Not Jewish Yet Drawn to Torah, Part 8

This article is way overdue! I had people facebooking me two weeks ago saying, “Hurry up!” A short summary of the issue in this series: many non-Jews have been drawn into Messianic Judaism and various Judeo-Christian groups in the past three decades. In many places, Jews and non-Jews are together in community and practice.

I’ve been suggesting guidelines and principles to maintain a few vital axioms: (1) Jewish identity is precious to God and should not be ignored or made light of, (2) healthy Messianic Judaism and Judeo-Christian thinking is positive about Christianity and Judaism, and (3) there need to be ways for Jews and non-Jews in community together to make distinctions without marginalizing any person.

Here in Part 8, I’m going to talk about halacha, guidelines for walking out Torah, in terms of mixed communities. How can we establish guidelines so non-Jews do not assume a false or shallow Jewish identity? How can we have valid Jewish practice in mixed communities? It is important, if you are a person involved in MJ or a Judeo-Christian (Hebrew Roots, Two House, One Law) group to catch the information in the other seven parts. Here we go with Part 8.

Tradition, Halacha, and Community
“Every man did what was right in his own eyes,” in Judges 17:6 and 21:25 is not a praise for individualism. Our Western tendency to say the individual can and should ignore family, community, religion, and nation to do whatever seems best is not a sound approach to life. God did not make us independent of each other.

Some parts of Messianic Judaism and various Judeo-Christian groups have historically been foolish with regard to rabbinic tradition, with the halacha of the people of Israel. People have perpetuated individual, self-authorized interpretation. “We don’t need no tradition!”

Most of the objections to following tradition are based on extreme ignorance and total lack of understanding. Most people who talk about “Biblical Judaism” are clueless. They follow tradition when it suits them and claim to disavow tradition when it suits them.

Toward a Tradition Specific to Messianic Judaism
I belong to a rabbinical council known as the MJRC (Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council), which you can find at

MJ is a small movement. The MJRC is a small group. Its few dozen leaders are also the ones playing many roles for the movement. MJ is, as you might say, woefully understaffed.

Messianic Judaism is part of the larger world of THE Tradition of Israel. But we have a need for our own guidelines specific to our community. We face some issues and have some guidance from Yeshua and the apostles on halachic matters which are specific to our community and not issues in broader Judaism.

The MJRC currently does not have guidelines for distinguishing Jewish and non-Jewish practices within our communities. I am in submission to the guidelines of the MJRC and I recognize that only a set of mutually arrived at guidelines can really suffice.

So, why am I commenting on this matter before the MJRC has issued guidelines? Simple. My community has to live now and not wait for the guidelines to arrive. And many groups and congregations are desperately in need of some practices.

What I suggest in this post is only a beginning and has no authority for anyone. I simply want to raise some issues and makes suggestions.

And, yes, I think non-Jews in groups that are not specifically Messianic Jewish, but in which Torah is kept, should consider submitting to MJRC guidelines when they are released (no date known for the guidelines to be final).

The Kinds of Practice that Are Problematic
God says in Exodus 19:5-6 that among all peoples of the world, Israel is chosen as the treasured people, a priestly people, subject to a higher degree of holiness just as priests are subject to higher holiness than common Israelites. Israel is to non-Jews and the priests are to Israelites. That is why there are holiness regulations for Jews that do not apply as commandments for non-Jews: Sabbath, dietary law, tzit-tzit, circumcision, etc.

In case anyone doubts it, the apostles did not abolish the distinction between Israel as the holy people and non-Jews in Messiah, as also a holy people, also a priestly people, but not subsuming Israel’s place as the firstborn. Read Romans 11 carefully.

But many practices in mixed communities undermine the Irrevocable Election of Israel and the unique covenant at Sinai which is between Israel and God only. Let me say that again: only. Don’t be confused by the fact that many principles of Torah are also universal laws. The Torah covenant contains both specific and universal laws. And don’t be confused by shallow arguments about a “mixed multitude,” or about “one law for the native and the stranger,” which I will not take the time here to refute (I’d gladly do so in a comment if anyone asks).

Here are kinds of practices that need differentiation if we are to respect the idea of Jewish identity:

(1) The blessings over the Torah scroll which include sayings like, “who selected us from all peoples and gave us his Torah.” This is true only of Jews. Non-Jews should not recite these words. A substitute suggestion will be made below.

(2) Some other prayers may be acceptable based on the intent (kavanah) of the worshipper. For example, the first paragraph of the Aleinu could be prayed by a non-Jew possibly who intends to understand it properly. The intent of the prayer is to describe Israel’s place as the elect people, but this expression is phrased in terms of a people called out of idolatry, which is true of faithful non-Jews. Perhaps this kind of prayer could be prayed by a non-Jew with proper intent.

(3) The second and third paragraph of the Shema, when recited as a prayer, indicate inclusion in the covenant between God and Israel. A non-Jew, in order to maintain integrity, might need some type of declared intent to recite this as part of holy Scripture about Israel as a people, without assuming a place in this covenant.

(4) There are undoubtedly other places in the liturgy which may require either a substitution or a clear intent by the worshipper to clarify.

(5) The reading of the Sefer Torah from the Bema or the going up for an aliyah is debatable. Some feel the Sefer Torah (the scroll) is a symbol of the Torah covenant given on Sinai and not for the Five Books of Moses in their more general sense. Some people follow the practice of reserving first aliyah for a Cohen, second for a Levi, and then for an Israelite. Perhaps some would allow a non-Jew to come for an aliyah after. Others may feel that anyone should be able to make an aliyah or read from the Sefer Torah. I will not state my opinion here.

(6) A Brit Milah (Bris, ceremony of circumcision) or a Brit HaBat (naming ceremony for girls). There is a difference between circumcision for aesthetic or hygienic purposes and an official circumcision on the 8th day to be included in the covenant of Israel. It goes against the principle of Israel’s election for a non-Jew to have a Bris. Alternate recognitions of inclusion in the people of God in Yeshua could be proposed (see below).

