The last day or two brought a flurry of comments, especially about the idea that I suggested regarding closing the door on those who stand in opposition to God’s ways. I am sure that in a one page Today’s Word I did not communicate perfectly what I had in mind. All to the good since as a result of my apparent cloudy communication a lot of people were energized to react and write. That means you thought about it. But just to make things clear from my side, let me articulate where I am and why I said what I did.
Since we are quite familiar with the Greek model of bullet points, I’ll use it.
1. After years of study, I came to the conclusion that many of the essential and critical doctrines that underlie Christian theology, all Christian theology – Catholic or Protestant – are in reality based on essentially Greek philosophical ideas, especially the Greek idea of perfection and person. This study is more or less encapsulated in my doctoral work, now published as God, Time and the Limits of Omniscience.
2. Since that time, I have realized (again with considerable study) that this Greek foundation of Christian thought is not an accident. I now am convinced that the early Church fathers. not to be confused with the apostles, were significantly influenced by two critical motivations: 1) to incorporate their Hellenistic philosophy into their new-found religion, now called Christianity; and 2) to separate the identity markers of this new religion from Judaism. To do this, the early fathers redefined a series of crucial cultural and religious markers, in particular, circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath, atonement and the unity of God. These redefined concepts were much more in line with the current cultural practices (e.g., the consumption of pork and the worship on the day of the sun god) and were philosophically the children of the Greek thinkers, not the Jewish prophets. At this point in my life, I am convinced that a careful examination of both the history and the philosophy of the early centuries following the crucifixion confirm without doubt this trend, a trend that is still the majority opinion of Christians today, but which has now come under serious examination by important scholars.
3. For me, this implies that the apostolic writings are not set in an ante-Nicene environment but rather in a thoroughly Jewish understanding of God and the world. In other words, the New Testament is Jewish, not Christian as Christianity is understood after the middle of the 2nd century. The concepts, language, practices and beliefs of the apostles are Jewish. The only difference between the expressions of the apostles and the expressions of the rabbinic sages is the assertion that Yeshua is the expected Jewish Messiah. Otherwise, the theology, practices, rituals and expectations for the community fit completely within one or more of the sects of Judaism in the first century.
4. This is acknowledged by scholars on both sides of the issue – that is, both Jews and Christians. The real separation between Jews and Christians today is the separation caused by the assertions of the Church on two critical issues – the Trinity and the place of the Mosaic Torah. Even those Jews who acknowledge that Yeshua is thoroughly Jewish in his teaching and practice are unable to recognize him as the Messiah because the Church has adopted a replacement theology and claims that the Torah has been abolished. No Jew, either in the first century or today, could have or will accept these claims, and rightly so since they deny everything about God’s revelation in the Tanakh. I am convinced that the apostles and the followers of the Messiah in the first century did not embrace these two Christian claims. I believe that both Scripture (the full Bible) and history bear this out. The first century followers of Yeshua, whether Jew or Gentile, understood his Messianic claim within the context of Judaism and they practiced obedience to the Mosaic Torah as a sign of their acceptance of this claim. Examination of the New Testament documents in the culture of the first century absolutely confirms this.
5. What this means is that Christianity was formed as a competitive religion sometime between 135AD and 325AD. The essential tenets of this new religion were anti-Jewish in their inception, and later became anti-Semitic in their practice. This was in line with some of the prevailing intellectual culture of the later Roman Empire. This formation was not based on Scriptural claims although Scriptural claims were used as proof-texts for the shift. It was rather the product of political, social and intellectual motivations which we can now identify from the historical records. In particular, the replacement of Sabbath, abolishing the dietary laws and substituting a single baptism as the sign of the “new” covenant for the “old” circumcision were attempts to remove affiliation with Judaism and to redefine the faith of the apostles.
6. I am convinced that the true practice of faith in the God of Israel and the Messiah Yeshua requires, for Christians, a complete overhaul of their assumptions about Torah, the relationship to the Jews and the faith of the apostles, and for Jews, an examination not of the teaching of the Church concerning Jesus and Paul but of the record of their teachings found in the New Testament, stripped of the subsequent layers of Christian theology. With this platform, I believe that faithfulness to Yeshua includes Torah obedience. It is not optional, although it is obviously adapted to the culture of the believer, that is, it must find expression where and when we live since we no longer live in Israel in the first century. Nevertheless, Torah obedience is the objective, not because it provides a means of salvation (which has never been the case) but because it is the way that God wants His people to live in this world as a sign of His sovereignty over their lives and a demarcation of their difference. This also implies that Judaism today is not the same as the Judaism practiced by the first century followers of Yeshua, and we can trace the development of contemporary Judaism from the historical record just as surely and easily as we can trace the development of contemporary Christianity. In other words, I am not trying to become “Jewish.”
7. Therefore, I reject the artificial and theologically-motivated separation of “Law” and “Grace.” I cannot find such a separation in Scripture nor in the practice of followers of the Messiah until after the introduction of Greek philosophical categories and anti-Judaism. This means that I hold myself responsible for Torah observance as best as I am able, and that I encourage and teach such as a true reflection of the apostolic, Messianic faith. While I understand that most Christians are ignorant of the conditions, both theologically and historically, that led them to conclude the “Law” does not apply to them, this is a grave error and needs to be addressed and illuminated, both historically and theologically.
8. Ultimately, the choice is about identification. One may identify with Messianic believers of the first century by adopting the markers that they embraced. These include the Sabbath, the dietary regulations, circumcision and the rest of Torah as it applies to the gender, location and opportunities of a person’s life. Or one may identify with the Christian markers, that is, Sunday worship, the absence (or selective endorsement) of Torah, a “spiritual” circumcision and a theology based in Greek thought. Or one can become Jewish, adopting the path of the Talmud and its commentators over the last 2000 years. But this choice is not the same as the choices made by followers of Yeshua in the first century and one should be brave enough to acknowledge so. We can be Messianic, Jewish or we can be Christian, but we cannot be consciously a combination of these options.
9. I believe that this identification issue separates the entire world into Christian, Jew or Messianic. My desire is to embrace the identification markers that were consistent with followers of Yeshua. These are biblical as opposed to theological. I continue to examine the Scriptures to be sure that I am in alignment with these – and only these. I only want to do what God has revealed, but in order to do that I must be knowledgeable of the other “religious” cultures so that my faith isn’t based on mistakes and assumptions.
10. And I am learning in spite of mistakes.