Recently, I had a conversation about the task of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) to define Messianic Judaism. The individual with whom I spoke said, “Good luck, why not just follow the Lord?” My first thought was, “I did not know that the two were mutually exclusive.” In addition, the question that entered my mind was, “What exactly does it look like to, ‘just follow the Lord?'” At that moment, I did not actually respond to my conversation partner, yet once again, I found myself confronted with the reality that Messianic Jews are either indifferent to, struggle with, or just are not concerned with finding an appropriate Jewish response to our beliefs regarding Yeshua. Even more so, the prevailing “us and them” attitude that exists with many Messianic Jews in relation to the rest of the Jewish people makes our people no more than an outreach target at best, calling into question the depth-if not the actual authenticity-of our own Jewish identity while devaluing theirs on some level. Why do Jews who follow Messiah Yeshua see Jewish life as a “take it or leave it” culture? The centrality of our identity as Messianic Jews, as we shall see, is foundational to our covenantal relationship with, and our responsibility to, Hashem.
The UMJC statement, “Defining Messianic Judaism,” presented at the 2002 international conference in Orlando, FL, fulfilled the three-year mandate of the Theology Committee to produce a definition of Messianic Judaism. Of the many points of attention that might emerge from the statement itself, the one that will be of the most interest here will be the nature of Israel, asking the question, will the real Israel please rise? This is precipitated by the state-ment’s centrality of Israel that markedly looms large in the definition of whom we claim to be. A problem that exists within contemporary Messianic Judaism is the relationship that we have to our fellow Jews. The net result, unfortunately, has yielded a new boundary for Israel, locating Messianic and non-Messianic Jews in both communal and theological polarity. This creates a tension in tandem with the UMJC statement that asks whether or not we really tell our story within the larger Jewish story. Likewise, how can we tell our own Jewish story if we are not a part of larger Jewish story as it states in the document? The larger Jewish story is directly related to whom we say Israel is, and who Israel is has everything to do with who we are as well as our relationship to our fellow Jews. The more that we define ourselves in antithesis, the more we run the risk of defining ourselves outside the greater Jewish story.
The above, then, speaks to the sociological implication of the statement itself with respect to the community of faith (in our case, Israel). It would therefore conclude that without the historical community or the hierarchical grid behind the community’s teachings, individual faith is not only minimized, but is also rearranged elsewhere.1 Simply saying, “just follow the Lord,” contains a human and communal disconnect, better understood by the words of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who writes:
“The performance of magic ritual [the ways of the community] functions fully only as long as the religious official who is responsible for carrying it out [does so] in the name of the group [and] acts as kind of a medium between the group and itself; it is the group which, through its intermediary, exercises on itself the magical efficiency contained in the performance utterance…To speak of rites of institution [the institution of the above official] is to suggest that all rites tend to consecrate or legitimatize an arbitrary boundary…which represents a very effective way of [human] naturalization.” 2
While Bourdieu speaks to his own community (the Roman Catholic Church), we can certainly apply his findings to our own situation. It is the responsibility of our Rabbis, and non-ordained leadership, to lead our constituency in the traditions of “our” greater community; such traditions called “magic ritual” by Bourdieu, as foundational to the humanity of our faith. Our identity comes from a sense of tangible belonging, or “human naturalization,” in connection with the historical faith community [the Jewish people], not only for us, but also as a means to pass it on to the next generation as the UMJC statement also concludes. The traditions we practice as part of our community creates an “arbitrary boundary” between the sacred and the common, what is Jewish and what is not (e.g. Shabbat and Sunday), giving life to our faith practice. The statement goes on and tells us that Messianic Judaism “must be fully part of the Jewish people, sharing its history and covenantal responsibility as people chosen by God.”
That means that the community of our identification and “magic ritual” goes beyond the Messianic Jewish community. The Messianic Jewish community is part of the greater Jewish commu-nity.3 Bourdieu would say that a Roman Catholic congregation is not the community in and of itself, but is part of the greater worldwide Catholic body. In response to the UMJC statement, Rabbi Russell Resnik concludes, “‘To be fully part of the Jewish people’ means that in Messianic Judaism we must tell our story within the larger Jewish story.”
