not an easy subject.

    Louise, I hear you loud and clear. I know many Messianic (Gentile) believers who are drawn to Torah and I cannot help but think that this is the way HaShem intended it to be. After all, in the world to come, Torah will go out of Zion to the Nations and Gentiles will keep Sukkot. However, this subject has been debated (well) and I don’t want to go over old ground.

    What I am grappling with myself is this whole ‘either or’ debate on Torah. One of my staff is a Christian and she sometimes (gently) accuses me of still trying to keep the law. I usually (gently) point out to her that she also keeps Torah… she may not keep Shabbat, but she keeps all the other nine commandments in the Decalogue. I DO appreciate that there is Torah for Jews and Torah for Gentiles AND Torah for both, though I would struggle to give a clear scriptural summary if I were put on the spot. And I believe there are about 1/3 of the 613 Mitzvot, which can only be kept in Eretz Israel, so there’s a whole chunk of Torah which doesn’t even apply to us in the Diaspora.

    I wonder what our (spiritual) world would look like if the Christian Church in all its divisions had never come into existence? Would not even Gentile Assemblies have a distinctly Jewish flavour? As I travel around the world, I continue to be amazed at the legacy of the British Empire. The English language. English Common Law. The Westminster Parliament System. Judges in Kenia still carry wigs. Army Officers from many Commonwealth countries still train at Sandhurst Academy. And I have been to Anglican churches from Singapore to Nairobi to Capte Town to Sydney.

    I would not in any shape or form want to advocate that Gentiles should become Jews. But I would perhaps encourage my Gentile brothers and sisters to consider the awesome blessing of Shabbat, G-d’s very special day. I would encourage them to consider the health benefits of avoiding Pork. But above all I would desire to share with them the wonderful truth that our Moshiach is a Jew, that the Scriptures are Jewish, that salvation is of the Jews… that even an Assembly of Gentile believers only and no Jews would still have a distinctly Jewish flavour.

    We are a small international fellowship. And I do not claim that we have cornered the market on the perfect model for the Messianic Assembly. There are always more questions than answers and we have plenty of healthy debate. But the thought of some of us worshipping on Sunday (Gentiles) and some of us worshipping on Shabbat (Jews) would be incomprehensible. Not all keep the Festivals and people’s level of Torah observance is not an entry-requirement. Some leave our Assembly and then do their weekly shopping. We are all on a journey and our understanding is at different levels. But we are all united by our faith in Moshiach. Outside of that there is much variety, but with a decidedly Jewish flavour :-)

    This is Derek’s Blog and I am not here to peddle my own Messianic Brand. I enjoy its rich teaching and am grateful for the hard work Derek puts into this labour of love. But I will allow myself this once to mention our Rebbe’s public teaching website for those who might be interested :-) http://www.biblicalresearchinstitute.com.au

  5. Dan Benzvi says:


    Please clarify.
    You wrote that practically all Pauline’s scholars agreed upon that “Paul’s letters indicate freedom from Torah practices such as the sabbath and dietary law.”

    Do you mean for Jew and Gentile alike?

  6. Dan:

    Yes. Most Pauline scholars (until some in the New Perspective) did not assume a bilateral ecclesiology. So, on the one hand, they agree with one law that Jew and Gentile are the same but on the other disagree in that Paul’s gospel is law free.

    But my position is that Paul’s law-free teaching concerns Gentiles (law-free actually means freedom from the sign commandments for Israel, not all that Torah concerns) and that Paul assumes bilateral ecclesiology (i.e., Paul did not teach Jews that they were law-free).


  7. Dan Benzvi says:


    I am trying to understand you. If like you said, Paul did not teach Jews that they were law-free, then of course you also do not agree with most “Pauline’s scholars,” am I right? Yet you keep bringing them up as something we should be concerened about, what gives?

  8. Dan:

    My point is that these scholars are right about Paul’s law-free statements. They simply have not comprehended that these statements are for the Gentile ekklesia and that Jewish Torah-faithfulness is assumed (bilateral ecclesiology).

    So my challenge to the one law position is to interpret Paul correctly, not to deny the law-free statements, and to incorporate them wisely into a theology of Jews, Gentiles, and Torah.


  9. Dan Benzvi says:


    It would be easier for me to answer your challenge if you can quote some scriptures that show Paul making a distinction between gentiles and Jews as far as torah is concerned?

  10. Dan:

    Paul does not address bilateral eccles in his letters. But he does by his participation in Acts 15.

    His letters are for the Gentile ekklesia.

    Bilateral ecclesiology is a teaching derived from:

    (1) the law-free statements of Acts 15 and in Paul’s writing

    (2) The law-bound indications for Jewish disciples in Acts (and also by Paul’s statements indicating that he is still a Pharisee and keeps Torah himself).