(7) A Bar or Bat Mitzvah. There is a difference between recognizing coming of age and responsibility in general and B’nei Mitzvah in particular. A non-Jew cannot be said to be Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah (a son or daughter of the commandment). The commandment is understood to be the covenant stipulations of Sinai. An alternate recognition of education and responsibility can be proposed for non-Jews (see below).

(8) Certain festival and holiday practices can be a problem. For example, some parts of the Passover haggadah are specific about the ones saying them being included in the people brought out of Egypt. Should the Temple be rebuilt, some practices would be forbidden to non-Jews, such as eating the Passover sacrifice itself (Exod 12:48). For the most part, it seems to me that non-Jews who respect Jewish identity can participate in festivals with common sense modifications in wording if necessary.

(9) I will explore tzitzit and tefillin (fringes and phylacteries) in a future post specifically.

(10) My list is almost certainly in need of further specification, but I hope this gives you an idea of the kinds of practices in which it is harmful to the truth of ongoing Jewish covenantal identity for non-Jews not to make some kind of modification or to have some clear notion of proper intent.

Principles of Modification
With regard to the numbered issues above, I will offer some provisional suggestions while we wait for clearer guidelines from the MJRC. I will only comment on those numbered issues which seem to require a specific solution in present practice:

(1) The blessing could easily be modified in more than one way. Here is a simple one: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, who selected Israel from all peoples and gave to Israel your Torah. Baruch attah, Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher bacher b’Yisrael mikol ha’ammim v’natan l’Yisrael et Torato.” The same could be done with the blessing after and with Haftarah blessings. Such a modified blessing should be written out for the ease of use of a non-Jew reciting it (if you decide to allow non-Jewish aliyot).

(3) Non-Jews could recite the 2nd and 3rd paragraph of the Shema with the clear intent of describing Israel’s national covenant. These scriptures are the precious possession of all believers even if they describe a relationship that is unique between Israel and God.

(6) There is no reason for a non-Jewish family to have their son circumcised on the 8th day. One way to avoid confusion here is for non-Jews to practice hygienic circumcision as is customary in the U.S. and to have a birth or dedication celebration. Of course, hygienic circumcision is not a requirement for a non-Jew either. Here is a worthy principle: to affirm the worth of all our children in Messianic Jewish and Judeo-Christian groups, every child should be afforded a community celebration and sanctification, Jewish boys and girls in the traditional way, and non-Jewish boys and girls in a manner that does not add confusion about identity but which respects the sanctity of birth and of every life.

(7) Similarly, to respect the coming of age of every youth in our movement, it is proper to afford Jews and non-Jews an educational process and recognition. Modifications could easily be made. Some have suggested Bar and Bat Avraham for non-Jews. The problem is that these titles are reserved for converts to Judaism. It should be noted, however, that Paul and the apostles use these exact terms for non-Jews, so they could be deemed appropriate. Other traditions like confirmation could be applied. Or an alternate term could be devised (Bar and Bat Tikvah, Son and Daughter of the Promise).


About Derek Leman

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

56 Responses to Not Jewish Yet Drawn to Torah, Part 8

  1. Derek, even though some areas your admittedly avoided giving your full opinion on (like giving “aliyas” to Torah to Jews only – something I think is a very important point of distinction and from personal congregational experience can be done successfully without hurt feelings), overall I think you did an admirable job.

  2. James says:

    Messianic Judaism is part of the larger world of THE Tradition of Israel. But we have a need for our own guidelines specific to our community. We face some issues and have some guidance from Yeshua and the apostles on halachic matters which are specific to our community and not issues in broader Judaism.

    It’s funny that you should post on the issue of halachah, since that’s the topic of the blog I just posted as well. I was suggesting that at least some of the rabbinic rulings may require additional “attention”, since the sages, by definition, never considered that non-Jews could become disciples of the Messiah, changing our status relative to being “Noahides”.

    And, yes, I think non-Jews in groups that are not specifically Messianic Jewish, but in which Torah is kept, should consider submitting to MJRC guidelines when they are released (no date known for the guidelines to be final).

    Interesting. Since most of us are not affiliated with the MJRC, how would the concept of “authority” work? What about people, like me, who are soon to become “unaffiliated” but who still have personal convictions regarding the Shabbat, the dietary laws, and the like?

    That is why there are holiness regulations for Jews that do not apply as commandments for non-Jews: Sabbath, dietary law, tzit-tzit, circumcision, etc.

    You forgot tefillin.

    While I agree that the brit milah is specifically for the Jewish people (and I have one woman in my congregation who disagrees with me on this) and the use of tzitzit and tefillin by non-Jews is arguable (see my review of Toby Janicki’s booklet), I disagree that keeping Sabbath and the dietary laws are forbidden to non-Jews. If my wife chooses to kasher our kitchen, I sincerely doubt she’s going to make me prepare and eat separate meals in the garage just because I’m not Jewish. Also, it warms my heart to see my wife light the Shabbos candles every Friday evening. Are you suggesting instead that I should leave the room (and I’m saying this for effect)?

    Based on FFOZ’s current perspective regarding non-Jews and the Torah, as well as material I’ve been reading on the Christian for Moses blog, I don’t believe that things are necessarily as “hard and fast” as you paint them (and I’ll take it for granted that you disagree with my viewpoint here). I think that an argument for Gentile Torah observance being voluntary (but not mandatory) can be supported based on some of the rabbinic teachings.

    If I, as a non-Jewish believer and a person not affiliated with any religious organization (as of this summer) choose to privately pray with a siddur, keep some manner of Kosher (with my Jewish wife), and observe the Shabbat, I don’t see how the MJRC guidelines could possibly be binding on me.

  3. James says:

    Darn. I messed up the “a” tag on my previous comment and I can’t even delete and recreate the comment (limitations of WordPress). Can you fix it, please?

  4. jrickardj says:

    As I read post # 8 I am seeing that you really don’t think Gentiles should be part of Messianic Communities. I went to Romans 11 and read chapter 11 and I Gentiles part of that community, so why should today be different?