The problem to be noted, in light of the UMJC statement, is the existence of differing views that compete for the definition of Israel, and therefore the story itself. The statement then says, “Messianic Judaism…committed to Yeshua the Messiah [embraces] the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition.” “Jewish life” is the ways of the Jewish people, and Jewish identity “rooted in Torah [and] expressed in tradition,” is Judaism. Torah and Jewish tradition are the pillars of Jewish life experience, meaning that they are key to Israel’s makeup. Conversely, if we, as the statement suggests, are part of the Jewish people, then our own self-identity emerges out of that same Israel, as well as the very same Torah and traditions. Messianic Judaism must first reconcile the identity of Israel before we may truly state our own identity.
Dr. Kinzer‘s Nature Of Messianic Judaism
The relationship of Messianic Judaism to Israel is very much at the center of Dr. Mark Kinzer’s The Nature of Messianic Judaism: Judaism as a Genus and Messianic as a Species.4 In his monograph, the first installment of this process, he sought to tell our story within the larger story of Israel. In response to Dr. Kinzer, those who interacted with his writings sought to do the same-tell our story within the larger story of Israel. But while Dr. Kinzer and his respondents5 agreed on Israel’s centrality, it was also their point of departure. The nature of Messianic Judaism for Dr. Kinzer, incorporates the Messianic Jewish relationship to Israel and its relationship to the greater community of Messiah, concluding that our “genus” is Judaism while our “species” is Messianic. What that means is that our Judaism (the way Jewish people relate to God) is unique and foundational, yet as Jews who have embraced Yeshua, our Judaism is Messianic.6 Our belief and practice, born and molded within Israel, has changed Judaism forever, reflecting the eternal peace of God in this age renewed, within the teachings of the Renewed Covenant.7
As for Judaism itself, Dr. Kinzer defines it as “the religious tradition of the Jewish people, in all its diversity, throughout history.” in response to Torah.8 Such a definition of Judaism is more reminiscent of those who practice it-the Jewish people-verses a Christian, or even a Messianic Jewish view, of what Judaism is thought to be; a system of religion to secure one’s salvation as opposed to Yeshua.9 Israel and Judaism may not be separated since one defines the other, which then impacts how Messianic Judaism is to be understood. Israel would also include a remnant-from now on simply referred to as Messianic Jews-of Israel who would follow Yeshua.
According to Dr. Kinzer, who portrays the remnant from Israel as faithful Jews in this new age of Messiah, Messianic Jews10 need to be faithful to Israel to best support their role as an “eschatological bridge joining Israel and the Gentiles.”11 The Messianic Jewish remnant of Israel stands in a new “corporate relationship” with the chosen of the nations “supporting [their mission] and recognizing Gentile believers in Yeshua as siblings and sharers in Israel’s covenant blessings.”12 The significance of this new “corporate relationship” represents a subcommunity within God’s people that would be “the sign of peace and reconciliation that Messiah brings to the entire creation,” to anticipate the peace of the world to come. The witness of this new community is a “new partnership he (God) forges between Jews and Gentiles…not as a mark of his [Paul’s] failure but of his [and ultimately Israel’s] success.” What makes the Messianic Jewish mission successful is its communal identification with Israel to confirm her existence, while participating in her priestly call to the nations to confirm her mission.
In response, Derek Leman raises the question, “Is Judaism [really] the primary identity of Messianic Judaism?”13 Whereas Dr. Kinzer defined Judaism as “the religious tradition of the Jewish people, in all its diversity, throughout history,” Rabbi Jamie Cowen defines it as being “built upon a foundation of the rejection of New Testament Judaism.”14 Independently from Rabbi Cowen, both Michael Rudolph and Ralph Finely hold that the rejection of the New Testament invalidates Judaism because it rejects Yeshua.15 As a result, intended or not, Israel is bifurcated into two different Israel’s, not one of diversity per Dr. Kinzer. These “two” communities of Israel, are referred to by Derek Leman as “Covenant Israel and the Israel of God,” whose differing practices are said to be Rabbinic and Biblical Judaism respectively.
