(Hanover, Nh: Elijah, 2005. 332 PP.)
Daniel Gruber's recent
work, The Separation of Church & Faith, Volume 1: Copernicus and the
Jews, provides us with a fascinating and controversial discussion of a
subject that the vast majority of Christians take for granted as an absolute
and uncontested fact. In this first volume of a three-volume series entitled The
Separation of Church and Faith, Gruber calls into question the legitimacy
of the church and the concept of Christianity as theological constructs. On the
basis of analysis of the biblical text through philological and theological
methods, he rejects these institutions as unbiblical and instead argues that
the commonwealth of Israel, which he defines as a community of Gentile
nations with Israel at their
center, constitutes the theological structure upon which the kingdom of God
mathematicians and scientists argued that the earth was the center of the
universe and they created artificial and elaborate theories to explain the
movement of planets that did not fit their paradigm. A paradigm shift took
place, however, when Nicholas Copernicus argued that these theories were
inadequate and proved that the earth and other planets revolved around the sun.
Gruber argues that Jewish people are the "planetary" anomalies that challenge
the prevailing theory that the church has replaced Israel as the new people of God.
God's unconditional covenant with Israel
contradicts the erroneous, but widely held belief that God has abandoned Israel and
established "the church" and Christianity as the new means by which God
manifests the kingdom on earth and in heaven.
Gruber seeks to
demonstrate that the commonwealth
of Israel, not an
artificial entity called the church, constitutes the cosmological center of
God's universe. To accomplish this task, he divides his study into two parts.
In part one-"Finding the Center"-the author presents ten systemic errors that
have given rise to the concept of Christianity which is at its core
supersessionist. In part two- "Rebuilding the Highway"-he addresses several
subjects that reaffirm Israel
and the Jewish people as the focus of God's kingdom program.
The strength of Gruber's
work resides in his overall boldness. He unabashedly challenges ideas that
sprang from a Gentile church that nurtured a supersessionist reading of the
biblical text. Simply put, Gruber's greatest contribution lies in the fact that
he compels us to read the biblical text in its historical Jewish context. For
this reason, the second part of this study is the stronger of the two. He
reinforces that the God of the Bible is a covenant-keeping God (ch. 17), whose
purpose is to establish the commonwealth of Israel composed of Israel and the
nations under the kingship of Yeshua the Messiah (ch.19). Especially compelling
is chapter 21, wherein he argues that the land of Israel
remains a central component of biblical faith.
On a theological level,
Gruber's provocative-to say the least- assertion that the church and
Christianity are non-biblical concepts requires a much more thorough treatment.
Christian ecclesiology is derived largely from the Pauline corpus and yet
Gruber's work fails to examine any of this literature. The church and
Christianity might not be biblical nomenclatures but they describe (or are
intended to describe) the pneumatological entity that was created at Pentecost
in Acts 2. Notably absent from this volume is any discussion of the "One New
Man" of Eph 2:15 and Paul's discussion of ekklesia as a whole (Eph
5:23-27; cf. 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13; Col 1:24).
is odd about Gruber's work is that while he simultaneously devalues the church
and Christianity, he fails to acknowledge the recent dramatic developments in
the historic church. Events such as Vatican II and its seminal paper on
Jewish-Christian relations, Nostra Aetate (1965), as well as more recent
treatments by Protestant denominations1 are notably
absent from Gruber's discussion. It is as if Gruber is talking about the church
in the abstract without any concrete appreciation of its present nuances or its
historical development.2 The notable absence of such a
discussion from Gruber's work weakens his overall argument and leads us to
wonder whether Gruber's work really advances the discussion on Messianic
Judaism in the context of the wider Jewish and Christian worlds.
issue raised by Gruber that deserves further reflection is his articulation of Israel's
calling and identity. He offers the following summary statement regarding the
people of Israel,
which summarizes his constructive ecclesiological work in the second half of
God of Israel is the one true God.
Israel's Commonwealth, through Israel's new
The Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, are Jewish.
