Nov 18, 2017

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Key Issue: Who is a Jew? Who Is Israel? Who is a Gentile? Q & A

"Last Update © 2009 Elisheva"

Questions

  1. Who is a Jew in the Hebrew Scriptures?
  2. Where does identity come from?
  3. Does God's calling a man by name change his identity/destiny?
  4. How does the acceptance of God's calling affect our identity/destiny?
  5. How does the denial of God's calling affect our identity/destiny?
  6. Is Messiah the same for Jews and Gentiles?
  7. Who is Messiah, His bride and whose is the Land?
  8. Who is Israel?
  9. What is the basis of inclusion in Israel?
  10. Is a "cut off" Jew still a Jew?
  11. Are Jews today "cut off" because they rejected Messiah? Can they be regrafted?
  12. Who are Crypto-Jews?
  13. Can Messianic Gentiles (Christians) retain their Gentile identities?
  14. Is a Messianic Jew still a Jew?
  15. Jewish Mother, or Father, or either one?
  16. Why are there different Jewish identities today?
  17. What about the Law of Return in the Nation of Israel?
  18. Who are Gentiles and God-fearers in the Hebrew Scriptures?
  19. Is being a Gentile a secondary or lower status?
  20. Chosen for what? Does God show favoritism?
  21. Has the church become Israel as the new chosen people?
  22. Is it right to proselytize a Jew? If so, how?
  23. Does conversion change one's identity?
  24. I am confused, how do I know who I am?
  25. Are there true and false identities?
  26. How are Jews and Gentiles provoked by godly jealousy?
  27. Why is the Jewish identity question important today?

Answers

  1. Who is a Jew in the Hebrew Scriptures?

A. The name Jew comes from the word Judean after the remnant of the twelve tribes (Yehudim) that returned from Babylon to the province of Judah (Yehudah). Judah received from his father Israel the blessing of future kingship over the other tribes (Gen 49:8-10). His name means "A praiser of God" (Gen 29:35). A Jew (Yehudi) therefore glories in one thing, not his own identity, but the identity of his God. (top)

  1. Where does identity come from?

A. God is the creator of all identities. It is not humans who create a god and give him a name as pagans do, but God who creates humans and gives them an identity and a name. Atheists and agnostics, like ancient pagans, have difficulty understanding that our maker also gives identity and personality to us, his creation. They believe either that we create ourselves, our own identities and personalities, or that blind random circumstantial forces make us into who we are. But the God of the Jews, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, proclaims His Name, "I Am that I Am." Jews dare not pronounce it because His Name is above all. They prefer to use HaShem which means "the Name." Is it conceivable that we have names, identities and personalities while God, our maker, doesn't? God is the foundation of all existence and identity. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). We are bound to proclaim and not to profane His Name before all nations, not because He gains anything by it, but because in Hebrew terms, it is God who "establishes" us, not we who establish Him. This establishment in our identity is what determines our destiny. The adage, "as you think, so you become" partially recognizes the dynamics of identity and destiny. The way we walk may determine what we become (Jer 7:23; Gal 6:7-8), but also who we are determines the way we walk (Ecc 10:2-3; Prov 12:3, 16:2-4, 21:2). Hence, it is important to know that we are God's offspring (Dt 4:20, 7:6, 14:2; John 12:36; 1 Thess 5:5; Gal 4:6-7; 1 Pet 2:9) and that He has gifted us with our identity with the view of establishing us in our destiny (Jer 29:11; Deut 28:9; Psalm 37:4-6; Prov 3:5-6; John 15:16; Eph 2:6,10; Titus 2:14). Interestingly, even in the history of Israel and all the nations (Jer 24:5-8; Ezk 11:17-20; Jer 12:15-17), the Lord also watches after His Word so that Israel may fulfill her destiny as vessels to bless the wayward nations and the nations may fulfill their destiny as vessels to restore wayward Israel to her calling and inheritance. (top)

  1. Does God's calling a man by name change his identity/destiny?

A. Yes it does, if the person responds in faith and obedience to God's call (Heb 11:6). If a man keeps the Name of God holy, then God establishes him (Ps 91:14). That is why every Jew is called in life to practice "Kiddush HaShem", the sanctification of the Name. The righteous life we exhibit before the nations is meant to be a reflection of the righteousness of our God in all His ways, which we know to be manifest perfectly in Yeshua, the son of David. Our father Abraham rejected all manufactured pagan idols and polytheisms with their man-made deities whose sinful personalities war and conspire with one another. Abram heard and obeyed God's voice in faith, living his entire life as a sojourner in the land God promised him and his seed. Seeing the integrity of his character and faith, God renamed him Abraham, and his wife Sarai became Sarah. God covenanted with Abraham's son Isaac and grandson, Jacob, whom He later renamed Israel, for the purpose of blessing them and blessing all families of the earth through them. A promised Savior/King for all mankind would arise from their line through Judah, son of Jacob, to whom the Jews owe their name (Gen 3:15, 22:8,18, 49:10; John 4:22). Later, God called Moses and sent him as a deliverer of Israel, now a great nation, to deliver them from their bondage in Egypt. He gave Israel through Moses a blueprint of His ways, the Torah, His Instruction or Law, and called them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation before Him (Exod 19:6) in order to make Him known and proclaim His Holy Name and wonderful deeds before all nations. He led them into the promised land in a conditional covenant of blessings and curses so they would hallow the Name (HaShem) and not profane it (Lev 22:32). He gave David a throne and a promise of eternal kingship from his seed (1 Chron 17:11-15; 28:4). David first sang of a record written in heaven of all names of the righteous, called the Book of Life, later confirmed by Yeshua and Paul (Ps 69:28; Luke 10:20; Php 4:3). Then God's Holy Spirit brought forth His Word to dwell among us as Yeshua the Messiah, the long awaited seed of Abraham and David, whose Name alone means and is Salvation, the name above all names (Luke 1:30-35; Acts 4:12; Php 2:9-11; Eph 1:20-21), the light of life, the light of the world, able to fulfill God's purposes of redeeming the world from sin. As the Sinai covenant was broken, He made a New Covenant with Israel and for all the nations, to write His spiritual law by His Holy Spirit into our hearts through faith in His Son, Messiah Yeshua (Jer 31:33) so that the curse of death may be reversed in each believer through new birth (baptism by fire or Holy Spirit birth), which is spiritual immersion in Yeshua's Name (John 17:11-12; Acts 2:38; 1 Cor 1:13-15). Yeshua presented himself as the true shepherd who calls his sheep by name and they recognize His voice (John 10:3). Anyone who abides by this New Covenant, Jew or Gentile has life in His Name (John 20:31; Col 2:6-12; 1 Cor 1:20-25) and their names are inscribed in the Lamb's Book of life (Rev 2:17, Rev 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12,15, 21:27). The New Covenant in Yeshua is rooted in the Abrahamic Covenant that includes all nations and identities by faith (Matt 12:21). Messianic Rabbi Mottel Baleston also posted an excellent article on "The Abrahamic Covenant, The Basis for Jewish Identity" on the web here. (top)

  1. How does the acceptance of God's calling affect our identity/destiny?

A. When God calls, He calls us by name because He knows us better than ourselves and alone can restore us to our true God-given identity (Rom 8:28-30). Messiah said in the Sermon on the Mount, "I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You'll never--I promise--regret it. Live out this God-created identity [literally "sons of the Most High"] the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst." (Luke 6:35 The Message). This is confirmed in Rom 8:15 and Gal 4:6. A good example is Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chr 34:22) who, in spite of her birth name which means "weasel," became a true prophetess and the wife of Isaiah, who prophesied the atonement of Messiah 600 years ahead of time (Isaiah 53). When God through Yeshua saves, He writes our name in the eternal Book of Life, the Book of the Lamb. The gift of identity is a mystery of creation and redemption. In Messiah, He also promised us new identities devoid of hypocrisy (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Cor 5:17) and a new Name (Rev 2:17; 3:12). Identity is a gift of love from our father God through His Son, Messiah. We are not loved by God because we are valuable, but we are valuable because we are loved by God. He first loved us. With a godly identity, everyone receives significance in the eyes of God, rather than men; and everyone receives the godly calling to love one another as He loves us. (top)