Rabbinic-based Jews practice the Judaism of the Rabbis in “Covenant Israel,” and Biblically-based Jews are the faithful of Israel who believe in Yeshua and practice the true pristine Judaism of the Bible as the “Israel of God.” The Biblical practice of Messianic Judaism that represents the Israel of God includes the incorporation of gentiles into correct Biblical obedience. Both Messianic Jews and the remnant from the nations then worship together; a relationship, according to Michael Rudolph and Ralph Finely, best confirmed in the local body of worshippers-not corporately as suggested by Dr. Kinzer.16
According to this view, the Israel of God has new boundaries of practice by taking into account a new community and relationship to the nations, even though the Jewish cultural affectations and influences may remain. Since Messianic Judaism is Biblical Judaism, the gentile followers of Messiah may rightly incorporate Jewish practices within their own faith since they are following the Judaism of Yeshua, instead of the Judaism of the Jewish people. Covenant Israel and the Israel of God, are in a “corporate relationship” with one another (opposite of Dr. Kinzer’s model) whereas the community of identification for Messianic Judaism is the ekklesia, in the age of Yeshua, not the rest of Israel.
In defining Messianic Judaism, the meaning of Judaism and who is Israel is salient. Dr. Kinzer allows for one Israel of diversity whose people share a common mission and practice called Judaism, despite its shades of gray, and the Judaism of Jews who follow Yeshua is therefore Messianic. His respondents allow for two Israels (Covenant Israel and the Israel of God) with two different Judaisms (Rabbinic and Biblical Judaism), and a new community of our Jewish identification (the ekklesia instead of physical Israel). While it is true that Dr. Kinzer’s respondents, and others before them, seek to resolve the very real tension left behind in scripture concerning the place of Messianic and non-Messianic Israel, it will be demonstrated that Dr. Kinzer’s view actually supports the New Covenant on a topic that is somewhat unresolved for some. In the end, clearly with two views of Messianic Judaism built upon two different views of Israel, further investigation in required. In so doing, here too we will look at the Pauline epistles, as did Dr. Kinzer and his respondents, as we seek Israel’s clarification. In the next section, the questions we want to address then will be; 1) Is there one Israel or two? and 2) Which Israel would have been the Israel of Paul?
The Israel Of Paul
If Messianic Judaism springs forth from the ways of Israel, in light of Messiah-as Dr. Kinzer and his respondents tell us-then Paul, beforehand, would have held this view as well. Furthermore, if Israel were central, as the above seems to say, then not only would he have felt the same, but who is the “Israel of God” according to Paul is more than a mere afterthought. What we will see is that the “Israel of Paul” becomes the lynch pin to the gospel of Messiah, and is inseparable from the Jewish people as they are. Even more so, given Paul’s self-proclaimed rights to Jewish lineage and status (Romans 11:1ff), to assert that he taught a gospel removed from his community of origin (i.e. Israel/the Jewish people) seemingly would call into question thelegitimacy of the New Covenant text, making Messianic Judaism little more than a good idea. Looking at Paul’s Israel, let’s begin with a quote from Luke, in the book of Acts, where he records Paul standing before the Jewish leaders in Rome after his arrest in Jerusalem saying,
“Brothers, I have done not one thing opposed to the ways of our people or the traditions of our fathers.’ ” 17
The above quote is from Luke about Paul, and not by Paul concerning himself. The only comment offered here is that the strength of “Jewishly” strong sections of Acts surrounding Paul have to be supported by his letters, and not the other way around. More importantly, Paul is reported as saying that his own teachings regarding Messiah are faithful to the Jewish people. This means that if Paul has accepted a faith and taught others to do so outside the boundaries of Israel we must rethink the inner congruence of the New Covenant itself (i.e. Luke and Paul, and the rest of the Tanakh), and our claim that the New Covenant is Israel’s book containing a Jewish foundational faith for all humanity must also be revisited. Luke is trying to tell his readers that Paul’s teachings are a part of the Jewish people.