  5. benicho says:

    So with all of this nicely outlined, what is your take on Isaiah 56: 6-7? This isn’t a counter to:

    “…don’t be confused by shallow arguments about a “mixed multitude,” or about “one law for the native and the stranger,” which I will not take the time here to refute…”

    I’m not particularly keen on one law for the stranger stance, it’s not well supported. However…

    “That is why there are holiness regulations for Jews that do not apply as commandments for non-Jews: Sabbath, dietary law, tzit-tzit, circumcision, etc.”

    This all makes sense, but not entirely in context to Isaiah 56: 6-7,

    “6 Also the sons of the foreigner, who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants—everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—
    7 Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices, will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

    perhaps I’m reading incorrectly about the Sabbath (I’m not referring to tzit tzit or circumcision with these verses, although in my texts it uses “Sabbath and “covenant” referring to what the foreigner holds to) in that passage. There is certain wordage used here (in English at least), particularly the beginning of verse 7 when it says “even them”, as if it almost specifically referring to the issues currently. The closest I can come up with is that this is during the millennial kingdom, but it doesn’t seem to fit the whole context of Isaiah 56.

    I get that it’s not a commandment to gentiles, but what it seems like is that we gentiles are more or less being told to leave these commandments alone so that we preserve Jewish identity (I’m all for maintaining a separate identity for both Jews and people from all the different nations). As I have, and many other have stated before in these blogs, I’m not Jewish and you don’t see me kicking down any synagogue doors proclaiming that I am. So, I suppose in summary: should we for example abstain from all these things that the Jews have come to identify themselves so that we don’t tread on their identity or pursue Isaiah 56: 6-7?

    I know I asked about this a few days ago, but I thought I’d ask in case you maybe had an “ah-ha” moment, or something…

    so confusing, agh.

    Also interesting in light of all this talk…
    Isaiah 56: 3

    “Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, “ The LORD has utterly separated me from His people”

  6. James:

    Very important . . . I did not say Sabbath and dietary law are forbidden to gentiles. I said not binding.

    I believe it is forbidden to bind these things on gentiles.

    I believe those gentiles who decide to keep Sabbath and dietary law should be careful not to assume a false Jewish identity.

    Derek Leman

  7. jrickardj:

    The congregation in Rome is non-Jewish. The implied audience of the whole letter is a non-Jewish audience.

    It is intriguing that you have assumed that the audience of Romans is a mixed congregation or a Messianic congregation. This may have come from hasty “Jewish roots” readings of the Bible. I’m not saying this is entirely your fault. It is the kind of misreading encouraged in a community that makes a habit of not being careful or doing homework before interpreting.

    Derek Leman

    • ddavis555 says:


      I wanted to quickly comment on this assessment of Romans. It is interesting to me that you find it “intriguing” that someone would “assume” a Jewish and Gentile congregation as the audience in Romans. Yet, you clearly state that the “implied audience” is Gentile. This would mean that you are also making an assumption based on some clues you have from your reading.

      I find myself to be a fairly educated and careful reader (I have a Seminary degree) and I see several clues in the text that suggest that, though the primary thrust of the address concerned Gentiles, Romans was also written with the assumption that Jewish believers were present.

      For instance, Paul’s introduction to the letter claims that Jesus is the Son of David. From a Gentile perspective, this seems rather odd. He then couples it with Son of God according to the Spirit. This seems to provide the possibility that both Jews and Gentiles were present.

      Further, in 11:13, Paul shifts to the Gentiles saying, “Now I am speaking to you, Gentiles.” Why the clarification? Why not just continue on? It is possible that Paul is speaking to the congregation as a whole regarding those among Israel that have yet to come to faith in the Messiah. Here he must distinguish that what he is about to say is of particular importance to the Gentile believers among the congregation as they understand their place on the olive tree.

      Now, I understand that these two clues are far from conclusive. But I found it quite offensive that you were so dismissive of such an opinion as borderline moronic. Perhaps you should use more careful language regarding issues that are not quite so clear. I have found your blogs to be insightful and helpful in my walk. But, I do not think it is an ignorant view to understand Romans in this way.


    • jrickardj says:

      If you write that the people Paul was writing were non Jews, how have you come to that conclusion? In Romans 1:16 he writes about the Jew first and then to the Greek. Romans 2:17 But if you call yourself a Jew.
      I would think that Paul is writing to Jewish people here.
      Romans 2:24 For as it is written, The name G-d is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.
      In what I read between 2:17 and 2:24 I think he is writing to Jewish people.
      Romans 4:1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham our forefather according to the flesh?
      He is not the forefathers of the Gentiles according to the flesh.
      Romans 7:1 Or do you not know brothers for I am speaking to those who know that law.
      I think the Jews are the ones who knew the law.

      We know for sure that there were Jews living in Rome, and we see Paul talking with some of them at the end of the book of Acts.

      Also, I don’t think I assumed this from hasty using your words “Jewish Roots.”

      Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.
      As I read this I think Paul is talking about them being Jewish, and looking it up others believe the same.
      Albert Barnes writes, “In Romans 9:3 the apostle calls all the Jews his kinsmen, and it has been doubted whether he means anything more than that they were fellow Jews.
      The reason I quoted Albert Barnes is I don’t think anyone could accuse him of teaching hasty Jewish roots.

      These are some of the reason that I wrote what I wrote, Romans was written to Jewish and Gentiles believers in Yeshua.
      Blessings to all who read this.

  8. benicho:

    I don’t want to give a hasty answer about Isaiah 56. I plan to reevaluate my views of Isaiah and I’d rather not make a mistake and publicly declare something I’ll regret soon after.

    Keep in mind, I did not say, “Gentiles are forbidden to keep Sabbath.”

    Keep in mind that whatever the specifics of Isaiah 56 are (it pains me to hold off, but I will), it in no way erases the distinction between Israel and the other nations.

    What I am arguing against in this series is practices which erase the distinction.

    Note that I have not argued Torah observance is forbidden to non-Jews. I am discussing what some proper practices are for voluntary Torah observance by non-Jews. And throughout the series I have warned non-Jews: if you are doing this because you think you must in order to be kosher to God, then you are believing another gospel (see Galatians). I have talked about some legitimate reasons for non-Jews to be drawn to Torah. One of them (possibly Isaiah 56 is a text) is to identify now with coming realities of the age to come.