  1. How does the denial of God's calling affect our identity/destiny?

A. The enemy of our souls entices us to sin and rebel, not desiring that we enter into fellowship with God, understand His ways, accept His gift of salvation, or follow His beneficial will. Like a child on the beach who destroys his friend's better-looking sand castle, his intent throughout history has been to mar the image of God within us, to confuse our identities as well as the redemptive purposes of God for us so that neither could be discerned. Our identities have become confused in a multiplicity of contradictory definitions and often almost lost. By fashioning our own identities we reject our God-given identity and calling. There are several possible consequences: We may profess an identity that we do not really have and thus deceive ourselves or be used as an instrument to deceive others like Hananiah, the false prophet who failed to live up to the meaning of his name, "Grace of Yah" (Jer 28). We may never realize who we truly are in God or use His gifts in a manner honorable to Him and beneficial for ourselves. (top)

  1. Is Messiah the same for Jews and Gentiles?

A. Messiah alone lived a life without sin and gave His life to manifest God's mercy for all sinners (John 3:16; Heb 4:15). In Isaiah 49:6, God says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." Similar announcements are made in Isaiah 42:6, Luke 2:32, Acts 13:47, Acts 26:23. (top)

  1. Who is Messiah, who is His bride and whose is the Land?

A. This is a crucial question since our spiritual identity is in Messiah (John 17:1-5; John 17:20-26), the Vine (John 15:1-8), and since the Bride is the Body of Messiah through which He, the Bridegroom, is promised many spiritual offspring (Isa 53:10), i.e. all those made righteous by faith in Him. By saying Jesus is the Messiah for Gentiles and not for Jews, traditional Judaism waits for another Messiah for the Jews. No, there is only one Messiah for all, both for Jews and for Gentiles. He came once and will come again to establish His kingdom. Similarly, by saying that God rejected Israel and married the church instead, with Jews having to renounce all things Jewish, Christians imply God takes two brides, and abandons one in favor of another. But even in metaphor, God is not polygamous and hates divorce. There is throughout history only one bride, not two. Israel is not replaced by the church, but a part of the church as all remnants of nations are a part of it. The choosing of Israel was not meant for Israel alone but for all nations. Gentiles are fellow citizens of Israel in its expanded version, called the church, when they have been brought near (Eph 2:12-13) while many of Israel stumbled and were scattered among the nations waiting for the time of God's regathering in the land. Note that the people of God in the end will inherit the earth, which means each remnant Christian nation retains its own land, just as Israel will inherit her promised land. The Christian or Messianic way is not to take the inheritance of a particular national believing remnant away from them. Since sovereignty over Jerusalem belongs to God who promised it to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God's final regathering of the Jews from all corners of the earth to their own land is a sign of the coming fulfillment of that promise. Christians will always be welcome in Israel in the Messianic Age, under Messianic Jewish sovereignty and many from all nations will be welcome to visit. The foreigner ("ger") living in Israel will have true peaceful intentions and equal status with the Jews, provided that he submits to the God of Israel! Similarly there will be Jews living in other nations and they will bring blessing to them (Gen 12:3; 22:18; 26:3-4). In the end the bride is the people of God (Body of Messiah) made perfect in unity (Eph.4:11-13) and without blemish (Eph 5:26-27) for the bridegroom, Messiah, who will rule the earth from Jerusalem. Whether you wish to call the bride "church" or "Israel" does not matter, the Bride is one, and all-inclusive (Isaiah 25:6-8; Rev. 19:7). When He comes, all partitions and denominations will disappear (1 John 3:2) and those who created them will be judged. (top)

  1. Who is Israel?

A. Identity is not merely individual. In his books Childhood and Society (1956) and Identity: Youth and Crisis (1958), Erik Erikson's eight stages of psychosocial development of personal identity reveal various social processes of identification (see here). Biblical witness deals with both personal and corporate identity, and corporate identity is foundational to notions of who is a Jew, who is Israel, who is the church, who are God's people. Here again the key word is not Israel or church, but the possessive "my" that often precedes, "my people Israel", "my church." God's children, also called the sanctified ones or saints ("kedoshim") are set apart and participate in faith in the Holy Spirit immersion (baptism) and spiritual regeneration of the soul. This is God's redemptive action in the new life of the risen Messiah. This process of personal renewal extends to the community as each member derives life from the fountainhead, Messiah. To the chosen people Israel ("Am segulah" Dt 7:6; 14:2; 32:9) are added the elect from all nations who accept the free gift of spiritual salvation in Messiah Yeshua (Is 56:6-8; Eph 3:6; Rom 9:22-24). As they enter into covenant with the Holy One of Israel, they are called God's people. They become joint heirs as equal covenant members with Israel of the gift of adoption, awaiting for the fruit of their adoption (Rom 8:22-23; Col 3:10-11). (top)

  1. What is the basis of inclusion in Israel?

A. As regards the basis of inclusion in the holy community, circumcision or uncircumcision is irrelevant. The search for descent from lost tribes, attachment through marriage or adoption of Jewish customs are futile. "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." (John 1:12-13). What counts is "a new creation" (Galatians 5:6), the circumcision of the heart (Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; Deut 30:6; Jer 4:4; Jer 9:26; Ezek 44:7-9; Acts 7:51). Religious privileges, ancestral roots or moral achievement are not conditions for inclusion in the sanctified community (Phil 3:7). The law as basis for our relationship to God does not draw on the creative and transformative power of God. But by the power of the Spirit and life of Messiah whom He sent as a worthy human covenantal partner for Himself, our Creator performs in us the second birth, the "spiritual birth," a sovereign act of transforming human motivations and conforming human will after the Messianic life pattern of Yeshua. The Father's command in the OT to "Be holy as I am holy" is reflected and fulfilled in His Son's commands in the NT: "If you love me, obey my commandments… Love one another as I have loved you." Living in spiritual freedom does not result in bondage to the flesh. We who are chosen are chosen for an ancient purpose (Eph 1:4; Eph 2:10; Titus 2:11-14). Israel is composed of Messianic Jews and non-Messianic Jews. In expelling Messianic Jews from the synagogue, the Jewish leaders of the 1st century cut themselves off from God's plan and purpose and began to rely more on Rabbinic Judaism, less on the Scriptures. But even in Isaiah 49:3 God speaks to His Servant Israel, it is obvious within the context that the Messiah who is about to be sent to redeem Jacob is Himself spoken of as Israel (Isaiah 49:5; Isaiah 48:16). So the identity of all the sons of Jacob are in the Messiah, also called Israel, the Suffering Servant. Without Him, not just our victories but also our sufferings are nothing; we are nothing. (top)

  1. Is a "cut off" Jew still a Jew?

A. Yes. There are numerous references to the consequences of disobedience for a Jew as being "cut off from his people." Acts 3:22-23 summarizes even a more serious Mosaic pronouncement from Deut 18:15,18-19: "For Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people." A Jew cut off by disobedience from Israel is driven into exile from the land, where he remains a Jew until he is grafted by faith in Messiah Yeshua. (top)