If Messianic Judaism was to hold a town meeting, with Paul of Tarsus as the invited guest, and the question was asked, “What is the nature of Israel?” I would suggest that Paul would say the following:
“Certainly Israel is central to the gospel of Messiah, but to say that Israel has been put into categories of ‘Covenant Israel and the Israel of God,’ historical Israel and eschatological Israel, or an Israel according to the flesh and an Israel according to the spirit, referring to two different Israels, is neither something I would have taught, nor would it be a teaching from Torah. I, like some of you, do not quite understand why ‘all Israel’ has not embraced Yeshua as Messiah according to our sacred writings, but in this mystery, God has brought his mercy to the whole world. What I do know is that ‘the gifts and the calling of Israel are irrevocable, and the place of Israel’s remnant is key in these days of Messiah. Still, for the sake of our patriarchs and matriarchs, in the end God will vindicate all Israel, even if it remains a mystery to us today.”
The sad thing is that if Paul had said the above in many theology classes, he would have failed. Certainly theologians have labored hard to provide a resolution to a perceived tension surrounding Israel left behind by Paul; as already mentioned, a tension that has to do with Messianic and non-Messianic Israel and God’s people. Yet, even in this tension, Paul was faithful to the Jewish people even if he broke our theological protocol. His faithfulness to the Jewish people, just like Luke said, can be seen in his teachings on topics such as Wisdom (1 Corinthians 2), resurrection (2 Timothy 2) or the dual role of Messiah (1 Cor. 15). In each case he taught on the heels of Jewish tradition (for example: Enoch 63:2ff, 2 Maccabees 7:14 and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs), affirming their heavenly truths and continuing in their teachings. This means that Paul was faithful to Judaism as a legitimate Jewish response to the divine revelation of Torah itself.
It would, therefore, be hermeneutically incorrect to have a theology of Paul that “leap-frogs” the teachings of the Jewish people (what we would call today non-canonical writings) in this new age of Messiah-a subject we want to handle briefly but an in-depth treatment will not be possible since it would be beyond the scope of this article. In the same way, there would also have been differences, an example being Paul’s view of Gentiles as fellow heirs with Israel. In books such as Jubilees and 4 Ezra, the plight of Gentiles is less than favorable, but Paul makes it perfectly clear that the God of the Jews is also the God of the Gentiles, a reality of the Messianic age itself (Romans 3:29, Ephesians 2:11, Galatians 3:29). Such discontinuity is more about a new day in Israel than it is an aberration of the Jewish people (1 Cor. 3; cf. Isaiah. 49:6; Hoshea 2:25).18
In Paul’s relationship to Judaism, regardless of whether or not some of his teachings and beliefs are new and even perceived as problematic, there is not such an aberration that he is outside the Jewish pale. That being so, what of the bifurcation of the Jewish people as “Covenant Israel and the Israel of God?” Would the Jewish response-more so would Paul’s response as a Jew-to Torah and the prophets allow him to teach such a thing? In his wrings, Paul mentions Israel sparsely, but poignantly 17 times (11 of those in Romans 9-11). His teachings are also a challenge, because while he writes about Israel, he does so in light of Gentile inclusion as a covenant people, not so much on how to be a Jew.19
While it is true that Paul longs for his fellow Jews to hear the voice of Torah about Messiah, and is not afraid to speak to their unfaithfulness, Israel is very much a part of his teachings in terms of covenant instruction, example and servanthood. The importance of Israel for Paul becomes central to his own teaching as he relates to the nations on each and every topic. For example, if we look at his letter to the Ephesian congregation, we see that, when speaking to this new relationship that the Gentiles there have to the God of Israel in light of Messiah, Paul uses language that is very reminiscent of the Torah’s covenantal language, referring to them as “sons” (compare Ephesians 1:3-10 with Deuteronomy 7:6-11). It is the Gentiles in Ephesus (and elsewhere) who have entered into “the commonwealth of Israel” (not in any sense becoming Israel), instructed by Israel’s teachings. In fact, Paul needs to protect the integrity of Israel by teaching her ways to confirm her national identity and call.