    Derek Leman

    • benicho says:

      I agree with everything there, so…

      With that said I’m eagerly awaiting an Isaiah 56 post. no pressure or anything.

  9. James says:

    Derek, I never said anything about adopting a “false Jewish identity”. I think, and even some Rabbinic authorities agree, that a non-Jew can voluntarily rest on the Shabbat.

    Oh, thanks for approving my previous comment but can you fix the “a” tag in the HTML so that the last two paragraphs of my missive aren’t one giant URL link? ;-)


    • Fixed it. (Sigh) I didn’t say that you said that someone should assume a false Jewish identity.

      I just try to make clarifying statements as often as I can for the sake of other readers. In fact I think that you, being married to a Jewish woman, are in an entirely different category.

      Derek Leman

  10. dorla says:

    “God says in Exodus 19:5-6 that among all peoples of the world, Israel is chosen as the treasured people, a priestly people, subject to a higher degree of holiness just as priests are subject to higher holiness than common Israelites. Israel is to non-Jews and the priests are to Israelites. That is why there are holiness regulations for Jews that do not apply as commandments for non-Jews: Sabbath, dietary law, tzit-tzit, circumcision, etc.”

    This clarifies a lot of things for me – but how then should we understand 1 Peter 2:9? Was this also written for Jewish believers? Reading v.10 it would appear that the author is writing to Gentiles – or is it to Jewish believers outside of Israel?

    So confused….

  11. Dorla:

    Precisely and welcome to the world of Jewish interpretation. It is multi-layered.

    First step, give up the notion, taught in much evangelical application of the Bible, that every text has exactly one meaning which we can determine with infallibility and turn into an inviolable principle.

    Second step, learn to think that an idea has many layers, some of them seemingly contradictory, and adopt a both-and approach instead of an either-or approach.

    Third step, consider that any idea can be applied to different groups in different ways so that many applications come from one idea.

    Here, then, is a simple explanation which MAY capture the idea:

    (1) Exodus: Israel is the treasured and priestly people in a world of nations that do not know God.

    (2) Peter: Many from the nations now know God and they, like Israel, have become a priestly people, representing God to the idolaters all around them.

    (3) Synthesis: Israel is the priestly people, disciples from the nations are also a priestly people, the nations are the ones who look to both as priests.

    Derek Leman

    • 2) Peter:

      Another possible interpretation (which makes more sense to me considering that Peter was an apostle to the Jews), is that Peter was speaking specifically to the Jewish believers in diaspora:

      1 Peter 1:1 addresses “the elect” who are “scatted”. These words are important because they point to a Jewish audience. The “Elect” is a common self-designation in Judaism. Then there’s a reference to a “nation” (not “nationS”). “Scattered” is the Greek word diaspora, the Diaspora. This was a word used frequently to describe Jews living outside of the Land, including those regions addressed in 1 Peter 1:1.

      Peter is writing a letter to Jewish believers, just like James did in his letter. That said, everyone can take spiritual lessons from it.

  12. gene:

    Let me try to persuade you that 1 Peter is written to gentiles.

    I’m not at all up to speed on current commentary on 1 Peter (though I did check a worthy commentary quickly to make sure I wasn’t just crazy). If you know any commentators or articles that reinforce the Jewish audience idea, let me know.

    1 Peter 1:18 “the futile ways you inherited from your ancestors”

    1 Peter 2:10 “once you were not a people but now you are God’s people”

    They sound like former idolaters converted to Yeshua.

    Derek Leman

    • Another interpretation:

      – It’s a TWO part letter: the first part addressed to Jews, and second part is addressed to Gentile believers who received the Good News from the Jews (the second part primarily starts with “Once you were not a people” (1 Peter 2-10), which would not make much sense if the letter didn’t have two audiences.

      Yes, yet another one interpretation:
      – Letter addressed to Helenistic Jews?

      I’ll do further study on this….:)

    • benicho says:

      just throwing my two bits in, from the sounds of verse 10 it does sound like he’s specifically talking to the Jewish people (plus it’s Peter). “..who once were not a people but are now the people of G-d, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

      I see what you’re saying. The futile ways you inherited from your ancestors seems more like reference to the way the way they living before Torah.

      ‘who once were not a people’ would be a reference to the Hebrews living in Egypt and before. they didn’t consider themselves a people like the Egyptians, Hittites, Chaldeans, etc as they had no land or ruler. at least, from my studies in history regardless of culture kingdom/dynasty/land seems to always to be connected to ‘a people’. there are many references to European tribes that vanished or became assimilated into surrounding tribes and nations because they lost their land or never established a kingdom. ‘but are now a people of G-d’ would be another reference to Jewish identity.

      so we see that 1) the Hebrews weren’t a people unto their own until taken out of Egypt and 2) once they had been taken out they became a people unto G-d.

      Besides that, if we are to believe that we aren’t really part of the nation of Israel pertaining to the covenant, then verse 9 doesn’t work when applied to gentiles. “…a royal priesthood, a holy nation”

  13. benicho:

    It’s very unlikely that Peter would write a letter in the mid to late first century and say something like “once were not a people” referring back to pre-Exodus days.

    It makes far more sense that “once you were not a people” would refer to non-Jews who were from idolatrous nations. That combined with 1:18 about futile ways inherited from ancestors rather clinches the case.

    Derek Leman

    • Derek,

      You wrote: “It’s very unlikely that Peter would write a letter in the mid to late first century and say something like “once were not a people” referring back to pre-Exodus days.

      Actually Kelly Liebengood presented a paper at SBL arguing for a Jewish audience of 1 Peter in which he cited examples of this very type of rhetoric from Jews addressing Jews in the first century. I can’t find the paper, but you can read a summary from Robin Parry here.