The people of Israel
are the people of God, his children, his witnesses.
The Land of Israel
is his Land; her capital, Jerusalem,
is his city.
King is God's Chosen King for all the Earth.
The King of the Jews died to atone for the sins of the World.
The Jewish people are called to serve God and be his priests for the nations.
The New Covenant is made between the God of Israel and the People of Israel.
is God's Kingdom the only context for redemption.
Gentiles who recognize the sovereignty of Israel's king are brought into
The Law of God's Kingdom has been given to Israel.
The Good News is the Message of that Coming
God will dwell on the Earth in Jerusalem
in the midst of the Jewish people.
As we pointed out above, Gruber's bold
treatment deserves our attention and has much to add to the theological
discussion in the Messianic Jewish movement (particularly his focus on kingdom
as an organizing theological construct). It is not, however, what Gruber does
say that we wish to take issue here but rather what he does not say.
Notably absent from Gruber's list of factors, which are constitutive for Israel's unique
calling and identity, is Torah. Land and peoplehood are certainly
present but where is Torah? He does make mention of "the Law of God's kingdom"
but never really discusses what it is. In chapter 23-"An Irrevocable
Calling"-he does speak of "the Written Word and the Living Word" and their
expression in the life of the Jewish people as declamatory of God's intention
for all creation.4 But again where is Torah? By
Torah we mean God's revelatory disclosure at Sinai and later to the children of
which gives legal, ethical, and cultic shape to their covenantal existence.
Torah is what defines and delineates the Jewish people.
effect of Gruber's omission is quite profound. If we reexamine his 13 summary
statements above, we find that, in his construction, Israel's
calling, though irrevocable, is ultimately only instrumental, i.e., Israel is the
context for God's ongoing redemptive work among the nations. The children of Israel are the
priests for the peoples of the world in their service of God; they are a model
of God's word to the nations. Certainly all of these things are true and
biblical. But by emphasizing only them, Gruber misses other significant streams
of biblical thought that emphasize the importance of Israel's covenant fidelity
as expressed through the keeping of the commandments-not merely as a
demonstration of God's word to the nations but more specifically as defining
Israel's internal ethical and sacramental life. For instance, from the
perspective of Isaiah, Israel was exiled to Babylon in 587/86 B.C.E. not
because it failed to demonstrate God's word to the nations, but because it
failed to practice justice, thus defiling its cultic practices and the
community as a whole (Isa 1). Certainly, Israel failed to demonstrate God's
word to the nations in its moral, ethical, and cultic infidelity, but this is
an incidental by-product of infidelity rather than a marker of it. We point
this issue out because by failing to address Torah, in and of itself, as
constitutive for Jewish identity, Gruber treads close, on a phenomenological
level, to an economic expression of the identity of the people of Israel akin to Augustine's "Doctrine of the
Witness" in which Israel's
ongoing identity is accounted for only in its testimony to a law which has
passed away in Christ. For Gruber, the "Word" is eternal, but it seems its sole
importance is in its testimony to Messiah Yeshua.
Gruber's lack of
discussion of the constitutive role of Torah in shaping Israel's covenantal life parallels what seems to
be a disturbing instrumentalization of Israel in the economy of divine
redemption. Gruber writes, "The Jewish people are God's instrument for bringing
the nations back to Himself. They are His means for fixing this broken world. .
. . Israel
was created and called by God to be a light to the Gen-tiles."5 Here Gruber configures Israel's
election and existence in terms entirely focused on its role of manifesting
God's kingdom here on earth and facilitating the subjugation of the nations of
the world to this theo-political reality. Again, we question whether Gruber
emphasizes one aspect of the biblical testimony regarding Israel's identity and
calling (drawn this time mostly from the so-called "Servant Songs" in the
latter half of Isaiah; e.g., Isa 49:6) at the expense of other aspects of
Israel's unique calling, such as its role in serving as a priestly people who
ensure divine worship (e.g., Exod 19:6; Lev 19:1-2; Num 28:1-30:1; Luke 1:8-10;
Acts 3:1; Rom 9:4).