Can we conclude that the Israel of this commonwealth is the same Israel of God that Paul speaks of in Galatians 6:16? It would be simple if we could just look at Paul’s blessings “upon us and the Israel of God” in the Galatians passage as Paul pronouncing a blessing on all those in Galatia, and a general blessing over Israel as the covenant people of God. Such a conclusion would not, however, be accurate. While the topic surrounding the identity of the “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16 is lengthy, and one that will not be undertaken in great detail here, a brief word is most definitely in order. The “Israel of God” has become a theological synonym [in most cases] when speaking about the faithful of Israel who are referred to by Paul as the “remnant.” Yet the teaching of “Covenant Israel and the Israel of God” by no means is new, finding its roots as early as the second century CE with Justin Martyr [Dial. 11] and later Irenaeus [Against Heresies 1.10.1]). This early view held that Covenant Israel is the Jewish people within the old dispensation (before Messiah), and that the Israel of God is “the Church” who is the new Israel made up of all Christians in the new dispensation. While this replacement view is still held today in the wrings of Herman Ridderbos,20 it is the views of Terence Donaldson21 and William Campbell22 that will concern us. In this case, both Donaldson and Campbell appeal to Galatians 6:16 in juxtaposition with Romans 9:6 when identifying Israel, a definition that holds in tension the faithful in Israel who follow Messiah and the rest that do not. Donaldson understands Paul’s “Israel of God” to represent the remnant who are the seed of Isaac, opposed to the rest of Israel who are the seed of Abraham. On the other hand, Campbell understands the “Israel of God” to be the seed of Abraham, opposed to the remnant who are the seed of Isaac. The net result feeds an internal supersessionist view within Israel, even if that is not intended.
Paul is not silent on the internal makeup of Israel. While we do not want to interpret Galatians by looking at Romans, we too will view the “Israel of God” in Galatians in juxtaposition with Romans, but mainly because Romans contains the most Pauline information about Israel. It is a theological mistake to allow Romans and Galatians to interpret each other. Concerning Israel, Paul teaches about the mission of the children of Israel (Rom. 9:4), who were a people of lineage (9:6ff ) which aspired to pursue God’s righteousness (Rom. 9:31). Paul expresses anguish for his fellow Jews who have missed the voice of the prophets, while at the same time he is able to recognize their desire to achieve what he knows they can, having that much more in Messiah (10:1-4). But despite the fact that their trust is misplaced for the depth of righteousness they seek (10:9ff ), “heaven forbid” that God has turned his back on his people (11:1). When identifying with Israel and the Jewish people, Paul claims lineage [not faith in Messiah] and sees the providence of God in this new age working in Israel’s remnant, as well as her national lack of acceptance (11:5, 12). In the end, Paul’s conclusion concerning the place of the Jewish people is that their “gifts and calling are irrevocable” (11:29).
According to the tradition based upon Torah itself, Israel was a nation unique among all other nations, who were a people of lineage, aspiring to maintain the covenants faithfully (2 Baruch 48:20; 78:4; 84:8-9). The importance of the Patriarchs as the hearers and transmitters of Israel’s foundational covenant lead to a nation (Jub. 15:9ff, 21:22ff, 26:22ff, 45:3) whose priestly role was for all humanity (TLevi 14:3-4). The above is not designed to find a neatly pontificated set of “Jewish” proof-texts to support a Pauline theology, more than to speak of the existence of the traditions themselves which would have schooled Paul and therefore would be evident in his teachings. Turning back to Paul, it seems obvious in the quote below that he was clearly influenced by such traditions as part of his own convictions. In Romans 9:4-5, it says about the children of Israel:
“They were made God’s children; the Skekinah has been with them; the covenants are theirs; likewise the Torah; the Temple service and the promises; the patriarchs are theirs; and from them, the Messiah according to the flesh.”
