It’s like dueling banjos, only James’ is a half step ahead of me… LOL!
In part one of this review I took a general overview of JK McKee’s One Law For All and shared what I found to be the most significant message of the book, his call for grace and unity as this work of God unfolds in our generation. In this portion we’ll dig into the meat of his One Law perspective and some of my thoughts.
I did mention in the first part that McKee limited himself to five texts from the Torah to make his case, while establishing that the Second Temple Judaic idea or system of ‘proselyte’ conversion did not exist until at least the Babylonian exile. This was a bold move in opening the door for going back to the original texts and trying to understand them in the context of their original giving. As such, he removes from the table a substantial portion of the historical layering of both early and later Rabbinic Judaism which can easily cloud the original Divine intent.
Presumably, the reason he selected these five texts, Exodus 12:48-49; Leviticus 7:7; Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 9:14; Numbers 15:15-16 & 29-30, is because these are the ones that many use in pointing to ‘one law’ for the ger/alien/sojourner as well as for the native of the land. He correctly points out in a short addressing of Leviticus 7:7 that this sometimes misused verse need be taken off the table. With the remaining four, however, he establishes the breadth of Torah that the sojourner was to learn and come to follow.
Exodus 12:48-49 is the first place we see the idea of the same law applying to both ger and to natural born sons of Israel. McKee points out that this is significant in that it occurs before Sinai while they were still in Egypt. Even more interesting was his pointing out that the standard for partaking of Pesach as a ger was the same standard that the native born had to uphold: circumcision. There was no additional requirement. I.e., sacrificing additional animals, performing certain rituals or living as a ger for X years or generations. Presumably, an uncircumcised native-born Israelite could not partake of Pesach while a circumcised ger could! The ger was then to be treated as a native of the land.
In his later discussion on ‘proselutos/proselyte, McKee explains how and why circumcision had,
become inflated, beyond that of either being the memorial sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17:10), or a useful procedure for good health. In McKnight’s estimation, “Circumcision as a conversion ritual becomes confused with how Jews perceived the nation: the act and national identity are not easy to separate.” (pgs. 68-69)
According to McKee,
…circumcision was made illegal on threat of death during the Maccabean crisis of Second Century B.C.E. (1 Maccabees 1:60; 2 Maccabees 6:10). The Pentateuch itself specifically requires circumcision of the ger to eat the Passover sacrifices (Exodus 12:48-49), which in turn results in “native of the land” status being afforded. The Pentateuch defines a people whose God has delivered them via the Exodus and His judgments on Egypt. After the Maccabean crisis of the Second Century B.C.E., though, something like circumcision took on a significantly nationalistic interest for the Jewish people – and was a bit over-extended at that – something although entirely understandable as many had fought and died for it. (pg.68)
In his discussion on Exodus 12:48-49 McKee asks,
What is circumcision primarily for in relation to Exodus 12:48-49? Is it for being a member of the community of Israel? Or sacrifice? Or, is it for fully partaking of the Passover and eating of the Passover sacrifice? It is easy to see how the central theme of Exodus 12:48-49 is not circumcision of the ger/sojourner, but rather v’asah Pesach l’ADONAI, “and would keep the Passover to the Lord” (Exodus 12:4 RSV) – the full observance of the Passover. While it is tempting to think that Exodus 12:48-49 presents circumcision as the entryway for the ger/sojourner into Ancient Israel; it is actually the commemoration of the Passover and remembrance of the Exodus which defines Israel and God’s salvation activity on Israel’s behalf, and is the real issue here. (pg.11)
BINGO! Entry today into the Body is through the Paschal sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua. It is how those from outside come to be grafted in, adopted and treated as sons and daughters. The sign is a circumcised heart. Precisely because the outward sign had become so confused with nationalistic and proselyte ritual (Acts 15) is why Paul side-stepped it and still commanded that the mixed qahal/congregation of Corinth partake of the Passover Feast. (1 Cor. 5:8)
McKee rightly points out that the ger could keep many, many commands while yet uncircumcised, but that partaking of Pesach afforded ‘native’ status and was major step to joining Israel. Circumcision was just the covenantal sign that was partaken of.
