A Hebrew Faith
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 14 February 2006; Revised 25 March 2015
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish character of the entire Bible and its central figure I use the terms Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament).
"Beloved, while I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I was constrained to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the holy ones.” Jude 1:3 HNV
The Original Faith
From the beginning of the world there were noted men of God, such as Abel (Genesis 4:4), Enoch (Genesis 5:22), Noah (Genesis 6:9) and Job (Job 1:1), who led exemplary lives and spoke for God, but one man is distinguished in Scripture as the father of the people of God and that man was a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13). The English word “Hebrew” translates Ibri, which is derived from Eber, the name of one of Shem’s sons (Genesis 10:21:11:14, 16). Abraham is identified as a descendant of Shem, of Eber’s line (Genesis 11:26); thus, Abraham is designated as the one who would perpetuate the worship of the one true God and bring spiritual blessing to all mankind (cf. Genesis 9:26-27). While Ibri may have been used by non-Israelites to refer to “one from beyond” or “from beyond the Euphrates,” Ibri became the name by which the covenant people would be distinguished from the Egyptians and Philistines (Gen 39–Ex 10; 1 Sam 4-29) (TWOT 2:643).
All Jews trace their ancestry to Abraham as father of the Hebrew nation (Isaiah 51:1-2; John 8:53; Acts 3:25; 7:2). Originally the Hebrew word Y’hudi, which means a God-praiser (Stern 337), referred to an inhabitant of Judah, i.e., a Judean, (cf. 2 Kings 16:6; 25:25), but during the Babylonian exile it became a synonym for all descendants of Jacob regardless of tribal origin (Cf. Ezra 4:12, 23; Nehemiah 4:1f; Esther 4:3, 7; Jeremiah 34:9). Jews claim as their own the land God gave Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as an everlasting possession for their posterity (Genesis 12:7; 15:18; 17:8; Exodus 32:13), and indeed it was known from the time of Jacob as the Land of the Hebrews (Genesis 40:15).
Peter in his Pentecost sermon and Paul in his Roman treatise asserted that all of God’s promises of blessing and life have their origin in Abraham (Acts 3:25; Romans 4:1-12). God promised as much to Abraham – “I will make you a great nation…and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). Early Gentile believers in Messiah Yeshua were not surprised to hear that their origin and hope for the future likewise resided in Abraham, as Paul says, “If you belong to Messiah, you are seed of Avraham and heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29 CJB). The “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) did not begin a new faith or religion, but proclaimed the faith of which Abraham was the chief model. The faith Yeshua and the apostles handed down to all the saints was a Hebrew faith grounded in the life and example of the first Hebrew – Abraham. See my web article The Story of Abraham.
A Different Faith
After the passing of the Jewish apostles and their disciples a different faith, a new religion, began to take shape. Throughout history various groups or factions developed within the Christianity to emphasize some spiritual goal or doctrine. Within the Catholic Church Loyola and Francis of Assisi became leading lights. Protestant denominations likewise point to leaders of the past, such as John Calvin, Martin Luther and John Wesley, as founders of particular theologies that modern churches still embrace. Yet, Christians would unanimously consider Yeshua as the “author” of their brand of the faith. But, the question is whether Yeshua would recognize this factional faith. Yeshua made a provocative comment, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith [lit. “the faith”] on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) In other words, when the Jewish Messiah returns, will he find the faith he entrusted to his Jewish disciples or some other faith?
The Church has changed considerably in theology and terminology since the time of the first century. One wonders whether the apostles would recognize the faith they passed on to that first generation of disciples. The present state of affairs resulted from two major trends in Church theological development. The first trend was the dilution and amalgamation of apostolic teaching with Greek thought forms, philosophy and culture, also called Hellenism, as well as paganism. Some Gentile scholars actually attempt to attribute the origin of the Hellenistic development in the Church to the apostle Paul, but the new religion that Emperor Constantine approved was a religion alien to the apostles.