  1. Are Jews today "cut off" because they rejected Messiah? Can they be regrafted?

A. Yes, they are, as long as they deny Yeshua is the Messiah. The rejection of Messiah Yeshua by the Jewish leaders of the 1st century was followed by the destruction of the Temple and the second exile to the ends of the earth, the Great Diaspora. Being "cut off" as a nation has resulted in the scattering of unbelieving Israel in the wilderness of the nations, just as the goat Azazel was released in the wilderness during Yom Kippur. That is the direct result of denying that Yeshua's atonement for the sins of Israel fulfills Isaiah 49:5 and Isaiah 53. During this period between the appearance of the Suffering Messiah and the return of the Victorious Messiah, Israel has been made the tail and not the head according to the warnings of judgment in Deut 28:44, the contrary of the blessing in Deut 28:13 which awaits Israel's promised future restoration as a nation (Dt 30:1-6; Ps 69:35-36; Is 2:2-4; Is 11:11-12; Is 45:14-23; Is 49:22,26; Is 52:1-10; Is 59:20-21; Is 66:7-14; Jer 3:16-8; Jer 23:7-8; Jer 31:10;31-34; Ezk 36:24-30; Ezk 39:25-29; Zeph 3:19-20; Zec 1:17; Zec 8:7-8,13-23; Zec 10:6-12 Zec 12:2-14). But even under God's judgment, a Jew in disobedience and in exile remains a Jew. The Babylonian Talmud says, "Even if Israel sins, he is still Israel," (Sanhedrin 44a). Rabbi Meir Simcha Sokolovsky's in his book Prophecy and Providence (Jerusalem; New York: Feldheim, 1991) states his belief that the fulfillment of all the negative promises even into our time are a proof for God's existence. In other words, Israel even in its disobedience serves as a reminder for the nations that Israel's God is the God of history. Also in exile, the Jews remain a living witness not just of the identity of the God of Israel, but also of His ways with His people and of the truth of his Word. Paul explains the principle of exclusion this way to the Gentiles, "You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.' Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off." (Rom 11:19-22) Historically, in spite of the church's attempt to exclude all Jews from the Church, God supernaturally preserved them to fulfill his promises of disciplining them in exile before he regathers them back to Him and in the land of their forefathers (Jer 30:11; 46:28; Is 40:1-2; Is 48:10; 49:6; 51:14-23; 54:6-7; Jer 9:7; 29:14; 30:24; Dan 11:35; Ezk 37:12; Hosea 3:5; Micah 5:3; Zech 1:3; 10:9; 13:9; Zeph 3:20). Many times, Christians were forced to acknowledge this miracle of Jewish preservation in history. Destroying Jewish identity forever is the enemy's program, not God's. A Jewish person may despise his or her inheritance, or reject Jewishness as too great a burden. In doing so, they cut themselves off, but God reserves the right to restore them and their descendants to their Jewish identity for His divine purpose. Understanding the true nature of one's Jewish or Gentile identity and calling is not only desirable but also urgent. (top)

  1. Who are Crypto Jews?

A. Forced conversions in Spain, Portugal and their colonies in the days of the Inquisition have created the phenomenon of Crypto-Jews. As hundreds of thousands of Sephardic Jews (Jews of Iberian origins) were brutally separated from their ancestral faith, their identity cast into oblivion, they were forced to convert to Catholicism or to face the edict of forced expulsion and exile (1492). Many of them became "new Christians" in outer form, but secretly preserved Jewish customs and practices. These Catholic "conversos" and their descendants were called pejoratively "Marranos" (meaning pigs) and became special targets of the Inquisition. In Hebrew, these descendants are called "B'nei Anousim" meaning "Children of the forced ones" (see Anousim). The Society for Crypto-Judaic studies was formed in 1990 to foster research into the historical development of Crypto-Jews, and help them recover their Jewish roots and identities through genealogical studies, joining other efforts such as Kulanu). A bibliography on Crypto-Jews is available here. Many of them have come out openly from Latin American countries such as Brazil and Mexico, reclaiming their Jewish identities (See Marranos).

Crypto-Jews are people raised thinking they are Gentiles whose ancestors at one point were Jewish but then went into hiding. Their ancestors may have changed their name in order to hide their identity. They may never have told their descendants that they were Jewish. Some Christians even today know that they are Jewish but do not wish to face the consequences or do not think it matters and thus do not consider themselves to be Jewish anymore. Some are known to have returned to traditional Judaism. If they were raised Christians they may behave according to Paul's injunction in 1 Cor 17:20 and remain affiliated with their local church. But there are among them some who sense a calling to show the church its responsibility towards the Jewish people as well as a renewed messianic zeal towards Gentiles, Jews or both. Out of that calling was born Messianic Judaism, which is also a strong identity statement that the early Church was first 100% Messianic Jews. The first focus of Messianic Jews is not to steal Jewish Christians from existing churches but to restore the overall church or body of Messiah to its original blueprint through reconciliation, and unity based on the mutual recognition of the roles of Jews and Gentiles in the plan of God. Using another analogy, family harmony cannot be preserved by proclaiming equal status between male and female and ignoring their diverse and complementary roles in the plan of God. In this sense only can we understand properly Gal 3:29. (top)

  1. Can Messianic Gentiles (Christians) retain their Gentile identities?

A. Yes. The first Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 took up the identity question concerning Gentiles who embrace the Messiah of Israel. It was ruled that Gentiles remained Gentiles, i.e. retained their roots as Greeks, Romans, Phrygians, etc. and need not become Jews in order to be fully included in the Messianic church. It meant that being Jewish or Gentile does not alter the equal status of a person before God in regard to the question of sin and redemption in Messiah (translated in Greek "Christos"). The word "Christian" comes from Antioch where the many Greek-speaking Gentiles who joined the faith were called "Christianoi" which means "Messianics." (top)

  1. Is a Messianic Jew still a Jew?

A. The question is no longer, "Must a Gentile become a Jew?", but "Does a Jew become a Gentile when he believes Yeshua is His Messiah." The answer for centuries given by the Gentile church was "No. He must first renounce his Jewishness and everything Jewish." This Jewish Christian is then assimilated as a citizen of a nation that adopts him, without a country of his own, in a permanent Diaspora until Messiah returns. This is complicated by the fact that many Jews were adopted at first by many nations that wished to prosper through them, and then later expelled them, or made them targets of genocide after stealing all their possessions. This contradicts the gospel and the vision of Paul while making guilt the base of gentile Christians' hope for Jews' restoration in the Land as they looked forward to Christ's return. Traditional Jews today agree with the church that the baptized Jew has become a Christian and is no longer a Jew. But the Jewish conclusions as well are neither based on Scripture nor on tradition. Rashi in the 11th century in France, made a ruling that even an apostate Jew is still a Jew and must be legally recognized as a Jew. Today we see Jews for Judaism hold the ludicrous position that a Jew can become an idolater, a Buddhist, a Hindu, even a Satanist worshiper and still be recognized as a Jew, but a Jewish believer in Yeshua looses his Jewishness! To believe that a Jew may embrace any belief system whatsoever except that of the Christian faith and still remain a Jew defies all logical thinking. It is the absolute counterpart to anti-Semitism and must be called anti-Christianism. If anti-Semitism is to be condemned , why should anti-Christianism be tolerated? In the nation of Israel, the Second Amendment to the Law of Return (Aliyah) in 1970 states, "a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion" forfeits his rights as a Jew and is therefore no longer entitled to receive citizenship in Israel as a Jew. All this contradicts Jewish law, since according to rabbinic halakhah, a Jew remains a Jew even if he is converted to another faith.

The most thoroughly researched and best articulated essay concerning the Jewishness of Messianic Jews is Michael Brown's article "Who Is a Jew?" is here. Richard Harvey, a Messianic Jew, tackles the question of Jewish identity through an interdisciplinary approach to avoid solutions loaded with religious orthodoxy or another fixed agenda there. He begins, "The crucial question for today's world is not whether Jews will have Jewish grandchildren, but how many different sorts of mutually exclusive Judaisms will those grandchildren face?" He identifies and discusses seven historical Jewish identity stages (Covenant, settlement, Rabbinism, Diaspora, Emancipation, Postmodernity). The last stage postmodernity has caused the disintegration of traditional Jewish identities as the Jewish community exhibits an unresolved identity crisis. The current Jewish population trends are a slow decline of Diaspora Jewish communities, continued decrease in fertility rates except in Israel, increase in the numbers of the aging population, continuing outmarriage and assimilation. Traditional Judaism sees the Messianic Jewish movement as apostate and uses it to define negatively the boundary markers of what is a legitimate Jewish identity." He cites Carol Harris-Shapiro study (Messianic Judaism, Beacon Press, c1999) which claims, that Messianic Jews have to be "double supercessionists," showing that they are more Jewish than the Jews, and more Christians than the Christians as they balance these too often conflicting identities. His conclusion is that in the end what shapes Jewish identity is Jesus "not only the author and perfecter of our faith, but the author and perfecter of our identities."