Paul taught that the lineage of the patriarchs-the children of Israel-were to be the bearers of God’s covenants-Torah and the prophets-serving the Lord for the sake of the nations-the message of human redemption. This is what Paul would have learned about Israel-a teaching that he would hold fast to with the advent of the Messiah, concerning an Israel in the present. But this lineage was “all Israel,” not just part of Israel or what they were. The redemption of the nations meant the glory of Israel and Paul hoped that this would make his fellow Jews who did accept Yeshua as Messiah appreciate what was taking place-the promise of the new day had arrived and all Israel was intimately involved.
Paul labored to maintain Israel’s communal boundary. Given the place of the Jewish people in God’s plan for humanity, and in Rome, the threat of Israel’s demise thrust Paul into action. The Gentiles in Rome had claimed they were descendants of Abraham, displacing the Jewish people before God as a new Israel.
While it is true that the gentiles were now part of a faith whose father was Abraham, and therefore theirs, it did not mean a displacement of Israel’s physical seed.23 More than likely, the gentiles interpreted the Jewish expulsion from Rome (48 CE) as God’s judgment against Israel for rejecting Yeshua as the Messiah. Upon the Jews return to Rome (54 CE), the Messianic Jews renewing a relationship with their Gentile brothers and sisters found that Israel had been usurped in general, while they found themselves outside the loop as leaders in a community that they had originally started (cf. Acts 2:10). The Messianic Jews in Rome, imploring Jerusalem to get involved, subsequently shared in the reading of a letter from Paul who sternly warned the Gentiles that God had not turned from Israel and that they had not replaced Israel as God’s covenant people (Rom. 11:21). In the same way that Paul defined the nature of Israel’s call (see above) he also did so for her lineage. Paul writes in Romans 9:6-7:
“But the present condition of Israel does not mean that the word of God has failed. For not everybody from Israel is truly part of Israel; indeed, not all descendants are [of the] seed of Abraham, rather, “what is to be called your seed will be of Isaac.”
Regarding the above verses, in conjunction with Galatians 6:16, Donaldson and Campbell differentiate “Covenant Israel and the Israel of God,” in association with “for not everybody from Israel is truly part of Israel.” Here, however, I would like to consider another view. The “uniqueness” of Israel emerged from her lineage, per God’s covenant (as Paul himself above), and given the situation in Rome as just explained, Paul’s argument would then center around the separation between the seed of the Patriarchs (cf. Rom. 9:6, 13) and the seed of the nations. There was a need for Paul to instruct the Gentiles at Rome that Israel’s chosen status demanded her distinction and not her replacement, even though they were now a part of the greater common wealth of Israel’s faith. Therefore, in the same way that the resurrection or the dual role of Messiah spoke to Paul’s teachings molded by his Jewish background, so did his view on Israel’s lineage and uniqueness as a chosen people. Consider Jubilees 16:16-17 that reads very similar to Romans 9:6-7:
“He [Abraham] begot six more sons and he would see [them] before he dies. And through Isaac a name and seed would be named for him. All of the seed of his sons would become great nations. And they would be counted with the nations. But from the sons of Isaac one would become a holy seed and he would not be counted among the nations…”
The writer of Jubilees needed to clarify covenant Israel, much as Paul needed to do so years later, albeit for different situations. Jubilees, like Romans, refers to Isaac as the seed of promise and connects the seed to its progenitor (Abraham) as well as to its future generational lineage through Jacob (Jub. 15:9 and Rom. 9:6; Jub. 19:7 and Rom. 9:13). The lineage of Jacob would become the nation of Israel, the Jewish people, who would be a covenant and servant people. Teaching on Israel, Paul relied upon Torah’s tradition surrounding the nature of Israel in the book of Romans. He spoke to the “gifts and the calling” of Israel (see Rom. 9:4-5), and outlined Israel’s boundary so that no mistake would be made. Paul tells us that this very same Israel is of “Abraham handed down through Isaac and carried on by Jacob,” and in this new age includes a messianic remnant as part of the people. Paul writes, in Romans 11:16, “Now, if the “piece” [the remnant of Israel] offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole loaf [Israel].”
