[Reposted with permission, by Peter Vest of Orthodox Messianic Judaism]
I can still remember the moment when the locked door was opened. Though the book was imperfect, David Stern’s “Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel” contained a very simple idea–an idea that destabilized my own personal Christianity:
Jewish outreach requires opening one’s eyes to the valuable, native Jewish context of the Gospel.
In short, true Jewish outreach must change the outreacher.
But, as I said, there are serious flaws in that book. One minute Stern says the Gospel must be separated from its original context so that the spread of the Gospel to other cultures will be “unencumbered”:
“…[A]s soon as the early Messianic Jews began reaching out to Gentiles, it was necessary to separate the Gospel from its cultural context, so that its essential message would not be encumbered with cultural baggage unnecessary for salvation,” Stern, Messianic Jewish Manifesto, pg. 241.
The next minute Stern says Gentiles need this Jewish context which has become obscured:
“What Type IV Evangelism requires is not a Gentilized Gospel contextualized for Jews, but a restoration of the Jewishness which is in fact present in the Gospel but which has become obscured. Moreover, Gentile Christians too need aspects of the Gospel which a restoration of its Jewishness will bring them,” Stern, Messianic Jewish Manifesto, pg. 249.
Talk about a mixed message!
But as I’ve matured in the Messianic faith I’ve come to realize that there is a door in the basement of Christianity. What is this doorway? It is your eyes opening to the wonders of the Torah. Where does it lead? It leads to your realization that the true Faith taught by the Apostolic Writings is a Messianic Judaism for all people.
Yet the door contains 3 very sturdy locks.
LOCK#1: Law is “Fulfilled”
Yeshua fulfilled the Law (i.e. He completed it, rendering it obsolete. In other words, it’s usefulness is at an end).
LOCK#2: We’re not “under the Law”
Paul said we’re not under the Law but under Grace. To preach the Law is to preach against Grace! (There are of course a number of “problem” Pauline passages but the “under the law” vs. “under grace” dichotomy is emblematic of such passages).
LOCK#3: The Jerusalem Council gives only 4 Laws for Gentiles
Acts 15 says that Gentiles only have to do 4 things. Bottom line: they do not have to become circumcised or keep the Law of Moses. To preach that Gentiles should keep the Torah is to reject the Jerusalem Council’s decision in Acts 15!
But, in the life of a Messianic, somewhere in the past, HaShem systematically inserted a key into each lock and turned the key. Here are the 3 keys:
KEY#1: Pleroo doesn’t mean “abolish”
Here is the passage at issue:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:17-19)
Here is the three-part analysis:
(1) In vs. 17, “abolish” and “fulfill” cannot be synonymous. If they were synonymous then the passage would have the absurd reading “I have not come to abolish but to abolish.” Thus, logically, Yeshua argues that the Sinaitic Torah continues to be valid. Furthermore, the word for “fulfill” is the Greek verb pleroo which means “to carry into effect, bring to realization, realize” (Thayer). Yeshua thus indicated that He came to exemplify the Torah, to show everyone what real Torah observance looks like.
(2) In vs. 18, Yeshua asserts that Sinaitic Torah continues until the cosmos is obliterated. The last time I checked, we’re still here. Thus, the Sinatic Torah continues to be valid;
(3) In vs. 19, Yeshua warns that if a teacher says that the Sinatic Torah is abolished (in any way) that such a teacher will be rebuked as “least in the kingdom”.
In conclusion, Christianity took a very clear passage in which Yeshua states that His followers must keep the Torah and locked it up. But once this passage is analyzed logically…CLICK! One lock down. Oh, and by the way, Yeshua also said:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” Matthew 28:20
KEY#2: Not “under Torah” but rather “within Torah”
Here are three of the main “problem” passages:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law [tois hupo nomon hos hupo nomon] though not being myself under the Law [hupo nomon kerdeso]; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but rather [en-Lawed or “within law’] to Christ [ennomos Christou] so that I might win those who are without law, (1 Cor. 9:20-21)
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace [ou gar este hupo nomon, all hupo charin]. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace [ouk semen hupo nomon, all hupo charin]? May it never be! (Romans 6:14-15)
But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law [hupo nomon] being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed, (Gal. 3:23)
Christians interpret these verses to mean that Paul rejects the Torah. However, Paul says explicitly that he is “within Torah” (ennomos) to Messiah. So the first thing to note is that these passage cannot mean that Paul is against the Torah. The reality is this: Paul is juxtaposing the pre-trial relationship to Torah (i.e. the Old Covenant) with the post-trial relationship with Torah (i.e. the New Covenant) in which G-d fully exonerates Believers from the penalties of disobedience. But note that being under grace is not a license to sin (Rom. 6:14-15). In other words, the Torah (G-d’s instructions for the right Way of Life) is still necessary even though full and permanent forgiveness is offered under the New Covenant.