The rise of Messianic Jewish congregations in our days is part of a God-initiated revival among Jews recovering their identity and calling within the Body of Messiah. It is part of God's promise to ready His bride for His return, unblemished by divisions but Spirit-powered in Messiah's vision of unity and mutual blessing among all His offspring. The identities of Messianic Jewish congregations cannot exclude Messiah's vision as we see in the example of the vision statement of Baruch HaShem, in Dallas by Rabbi Marty Waldman:

"Baruch HaShem Congregation is a Messiah-centered community, we endeavour to create a contextually Messianic Jewish atmosphere where Jewish believers can follow Yeshua as Jews, and Christians may reconnect with the Jewish roots of their faith. Together this reconciled community can witness to G-D's faithfulness toward the people of Israel and toward the nations."

Contrary to some popular opinion that such congregations foster elitism and division, the curriculum for Baruch HaShem's new members, whether Jewish or Gentile is the same and it reflects this vision of unity and reconciliation: Jewish Roots by Dan Juster, One New Man by Reuben Doron and Your People Are My People by Don Finto. In 2002, the UMJC Theology Committee provided a cogent presentation here of how Messianic Jews see themselves and define Messianic Judaism within the spectrum of Judaisms today,

"Messianic Judaism is a movement of Jewish congregations and congregation-like groupings committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition and renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant. Faith in Yeshua . unites Messianic Judaism and the Gentile Christian Church which is the assembly of the faithful from the nations who are joined to Israel through the Messiah. Together Messianic Judaism and the Gentile Church constitute the one Body of Messiah, a community of Jews and Gentiles who in their ongoing distinction and mutual blessing anticipate the shalom of the world to come.. For a Messianic grouping (1) to fulfill the covenantal responsibility incumbent upon all Jews, (2) to bear witness to Yeshua within the people of Israel, and (3) to serve as an authentic and effective representative of the Jewish people within the Body of Messiah, it must place a priority of integration with the wider Jewish world. Such integration must then be followed by a valid corporate relationship with the Gentile Christian Church."

His concluding statement contrasts two options for Messianic Jews face depending on their biblical calling, one to start a Messianic Jewish congregation, the other to adopt a Jewish Missions approach from within Gentile churches. His personal conclusion is this:

"It is far more compelling to the Jewish people we are called to serve, and more biblically consistent, to place ourselves within Israel standing for Messiah, than within the visible church standing for Jewish roots."

A clear definition of Messianic Judaism as a viable movement alongside Gentile churches within the Body of Messiah may seem to provoke disunity within the Body. But the intent is rather to provoke all parts of the Body to greater unity through mutual blessing and reconciliation. Reconciliation is needed due to the stumbling blocks caused by the impact of the past church history on the Jewish people, on their survival, restoration to the land, and on their calling and ministry to the nations. The restoration of Israel as a nation has gentile churches divided with some at risk of jumping on the bandwagon of the growing antisemitism in the world today. The inevitable polarization within the churches prophetically coincides with the predicted apostasy of the carnal church in the end days which leads to the nations gathering against Israel, even while the promised Bride readies herself in true unity. The ecumenism movement has failed so far to provide the spiritual platform to erase the many denominational partitions within the church in part because the seriousness of the original schism between the gentile church and its Messianic Jewish root has not been taken into consideration. It is important to be aware that the Bride made perfect in unity will be composed of elements bent on mutual blessing in the Spirit of Messiah. Reasonably, this means Gentile churches will love and pray for Israel to fulfill her divine calling and Messianic Jewish congregations will recognize the equal spiritual status of Messianic Gentiles and will seek to partner with Gentile churches on that basis. Every one is invited to assess on their own if the church or Messianic Jewish congregation they attend is truly founded and centered on Messiah Yeshua, Jesus Christ and His word.

Finally, Rabbi Mottell Baleston whose Messianic Jewish congregation is 70% Jewish was faced with a charge that his members had no right to call themselves Jewish and responded, "It wasn't the rabbis of our community who made us Jewish, it was the Lord God of Israel and our Jewish mothers, and I don't recommend arguing with either of them!" (top)

  1. Jewish Mother or Father or either one?

A. Many people have asked why traditional (Rabbinic) Judaism uses matrilineal descent to determine Jewish status, when in all other things (tribal affiliation, priestly status, royalty, etc.) we use patrilineal descent. There is no biblical law for either matrilineal or patrilineal descent in biblical history, and overwhelming evidence of preferential reckoning by patrilineal descent in all genealogies. Consider this: The descendants of the tribe of Judah were through his son Perez who was born of Tamar, a Canaanite woman. Since only the father is Jewish, is the whole line of Judah then non-Jewish? The Hebrew patriarchs discouraged intermarriage with unbelieving tribes around them. In attempting to create a fence around the Torah and Jewish identity when the tribes returned from Babylonian exile, Ezra & Nehemiah prohibited intermarriage with neighboring Gentile women. The concern was that foreign women would lead Israelites into idolatry according to Deut 7:3-5 where God says, "Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you." Rabbis reasoned from this that no concern is expressed about daughters being turned away, hence daughters were less likely to turn away and therefore Jewish identity transfers through the mother! But if God's primary concern was the slide to idolatry, then how can we explain the lack of concern when Jewish women participated in idolatry, such as the worship of the Queen of heaven which was rampant before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians? In Jer 44:19, they even excuse themselves by blaming their husbands who failed to stop them. So, it was not that Jewish women were less likely to turn away, but that they stood under male authority who assumed the burden of their sins before God and how they transferred to posterity. Is it not obvious then that the responsibility to teach the children belonged first to the fathers, as expressed in Deut 6:4-8 and Malachi 4:6 in New Testament times in Lk 1:17, Eph 6:4, Col. 3:21? For the man is head over his wife and will be held accountable for the curses his family incurred by his wife's sins. Blessings and curses are transferred to offspring across generations when a man sins, and though such blessings and curses also transfer through the woman, it can be nullified through the male under whose authority she lives, whether her father or her husband (Num 30,5,7; Job 1:5). it is evident that the biblical authority invested in male authority as reflected through patrilineal descent cannot be reversed. Messianic Jews consider offspring either a Jewish parent, whether the father or the mother are Jews. (top)

  1. Why are there different Jewish identities today?

A. Michael Brown writes "At certain periods of history - such as the Holocaust- the question of "Who is a Jew?" was literally a matter of life and death." As a result it has become even more crucial today for the Jew to cling to his Jewishness as in the phrase, "I was born a Jew, I will die a Jew." But Jewish identity and customs alone are not a sufficient basis or strong enough bond to unify a people that has lost the sense of its divine calling. Remember our definition of a Jew: A Jew glories in one thing, not his own identity but the identity of his God. A Jew cannot without God make sense of his own history or recover his identity while neglecting his calling. Hence, since the parting of the ways when Judaism divided into two sects, Messianic Judaism (known as Messianic Halakhah or "the Way" [of Messiah]) vs. Rabbinic Judaism, this question has become an impossible dilemma in non-Messianic Jewish and rabbinic and secular circles. A survey of all the options is well presented on the web here. Orthodox and Conservative Jews only recognize a child of a Jewish mother as Jewish, but for Reform Jews, the child of either a Jewish father or mother is Jewish as long as "he is raised Jewish." Then what does it mean to be raised Jewish? According to some branches of Judaism, Reform Jews are not really Jews, since they deny a number of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of faith. The Orthodox ruling in Aggudath Rabbonim issued in 1997 states, "The Conservative and Reform movements are outside of Torah and outside of Judaism," causing an uproar. It was argued that "this statement says nothing about Jewish status…which has nothing to do with what you believe; it's simply a matter of who your parents are" (Rich, Judaism 101). But that means a Jew can remain a Jew while being completely outside of Judaism. If so, what constitutes a change of religion?

