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Within the Church today, there is a wave of interest and enthusiasm for 'Jewish Foundations,' but what is it, and how is it shaping our narrative? In the simplest terms, it refers to the Jewish foundation of Christianity. It is the root system of a Jewish olive tree in which Gentile believers are grafted alongside the indigenous Jewish believers. The source of its teachings is within a first-century Hebrew climate: the apostles were Jewish; the writings are from a Jewish perspective and within the Jewish homeland, and the Messiah is Jewish. It stands to reason that the proper lens through which to view these ancient texts would be Jewish, though myopia has predominated since the fourth century CE.
Troublesome ideologies surfaced during the Early and Middle Church periods. A new wave of interest in the Jewish foundations of Christianity brings these ideologies into sharper focus.
View I: One Law Movement
The One Law Movement (OLM) is briefly defined as a single God with a single law given to all of His people. Accordingly, believers who are the natural seed of Abraham and those adopted through faith and following Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah are responsible for living out that faith using the same commands. OLM regards a believer who does not live as a Jew as one who is not imitating Christ. This is at the heart of the matter. Those in support of OLM argue that there is no distinction between the commands given to the Jewish people and the grafted Gentile believers. The general stance is that the Messiah is Jewish, lived a Jewish life, upheld all of the Torah, and in fact, met the righteous requirement of the Torah, so His followers should as well. There are several verses used to support the claim, albeit they are out of context with the Jewish perspective and biblical narrative. For space, we will look at two of these verses. All verses are quoted from the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern (1998).
Numbers 15:15-"For this community, there will be the same law for you as for the foreigner living with you; this is a permanent regulation through all of your generations; the foreigner is to be treated the same way before Adonai as yourselves. The same Torah and standard of judgment will apply to both you and the foreigner living with you."
At face value, this verse seems like a good argument in favor of OLM. However, there are textual problems if this is to fit the OLM narrative. One possible issue rests in the translation of the word "cager" at the end of the passage. Generally rendered as "foreigner," cager can mean a convert to Judaism. As one, a proselyte would be obligated to all of the Torah. OLM does not insist on a literal conversion but rather accepts the role through faith in Yeshua. This does not align with first-century Judaism or any century in Jewish history, for that matter. A better perspective on the use of cager/ger refers to those foreigners/alien residents from the nations who have attached themselves to Israel and therefore do not represent all Gentiles. Consequently, Numbers 15:15 must not be generalized to represent Gentile believers worldwide.
A more likely context rests with the text itself. This becomes evident in the preceding verses. Numbers 15:15 points back to Adonai's instructions for the burnt offering once the Israelites entered the Land. The "ger," or foreigners living among the tribes, were afforded protection. As second-class citizens, they were obligated to obey negative commands, the "thou shalt not's," but could freely opt out of the positive commands. Participation in kashrut (dietary laws), offertory laws, and High Holy appointed times were optional. However, if a ger chose to participate, the exact procedures were to be followed. In other words, a Gentile couldn't randomly choose how to offer a sacrifice. This context upholds the Jerusalem Council's decision in Acts 15, discussed below.
Acts 15:19-21 (19)"Therefore, my opinion is that we should not put obstacles in the way of the Goyim (Gentiles) who are turning to God. (20) Instead, we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from what is strangled, and from blood. (21) For from the earliest of times, Moshe (Moses) has had in every city those who proclaim him, with his words being read in the synagogues every Shabbat."
Verse 21 is the linchpin passage for OLM. In their view, Gentiles who were turning to God were attending synagogue and learning to uphold Torah. While it is true that God Fearers were generally tracking conversion (circumcision and mikvah), the Jerusalem Council met to discuss the relevance of circumcision, the act, as well as the process of converting to Judaism for Gentiles in Lord Yeshua. Acts 15:16 says that the emissaries met to discuss the matter. They concluded after a hearty debate that Gentiles would follow the Noahide Laws (Noah was a Gentile, for the Jewish people had not yet been established in Abraham). These laws basically prohibited behaviors associated with idolatry. They were not obligated to all of the Torah, stating that "...they would not put obstacles in the way of the Gentiles." While Colossians 2:16, Romans 14, and 1 Corinthians 8 support Gentile participation in Jewish practices, it is not a requirement. Judgment should not be placed on them as having weaker or stronger faith. Salvation rests in Yeshua alone. I Corinthians 7:17-24 makes the point clear that everyone should remain in their condition (Jewish or Gentile).