    (3) These two teachings indicate Torah fully for Jews and only in part for Gentiles, hence two different sets of expectations, hence bilateral.

    (4) Torah and Jewish tradition agree with this concept that Torah is for Jews and Gentiles have only a partial obligation.

    I have spelled all these things out in various posts and especially in my Paul book (it’s available on amazon). A large contingent of MJ today is persuaded by bilateral ecclesiology and some Christian and Jewish theologians are on board as well (yes, by Jewish I mean non-Messianic).


  11. Dan Benzvi says:


    You are touching on two different subjects here: one-law and bilateral ecclisiology. I would like to address myself to BE.

    On another blog the question was raised: does Kinzer;s BE has eschatological dimension? this is the exact point i am trying to make for a while now.

    Example: Kinzer uses the term “solidarity” without defining what this actually implies. It is clear that he views “solodarity” mostly (if not entirely) as a platonic idea not a practical reality.

    “Solidarity with Israel,” what does it mean? Kinzer writes:
    “the Jewish Christians were able to have active and effective relations with Gentile Christians and at the same time retain operating status in the non-Christian Jewish community (Post Missionary…P. 178).

    Do you think this is accurate in light that by the time Paul wrote 2 Cor. he already received lasshes 5 times from Synagogue officials. Is this, you think, is an “operating status in the non-Christian jewish community?”

    How about Paul himself, before becoming a believer, persecuting the Jewish believers?

    Was not Paul and Barnabas driven out from the synagogue in Acts 13:50?

    but most of all, what did Yeshua say in: Matt. 10:17; 23:34; Mark 13:9; Luke 12:11; 21:12;?

    Where is the “operating status in the non-Christian Jewish community?” But it is absolutly necessary for Kinzer to sustain BR. The only way to maintain this view is to diminish the central role of Yeshua within the Jewish segment of the ekklesia.

    What say you?

  12. Dan:

    Much has been written about the experience of Yeshua-followers in the synagogues and the parting of the ways. The history you present is flawed because it uses only some of the evidence (Paul got kicked out, the synoptics warn of disciples being kicked out, thus, the believers left the synagogue early and stayed out). That is not an accurate picture.

    The old view of the parting of the ways saw it happening after 132 when the Christians could not support Bar Kochba in the second Jewish revolt. That view has been modified now (see Skarsaune, Jewish Believers in Jesus) for the reality that Jewish and Gentile Christians tended to come to synagogues even as late as the sixth century.

    Yes, proclamation of Yeshua got apostles kicked out. But Yeshua-faith apparently did not get teh same reaction as Yeshua-preaching. And there may have been up and down tensions for centuries, but Yeshua-followers remained in the synagogues AND also meeting on their own for centuries. I am NOT saying all Yeshua-followers. History is complex. Some did one thing, some another.

    The solidarity Kinzer is referring to a theme in Acts, in which the Jerusalem congregation worshipped at the Temple and many pious Jews took offense when James was executed (according to Josephus).


  13. Dan Benzvi says:


    Are Yeshua’s warnings that I cited a “flawed history?”

    Does not the history on the ground today tell the story? How does it work in today’s reality, If Gentiles do not have to abide by the whole Torah and only given an option to do so? How can community wide fellowship be a reality? could Jewish believers eat with their Gentile brothers and sisters who decided not to follow Kashrut? What about Gentiles who decide that the Shabbat regulations are not completely to their liking? what would the observance of Yom Kippur be like? Jewish believers fasting, some Gentile believers fasting, and other Gentile believers eating cheesburgers? What about Gentiles who want to eat Bread in the Seder instead of matzot?

    Like you said, Derek, You cannot have the cake and eat it too…
    Either you insitute one-law for everyone, or adhere to BE with two houses of worship.

    i wonder if the congregations that Paul started met in two different homes and have two different set of rules?

    • “Either you insitute one-law for everyone, or adhere to BE with two houses of worship.”

      No need to institute anything new, Dan. We already have a Gentile faith expression (a Gentile “house”, if you will) – it’s called Christianity, and that’s the place where just about 99.99% of Gentile believers worship, you know. They do not want to live as Jews, do not need to, and won’t.

  14. Dan:

    I may not have time to answer you every time.

    I did not say Yeshua’s warning were a flawed history, so no need to accuse.

    You are understanding Yeshua’s warnings a certain way (none of my followers will be allowed to remain in the synagogue). That is not what he said. He warned that his disciples could expect to be ejected from synagogues (and many were). But just as only a limited number of Christians were burned or thrown to animals in the arena, so only a limited number of Yeshua-followers were ejected from synagogues.