What is the end result
of an ecclesiological vision in which Israel appears to be reduced to a
merely instrumental role in divine redemption? What is the practical outworking
for broader Jewish identity?-for Messianic Jewish identity-for non-Jewish
identity? If Jews are merely to be the signs and instrumental context for
redemption, how are Gentiles to live? Gruber should be applauded for
challenging Gentiles to rethink the context of their redemption in Jewish
terms. Unfortunately, there is no real encouragement for them to maintain their
own ethnic-national identity (ironically something which the church, in its
best expression, encourages). As they enter the commonwealth of Israel,
what practices are they to assume? Hopefully this is a point that Gruber will
clarify in subsequent volumes. It is an important point to clarify lest we have
Messianic Jewish congregations overwhelmed by non-Jews assuming the unique,
constitutive practices of Jewish identity with little respect for God-defined
(both ontological and economic) distinctions between Jew and non-Jew.
Gruber, however, seems
to envision something quite different. The odd closing of Gruber's book is
perhaps instructive for what he really envisions:
We can freely say to such Gentiles, "Bienvenidos
a la ciudadania de Israel." Welcome to the
Bienvenidos hermanos y hermanas.
For Gruber the commonwealth of Israel
is "a community of nations, kahal goyim ."7 Certainly, non-Jews come to confess that
"salvation is of the Jews," but is Israel really distinct any longer
in this commonwealth? In this economy of salvation, is Israel still a goy
kadosh, "a separate, holy, and distinct people" (Exod 19:6)? Or is it merely
one special people among a collection of peoples, just another ethnos . This
leads us to ponder whether Gruber's ecclesiological vision preserves Jewish
identity and hence the economy of salvation and the "bilateral constitution" of
the ekklesia or destroys both in a mishmash of mutual assimilation.8 Will such a vision really say to the wider
Jewish community Berukhim HaBa'im Chaverim: "Welcome our Jewish
- E.g. Presbyterian Church, (USA),
"A Theological Understanding of the Relationship between Christians and Jews,"
Part I of the Minutes of the 199th General Assembly of the PC(USA), 416-424;
"Statement of Baptist-Jewish Relations," released March 4, 1995 by the Alliance
of Baptists, revised April, 2003; and the Christian Scholars Group's "A Sacred
Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish
People" released in September of 2005.
- Here, Gruber's approach contrasts
sharply to Mark Kinzer's recent work Postmissionary Messianic Judaism:
Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand
Rapids: Brazos, 2005) in which
Kinzer addresses both biblical material and the historical development of "The
church" in his ecclesiological statement. See also an extensive review and
response to Kinzer's work in volume 20 (Winter/Spring 2006) of this journal.
- Daniel Gruber, The Separation
of Church & Faith, Volume 1: Copernicus and the Jews (Hanover, NH:
Elijah Publishing, 2005), 323.
- Ibid, 197.
- Ibid, 296.
- Ibid, 332.
- Ibid, 331.
- We are borrowing the term “bilateral constitution” from Mark Kinzer’s Postmissionary Messianic Judaism (see 151-79). We understand that Kinzer’s work is still widely debated in the Messianic Jewish community. We, however, believe this is a useful heuristic term for describing the nature of the Ekklesia.
Jonathan Kaplan, M.Div.,
M.A., A.M., is
book review editor of Kesher and co-founder of Yachad Network, an
organization that works in youth and young adult leadership development. He is
an ordained rabbi of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations,
scholar-in-residence at Ruach Israel Messianic Synagogue, Needham, Mass.,
and a trustee of Messianic Jewish Theological Institute (MJTI).
Noel Rabinowitz, Ph.D., is associate professor of
New Testament at the Charles Feinberg Center,
a leadership training institute established by Chosen People Ministries in New York City in cooperation
with Talbot Seminary.