God is the One God of Israel, and He is the Only God. He must, therefore, be the God of Israel and the God of the nations (Gentiles). If Gentiles professing faith in Lord Yeshua convert to Judaism, then God is only the God of Israel and not of the whole world. It stands to reason through God's declaration of the Sh'ma and through the observable world around us that He is a God of distinction. Male and Female, though one flesh through marriage, remain distinctly male and female with distinct roles. God divided the land and water, creating a distinction. In like manner, He separated the day and night. Likewise, the Lord, speaking to Israel, said, "You will inherit their land; I will give it to you as a possession, a land flowing with milk and honey." I am the Adonai your God, who has set you apart from other peoples" (Leviticus 20:24). There are distinctions between clean and unclean, and finally, please note the distinction between the six days of work and the Sabbath rest. Distinctions are evident everywhere; these differences make life colorful, interesting and blessed. Our commonality: we were all created in His image and valued.
View 2: Replacement Theology/Supersessionism
Replacement Theology is also called Supersessionism because it promotes the concept that the Church supersedes Israel. It claims that prophecies given to Israel are being fulfilled in the Church, and Old Testament prophecies specific to Israel are spiritualized. Replacement Theology and Reformed Theology of the 16th century closely resemble one another. Both see Old Testament prophecies figuratively or fulfilled by the Church. Some modern theologians are switching to the term, Fulfillment Theology, but it is the same message; the Church has replaced Israel as God's chosen people. Oddly, the blessings promised to Israel now belong to the Church, but the curses remain with Israel. The modern existence of the State of Israel challenges this viewpoint. If God is finished with Israel, then why does Israel exist? If Israel has ceased to be the "apple of God's eye," then why does antisemitism exist? Why did their dead language return? Obviously, the forces of evil understand the implications of a reconstituted Jewish nation. Jesus told Jerusalem in Matthew 23 that He would return only when they cry, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." This is a direct quote from the Hallel, Psalm 118, which is sung during the High Holy days. This indicates that Israel will be united in the Land under the governance of Jerusalem and engaging in the Feasts of the Lord when the Lord returns. This also means that the Jews must invite Messiah's return by recognizing His sovereignty. God promised that Israel would cease to exist as a nation before His eyes only if the moon and stars cease to shine or the seas roar or that the heavens can be measured (Jeremiah 31:35-37). If God can break His promise to Israel, then He can break His promise to save all who call upon His son, Yeshua. Of course, God is a promise keeper. Satan knows this, and this is why antisemitism and misinformed theologies exist.
View 3: Dual-Covenant Theology
Sometimes called Two-Covenant Theology, Dual-Covenant Theology erroneously claims that there is a salvation covenant for the Jews under the Old Testament and a salvation covenant through Jesus Christ for Gentiles explicated in the New Testament. The premise is that the Jews, through faith in their sacrificial system, are redeemed, and Gentiles, by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, are also redeemed. Doctrinal problem #1: Jesus (Yeshua) is a Jewish Messiah; #2. He died for the sins of the whole world; #3. He came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; #4 The apostles were all Jewish and yet proclaimed that Yeshua was the Passover Lamb who died once and for all—no further sin offering was needed because Yeshua fulfilled the righteous requirement of Torah.
The New Covenant was actually a renewed Old Covenant to the Jewish people, of which the Gentiles were grafted in. Note Jeremiah 31:31: "Here, the days are coming," says Adonai, "when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt; because they, for their part, violated my covenant, even though I, for my part, was a husband to them," says Adonai. Jeremiah continues to prophesy that Adonai will write the Torah on their hearts. No longer will the commands of God be written on stone. The New Testament is the body of literature that expresses God's plan to relocate His righteous standard into the hearts of His people, Israel. In this, Israel would be a light to the nations. Some sacrificial changes were made, of course, placing the atonement in the blood of Messiah rather than bulls and rams. The covenant through which faith in the sacrificial atonement of bulls and rams was the system of forgiveness before the advent of Yeshua. Trusting faithfulness in the Old Covenant sacrifice of animal blood was God's provision for the forgiveness of sin prior to sending His Son. Atonement is still provided through trusting faithfulness in the blood offering. Yeshua became that offering. Yeshua isn't the Gentile Savior. He is the Jewish Messiah who came to set the world free from the eternal condemnation of sin through faith in His blood atonement.