    I hope we can get back to the patience the discussion began with.


  15. Dan:

    How can MJ and Christians have table fellowship? Your questions assume that a person who keeps kashrut cannot eat with someone who does not. Well, if your version of kashrut is that you may not be at the same table as someone eating pork, then I guess your kashrut is excluding fellowship. So Yeshua’s table fellowship admonitions may limit traditions of kashrut to viable levels.

    I have no trouble dining with Christians. My level of kashrut is not that the Shulchan Aruch. I will eat in non-kosher restaurants (carefully).

    And if Christians worship on Sunday and we worship on Saturday, this does not harm our ability to have solidarity.

    In my opinion, our ability to have solidarity is harmed at times. Sorry to my Catholic friends, but I prefer not to enter a sanctuary with images of Jesus or Mary in them. It makes me uncomfortable to have images (Catholic) or icons (Eastern Orthodox). But I can still have solidarity outside of their places of worship.

    In other words, just as Peter and Paul ate with Gentiles, so can I. And I don’t have to enforce kashrut on them. Deuteronomy 14:21 mitigates against enforcing kashrut on Gentiles anyway.


    • Dan Benzvi says:

      Even in your congregation at oneg? Can a Gentile who loves God just as much as you do and learns from you that he does not have to adhere to the dietary laws, walk in your oneg eating a hem sandwich? I sincerely believe that you would not allow this which even emphasises my contention that BE cannot be lived out in the tody and now, only in the eschaton.

  16. Dan Benzvi says:


    I don’t think that I was impatient, I was just asking a question, but if I offended, I am sorry.

    Let’s go back to the “eschatological dimension.”

    When Kinzer speaks about a “bilateral ecclesiology in solidarit with Israel,” He means that the Baptist Church on the corner actually has “solidarity” with Israel because within the “universal ekklesia,” believing Jews actuaaly remain communally within “greater Israel” (or at least they hope eventually to be accepted communally by “greater Israel). The Baptist Church does no even realize that they have been granted such “solidarity with Israel,” But that does not really matter. in Kinzer’s platonic concept of the universal ekklesia, the Baptist Church “participates” in Israel via the Jewish believers. Likewise, the Jewish believers in the Baptist Church (even if they don’t recognize nor desplay their Jewishness) mystically connect the Jewish believers who live cummunally with greater Israel to the “Gentile segment” of the ekklesia. For Kinzer is not so much the deeds but the “thought that counts.”

    Is this how the Apostles speak?

  17. Dan:

    Non-Jews do not bring unclean food to our synagogue. This is respect for the customs of the place. It is important to distinguish between individual and corporate responsibities.

    As for your take on Kinzer’s solidarity, you do him disservice when you insert the word “platonic.” That is your word, not his, and your intention is to say it is not real but a matter of attitudes.

    There is not good solidarity now. And the Baptist, Episcopal, and Catholic churches in town typically do not find solidarity with Messianic Jews (although there are many who do and I have a great relationship with hundreds of pastors and tens of thousands of Christians–literally).

    The good solidarity was in the book of Acts (though faultlines were already showing in Paul’s letters).

    Kinzer’s book, as you may have noticed, is actually written for Jewish and Christian scholars and one of its clear objectives is to foster good Jewish-Christian relations, including good relations with Messianic Jews.

    And so the call is for Christians and Jews to improve in solidarity. So, it is not platonic. It is a call for real and practical interaction, friendship, and mutual learning.


  18. Dan Benzvi says:


    You speak about the book of Acts. does Paul envision a “universal ekklesia” where “separate but equal” sub-communities within the idealistic entity called “ekklesia” never meet each other, never serve each other, and have markedly different govenance and practice? I think even you will disagree.
    For Yeshua and His Apostles, the only “solidarity” or “unity” that exists within the ekklesia is that which is seen, witnessed, and actually lived out in local communities of believers in Yeshua. the universal unity of the ekklesia is envision as that which will be realized in the eschaton. But such conceptual, universal unity of the ekklesia is only known in reality when “hands-on” unity is demonstrated within the local assembly or ekklesia.

    kinzer’s BE may work on theological paper (which i understand his book to be), but it has no viability either in the pages of scriptures or in the life-to-life reality of those who confess Yeshua.
    you cannot have the peace you seek having Jewish believers live in one house, and Gentile believers in another. ( I think this is why you are trying to emphasize relations OUTSIDE the community).
    Kinzer’s BE fails on Scriptural and practical grounds. thinking otherwise is to smooth away the “offense of the cross” (Gal. 5:11), Because it undermines the goal of the ekklesia, to sanctify the Name of God upon the earth by giving witness to the risen Messiah.

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