      • Yahnatan… great link and exactly what I argued here. Robin Parry’s summary includes the following:

        “In this paper I will focus particularly on the common assertion that 1 Pet 1.18, 21 and 4.2-3 ‘could hardly have been addressed to any but Gentiles’ (Selwyn). A fresh examination of both archeological and literary evidence will demonstrate (a) a long-standing tradition within Judaism of repudiating the futile ways of the fathers, and (b) a significant degree of Jewish assimilation in Asia Minor. In light of this evidence, I will argue that 1 Peter is best regarded as a letter principally written to Jewish Christians. This conclusion has some significant implications for how the letter is interpreted, which will be explored briefly.”

        Indeed. Again, as I have been saying in my comments on this post – supersessionist presuppositions color many a theologian view (not that we should not read their works – that’s not what I am saying here at all). So, if we consider that the letter was written to Jewish believers, how does this affect the reading of 1 Peter in regards to who is a royal priesthood and a chosen nation? I think it only confirms the fact that the status of Israel has not changed or become universalized to all believers – it has remained in “Jewish hands”.

  14. gene and benicho:

    Special pleading means overlooking the more obvious interpretation of something and preferring a less likely interpretation in order to make a pre-conceived theory work out.

    Derek Leman

    • Derek, just trying to reconcile a few things in the first part of letter that point quite strongly to Jewish people. Keep your mind open, friend:)

      It’s not like we don’t have a prophetic precedence for Israelites being called by G-d “not my people”:

      “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living G-d.'” (Hosea 1:10)

  15. gene:

    Alright. Opening mind now. :-)

  16. benicho says:


    alright, so how does that work in context if he’s writing that to non-jews (let’s say Greeks). to say “once you were not a people” wouldn’t make much sense to Greeks. consider that the Greeks had been a people for a very long time (we know that the Greeks considered themselves a people since at least the 12th century BC before the Hellenic Dark Ages). their history is even noted by Josephus Flavius, and he goes into some detail about how the Greeks were a people that changed the names of places and even constellations (interestingly it is believed the Greeks derived the word “zodiac” from “tzedek”). Josephus even suggests that changing the names of places and constellations was done out of vanity because the Greeks loved their own language so much. The Greeks had dominated the levant prior to the Romans for several hundred years (Alexander of course). For a Jew to tell a Greek in those days “once you were not a people” (I’d imagine they’d think something along the lines of: since when?) wouldn’t make sense, that is, if they didn’t take it as an insult. Greeks and Romans were very proud and arrogant, they did consider their philosophy and history superior (the Romans considered themselves superior to Greeks even).

    and i see what you mean with “futile ways inherited from ancestors”, but I can also see this as a reference to salvation being unattainable through Torah. although 1:18 may be in a different context than 2:9, you can see the wording (in my translation of course)

    “…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers…”

    ‘knowing that you were not redeemed’ is key. from this translation is seems as if he’s speaking to an audience that knew they couldn’t be redeemed with silver or gold or the traditions passed from their fathers (perhaps this is the tradition/Yoke Yeshua referenced that was too heavy). Greeks had no prior knowledge of a Messiah or redemption and neither did their fathers, so this verse still seems out of context in relation to Greeks.

    • benicho says:

      sorry, a correction to “salvation being unattainable through Torah”, salvation being attainable through law rather*

    • More great points, benicho. In addition to Hosea 1:10 calling Israelites “not my people”, it’s not like Jews never engaged in idol worship throughout their history (and may be even while among Greeks of the period) – the bible is filled with that stuff. Peter could have been talking about the futile ways of those forefathers, or even the more recent ones (e.g. Hellenistic Jews).

      As for Peter not digging that far into Israel’s history, we have Stephen in Acts 6:8-7:60 go all the WAY back as he pleaded with his Jewish audience.

      “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. YOU ARE JUST LIKE YOUR ANCESTORS: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ANCESTORS did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it. ”

      All real possibilities that should not be lightly discarded when interpreting 1 Peter as writing to a Jewish audience.

      What do you think, Derek – did I make at least a small case in your mind for that possible interpretation?

      • benicho says:

        good pulls, those do add a bit of padding to Peter’s context. just realized this as you mentioned Hellenistic Jews — Peter could’ve been recapping their history in a way, as if to say “hey, don’t you remember who and what you are?”. Undoubtedly there were Jews who had forgotten or outright ignored their heritage because they lived among the pagans for so long. either way, it doesn’t SEEM to apply or be direct at Greeks or any other gentiles.

  17. In the first century, and particularly in Asia Minor where I think (haven’t studied Petrine epistles lately) 1 Peter’s audience might be located, these are a mishmash of peoples.

    Much dislocation and rearrangement had happened in the world from the glory days of Sparta and Athens up to the time of the Empire of Rome.

    Derek Leman

    • benicho says:

      According to 1 Peter 1 his audience is Galatia (name derived from the same Celtic/Gauls who occupied western Europe, the Gauls trekked all the way to central Anatolia), Pontus, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. With the exception of maybe Bithynia there wouldn’t have been many ethnic Greeks in these lands as the Greek colonies didn’t penetrate that far inland. Although there weren’t many ethnic Greeks, to say these lands that he wrote to were a mishmash of peoples is an understatement.

      And you’re right, I’d love to do more homework and scholarly research on ALL the books of the Bible.

  18. gene and benicho:

    Please do your homework first. You both should read some research on 1 Peter and read some recent commentary. I don’t intend in any way to insult either of you, but by commentary I don’t mean the kind that are really just sermons. You need a commentary that engages the scholarly discussion. And I’d look at more than one. A local seminary library is the easy way to do that.


    • Derek… I’ve read some commentaries on 1 Peter (not sermons) – the authors usually quickly descend into “New Israel” type of talk when describing Gentiles new condition. Perhaps you can save me some effort: care to recommend any specific commentaries by authors who you know not espouse supersessionist views?

  19. gene:

    If you’re going to a library, so that price doesn’t matter, I’d try Paul Achtemeier in the Hermeneia series. That series excels in historical work.

    • Derek, reading portions of the 1st Peter by Paul Achtemeier. So far does not look good in the supersessionist department, at all. Judge for yourself:

      Here’s an excerpt of his commentary on 1 Peter 3:18-22. Read the last sentence that I am retyping here.