Leviticus 24:22 uses the phrase mishpat echad yih’yeh translated as ‘one standard’ (NASB), ‘the same law’ (NIV), ‘one manner of law’ (KJV), etc, for the native as well as the ger. This is exactly in keeping with the character of Yehovah who considers unequal weights an abomination. McKee makes the case that ‘mishpat,’ a legal term variously translated as ‘judgment,’ ‘law,’ ‘measure,’ used here with regard to a legal case against a ger who had blasphemed haShem, demonstrably covers more than a single command. Rather, in the context of the passage, Leviticus 24:22 demonstrates that the law of the land did not differentiate between the ger and the native. All the laws in how they were to treat each other were to be equally applied,
This is why righteous judges would have to be appointed in the towns of Israel (Deuteronomy 16:18; 25:1)… (pg.27)
Within the context of Moshe giving Passover instructions in the second year in the wilderness, we see statutes established for handling being tamei, or ritually unclean at the time of the Passover. Interestingly, Numbers 9:14, speaking of ‘one statute, both for the alien and the native of the land’ leads to a clear indication that the laws of tamei apply equally to the ger. In the exact same context, willful non-participation in Pesach, by ger or native had the same result: being cut off.
Perhaps the most oft pointed to ‘one law’ passages are the two appearances of the phrase in Numbers 15. McKee acknowledges their proximity, however explains that they deal with two different sets of specific legislation. The first, Numbers 15:15-16, appears at the end of specific instruction about various types of offerings and,
…anticipates that there will be those, originally outside of Israel, who will join His assembly, beginning with the two conjunctions v’ki, “And when…” (NJPS). When this occurs, the ger/sojourner is to make his offering before God as well….. …The way that the ger/sojourner within the Land of Israel is to make a burnt offering, grain/cereal offering, or drink offering, is the same way that any ezrach/native has done it. (pg.33)
The topic covered by the second occurrence in Numbers 15:29-23 speaks to what the congregation or individual is to do regarding unintentional sin. McKee astutely points out,
Both the native and the sojourner, the two main groups who composed the general population of Israel, are liable for the consequences of not keeping kol-ha’mitvot or “all of the commandments.” This would by necessity require both the native and the sojourner to be observing the same basic instruction, as what encompassed unintentional sin for the native, also encompasses unintentional sin for the sojourner.(pg. 39; bold mine)
Here McKee inserts a significant footnote,
To this, could be considered the later word of Isaiah 24:5, “The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws and violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant.”
This verse alone is a profound argument for the equal weight and responsibility God holds ALL mankind to throughout the whole earth!! Not to get off track, but if He is going to judge the earth by fire, what is He going to judge them for if not the breaking of His Law?
One gets the distinct impression for a sojourner firmly embedded within the community, that he was widely indistinguishable from the native Israelite in terms of overall, daily adherence to the Torah. Yet, for a sojourner in Ancient Israel still learning what His Instruction was, God’s grace was there in an animal sacrifice to cover any inadvertent or unintentional wrongs, covering what are minor infractions – the same as any native who might also overlook various commandments. And, those who commit the wrong are, when it is pointed out, to receive the necessary correction, direction, and strive not to err again.
It is abundantly clear that each of these four verses, while appearing to address a particular mitzvot, in actuality function as litmus verses on how to apply whole swaths of the Torah commandments. In reading this book I am more firmly convinced than ever that God’s Laws are very simple and simply applied. It is the layering of thousands of years of men’s thoughts and teachings, both Jewish and Christian, that complicate this issue! All the talk of ‘nuances’ and the like is nothing more than cover for ‘traditions.’
McKee’s book and his case are tight. Yes, as I stated in part one, the topics and connecting issues are so broad that one needs to read other works by McKee to get the whole picture, having done that, I can clearly understand and agree with his case. He stands exactly where the Apostles stood in his approach and call to/from the basics. By driving around the whole ‘proselyte’ system prevalent in Second Temple Judaism that continues to cloud the issue, he returns to the culture and context at the original giving of the Torah by a God who has always desired one People, one Body, a holy nation/Priesthood. That people/nation/priesthood is the end goal that is being accomplished through the Messiah and the Spirit as droves of non-Jews are being drawn to the Torah. It is to be/is being accomplished through grafting into Israel, not through Judaism or through Christendom, though they both bring value to the table and have parts of the truth.
I highly recommend One Law For All by JK McKee as a fresh and bold look at the place of the ger within the original context and culture of the formation of Israel as a nation. My prayer is that McKee’s gracious and charitable approach will not be lost on the extremes, but rather will encourage all of us to walk in the Fruit of the Spirit and seek the face of our Father as we learn greater obedience by the power of the Spirit.