According to Rabbi Morris Kertzer and Lawrence A. Hoffman, it is difficult to find a single definition of a Jew. For example, in the religious definition, a Jew who accepts the faith of Judaism is a Jew. In a spiritual definition, a Jew who seeks from Jewish wisdom answers to questions like, "Is there a God?" In a cultural definition, a Jew is one who adopts Jewish practice, folkways, teachings and literature. In an ethnic definition, a Jew or Gentile convert to Judaism who was raised with no ethnic identity is considered Jewish. Any racial definition of a Jew or Jewishness as a nation is considered invalid because, "there are no national ties that unite all Jews throughout the world." What is left but to face the reality of Jewishness as a choice, since even born-Jews now have to make the conscious decision that they will remain Jewish? So here is the offered cafeteria redefinition of a Jew:

"A Jew is therefore a member of a people, by birth or by conversion, who chooses to share a common cultural heritage, a religious perspective, and a spiritual horizon derived uniquely from Jewish experience and Jewish wisdom." (What is a Jew, Simon & Schuster, 1996, pp. 7-9).

This redefinition admits Jews share a historical sense of a common destiny, yet it also agrees that Jews are not free to believe what they want, for example that Jesus is the son of God. (top)

  1. What about the Law of Return in the Nation of Israel?

A. Conversion to Christianity at any stage more recent than a great-grand parent did not remove the stain of Jewish blood according to Hitler (see Brigg, Bryan Mark. Hitler's Jewish Soldiers : the untold racial laws and men of Jewish descent in the German military, University Press of Kansas, 2002). For this reason, David Ben-Gurion in the shadow of the Holocaust drafted the Law of Return of Jews to the recently revived nation of Israel. However it has since bogged down in controversy. It was decreed in 1970 that an "oleh" (immigrant) only need claim one grandparent to return as a Jew to Israel. One Jewish woman from Kurdistan was able to bring her extended family from Kurdistan of 170 practicing Moslems. As a result the Chief Rabbis are proposing a more restrictive definition of the law by deleting "grandparent" and replacing it with "parent." The move to compel non-Jewish spouses of Jews to prepare to convert to Judaism before they immigrate also reflects religious fears of increasing secularization in Israeli society. Secularist Jews insist that anyone who claims to be a Jew be recognized as such. But many groups of people from Third World nations are claiming ancient Israelite origins and straining Israel's Social Welfare budget. They are more at risk of asocial behavior, show a lack of Jewish identity, or national allegiance. Even the ecology sector is voicing requests to restrict immigration to protect Israel's natural resources and beauty. Ironically this mess brings to mind John the Immerser (the Baptist)'s emphatic warning on the banks of the Jordan, "And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham." (Matt 3:9). (top)

  1. Who are Gentiles and God-fearers in the Hebrew Scriptures?

A. The Hebrew word for "Gentiles" is "Goyim" which means "nations". Surprisingly, The first use in the Bible is when Abraham is promised that his descendants will form a great nation through whom all nations will be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3). Generally, the word refers to all nations. Historically, a Goy has come to refer to a member of the non-Jewish nations, i.e. a Gentile. However, God sees Israel also as a nation and calls her "goy kadosh" or holy nation, i.e. a separated nation for His purpose (Ex 19:6; Lev 20:26; Dt 26:19). Today Gentiles refer to non-Jews; the word Gentile comes from the Latin for "clan" or group of families. Christian translators of the Bible use this word to collectively designate the peoples and nations distinct from the Jewish people. Hebrew Bibles (Jewish Scriptures) however romanize the word goyim which means to them the same thing, but it is sometimes considered derogatory. Yet we must remember that when God singled out Israel in His plan for the redemption of mankind, he still considered them a part of the goyim, the sons of Noah through Shem to whom God made a covenant. This covenant contains a few stipulations, later derived from Genesis 9:3-7 as the Noachide laws (see ). Historically, observance of these allowed proselytes of the ancient world (Gentile God-fearers who desired to worship the God of Israel) to live in the land of Israel and to enter the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. These 7 laws are reduced to 4 in Messianic circles due to the binding decision of the First Jerusalem Council (see Acts 15, especially verses Acts+15+19-20;+Acts+15:28-29). It was understood that obedience to moral law - laws such as not murdering, not stealing, and not committing adultery, which God has written on everyone's heart, were also included (see Romans 2:14-15). Traditional Jews are obligated to this day to observe not just the 7 Noachide laws but the whole Mosaic Law and its 613 commandments. However, the number of laws one attempts to follow reveals nothing about the spiritual worth of that person. Gentiles who convert to Judaism are in danger of falling into legalistc religiosity as the Jews have. Even some Messianic Jews have interpreted Acts 15:21, "Ya'akov (James) said, 'For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath'" to mean that as these new believers matured, they should learn Torah at their own pace, and become more Torah observant. But this is not the case. James was just summarizing the decree for the Gentiles and saying that this is what Moses taught, and what the synagogues teach. Even today, non-Messianic synagogues teach the same thing - that Gentiles don't need to become Jews, or follow all 613 commandments, in order to be right with God.

What then is the relationship between Messiah, law and faith? Messiah Yeshua shows beautifully in the Sermon on the Mount, not only that the letter of the law stands eternally, but that God watches the heart to see if the spirit of the law is broken, hence spiritual application supercedes literal interpretation (Matt 5:17-20). This requires weightier attention on personal holiness and less attention on others' impurity. NT Messianic requirements of the law are actually more severe than the OT: calling someone a fool is equated with murder, lusting in the mind is the same as adultery and breaking one law is tantamount to breaking the whole law. Admitting utter sin and the inability of law to save triggers true repentance in the sinner who cannot save himself and turns to the Savior, Yeshua. The Messianic (or Christian) focus is the freedom from the power of sin (also called the law of sin) in the heart which is the fulfillment of the prophesied New Covenant where God would write His law in our hearts. Messiah in His sinlessness is the embodiment and perfecter of Torah (God's Law), abolishing in His atonement the divine judgments that were due to us. He did not abolish Torah, but men's unspiritual misinterpretations of it. He replaced it with His Messianic observance (John 14:15; 20-21; 23-24; 1 John 5:2-4). But even in Messianic observance we also fail if we rely on our own strength. So just as he perfected the law and brought it to its climax, so he also perfects our faith, sustaining it as we learn to abide in Him. If perfecting the law did not abolish God's law, neither does perfecting our faith abolish faith as a requirement: We must first trust in Him to sanctify us daily. Freedom from the "law of sin" at work in our flesh (Rom 7:4-23) is not the same as mere psychological attempts to forgive and exonerate oneself of the consequences of bad habits one cannot get rid of. Sin inevitably leads to death, its judgment. Hence, the first death which is the physical death is universal. But the second death which is of the spirit is not. Through Messiah's resurrection, the sting of the law which includes spiritual death is done away with, once and for all, and we inherit eternal life. (top)