      “In that case, the negative half of the contrast points to what baptism is not, that is a rite similar to Jewish circumcision that is understood here as a purely physical acts. Such an understanding of “putting off the filth of the flesh” if far from certain, but it does make sense of the contrast, and stands in line with Peter’s understanding of the Christian community having assumed a mantle of God’s people from the Jews.”

      Are there any books by MJ authors? I am inclined to believe that supersessionism cast a heavy biased cloud on any theological research that specifically touches on understanding of Israel. How can it not?

  20. amechad1 says:

    How do you deal w/ 1 Cor 10, where Paul refers to “our ancestors” or “our fathers” – thus including the Gentiles he was writing to? Are not Gentile believers adopted into the family as sons? Granted, Israel is the oldest, the firstborn – chosen for all eternity. But why the big push to separate what G-d has joined together?

    I COMPLETELY agree that Jews are to be distinct as the original Chosen people and that Gentiles should not assume a false “Jewish” identity because they are now “grafted in”. G-d created each of us and placed us where He wants us to be. Trying to be something we’re not is almost an insult to G-d.

    When a couple get married – they become “one flesh”, yet they remain male & female. Neither takes up cross-dressing. They move from living separately to living in the same house – and there are adjustments to be made. That’s where we are now.

    These same issues were being debated last time this was happening, back in the first century. After that, the Jews who became believers were absorbed and assimilated. That should have NEVER happened, but it did.

    Now that there are identifiably Jewish believers who are REMAINING Jewish and living Jewish lives informed by faith in Y’shua, they are seeking their place in the wider body of Messiah. At the same time, the Gentiles are being drawn to the G-d of the Jews as prophesied in Isaiah 56 and Zech 8. So, there are tensions and conflicts. But to suggest separation is unacceptable. We have been joined together as One New Man. We need to work it out.

  21. amechad1:

    The point in the whole series has been that there must be differentiation or the election of Israel is being sabotaged.

    If you want, send me an email and explain how you think Jewish and non-Jewish believers should relate to Torah commands and each other. How can there be one uniform melting pot without sacrificing the principles of the Abrahamic covenant?

    Please make a short, simple, point by point explanation. No long papers please.

    The thing is, it’s easy for people to criticize and say, “Your system doesn’t work because of X.” But it is hard to suggest another system. It will be even harder for you to claim that this is what the apostles taught.

    But I encourage you to try. And if you want, I’ll do a post presenting your system and showing why it doesn’t work. Or, if you prefer, we can have a private discussion about it.

    Use this email please: yeshuaincontext at gmail.

    Derek Leman

    • amechad1 says:

      Nothing like making assumptions! “I’ll do a post presenting your system and showing why it doesn’t work” – before you’ve even seen it!

      I don’t _KNOW_ how to work it out. I’m seeking just like you. What I have an issue with is the suggestion that Jewish and Gentile believers need to be in separate communities or in some kind of “two-tiered” congregational structure where the gentiles are almost “second class citizens”, if you will. “You can come, you can watch, but you can’t say our prayers, you can’t be honored publicly, you need to remember that this is not your place, it is ours.” It’s as if after the marriage, the husband allows the new wife to move in, but she is restricted in what she can do and how she lives there, because she is not a man – and this is a man’s house.

      I’m not suggesting we turn our messianic synagogues into churches. There are millions of churches, for every possible stripe of Gentile believer. But for the Gentile believer who is being called to learn about the Jewishness of his faith and worship alongside Jewish believers, restricting him to the back row is cruel. Refusing him admittance or explaining that he is not welcome is cruel and almost criminal. Gentiles are coming be cause G-d is moving in their hearts to restore the Jewish nature of the worship of HIM – the G-d of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob.

      I firmly believe that Zech 8 is happening before our eyes – the Gentiles are coming to the Jews, saying “teach us, help us learn how to worship your G-d”. How you (Jewish believers) handle that is the issue.

      Like I said, we are all seeking. You are my brother. No one is condemning you – I disagree with your conclusions. Those are what I am debating.

      • amechad1 says:

        A better illustration would be “this is a man’s house – go live in the women’s house or become a man so you can stay here”.

        I should NEVER try to do these things late – past my bedtime.

      • “I’m not suggesting we turn our messianic synagogues into churches.”

        amechad1, you are not suggesting any solutions, just voicing perceived and potential future grievances. Doing nothing HAS, for the most part, turned messianic synagogues into churches already.

        Why should Gentile participate equally in Jewish life cycle events and rituals? It is about rights? What about Jewish rights to safeguard their heritage from misuse and appropriation? What about our relationship with the wider Jewish world? Why the entitlement?

        Follow me for a second, as I draw this analogy:

        Jews are suppose to be priests unto the nations. Among Jews themselves cohanim are priests for all the Israelites. They even served G-d in their own designate areas of the Temple. Can regular Jews do those things that are reserved for priests? No, of course not. When it comes to certain priestly obligation/duties/dress/rituals that would be a sin for a regular Jew to take on things reserved for a cohen. It’s enough for that Jew that he a Jew!

        So, if Jews are priests unto the nations, why is it hard to understand that to appropriate Jewish distinctives or treat them as available equally to all is to diminish Jews’ G-d given role in this world?

  22. amechad1:

    I’m glad your heart is in the right place. I’m also glad you resist any idea that would marginalize any person or deny someone’s value. I would be marching beside you in that protest march, believe me.

    I don’t believe the model I have proposed marginalizes anyone. In the first place, most non-Jews are going to be called to the multi-national ekklesia (the Church) and not to Messianic Jewish congregations. How does the Zech 8 phenomenon work in those cases: people see Israel’s Messiah and are drawn to him, but they find they have expressions that are their own and that they need not take on Israel’s expression.