Paul concludes that Israel included a remnant of Jews who have accepted Yeshua [the piece] and Jews who have not [the rest of the loaf]. The remnant, for the sake of the covenant in this new age, confirms God’s blessings on the whole nation and labors in her eschatological mission as a part of Israel’s greater call, as the very existence of Israel is a call itself. If the remnant separates itself from the rest of the nation, what happens to the nation? Conversely, what happens to the identity of the remnant? Who then is the “commonwealth of Israel” that the Gentiles are joining to? We must remember that when Paul speaks of a remnant of Jews who have accepted Yeshua, they are a remnant of Israel rather than a remnant of “the Church.” It was already mentioned that Paul’s own identification was with the Jewish people (Rom. 1:1-2), and that he was faithful to the teachings of the people and the traditions of the fathers, as he saw the Messianic Jewish story “within the larger Jewish story.”
Paul was telling his readers in Rome that their claim to Israel is unwarranted and erroneous given the nature of Israel, and that their inculcation into the commonwealth of Israel made them equals (cf. Rom. 3:29). The need for mutual blessing in the distinction of creation was what the “one new man” stood for with Paul, and the restoration of that order fulfilled the prophetic promises to Israel, and the world. Concerning the “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16 and Paul’s Israel in Romans, they are one and the same. When Paul taught, “for not everyone from Israel [all those who do not descend from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) is truly part of Israel [all those who do], he was careful to guard Israel’s boundary in relationship to God, the Jewish people, Torah, and the gospel of Messiah.
Implications For Messianic Judaism
This brief analysis regarding Paul’s Israel, while not exhaustive by any means, has far-reaching implications for Messianic Judaism today. This is especially true as it may relate to Dr. Kinzer, those who responded to him, and the UMJC statement on “Defining Messianic Judaism.” Dr. Kinzer’s bibliology was questioned concerning his interpretation of Paul, where in all actuality he has presented us a position on the nature of Messianic Judaism that is very much in support of Paul. We saw above that for Paul, the Jewish people included a remnant, a key to the new age of Messiah, and for Paul, the “Israel of God” was a people who descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose “gifts and calling are irrevocable.” We have also seen that Paul appealed to Judaism as he taught Torah, although he had his points of disagreement, and maintained Israel’s national covenantal blessings in light of Messiah. When Paul taught Torah to Gentiles and spoke of his new relationship to Judaism, he saw his Judaism as the ways of the Jewish people, and he related to and identified with Israel as he fulfilled his call amongst the nations.
Dr. Kinzer has called Judaism “the religious tradition of the Jewish people, in all its diversity, throughout history,” and Paul’s teachings, whether on wisdom, resurrection, or Israel, were a part of Israel’s conversation on Torah, expressed in tradition. Like Paul, Dr. Kinzer would say that the Jewish people are a people of lineage and faith, and like Paul, he also holds to one Israel. Dr. Kinzer, who had a hand in the UMJC statement, rightly conveys the meaning of “Covenant Israel and the Israel of God,” especially since such a teaching did not come from Paul. Furthermore, as Paul interacted with Judaism, appealing to preexisting traditions as his own, Dr. Kinzer (as I understand him) is saying that ultimately the foundation of our praxis and beliefs is part of the religious ways of the Jewish people. The UMJC statement holds that as Messianic Jews we should be committed to the “covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition” because “we must tell our story within the larger Jewish story.” We tell our story as part of Israel’s story by appealing to Israel’s story “rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition” today, as Paul did before.