However, it was the Gentile church fathers, raised and educated in Hellenism, who transformed biblical concepts of sin and salvation, faith and spirituality, marriage and family, as well as church hierarchy, congregational organization, ministry, and worship, to such a degree as to bear little resemblance to the teaching and practice of the apostles and the original Messianic Jewish congregations. Church leaders began to change scriptural concepts and terminology to eliminate any taint of Jewishness. Passover was replaced with the Eucharist, and other feasts that God had established to be observed forever were set aside for new feasts with striking similarity to pagan practices.
Greek names replaced the Hebrew names of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The New Testament bears evidence of some of its books being originally written in Hebrew, and the rest in what may be called Jewish Greek. (See my web article The Jewish New Testament.) However, the church fathers only knew the Greek translations and the Hebrew context and nuances of language were ignored or misunderstood. Even more drastic changes occurred. Armies of devoted celibate men and women, servants of the Church and “brides of Christ," would become the Church’s new evangelists and missionaries to propagate the New Faith. Eventually Miriam, the humble servant of the Lord and Yeshua’s mother, would become the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, born of an Immaculate Conception and co-savior of the Church.
A second major trend was the development of Replacement Theology, also called Supersessionism. The church fathers assumed that since Israel rejected God's Messiah then God rejected Israel and revoked all covenantal promises relative to the nation of Israel and transferred all benefits and rights to the Christian Church. The [Gentile] Church became to the church fathers the Kingdom of God on earth. This viewpoint was particularly articulated in Augustine’s monumental treatise City of God in the fourth century. Replacement theology seemed to be validated by the fact that Jerusalem had been destroyed in A.D. 70, the nation of Israel ceased to exist as a political state in the early part of the second century and the Christian Church was acknowledged as the state-sanctioned religion in the fourth century.
Replacement Theology also redefined the nature of being a follower of the Messiah, or Christ. The church fathers ripped the name “Christian” from its original context for self-identification as part of the Church’s efforts to totally separate itself from Judaism and expunge the Jewish roots of the Christian faith (e.g., Ignatius, The Epistle to the Magnesians, Chap. X.). “Christian” meant someone who had been baptized into the Church according to the Church’s ritual and who submitted to the Church’s authority. Jews who trusted in Yeshua as Messiah and Savior still called themselves “Nazarene Christians” as in the apostolic era (Acts 24:2), but because they practiced circumcision the Catholic Church refused to consider them part of the Body of Christ (Augustine, Anti-Donatist Writings, Book VII.1). Indeed, the Vatican has never recognized any non-Catholic as being fully Christian.
The Council of Nicea I (A.D. 325) and II (787), institutionalized Replacement Theology with monumental institutional changes. Daniel Gruber has identified seven major changes that signaled a break with the apostolic faith.
1. The rejection of the literal meaning of Scripture in its context.
2. The subjugation of Scripture to the authority of a Church hierarchy.
3. The determination that Church doctrine and practice would be in opposition to the Jews.
4. The establishment of compulsory conformity in practice.
5. The acceptance of the State and the sword as the means of maintaining purity in the Church. (The cross was transformed from a means of victory over sin for the individual to a means of victory over sinners for the society.)
6. The acceptance of the sword of the State instead of the Sword of the Spirit, the blood of the Lamb and the blood of the believers as the means of triumph in the world.
7. The acceptance of State support of the Church in exchange for Church support of the State. (The Church surrendered its own prophetic message toward the State.)
The dark side of Supersessionism was the blaming of all Jews for the death of Yeshua (so-called deicide), which provided the basis for persecution of Jews. Any Jew who wished to identify with Yeshua as his Savior has been expected to renounce all religious observances and distinctive Jewish customs associated with Judaism. As early as the 7th century A.D. any Jew converting to Christianity had to sign a lengthy written renunciation of Judaism. (See Professions of Faith Extracted from Jews on Baptism.)
