Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Unpacking Luther’s Baggage, chapter 2, page 4

Happy New Year! (Shanah Tovah) as we head into the 10 days of Awe......
Here is my summary of FFOZ's article "One Law" and the Messianic Gentile. In all of my reading on this subject over the last 15 years, this is the most helpful and illuminating explanation that I've ever read. Great job FFOZ! (Please leave a comment if this post helped you understand this better).

In my last post I mentioned that I had attended a FFOZ “Jars of Clay” seminar in Toledo, Ohio in 1997 where I first got to hear Boaz Michael and Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz. In this article, Boaz and Daniel Lancaster are visiting with Dwight Pryor in Dayton, Ohio. Here is a little about Dwight (quoting from Dwight’s website (www.jcstudies.com): 
“Dwight A. Pryor is the Founder and President of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies in Dayton, Ohio. He is also a founding board member of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research in Israel. While studying in Israel, he came to realize the critical importance of understanding Christianity's Hebraic origins and dimensions. Since 1984, he has traveled the world as one of the most widely acclaimed teachers on the subject.”
Here is a quote from Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Michigan (where Rita and I attend Torah Club), on Dwight:
“Dwight swims in the deep end of the pool. I could talk eloquently about his teachings and go on and on about how they have affected me deeply and subsequently our church, but the truth is that God simply speaks through Dwight.”
Boaz and Daniel spoke at a class that Dwight’s organization was offering and spoke with him afterwards. Dwight asked them this question: “Do you believe it is a sin for a Gentile believer to violate a commandment of Torah?” Boaz and Daniel said “yes”. They offered as proof texts 1 John 3:4 and Numbers 15:15-16 which essentially say that there is to be one law for the Israelite and “stranger” both. To this Dwight replied, “What you have done is something that the apostles never did.”...”the apostles never did settle on a theology of Torah  concerning the Gentiles...I would be very cautious about advancing a theology that the apostles did not raise.”

This remark and realization set FFOZ on a soul searching quest that eventually moderated their belief from the dogmatic “one Law” theology to their present position, which is more in line with their original position (which I believe was evident at the Jars of Clay seminar). 

To be fair to them, the Bible does not make this easy: there are many more Bible verses that are pro Torah than not. It is also true that a Gentile disciple that is looking for direction within the Messianic movement (not to mention the churches!) will find a host of opinions. Here is a quote from their article:

“When we first began to teach Torah, we were swept away with the realization that the Torah had not been cancelled by the gospel, that Messiah did not end the Torah, and that God’s covenant with His people Israel is ongoing. It was right there in the Gospel of Matthew, staring us in the face: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17).

They called their approach “Divine Permission”. “We suggested that perhaps Jewish and Gentile believers should consider implementing the Torah into their lives on some level. We encouraged believers in Messiah to ‘take hold’ of the commandments.” Note: Ariel and D’vorah later published a book called “Take Hold” as a follow-up to their first book “Torah Rediscovered”. They cited these verses as well: Zechariah 8:23, Matthew 5:19. But they stopped short of saying that believers “had to” keep the commandments. “we only suggested that it might be a good idea. How could it be wrong to obey the Bible?” Didn’t the Bible say that the “Ten Commandments” (not “Ten Suggestions”) were to be kept through all generations? They struggled with reconciling this divine mandate with the Apostle’s reluctance to apply the Torah to Gentiles in a clear manner, until they found the keys to understanding this dilemma:

Circumcision was understood as the primary sign of conversion to Judaism. Any proselyte who went through circumcision was the beneficiary of God’s blessing; but they were also liable to the judgements and punishments (and this could include death). This is [perhaps} what Paul had in mind when he said in Galatians 5:3: 
“And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.”
In the “One Law” passage (Numbers 15:15-16), the word “ger” appears 3 times “... for you and the alien... so shall the alien... there is to be one Torah and one ordinance for you and for the alien...” “When this was first written, the word “ger” meant a Gentile non-Jew; but by the time of the apostles, it had changed its meaning to that of a proselyte who had gone through the full, legal conversion to become Jewish.” Moreover and more telling, the Greek Septuagint, which was the accepted standard of the first century apostolic community, translates the word as proselyte as well.

Acts 15

“The very existence of Acts 15 insists that the apostles recognized a legal differentiation between Jewish and Gentile believers. Note also that there is no discussion in Acts 15 about whether Jewish believers are obligated to keep the Torah. That much is simply assumed... In Acts 15 the apostles sided with the Pauline camp by exempting the Gentiles from the obligation of circumcision.” Peter’s comment about “placing a ‘yoke’ on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” has posed problems to those who have advocated following the Torah. But the term “yoke” is a common Jewish idiom for one’s obligation to the “whole Torah.” 

