As Messianic congregations grew in number greater opportunities became available for worship of the Jewish Messiah in a Jewish context. Now, the struggle changed from assimilation to self-identification. How Jewish should we be? Organizations, fellowships, liturgy, conferences, and host of other resources became available. Our struggle became very similar to that of a teenager looking for independence. Our problem was not in the seeking of independence but where we looked to find our influences for that growth. Many were drawn back to the very place they fled from. The yoke of Rabbinic Judaism became their resting place. We seemed to not be able to distinguish between what was Biblical and Rabbinic. This is not to say that everything Rabbinic is bad, neither is it to say everything Rabbinic is good. Rabbinic Judaism is not our final authority. Yeshua said in Matt 5:20 “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven”. Yeshua did not believe that the teachers of His day were without fault or error. Neither did he make null and void everything that they taught. He just reserved the right to correct them.
We call ourselves Messianic Jews and our Midrash (commentary) comes from the Rabbi of Rabbis, Yeshua. The Talmud says, it will be the Messiah's privilege alone to interpret the Torah exclusively. According to the Rabbis the Messiah will be invested with such authority. Yalqut Isaiah states that, "The Holy One -- may he be blessed -- will sit (in the Garden of Eden) and draw up a new Torah for Israel, which will be given to them by the Messiah". Even the fearful thought of "abrogation" appears in the traditions of the Wise: "In the future the commandments will be annulled". In the Midrash Mekhilta from the time of the Tannaites -- that is, from the first two Christian centuries -- we find the statement that, "At the end the Torah will be forgotten". R.Shimon Ben Eleazar, who was active from ca. 170--200 AD, declares that, "This is how it will be in the days of the Messiah; there will be no 'thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not' commandments (zechut ve-hovâh"). Klausner, in his book "The Messianic Idea in Israel", explains that, "The natural interpretation of this is that in the days of the Messiah, the Torah and the Commandments will lose their significance".
Because we live in the days of the Brit Hadasha (New Covenant) Jer. 31:31 states that the new covenant is now living in our hearts, also Heb 10:19-23. We now have to conclude that His interpretation stands above all. Our sociological identification is with Israel and our roots are with our people, but, our theological identification is with Messiah and His people Jew or Gentile, Eph 2:11-22.
What we have forgotten is why we have been chosen. God created us for the purpose of being a light to the gentiles. We were created by God for the purpose of reconciling the whole world back unto Himself, Gen. 12:1-3. It becomes very hard to define yourself when you forget your purpose. There are many scriptural references to this. Here are a just a few. Ge. 12:3, Ps. 96:1-10, Is. 42:5-8, Is. 43:9-12, Is. 49:6, Is. 66:18-19, Lk. 2:29-32, 1Jn. 2:2, Acts 13:44-47, Acts 15:13-18, Rm. 11:11 Ga. 3:13-14. There are many more scriptures in the Tenach that echo this sentiment. The Jew was created/chosen so that Gentiles could be saved. It would seem to me that for a Jewish book God is a little too preoccupied with the gentiles, OY Vey. This would mean that God, even back in the Tenach, Was a God of inclusion not exclusion. It is nice to know that we serve a God who cares about the whole world, not just one people group.
As I said above there is confusion because instead of fulfilling our true calling to be God's light to this world we again abdicated our true work for a substitute. We have now become preoccupied with keeping the law of Rabbinic Judaism and associating with them in their observance to show them how Jewish we are. We are not the 4th branch of Judaism, we are the fulfillment. Instead of trying to be one them, which we already are, we should be showing them Messiah so that they will be one of us, which they are not. Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) addresses this very issue in quite some detail.
"For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20).
"By works of the law shall no one be justified but through faith in Yeshua" (Gal. 2:16).
"I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then the Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:21).
"Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law" (Gal. 3:11).
The law had a weakness: it could bring death, but not life. It made nothing perfect (Heb. 7:18-19).
It promised life but proved to be death (Rom. 7:10). A person was required to keep all the law or be cursed (Gal. 3:10). No one could keep it all, so all had the sentence of death.
That same weakness prevents any law from saving. Law has no power to save. John assures us that all of us sin (1 John 1:8).
"For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it" --(James 2:10).
What we need to mind full of is that sin is not just an act we commit it is a state of comparison between God and us. God is perfect we are not therefore we are unable to come before him in our present condition. We need our nature changed and that cannot happen by works of the law it happens by grace. Romans 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
If we keep 99% of the law but fail in the remaining one percent, what happens? The Torah spells out that there are 613 commandments that we are required to keep. If we fail in one point we are guilty of the other 612 also. We are back to zero! So it is all by grace! If one is to be saved, it must be totally by grace. One cannot be saved partly by law keeping and partly by grace. If grace saves only to the extent that one is able to keep law, then none can be saved. If one could keep all the law, he would not need grace. Our traditional exhortation and mantra to the one who fails to keep all the law is "Try harder!" While giving lip service to grace, we frustrate disciples by urging that they must attain it by keeping all the law - or making a passing score, whatever that may be. All we are left with is questions. How much of the law do we keep? Who defines that standard? When have we kept enough of the law? What about those laws that we are unable to keep, i.e. sacrificial and Temple laws?
