I have been quite shocked and disappointed this week to (re-)discover two things:
Firstly that anti-semitism is alive and kicking in the churches, particularly down here in Cornwall.
Secondly, that there are many groups and individuals who believe that gentile believers are not part of Israel proper, only on the fringe as part of the ‘commonwealth’, and that Torah is only for Jews (and beyond that, that we need the “oral Torah” to properly understand and obey Torah).
To my understanding of the scriptures, such a view and practice of exclusion is falsely resurrecting the partition wall that Yeshua tore down. It is a little bit like saying that gentiles aren’t really part of the Kingdom, which is after all what “Israel” is meant to be – the Kingdom where God reigns.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free”
We are meant to be equal and “one”, united in Messiah. As I have said many times, we seem to be yet very far from that ideal. There is still racism, sexism and class and cultural differences which separate us. But certainly we should not be perpetuating such division.
I am supremely grateful that this was not my experience in the Messianic fellowship I attended, which was run by a very lovely, humble Jewish man, who seemed to be quite ‘colour-blind’ when it came to Jew and gentile, whereas I had been turned away from certain other groups that I won’t shame by naming here for not being Jewish! How heartbreaking and divisive!
My conversion, which was what you might call a ‘Ruth-ite’ conversion, a simple declaration as the Biblical Ruth made that “Your people will be my people, and your God my God” is not generally recognised by Jewish or Messianic groups. I find myself in the position of being ‘not quite Jewish enough’ for some Messianic groups, and ‘too Jewish’ for some church groups!
Since there is no official Messianic conversion process in the UK, there is a temptation – even perhaps a push by groups who exclude gentile believers in this way – to convert via Reform or Orthodox means. (In a conversation just this week I was told that if a gentile wants to keep Torah, they must convert to Judaism!)
Since such conversion involves either hiding or denying your affiliation to Yeshua Jesus, that is totally unacceptable in my view, but it is an inevitable result when gentile believers feel particularly called to Israel and the Jewish people and to Torah, and both these things are denied to them as gentiles.
The crux really of this matter rests on what the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 meant when it ruled on gentile believers coming into the Kingdom:
It was being suggested by “a certain sect of the Pharisees who believed” that gentiles could not become part of the Kingdom unless they were first circumcised and kept the whole law, but Paul and Barnabus show that God had shown his inclusion of gentiles by imparting the Holy Spirit, and by many signs and miracles among them.
“And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; *And put no difference between us and them*, purifying their hearts by faith.”
Verses 8 and 9, my emphasis.
In verse 20, the ruling is that Gentile believers must only do the following:
“that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” verse 20
This is really a minimum standard, but even this has been generally ignored by the church because it seems to contradict their understanding that anything at all is permissable to eat. (That’s another discussion for another day!)
But then in verse 21, James goes on to say, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”
Again, this verse is generally either ignored or misunderstood. What does James mean? Well, the early believers were meeting in the synagogue, reading the weekly Torah portions.
In other words, they were learning Torah gradually. There is an implicit suggestion there that the gentile believers will gradually conform their lives to Torah, and so it is not necessary to lay the whole law on them at the outset, and certainly not as a condition for salvation.
But wait, you say! Paul says the following in verse 10:
“Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”
What does he mean by that? Of course, it has been taken to mean that the “yoke” refers to Torah itself. But is that really the case? Is God’s own law a burden and a bondage from which we must flee and escape?
In Leviticus 26:13, God says:
“I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and *I have broken the bands of your yoke*, and made you go upright.”
This is in the context of the giving of the Torah. No, the “yoke” is not Torah itself – God did not rescue the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt only to lay another bondage on them – but rather, the “yoke” is all the additional rules and regulations, what is commonly referred to as the “Oral Torah” put in place as a “hedge around Torah”. The clue is in the word “Pharisee”.
What does Jesus say about those additional Pharisaical rules?
Matthew 15:3 “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” He goes on to give examples of how they are doing that, and then in verse 7: “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”
So Jesus regards the Torah as the commandment of God, holy and good, whereas the ‘Oral Torah’ is no such thing. Indeed, it can be quite the opposite when it contradicts Torah.
The scriptures, especially the psalms are replete with the idea that the law of God is good. Even Paul acknowledges in many places that the law is good, for example in Romans 7:7 he says:
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid!”
In conclusion, although I realise this is a massive subject and we could argue back and forth on the subject of the law and to what extent Christians should observe it, there is no suggestion whatsoever that Torah is for Jews only and not for gentiles.
In as far as gentiles are grafted into the Olive Tree through faith in Messiah, we are meant to be “one new man”, part of the same body. That is not to say that you cannot retain your identity as Jewish or gentile as a believer, but the wall between us has been broken down. Don’t build it up again.