  1. Is being a Gentile a secondary or lower status?

A. No, it is not. The problem of collective identities, Jewish or Gentile, is the same. All identities were once marred by sin. Guilt and shame exists both for Jews and every Gentile nation. Just as we personally fail to transform our lives spiritually without God's help, so nations without God fail to bring about one government without sin and corruption on the earth. The solution for Jews and Gentiles is the same. Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles (Christians) no longer feel shame and will share in God's glory finding their place at God's table (Matt 8:11). God's redeemed family, as Israel or as the church, was always called to welcome all tribes and nations, not only because Jews and Gentiles have a common ancestry in Adam, but because there is no higher spiritual status for one over the other before God. Even Israel's coming glorious redemption will be an unmerited work of God's mercy alone, for the sake of His Name, His identity. Messiah, The Ruler of all nations acknowledges the right of all people to conduct their lives in freedom of conscience, and accepts them as they are when they repent and partake of the divine gift of salvation. But they must also anticipate and welcome His rule in their hearts and in their conduct with one another: Idolatrous religiosity is no more tolerated than in the past, for He accepts only genuine "spiritual worship." Such spiritual worship must acknowledge that God alone creates order in His house. Jews are elders in the faith and thus have seniority of birth. That does not mean greater superiority, but more responsibility (Luke 12:48; 1 Cor 4:1-5). Jesus Christ who is the head of the house revealed this truth to the Samaritan woman, while in the same conversation affirming that "salvation is from the Jews." Was he boasting about Himself? No, he was just reminding her that Jews would play a significant role in planting the seeds and reaping a harvest from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth for His kingdom. This started with the Apostolic mission of the first Messianic Jews which laid the foundation of the Messianic (Christian) Church and it will finish with the 144,000 in the Tribulation as He later reveals to John in the Book of Revelation. This does not diminish the glorious role of Christians or Messianic Gentiles in the harvest during the intervening years among all nations. But He wants a church without partition where neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Gentile will be ashamed of being who they are in Him. Gender and ethnicity are not abolished but fulfilled in Messiah. He will remove the veil from the Jews (2 Cor 3:15) and from the nations (Isaiah 25:7) so they will no longer profane His Name among one another but rather proclaim the gospel that provokes to godly zeal. This can only be done by Gentiles loving Jews and Jews loving Gentiles. (top)

  1. Chosen for what? Does God show favoritism?

A. No. God does not show favoritism. Jews were not chosen to rule the world but to serve in God's kingdom. They were chosen to make the God of Israel known to all nations and bring His salvation to the ends of the earth. Since Jews received God's mandate first, so, they are judged first, as an example and warning to the Gentiles. From Genesis we see that God recognizes nations and addresses each man by His ancestral origins. He desired to select for Himself a righteous people from among all tribes and nations to carry His message of redemption to all. Many strangers like Jephunneh, the Kennizite who married a woman of Judah and fathered Caleb, or Ruth the Moabite widow who married Boaz of the tribe of Judah and became the great grandmother of King David, attached themselves to the God of Israel and were fully accepted alongside His people, the "apple of his eye" (Deuteronomy 32:10; Zechariah 2:8).

Note in the examples above that marriage with intent to worship the Holy one of Israel insured inclusion of the Gentile's descendants as part of the chosen seed of Abraham, even in the genealogical line of the Messiah, regardless of the gender of the Jewish parent. After Christ, the chosen seed remained chosen with the task of spreading the gospel of Messiah to the ends of the earth. The calling on Israel was then extended to all Gentiles who join the Body of Messiah, His Church. Yet Israel's calling remains even if unfaithful Israel in exile is the object of discipline rather than blessings from God. Presently, due to unbelief, Jews have rebelled against centuries of bearing the burden of being "the chosen people." They may beg God, like Tevier in Fiddler on the Roof, to "choose someone else for a while." They need to receive from God the promised gift of Jewish identity, preservation (Jer 31:10, 35-37) and deliverance in Messiah Yeshua who alone can make their yoke easy. The promise of blessings rather than curses began with Israel's restoration in the land and God's spirit outpouring on more Jews in this century than in all previous centuries. From this will issue a return to a true understanding of Jewish calling and identity. Pondering the question of "chosen for what," authors A. Katz and C. Cohen write here, "Can it be that the frustrating helplessness of a besieged Israel is the urgent wake-up call of God to an essentially God-rejecting nation?...However horrific the means, can our increasing predicament be understood as a mercy to save us from yet worse catastrophe?" (top)

  1. Has the church become Israel as the new chosen people?

A. Just as the choosing of Israel did not exclude Gentiles, so the choosing of Gentiles does not exclude Jews. Israel remains Israel though some in Israel have rebelled against their calling. Similarly all Gentiles are called but not all respond to God's calling. Those who respond to his calling also know they are chosen (John 15:16; 6:44; 12:32) and preserved in the faith by God alone. This is a humbling spiritual truth. So, the Jews are chosen because all people are chosen who receive Messiah, the King of the Jews. The church cannot aspire to replace Israel unless Gentiles either nullify all the privileges and judgments promised to Israel (Amos 3:2) or apply them exclusively to themselves -which they cannot do (Rom 2:9-11). The church is composed of a majority of Gentiles, but its roots and Messiah are Jewish. Messianic Jews are part of the church, as much as the church is part of Israel. Spiritual realities are not subject to physical size or number limitations. But not all people in Israel or in the church are the true Israel or the true church. Weeds were allowed to grow unhampered. Messiah's injunction was to leave them until the day of harvest when the weeds are then gathered and thrown into the fire (Matt 13:29). Hence we are not to judge the mean by the extremes whenever we speak of the bodies of church or Israel. Church means assembly. That prototype was marred when the legalism of pharisaic observances grieved or quenched the Messiah's Spirit and sense of Mosaic observance as in the questions of Shabbat (Matt 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-27; Luke 6:1-6) or fasting (Matt 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39). Using the analogy that new wine must be put into fresh wineskins, Messiah sought to restore the Holy community on new spiritual ground, unpopular as this was since people tend to prefer old wine (Luke 5:39). The wine is the Spirit of Messiah which is also revealed to Israel in the Old Testament so that continuity between Israel and the new Messianic Church is not totally broken (Matt 13:52). Messiah said "I will establish my church" and sent his apostles (the first Messianic Jews) to lay its foundations on this rock. This Rock would become the stumbling stone or rock of offense deliberately set in Zion by God to cause Israel to choose between believing or stumbling (Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16) and thus prove her godly zeal. The Risen Messiah is the Rock of Israel but here, he refers to Peter (whose Latin name means rock) as He gave the latter keys to the kingdom (Matt 16:19), knowing Peter would influence the 1st Jerusalem Council to accept Gentiles into the Messianic church as they were, without imposing Jewish conditions. The fact that Israel became a minority in the church testifies first to the great success of the apostles, and the labors of their spiritual offshoots, Gentile missionaries up to this day.

A great deal has been made concerning identity issues because it has been said that Judaism represents an ethnic particularist identity while Christianity represents a universalist one. This falsely shifts the accusation of prejudice permanently on the Jews, who then are at risk of becoming universal targets of a reverse form of prejudice, anti-Semitism. But was God's intent to create a uniform, conformist race, or a confederation of self-policing independent and rival nations? No, he delighted in creating unique and colorful personalities, both individual and ethnic and he desired a community united in Spirit, living in bonds of fruitful and loving interdependence with one another, respecting one another's differences, strengths and weaknesses. Throughout history, God chose insignificant men and women willing to stand and walk with Him in faith to accomplish his purposes of awakening and guiding all nations. Why does God often choose the weak to overcome the mighty, the foolish to overcome the wise? So we would learn to rely on divine rather than human wisdom and strength. Our strengths are gifts that must not be misused for ungodly purposes. Our weaknesses are opportunities to humble ourselves, to trust and accept help from Him and one another. If all we are and have is a gift of God, it can be shared without fear of spiritual loss. The best way to share love is to respect a person or a group's identity as the Lord desires, rather than steal it. Hence the calling of a Messianic Jew is to love Gentiles and the calling of a Gentile is to love Jews.