We are not saying that our celebration of faith should be taken out of its Jewish context. The way we define ourselves as Messianics has to be scriptural and culturally in context. We are not making the holidays and the declarations of God null and void. The only true way to understand the scriptures is through the filter of it's own history, culture, language, idioms, etc. What is being said is that our salvation or acceptance, in God’s eyes, is not dependant on how Jewish we are in our celebration of Messiah, 1Cor 8:1-13. Even though Paul is speaking to Gentiles in this passage, remember, it is Paul who is speaking and he is a Jew. Yeshua said in Mat 15:1-11 It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man but that which comes out of the mouth. Yeshua deals with the heart of man first. When the heart is right the actions follow. This, I believe is the essence of that Jeremiah 31:31 passage, the New Covenant is now in our hearts.
The Sermon on the mount Mt. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 Show the intent of Messiah in this. Each man has his liberty in Messiah to be as traditional as he chooses. We also have our liberty to not be traditional. We do, however, need to make sure that we don't confuse our Biblical practices with a rabbinic tradition that does not in itself even have one voice that speaks as an authority for the whole. That being said, Jewishness in our observance needs to be interpreted through the fulfillment of, the Rabbi of Rabbis, Yeshua. We need to be aware of the difference between Rabbinic Judaism and what I call apocalyptic Torah Judaism or New covenant Judaism. This would be the Judaism of Yeshua.
There is a place where grace and law are reconciled in the scriptures. It is critical for us to find that place and articulate it so that we will not fall into doctrinal error of the worst kind.
Galatians 3:15-19 is just one scripture which seems to be a reconciliation point where grace and the law meet and make sense. Paul says to the Galatians that, “the law does not invalidate the promise/covenant that was given 430 prior to the law”. Abraham received the inheritance based on the promise of God, not the righteousness of obedience to the law. He truly was saved by grace. The law was added because of transgression. People could not live in obedience to God.
They needed a law to show them the gulf that sin caused between them and God until grace was reestablished in Messiah Yeshua.
Taking the word of God in context also means seeing the big picture and understanding how certain scriptures relate to the rest of the body of the canon. Here are a few scriptures to take into consideration when we do this, Gal. 3:23-29, 2 Cor. 5:17, Rom. 9:1-3.
Gal. 3:28 tells us that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Yeshua". There is tremendous truth in this verse. But if it is taken out of context the truth is hidden. Some would say this verse shows us that there is no longer a need for the Jews to exist as a people. But this can't be true if Jeremiah 31:35-37 is also true.
"Thus saith Jehovah, who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirreth up the sea, so that the waves thereof roar; Jehovah of hosts is his name: 36 If these ordinances depart from before me, saith Jehovah, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. 37 Thus saith Jehovah: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith Jehovah".
This verse is pretty clear that God will do away with the elements of creation before He does away with the nation of Israel”.
Another thing to consider is that the verse in Gal. tells us there is neither male nor female. One thing is for certain my wife loves the Lord and she is a female. I would bet my life on it. So what must this verse mean. Based on other scriptures I don't believe that Galatians is nullifying Israel's place in God's economy. Yet I do see taken into proper context that we are being told that there is no preferential treatment for salvation in the eyes of the Lord when it comes to the new covenant. However, there are Job descriptions. I will never be able to do the job of a mother. Does that make my wife superior to me or is her standing in society preferred. She, on the other hand, can’t do the job the father is supposed to do, Viva La Differance.
Romans Chapter 11: truly articulates every ones place in the in the work of the kingdom. I believe that Paul is synopsizing the prophetic message of the salvation plan in the Tenach. He puts the Jew and Gentile in their right place together. We now become one new man working for the sake of kingdom, reconciling the whole world back to God with no preferential treatment, just job descriptions. Eph 2:1-22 these passages elevate the role of the gentile in God’s plan to redeem the world. The Jew was created to be God’s tool to reach the world. The Gentiles were reached so that they could provoke the Jew to jealousy. When certain parties don’t fulfill their part (Jew and Gentile) God’s plan suffers for lack of laborers, Mt 9:36-38.
If we as Messianic Jews and gentiles want to define ourselves then our definition must first be Biblical. It must be based on the New Testament model. We need not look for our definition from rabbinic sources. We need to know our job description and purpose for existence. It will then be easier to function and do what we are called to do in unity, with the rest of the body of Messiah.
Yours in Messiah Yeshua,
Rabbi Henry Morse