Far from rejecting the Torah, Paul said the following:
“Do we overthrow the law through faith? By no means. On the contrary, we uphold the law,” Rom. 3:31
“What shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means,” Rom. 7:7
“Thus the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good,” Rom. 7:12
Once a proto-Messianic hears this and understands it, something changes deep inside and there’s a resounding–CLICK! Another lock down…
Opening the 2 previous locks is not enough. The 3rd lock is one of the sturdiest of all: Acts 15. Christians love to cite to Acts 15 if the discussion gets out of hand. When a Christian refers to the Jerusalem Council decision, he’s bringing out the big guns. Because, as everyone knows, Acts 15 is where Gentiles are released from having to keep those awful Jewish laws and, instead, only have to do 4 things (a list which the Christian is unlikely to have memorized and is even more unlikely to have read in the Greek source text).
Here’s the reality about Acts 15:
The issue before the Jerusalem Council was: from whence does covenantal salvation come? Some unauthorized Pharisees argued it comes from circumcision (15:1), Peter argued it comes from grace and faith (15:9,11). Peter also posited that Gentiles had joined Israel, becoming “a People for His Name”(15:14, Note: only Israel is called by His name, Deut. 14:2; Isaiah 63:19). The council concluded that Peter’s argument was correct (15:14) because his argument agreed with the Prophets (Amos 9:11-12 (LXX); Zechariah 2:11; Isaiah 2:2-3; Isaiah 45; Isaiah 56:3; Isaiah 45:21-22 (LXX), Isaiah 56:6-7 (MT); Micah 4:1-2; Jeremiah 31:31-33 (LXX); Ezekiel 36:25-27) . Given that Peter, the Prophets, and the Council deemed Messianic Gentiles to be saved by grace (contra the Pharisees of 15:1) and “turned” from paganism to join the G-d and People of Israel, James used this newly-established jurisdictional authority over the Messianic Gentiles to order them to desist from contextually-linked, pagan practices (i.e. the Fourfold Decree) that they might now cling to a Judaic sphere of influence (15:21, “law of Moses”). Far from being a streamlined Torah for Gentiles, the fourfold decree describes 4 things done in first-century pagan temples: (1) the first-century Gentiles would’ve understood the first item on the list as setting the stage for cultic pagan rites: alisgematon ton eidolon (“pollutions of idols” and the clarifying term eidolothuton in 15:29 which refers to foods offered to idols);(2) the first-century Gentile would’ve associated pniktou (“things strangled”) with cultic rites in which the sacrificial animal is strangled (see Philo, Special Laws 4.122); (3) the first-century Gentile would’ve associated porneia, given the context of “eidolon”, with temple prostitution which was embarrassingly well-known in that era; (4) last, the reference to “blood” to a first-century Gentile would bring to mind the nearly universal cultic rite of blood-drinking. In summary: Acts 15 teaches that Gentile Believers belong to Israel, are expected to abstain from idolatry (i.e. the fourfold decree), and are expected to transplant themselves into a Judaic sphere of influence (Acts 15:21).
If this last lock is opened…(CLICK!)…then the real journey begins.
May HaShem grant mercy and courage to those who step through the doorway to the Way of Life taught by Yeshua!
My note: This is an excellent summary by Peter Vest whose blog I especially enjoy reading. His succinct style, as he applies his legal background to summing and making or refuting cases, is a joy. Bubble gum for the brain!! I’m certainly glad he is in our corner as he researches and defends One Torah and the Messianic Faith, once delivered!