The larger story of the “Israel of God” is the story of the Jewish people-yesterday, today and forever-and demands, just as Dr Kinzer suggested that we accept the Judaism of other Jews, defined here in relationship to the UMJC statement. Our only alternative would be to locate ourselves elsewhere in relationship to covenant Israel. If we deny God’s covenant relationship to all Israel and accept ourselves as true Israel, we create a polarity of internal supersessionism in Israel, something that Paul (and the entire New Covenant) never did. But if Paul had any malcontent for Judaism- it was not because it was the practice of the Rabbis-but without Messiah it became meaningless based on what he came to know (Philippians 3:5-6). While this might be difficult for some to accept, our Judaism, just as others, is foundationally the Judaism of the Rabbis. In fact, even calling it Rabbinic Judaism is problematic. It might better be called “Jewish.” Therefore, in the same way that the idea of two Israels was dismissed, so too is the case with two Judaisms. The Rabbinic community (the same community that birthed us as Jews) has carried Judaism generationally, and that is our practice as well. Do we consider how many “Rabbinic” things we do despite what may be unique to us; from the melodies we chant to the order of our services; from the lighting of the candles to the way we don tzitzit? Paul affirmed the Judaism of the Rabbis, even in his departure, because he knew the Israel of his identification.
- 1 For example: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism continue to stand strong whereas Humanistic and other secular Judaisms struggle to exist given that they are far removed from the historical community, regardless if they have attracted followers.
- 2 Pierre Bourdieu. Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press, 1994
- 3 The UMJC statement addressees our relationship to greater body of Messiah even if I do not here.
- 4 Mark Kinzer. The Nature of Messianic Judaism: Judaism as a Genus, Messianic as a Species. Hashivenu Archives, Pasadena, CA, 2001)
- 5 I assume no personal congruence between the different responders and use of the term “respondents” is in a general sense only.
- 6 Kinzer, pp. 4ff
- 7 The UMJC statement says our Judaism is “applied within the context of the New Covenant.”
- 8 Kinzer, pp. 4, 11-12
- 9 Michael Wyschrogrod. The Body of Faith. introduction p. xxxiii. Aaronson, New Jersey, 1983 (a Jewish understanding of Judaism) in contrast to G.E. Ladd. The Theology of the New Testament. pp. 406-407 Erdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1974 (Christian understanding of Judaism).
- 10 It is assumed that “Messianic Jew” is not a generic name for a Jew who follows Yeshua as Messiah, but a Jew of Israel who in Messianic and identifies with the larger community of Israel and the Jewish people as they practice their faith. Also, Messianic Judaism is “our” name and is not being used as a label of those in the First Century who called it by another name.
- 11 Kinzer, p. 31
- 12 ibid. pp. 28-29
- 13 Kesher, Winter 2000, p. 98
- 14 ibid. p. 99
- 15 ibid. p 113, 125. The discussion is too long here, but the later Second Century reactions to Messianic Jews by other Jews mimic language found between Hillel and Shammai in the First Century; in and of itself it would have not constituted a break of its magnitude. Conversely, the First Century view of Messianic Jews by the rest of the Jewish community was vastly different than the Second Century. While the opinions may differ, the help of others like Justin Martyr, and his views of Jews and Judaism, arguably played into the Jewish reactions against their fellow Jews who were Messianic, and really cannot be separated as a normative Jewish response in a vacuum. Who knows what may have happened under another scenario of a pro-Israel view from the early patristic fathers?
- 16 ibid. p. 110, 113
- 17 Acts 28:17. Acts must been seen as a secondary source to help us with Paul.
- 18 Traditional Jewish writings are filled with this very same view of the prophets concerning the nations.
- 19 Paul is writing to gentiles (1:13 and (15:18) about this new relationship they have with Israel’s God, and in as much as there are Jews in these communities, he is writing to them about the gentiles. Even more so, Paul’s writings have been taken as universal applications applying teachings to Judaism that were never contextually intended. This is not to say that Paul did not maintain change within Judaism given the new age, but not to its detriment or dismissal.
- 20 Herman Ridderbos. Paul, An Outline of His Theology. p. 336. Eerdmans Press, translated into English 1975 (originally published in 1966)
- 21 Terence L. Donaldson. Paul and the Gentiles. p. 177, 238 Fortress Press, 1997
- 22 William S. Campbell. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. pp. 442ff; IVP, Downers Grove, 1993
- 23 Stanley K. Stowers. A Rereading of Romans. p. 36. Yale University Press, 1994; Mark Nanos. The Mystery of Romans. pp. 1ff. Fortress Press, 1996. It is unclear as to what exactly such descendancy may have looked like (i.e. physical or spiritual).