    In the second place, some non-Jews are going to be drawn to Torah living. Being students of Torah, they will want to work with the Abrahamic covenant, not against it, with the irrevocable election of Israel, not against it. So they will gladly differentiate their practice of Torah and respect Israel’s place as the priestly and treasured people among the nations. Their worth is not built on assuming someone else’s identity, but in being God’s children, sons and daughters of Abraham, and having in them the Presence of the Son of God. (They won’t mind saying “who selected Israel from all peoples” in a Torah blessing!).

    Meanwhile, when MJ can be a Jewish place, it will be more effective at doing what it is supposed to do. And I am glad that many non-Jews are with us. Since they support our vision and calling they help us to make strong communities where the Name of Yeshua is tangibly revealed.

    The reason I asked you to propose a better model is, just as I said, because it is easy to criticize another model, but hard to draw a better one.

    Derek Leman

  23. James says:

    Are there any books by MJ authors? I am inclined to believe that supersessionism cast a heavy biased cloud on any theological research that specifically touches on understanding of Israel. How can it not?

    Good question, Gene and one that has been on my mind as well. It may surprise everyone to know that I’ve been thinking of how to further my education in terms of the Word of God and have been looking into taking some Bible courses. Both Northwest Nazarene University and Boise Bible College are within easy driving distance of where I live, but my concern is getting a “denominational” bias along with my education. Your comments suggest a further issue in that traditional Christian colleges, universities, and scholars all teach out of their biases, which include supersessionism and anti-Jewish attitudes.

    Unless you or someone like you, with a completely different perspective (and a sufficient educational and writing background) creates classes and books from a Messianic Jewish perspective, where does one go to do scholarly research…or like me, even to take a class or two?

    So, if Jews are priests unto the nations, why is it hard to understand that to appropriate Jewish distinctives or treat them as available equally to all is to diminish Jews’ G-d given role in this world?

    I understand and agree with your analogy, Gene. It would be, for example, as if someone from the tribe of Benjamin wanted to be high priest. Only direct descendants of Aaron can be high priests, so not even all Levites are eligible for that role.

    However, when you say specifically that Jews are priests unto the nations, how does that operationalize? That is, how does that look and act? I once asked if Messianic Jews still had a responsibility to mentor and disciple Gentile believers as Paul did in the 1st Century. I recall, you told me that in the modern post-missionary era, that responsibility had been passed to the church, so there was no direct Jewish missionary duty to the Goyim. Since that obligation no longer is being fulfilled by Jews in the Messianic world, can you say how Jews are specifically priests to the Goyim?

    • “I recall, you told me that in the modern post-missionary era, that responsibility had been passed to the church, so there was no direct Jewish missionary duty to the Goyim.”

      I don’t remember saying that quite like that, James. I said that the church TOOK over that responsibility and it did this quite well (historically speaking). I think that the initial Jewish outreach was the spark that was needed to get it started, and than G-d put it out by doing away with the MJ community (until the Messianic Era).

      • benicho says:

        “I said that the church TOOK over that responsibility and it did this quite well..”

        They were effective on the pagans as we see

  24. gene and james:

    About Achtemeier’s commentary: if you dismiss all scholarship with biases you don’t like, you become inbred (music to “Deliverance” playing).

    About seminary classes: (1) see what I said about “Deliverance” and biases above and (2) MJTI dot org, man.


    • Derek, far from dismissing scholarship, I regularly read commentaries and works by many authors I don’t agree with on many points (in fact, the bulk of my reading is of just such authors). My objective here and one that asked you about was to help me find a non-superssessionist reading SPECIFICALLY of 1 Peter (pertaining to our earlier discussion above) – as I have demonstrated the Achtemeier’s commentary fails in that regard miserably.

  25. James says:

    I loved the banjo theme in Deliverance but that is definitely a film I could only see once (and I saw it when it was originally in theaters many, many years ago).

    I understand what you’re saying about “inbred” and *everybody* teaches out of their own bias, but there are some schools and books which have such a narrow focus that it borders on tunnel vision. An eclectic range of viewpoints would be useful.

    I’ve been to the MJTI site before but must have missed what you are obviously pointing at when I was there. Will check again.

  26. James says:

    I’m obviously missing something. Checked under Undergraduate courses and found the course catalog for 2008-2009. I’d say the site needs to have a content update.

    • James:

      That site will be taken down soon. Not many people know this, but I no longer work for MJTI. I’m just a fan.

      The site you want, and it was in my comment before, is MJTI dot org.

      Let me emphasize it: dot OH AR GEE.

      Not dot SEE OH EM.


      • James says:

        Oh duh. I love you too, sweetheart.

        Oh, since you announced it in public, who do you work for now?

  27. The media department of MJTI spun off into its own entity which is called Messianic Judaism Media. It may be a few months before we are doing anything visible to the public. I am enthused about my colleagues in this and the plans we have discussed.


  28. NOTE TO ALL:

    I deleted a string of four comments this morning. The original commenter named a person and a congregation and made specific statements about them. The responder to the comments I only deleted because to leave them made no sense after I deleted the post.

    It is not appropriate to name specific congregations and criticize them on a public forum.

    Keep your comments general and do not denounce specific synagogues please.

    Derek Leman

  29. amechad1 says:

    Comments (including as much followup as I was able to capture before deletion) re-posted with offending portion “corrected” to remove names:

    amechad1 says:
    January 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Gene, etc.:

    While I am in full agreement that the Jewish people remain a separate, Chosen people and the apple of G-d’s eye for ALL TIME, I reject the idea that they are the ONLY priests to the nations. All believers have become fellow heirs (Galatians and Ephesians) and fellow citizens along with those who are Israel. We have been granted citizenship alongside the children of Israel. We do NOT replace them, nor should we (believers of the nations) absorb them so that they disappear into our midst. I will fight alongside anyone defending the right, no, the OBLIGATION the Jewish people have to a remain distinct and holy people.

    Why would the nations be offering burnt offerings and sacrifices on G-d’s Holy Mountain if they were not worshipping Him alongside Israel and in the same manner? (Isaiah 56) I understand the need to squelch those who claim to BE Israel on the basis of their adoption, but I don’t get the “you cannot do our things alongside us in our houses of worship” thing.