The four essentials that were mentioned are from the Torah: “abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication.”

“Neither Jew nor proselyte, the Gentile believer was left with an ambiguous and tenuous status among the people of God that can best be described as that of a God-fearer: a monotheist non-Jew worshipping in a Jewish context.”

“Their participation in the Jewish community indicates that they were already engaged in Torah life to some level and could be expected to continue to mature...It seems that they (apostles) intended for the Gentiles to learn the Scriptures in the synagogue, and they naturally anticipated that learning would be followed by doing... but Beyond these essentials, they left the questions of further Gentile obligation to the specifically Jewish aspects of the Torah unanswered.”  “They were silent regarding any specific plan for Gentile believers to eventually become Torah-observant.”

Acts 21

In this famous passage Paul travels to Jerusalem and is met by James with these words:“You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Torah;” FFOZ notes that “as long as Paul himself was keeping Torah; they were unconcerned about what he might have been telling Gentiles about their obligations to Torah.” 

“In this context, it appears that Paul wanted Gentile believers to keep the commandments of God, but he did not want them to take on the legal status of Jews. That is why he continually deflected the Gentile believers away from circumcision (because circumcision implied full liability for punishment under a Jewish court. He said: ‘Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters if the keeping of the commandments of God” 1 Corinthians 7:19

His solution is to promote a broad, ethical monotheism that points the Gentile believers towards Judaism and the Torah without forcing the Gentile believers to take on all of the distinctive obligations of Jewish identity...Even if they were not responsible for for all the details of Torah law, they were still worshipping within the parameters of Judaism and the Torah.”

“The difficulty we experience with Paul occurs when we try to transfer his writings to our own situation. Paul wrote to God-fearing Gentiles participating in a Jewish venue, but today his letters are read and interpreted by Gentiles in a Gentile venue. Outside of their Jewish community context, Paul’s arguments sound like he is arguing against Torah. Instead, he was arguing against requiring a Gentile to adopt a Jewish identity...Although there is truly only one Torah for all of God’s people, it does not apply to all of God’s people in an identical manner.”

The article then goes on to discuss some other interpretations, such as those who believe the four essentials are variations of the so-called Noachide laws, which I (and FFOZ) believe is a specious argument and I am not going to relay that. They do get into a good supporting topic though, which is that the first century work called the Didache, which is an exposition on the “Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles” recommends to Gentile believers “If you are able to bear all the yoke of the Lord (i.e., Torah), you will be perfect, but if you are not able, do as much as you are able to do.”

From this vantage point, FFOZ addresses the question of why a Gentile believer would follow the Torah. “There is life and reward in God’s commandments. The more we apply the commandments, the more life we experience. The more a Gentile believer aligns his life with Torah, the more relevant the Scriptures become for him. Obedience to Torah offers blessing.”

FFOZ then elaborates on this idea with six points (and I’ll add a seventh) as to why one would observe the Torah:
1. Love for God
2. Discipleship to Yeshua
3. Kingdom Expression
4. Return to Apostolic-Era Practice
5. Solidarity with Greater Israel
6. Blessing and Reward
and my 7th, which I’ll discuss in another chapter:
7. Better Health through God’s Wisdom

Each of these points is given several paragraphs, but I will move onto the summary (in this summary).

“As regards the moral and ethical authority of the Torah, Gentile believers are under the same obligation as Jewish believers... As regards the Jewish distinctives of Torah, Gentile believers are granted an opportunity to participate.


“First Fruits of Zion has been on a long journey of theological development since we first ‘rediscovered’ the Torah in the early 1990’s...The Bible is unchanging because it is infallible, but we are not. Our desire is to be as biblically sound as possible, regardless of the cost... We regret allowing our zeal for Torah to get ahead of our scholarship, and we look forward to the fruit of a more balanced presentation of our message in the future... The Father’s hand has been more evident to us as he has fine tuned the ministry’s mission. After wrestling through all of these issues, we feel that our message of Torah for Israel and for all nations is clearer, sharper, and stronger than ever. We are already seeing the positive impact. The refined message is better received; God’s Spirit is in it and people are excited. It has given us a fresh enthusiasm and joy in sharing the timeless and unchanging truth of Torah. We are blessed to see how the Father continues to move in the restoration of His people, and grateful if he grants us even some small part in that restoration.”

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