Many argue that "Jacob" refers to the natural seed of Israel while "Israel" refers to the Church (the "new Israel"). There are many prophecies concerning "Jacob" and "Israel" in the Scriptures, many of which refer to a people of faith. In any given passage careful attention must be given to the context of the word "Israel" to discern its meaning. For example, the one verse quoted as proof text that Israel refers specifically to the Church is where the apostle Paul refers to the Church as the "Israel of God." But since Paul was rebuking legalism in Galatians, this does not indicate that God had rejected all Jews but only those who rejected Christ whom He sent. The "Israel of God" more likely refers then to the believing remnant of Israel, i.e. the Messianic Jews. Verses in the OT such as in Jeremiah 30:3 make it obvious that God refers to the natural seed when he mentions Jacob, Judah and Israel. He speaks of provoking them to jealousy through another people (Deut 32:21; Micah 6:16), restoring His favor to them by calling them "my people" (), adding nations (believing remnants) to this definition of "my people" (Zech 2:11), qualifying this inclusiveness of nations with judgment of their treatment of Israel (Joel 3:2). But there is no reason to believe that God changed his definition in the NT when he speaks of renting "His vineyard", a metaphor for Israel, to other tenants (Matt 21:41; Mark 12:9; Luke 20:16). The other tenants are a new priesthood (Rom 15:16; Heb 3:1; Heb 5:5-10; Heb 7:11-8:1; Heb 10:21; 1 Pet 2:5-9; Rev 1:6; 1:10). The "Church equals Israel" doctrine exists in part because of prophecy regarding Israel. Since Israel will be the "central headquarters" of Christ's kingdom on earth at His return, the borders of a New Jerusalem will be extended to the ends of the earth to fulfill the prophecy in Rev 11:15 "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever." (top)

  1. Is it right to proselytize a Jew? If so, how?

A. Yes and no. No, because "proselytize" is the wrong word, for two reasons as we shall see. Yes, it is right to share the good news of the Jewish Messiah with the Jewish people. The new heart and spirit within us compels us to be a transformed community that impacts our world spiritually by bringing all people under the light of God through Messiah. Just as it was right in the first centuries for Jews to proselytize among Gentiles, so it is right to share the gospel with the Jews, but not to "convert" them. Here comes the first reason: A proselyte is commonly understood as a "convert." But in Messianic faith, no man converts anyone. That is God's job through the Holy Spirit that convicts our hearts. One may present the gospel, but not force it anyone's throat or use deceptive means or false promises. Adults are acceptable recipients (bar-mitzvah age and up), but not young children when their parents are not present. In sharing the gospel of Messiah, one must be led by the primary motive of love and be thoroughly anchored in the truths of the roots & principles of the Jewish faith. Knowledge of Hebrew helps of course, since these roots and principles are thoroughly Hebraic. So here is the second reason why "proselytize" does not apply for Jews specifically: The purpose is not to make them convert to a non-Jewish faith or another religion alien to them, because Jews are NOT required to exit Judaism and enter into a gentile religion to be saved. It is thoroughly Jewish to return to the God of Israel and accept His gift of salvation in Messiah Yeshua, whom He sent first to Israel for this purpose. A Messianic Jew is not a Christian convert, nor a member of a sect, but a truly completed Jew who recovers the full meaning of biblical Judaism in Messiah through the Spiritual birth (Ruach HaKodesh). To love Israel, to love the Jews, and to respect the Hebrew Scriptures are absolutely essential prerequisites for any one who would witness to a Jew. Add to that some knowledge and respect for the Jewish culture in order to approach them as they are, and the use of respectful and even apologetic language, taking into account the centuries of persecution they have experienced by the hand of those who claimed to be Christians. A humble attitude and gentle approach aims not to confront or provoke, but to guide them into wrestling directly with Adonai (God) and their own Scripture. Prayer for their welfare and the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

The Jewish people have struggled in their long history of wandering among the nations with turning away from God, and trying to be like other nations. As everyone else, they were not always able to resist the seduction of idolatrous syncretism or enslavement to legalistic forms of worship. Those lessons were even harder to learn when those nations were hypocritical and hostile to them. So, it will certainly not do to present to the Jew a Gentile Messiah, when Messiah himself is a Jew (Rom 15:8). Paul gave the example through the principle of accommodation when he said, "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law" (1Cor 9:19-21). Unfortunately this has often been misinterpreted as a devious means to play around with the law and nullify its moral function so that even as a tutor, it was of no consequence. In clarification, let's note that when Paul says "I am no longer under the law," he did not mean that the Torah of Moses was invalidated by Messianic faith, but that its perfection, embodiment, and fulfillment in Messiah Yeshua had freed him from the power of sin and death (Rom 7:12, 14-16, 22-25). Meanwhile the eternal spiritual law represented in Messiah Yeshua was alive and well, written in his disciple heart, enabling him to live a righteous sanctified life in Messiah as prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer 31:33; Rom 8:2-10). The burden of trying to fulfill the law by his own strength had been lifted since Messiah Yeshua's power was made manifest in him for the purpose of sanctification (Rom 8:28-29). Therefore as a Hebrews of Hebrews (2 Cor 11:22; Php 3:5), Paul considered himself as under Messiah's law, which is the perfect Torah lived in harmony with the Holy Spirit of God, i.e. not subject to the kind of human interpretation which imposes the letter of the law while disregarding the Spirit of the Law (2 Cor 3:2-6, Rom 7:6).

Since matters such as determining the dates of holiday observances or the manner of eating kashrut (kosher foods) are irrelevant to the issue of salvation, they can be considered matters of personal conscience that ought not be criticized (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Gen 20:6; 1 Tim 1:5,19; Acts 24:16). In discussing various issues such as food sacrificed for idols (1 Cor 8:1-12; 10:18-33), Paul saw accommodation as possible for gentiles (ex: Jerusalem Council decree in Acts 15:1-30) and for Jews when witnessing to gentiles (1Cor 8:9; 1Cor 10:31-32; Col 2:16-17), lest anyone misapprehend the true meaning of salvation and, as a consequence, corrupt the process of sanctification within him or herself. Gentiles compromise their witness to Jews when they disrespect the Torah or discount a great majority of the Prophets or other Hebrew Scriptures as if the Law of Moses, which was accommodated for them, was now abrogated for the Jews because of their disobedience. This is a gross misrepresentation of Yeshua's atonement work for his brethren (Matt 5:17-19; Matt 32:1-3; Matt 5:7-20; Luke 16:17,29-31; 23:34; John 5:45-47) and the testimony of the apostles (James 4:11; 1 Peter 2:24; Rom 6:11). Therefore evangelism among Jews must be carried out with the same spiritual integrity and sensitivity as evangelism among gentiles. Finally, love for the Jewish people, the apple of God's eye, demands they be approached with the gospel of Yeshua as commanded by Moses (Deut 18:15), by Yeshua (Mt 10:5-7; 15:24; 28:18-20; Acts. 1:8), and by the Jewish apostles (Rom 1:16). For more on whether other means of salvation are available to Jews, see Concordance VIII.F5. As Simeon proclaimed (Luke 2:28-35), there is only one Savior for both Jews and gentiles, and it is important the Jewish people do not miss him. (top)

  1. Does conversion change one's identity?

A. Conversion is taken to mean an inner change of heart before the Lord of heaven and earth, not a change of religion. Yes, there may be spiritual changes, but one's identity remains. When taken to mean a change of religion, it is self-deceiving to convert to Judaism only for the purpose of becoming a Jew or to Christianity because one rejects one's Jewishness. We should look to God rather than men to give us an identity. A Jew who supposedly converts to Christianity in essence always remains a Jew, albeit a Messianic one even when he attends a church rather than a messianic synagogue. A Gentile who converts to one of the forms of Judaism is regarded as a converted Gentile. However, if marriage is involved, the children or grandchildren of one Jewish parent (either one) are considered Jewish in Messianic Jewish circles. The urgency of survival of the Jewish people in the face of the double threats of assimilation and anti-Semitism cannot justify a system that 'preserves' Jews by converting Gentiles without questioning God's own ability to preserve his people forever and regather Israel in the end (Jer 31:35-37) In fact, His promise to Zion is striking in this regard (Isaiah 54:1-8). (top)