    If you are truly the priests of the nations, how is insulting and excluding them from your midst serving the purpose of bringing them closer to G-d? You are not serving as their priests, you are exalting yourselves above them as the “Chosen” and becoming arrogant.

    In my own synagogue, Gentiles are treated equally – but not identically. There is no confusion about who is and is not a Jew. If a young person and their parents want a coming of age ceremony, it is permitted – as a B’nei Avraham. We are all permitted to read from the Torah – provided we can READ FROM THE TORAH. Our JEWISH service caters primarily to the Jews among us and to the Jewish people in general. Where there are conflicts and someone wants to make it “less Jewish” or “more Christian”, it is explained to them that we are a a JEWISH congregation and that we will NOT change things to be less Jewish or more Christian. In my 12+ years here, we have steadily become more and more Jewish – and I view that as a GOOD thing.

    Israel is STILL a separate and distinct people and is obligated to remain so. But ALL believers are strangers and aliens in this world – as all of G-d’s people have been for all time. (Heb 11, 1 Peter 2) Rather than seeking to divide us (believers) based on our ethnicity (or artificial attempts to change that thru “conversion”), we should seek to unite believers in love around the throne of G-d thru Y’shua our JEWISH Messiah.


    While the book Post Missionary Messiaic Judaism, which advocates “Bilateral Ecclesiology”, never states that we should worship in separated groups based on our status as Jews and Gentiles, in practice that _IS_ what they are advocating. I personally know of two families who went to a congregation that practices this philosophy – one had been a part of the MJ movement for many years, the other was being drawn to learn of the Jewish G-d and Messiah. Both were made to feel very unwelcome after they were asked their “Jewish” status. Both left hurt and humiliated at having been rejected because they were not Jewish. For the family who knew their place in Messiah, it was one thing – they moved on and chalked it up to prejudice. But to the man who was seeking the L-rd and this was where he came to find Him, it was much more damaging. This is how he was treated by “G-d’s people” while seeking to find his place to belong and serve the G-d of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. IMHO, they need to be ASHAMED and repent for how they treated the man who was searching for G-d.


    Instead of seeking to separate yourselves from the Gentiles who are streaming thru your doors seeking the G-d of the Jews and how to worship him (Zech 8:23), as the Chosen and Holy people of G-d, you should be TEACHING them their proper place alongside you as fellow heirs and fellow citizens. Again, this does NOT mean they BECOME Jews, it means they are citizens of the commonwealth and have the same rights and equal inheritance. Stop treating them as interlopers and sending them away. Teach them – BE THE PRIESTHOOD YOU CLAIM IS YOUR RIGHTFUL PLACE!!

    Israel is the Chosen, the firstborn. Does Israel not have an obligation to the younger siblings to care for them, teach them and help them grow up in the ways of their Father? Derek, doesn’t your oldest child carry a certain responsibility in your eyes to be a good example and help the younger kids along? Do you think G-d does not view Israel in the same light? What would happen if one of your younger kids came to the oldest and said “help me learn how to do XYZ so I can make Dad happy” and that oldest child dismissed the younger and refused to help? Would that distress you? Doesn’t it distress G-d?

    I don’t want to fight, argue or separate over any of this. But I FIRMLY BELIEVE that this teaching and practice is in SERIOUS error and that is it divisive and damaging to the Body of Messiah and to individuals who come seeking G-d.
    Gene Shlomovich says:
    January 22, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    You said:

    “You are not serving as their priests, you are exalting yourselves above them as the “Chosen” and becoming arrogant.”


    “as the Chosen and Holy people of G-d, you should be TEACHING them their proper ”

    amechad1, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t accuse Messianic Jews of “exalting” themselves as the “Chosen” (your accusation is without merit, btw) and then chide MJs for for not living up to being “Chosen”.

    Your accusation of Messianic Jews being “arrogant” is totally unjustified, but this accusation is now new – it has been always thrust against Jews by every resentful and envious group they lived among. What’s more ironic is that the ONLY time we read about a particular group becoming arrogant in relation to others is Gentile believers in relations to Jews:

    “…do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” (Romans 11:18)

    All we Jewish followers of Messiah want (to be clear, we are not asking anyone’s permission to do what we consider best for us!) is to build and live in our own communities as Jews who follow Messiah.

    If Christians want to come to learn and live among us, they should do so humbly, without expectations that the community will change its ways to accommodate their imagination and presuppositions of what a Jewish community they are guests in should look like, because to expect others to conform to your desires is arrogance indeed.
    amechad1 says:
    January 22, 2011 at 11:23 pm


    You wrote:
    “If Christians want to come to learn and live among us, they should do so humbly, without expectations that the community will change its ways to accommodate their imagination and presuppositions of what a Jewish community they are guests in should look like, because to expect others to conform to your desires is arrogance indeed.”

    I AGREE WITH YOU!!! But you were talking about rights – “Why should Gentile participate equally in Jewish life cycle events and rituals? It is about rights? ” – that tells me you think Gentiles should NOT participate. Did you read the paragraph about Gentiles having equal participation with the distinction of their own designations (B’nei Avraham)? That is NOT pretending to be a Jew. It is recognition that the child has done the same amount of study, etc. that a B’nei Mitzvah does, but it NOT a Jew, nor are they joining the larger Jewish community as a responsible member.

    You ARE Chosen – whether you like it or accept it is between you & G-d. But to lord it over Gentile believers as you were discussing in an earlier comment – to claim that Jews are still the ONLY priests to the nations when all believers have been brought alongside in that role is arrogant – or it sounds that way. To say: we Jews have rights and Gentiles should sit down and shut up or leave – sounds arrogant. That is the reason I am making the statement.

    You have responsibility as the Chosen firstborn. To shirk those responsibilities is a problem. To lord being firstborn and Chosen over the other children is also a problem. My perception is that both are happening in your small, insular sub-group within the wider MJ world. That is why I make those statements. Those of you who have embraced this model are a small sect and are alienating yourselves from the wider MJ community and Body of Messiah at large. The Jewish community you are striving to reach is not going to accept you in any case because of your belief in Y’shua. So, what are you truly accomplishing?

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