View 4: Hyper-Grace Theology
Hyper-Grace is particularly troublesome because it builds its theology upon half-truths and unfounded meanings of Scripture while neglecting the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). For example, a verse often used is Romans 6:14b (part "a" is often not quoted). It states that believers are no longer under the law, but under grace. Part "a" provides critical context because it refers to the death of sin's sovereignty in the life of a believer. Believers are not held captive by sin and are not condemned to eternal death by sin. Proponents of Hyper-Grace use part "b" of this verse out of its scriptural context and out of a first-century meaning. It was well understood by Paul and the other emissaries that the Law of Moses was never intended to "save." Atonement in both the old and new covenants of God required a blood sacrifice for the atonement of sin. 1 Timothy 1:8-9a says, "We know that the Torah is good, provided one uses it in the way the Torah itself intends. We know that Torah is not for a person who is righteous, but for those who are heedless of Torah..." In other words, Torah delineates obedience and disobedience to the commands of God. The Torah is good because it is God's holy standard. It points people, like a neon arrow, to the need for salvation by pointing out the unrighteousness in one's life. Paul said it this way, "Therefore, what are we to say? That the Torah is sinful? Heaven forbid! Rather, the function of the Torah was that without it, I would not have known what sin is" (Romans 7:7). As an example, he explains that one can understand covertness through God's command, "Thou shalt not covet."
Hyper-Grace expresses a heightened emphasis on God's grace to the exclusion of the Law, any law, including the Ten Commandments. God's grace is abounding and sufficient, to be sure, but grace is the vehicle through which He brought salvation. Salvation and obedience to God's command are two separate topics. Teachers of Hyper-Grace conflate salvation and obedience, holding to the ideology that followers, demonstrating God's grace and love, won't sin. Through God's love, husbands will honor their marriage vows, and addictions won't rule over a saint, et cetera. Here in lies the problem, we still sin. The people of God strive not to sin and even are delivered from very destructive and habitual sins, but everyone struggles with impure thoughts or slips with a curse from time to time. Repentance is daily; salvation is forever. Hyper-Grace goes a step further, espousing that all sins that a believer has ever or will ever commit are already forgiven and need not be confessed. This is twisting the scope of "died once for all." Furthermore, it "perverts the grace of God and gives license to sin" (Jude 1:4). Yeshua spoke succinctly to the seven churches regarding their strengths and weaknesses, demanding repentance for their disobedience (Revelation 2:4,6,20; 3:3, 15-19). Obviously, followers of Yeshua continue to sin and must maintain an attitude of repentance and awe towards a Holy God.
View 5: Grace vs. Law
The Grace vs. Law discussion is based on Scriptures that, on the surface, appear to abrogate the Law of Moses in light of the advent of the Messiah and His atonement. Paul has an ongoing discussion with the messianic communities in Rome and Galatia. "No longer under the law but under grace" is an often quoted verse from Romans 6:14 used to support a superfluous view of the Law of Moses. In this sense, faith in Yeshua abolishes the law. However, He Himself said that He "came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it" (Matthew 5:17), which actually has nothing to do at all with getting rid of anything, but deals with the proper interpretation of the law. It was legal rabbinic terminology. Paul asserts, “Does it follow that we abolish Torah by this trusting? Heaven forbid” (Romans 3:31), or that the “legal part of the Torah stands in opposition to God’s promises, Heaven forbid” (Galatians 3:21, italics are mine).
One should note that the context under which Paul is having these discussions revolves around 'bad teachings.' Paul addresses false teaching by explaining that Torah was never designed to provide salvation. Instead, Torah's aim is to show us the standard by which we are to live in relation to one another and to God. These standards reflect God's character. Examples in the New Testament: The law (Torah) is holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12), The law (Torah) is spiritual (Romans 7:14), Paul delights in the law (Romans 7:22), in need of saving and points us in the direction of a Savior, alluding to the extended meaning of Torah, as that which hits the mark. Paul tells us that sin existed in the world before the Torah, but it wasn’t called as such because sin and its consequences hadn’t been thoroughly defined (Romans 5:13). The people of Israel became bound to God through this Mosaic contract. For Paul, Israel’s issue lay in the legal use of the Torah to attain salvation. This is the true definition of legalism.
Torah shows us God. That is why Paul called it holy. By showing us God, it shows us how far we have fallen away from Him into sin. All who are alive are under the penalty of sin’s Torah. That penalty is death. As long as we live, we are bound to obedience. When we die, we are no longer under obedience but rather judgment (Romans 7:1-3). If we have placed our sins upon the offering of Messiah, the penalty of sin’s Torah is satisfied, and we dwell in God’s Kingdom. If not, we spend eternity paying for it ourselves.
However, God’s Torah, as Paul explains, is one grounded in faith, more specifically, faith in God’s propitiation for sin. For Abraham, his faith looked toward the seed promise prefigured in Isaac. For Moses, it was the sacrificial system foreshadowing the ultimate sin offering in Yeshua. We are released from the penalty of sin through Messiah’s atonement. We are not released from obeying (Galatians 5:13). This topic requires so much more space, but again I will give you plenty of resources to dig deeper.
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