  1. I am confused, how do I know who I am?

A. Come as you are. If a Jew, then Jew. If Chinese, then Chinese. If African, then African, etc. Lay your burden at His feet. Let Him bear the yoke and make it easy. He accepts and redeems you as you are.Your significance is in Him because He knows you and loves you better than you do yourself. Do not be influenced by what others think you are or worldly fashioned identities which lead to idolatry. You do not need to change identities or convert to a religion. Let God show you who you really are. He will recreate the likeness of His son in you without taking anything from you that was not already good. He will refine you as one refines silver until you come out as gold. He has promised to do the same to the Jew, Israel and the church. If a Jew in his disobedience remains a Jew, if Israel in her disobedience remains Israel, if a church in its disobedience remains a church, the inevitable conclusion is that unfaithfulness do not disqualify a Jew from his Jewishness or Israel from her calling and identity in the plan of God, or a church from its call to disciple all nations, including the Jews. For God's gifts and his call are irrevocable (Rom 11:29). All Jews and all Gentiles are called. In the NT Messianic Gentiles became many "ingrafted branches" in the Jewish olive tree, one for each remnant of a tribe or nation. When a Jew fails to live to his calling or God-created identity, he is "cut off." But when he repents and returns to Him, he is part of those among Israel who though once disobedient, have repented and returned, part of the natural "re-grafted branch." (Rom 11:23-24). (top)

  1. Are there true and false identities?

A. Yes, such exist. The enemy, who is jealous, makes us jealous and eager to steal what belongs to God and one another, even our identities. In an age when identity theft reemerges as the modern version of financial enslavement, we feel defensive about our names, identities, rights and entitlements, as individuals and as nations. Many are those who have pretended or "stolen" Jewish or Christian identities in order to confuse the brethren and the Jews, and to corrupt the zeal of God's people. God chose prophets and later Paul (Shaul), to manifest His godly zeal (2Cor 11:2) and to expose ungodly jealousy, or zeal without knowledge (Rom 10:2). Later He also chose many righteous Gentiles (Hudson Taylor, Corrie Ten Boom, etc.) to expose ungodly jealousy in the Christian church. Both the Jews and Gentiles have been guilty of ungodly jealousy.

First the Jews:

  • When they envied the nations who prospered around them without the burden of Torah and modeled themselves after them, adopting their idols and corrupting themselves like them (See Concordance VI.B.1.a.)
  • When they created a partition in the temple for the Gentiles to come and pray and later filled it with vendors and marketers profiteering on the sale of sacrificial animals so Gentiles could no longer approach God easily.
  • When the corrupt priesthood and leaders set tradition and legalism above the Word of God, corrupting its spirit with the intents of the flesh.
  • When they failed to recognize the Son of David, Messiah Yeshua who came to save them.

Then the Gentiles:

  • When they envied God's favor upon the nation Israel, opposed her and Her God in every stage of her history, claiming to have replaced Israel and inherited all her divine promises, and plotting for its entire destruction.
  • When they stripped Jesus Christ and Jewish Messianic believers of their Jewish roots and identities, bought the lie of anti-Semitism as Christian, and created a partition in the church with the ministry of contempt for the Jews and the false doctrine of their eternal rejection and curse by God, so Jews could no longer approach God easily.
  • When the corrupt church leaders set tradition and legalism above the Word of God, corrupting its spirit with the intents of the flesh.
  • When they failed to recognize Jesus Christ, or corrupted His cult with pagan, idolatrous, even occultic rites and customs, profiteering on the sale of indulgences, statues, Santa Claus myths and Easter bunnies.

We are called to be "Jews" or "Christians" not in name only, lest we profane God's Name and bring shame upon ourselves. (top)

  1. How are Jews and Gentiles provoked by godly jealousy?

A. Through truth in love only. See how Paul provoked the Gentile Corinthians to jealousy (2Cor.11:2). Not all Jews and not all Gentiles were disobedient and prejudiced, misunderstanding the nature of the identity and divine call upon them. Many Jews loved and contributed to the welfare of the Gentiles, even dying to bring them the Good News. Many Gentiles loved and contributed to the welfare of the Jews, even dying to save them from persecution. The world is still polarized today into those who raise the partition and those who don't. If we would know the blessings that come from godly rather than ungodly jealousy (for the Jews, see Deut 28:13; for the Gentiles, see Rom 11:12-15), we must remember that God's King will rule and the true rulers are servants (He shows no favoritism). So the last will be first and the first will be last (Matt 20:16). "Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you" (Rom 11:30-31). We must acknowledge our past sins against one another in history, repent & ask forgiveness from God and one another, our task of reconciliation (2Cor 5:18-19). We must show mercy to one another. Just as God before Christ could exclude His people from His presence in the Temple (2Kings 23:26-27, Ezra 9:15), so after Christ He could remove a particular church's light as symbolized by the "menorah" (Rev 2:5). Present blessings and future rewards may be lost, but God remains sovereign in his calling. (top)

  1. Why is the Jewish identity question important today?

A. The enemy's plan to confuse the identity of the Jew is especially apparent today because God is not finished with the Jews and Israel. God plans to restore the Jewish people to their calling, identity and land. There He intends to make them the center stage of attention for the world to see as He brings His judgment to the nations: first to the Jews in the prophesied days of Jacob's trouble when all the nations gather against them, and then to the nations, because they gathered against His people Israel. Notice that Jacob was renamed Israel at Peniel after He struggled all night long with the Lord. We are seeing the beginning of the birth-pangs as present Israel enters the night of Jacob's trouble. There is judgment and discipline for Jacob (Isa 48:10; Jer 9:7; Dan 11:35; 12:10), but salvation is for Israel who will emerge victorious at the breaking of dawn. Just as Joseph extended salvation from death to his jealous brothers, while revealing his identity, so Messiah will come and deliver Israel, revealing his identity to her. "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good so many might be saved."

The question of who is a Jew is also important to eschatology and our theology of missions in the light of Messiah Yeshua's Great Commission to disciple ALL nations. This command was first given to the Jewish apostles and many from the Gentile remnant continued as missionaries. The calling of Israel as nation comes from God and cannot be revoked by man. Nor can it be abrogated or transferred in its entirety to some other entity. Moses was able to convince God of this after grave incidents of rebellion and unfaithfulness on the part of Israel. For the sake of His Name and His Word which never comes back void, God's irrevocable decree of election is based on his eternal foresight of each man and nation's future choices. Hence in spite of the fact that He can raise up a son of Abraham from a stone, that son of Abraham as a Jew remains called to bless the nations and if he is a spiritual son of Abraham, i.e. a gentile by blood, he is called to love the Jew first and then the nations. For the gospel cannot be imparted out of hatred or jealousy, but out of love, which indeed provokes to godly zeal. In these days, it seems crucial to review the fulfillment of the Great Commission as a joint partnership between the remnants of ALL nations with Jews and Gentiles reconciled as one in Messiah, while addressing the sensitive question of how the Gentile remnant can provoke Israel to godly jealousy, so revived Israel will recover her calling to be a light to the nations. More on this topic can be found at Restoring the Missionary Mandate and Gavriel Gefen's Restoring Mission from Israel to the Nations as a specific modern example.

The last reason why Jewish identity is so important is antisemitism's compulsion to vilify the identity of 'the Jew.' Consider this quote: "When Is A Jew A Jew? When Paul Newman died, they said how great he was but they failed to mention he considered himself Jewish (born half-Jewish). When the woman (Helen Suzman) who helped Nelson Mandela died, they said how great she was but they failed to mention she was Jewish. When Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Martha Stewart, Randy Cunningham, Gov. Edwards, Conrad Black, Senator Keating, Gov Ryan, and Gov Begoivich messed up, no one told me what religion or denomination they were -- because they were NOT Jewish. When Ivan Boesky or Andrew Fastow or Bernie Madoff committed fraud, almost every article mentioned they were Jewish!! This reminds me of a famous Einstein quote - In 1921, Albert Einstein presented a paper on his then-infant Theory of Relativity at The Sorbonne, the prestigious French university. 'If I am proved correct,' he said, 'the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong, the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew.'" (top)


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