Replacement Theology provided the justification for prejudice and malice against Jews and eventually led to centuries of harsh treatment, including persecution, discrimination, denial of civil rights, expulsions, blood libels, desecration of the host libels, pogroms, crusades, inquisitions and even mass murder. Replacement theology has defined the Roman Catholic Church for two thousand years. The Protestant Reformation left the unbiblical doctrine unchanged. Indeed, Martin Luther’s own prejudices would later come to haunt Germany in the Holocaust. Unfortunately Replacement Theology is still alive and pervasive in Protestant Christianity and Evangelicalism.
More Theological Controversy
It was not until 1965 at the Second Vatican Council in Rome that the Roman Catholic Church took formal steps, in its document Nostra Aetate, to officially repudiate deicide and all forms of antisemitism. The irony is that in a time of sensitivity for wrongs committed against ethnic minorities in Africa and America, the Church has yet to apologize and ask forgiveness for the egregious offenses committed against Jews.
In recent years some Catholic and mainline Protestant leaders have modified Replacement Theology with Two-Covenant Theology by affirming that Jews are in an eternal covenant with God. While the new doctrine may sound good this position also denies the most important promise of salvation through Yeshua the Messiah. In 2002 a group of Catholic Bishops published a document called "Reflections on Covenant and Mission," in which they declared, "campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church." A Protestant ecumenical group called The Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, whose members include Lutherans, Methodist and Episcopalians, issued a similar statement echoing Two-Covenant Theology titled “A Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People.” And, while acknowledging Israel’s right to exist, the new theology denies God’s New Covenant promises to Israel, which are in fact contained in the Old Covenant.
After a firestorm of controversy over the release of the "Reflections" document, U.S. Catholic leaders later clarified its official position in 2009 by saying "this line of reasoning could lead some to conclude mistakenly that Jews have an obligation not to become Christian and that the Church has a corresponding obligation not to baptize Jews." The Church's position is clearly found in the universal permission given to priests by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 to celebrate the "Tridentine" (Latin) liturgy, which restored a Good Friday prayer for the Jews. This prayer has gone through a number of revisions with the latest form (2008) as follows:
"Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men. (Let us pray. Kneel. Rise.) Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen."
What should be noted about the Catholic Church's position is that conversion to Christ means conversion into the Church. Messianic Judaism is not really a recognized paradigm and the Messianic Jewish movement is largely ignored in modern Christendom. While many within Evangelicalism have endeavored to foster good relations with Jews and promote evangelism among Jews, Replacement Theology has not been rooted out. Many church leaders, scholars and ministers have either neglected or were never taught the Jewish roots of the faith or the Hebraic nature of the New Testament and have perpetuated this ignorance among the laity. Most Christians think that the apostles abandoned their Jewish roots and customs when they converted to Christianity. To Evangelicals the Law given to Moses is Jewish and grace is Christian. So, it’s not surprising that Christians think an evidence of conversion for a Jew would be to eat a ham sandwich. Christians generally shun the biblical religious calendar (see God’s Appointed Times), and instead follow the Catholic religious calendar for its major celebrations.
Return to Our Hebraic Faith
Since the early 1990s an increasing number of Christian scholars have been rediscovering the Jewishness of Yeshua. Influential in what has been called the Third Quest was Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham (1989), Robert Lindsay, Jesus Rabbi & Lord: the Hebrew Story of Jesus Behind Our Gospels (1990), David Stern, Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel (1990) and David Biven & Roy Blizzard, Jr. Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus (1994). These Christian scholars began to reread the Gospels through the eyes of a Jew: Yeshua. While ignored by mainstream Christianity the phenomenon has ironically caught the attention of the world and in a March 2008 Time Magazine article, Ten Ideas That Are Changing the World, the "Re-Judaizing of Jesus" was listed as number ten.
Given the changes Gentile Christianity made to the original faith of the apostles, what should Christians do about it? As I have wrestled with this subject I have come to some definite conclusions and offer below some suggestions on what returning to a biblical faith, a Hebrew faith, would mean.
1. Jewish Roots of the Faith
Take time to learn about the Hebrew background of the New Testament. After all, “the New Testament is a Jewish book, written by Jews, largely about Jews, and meant for both Jews and Gentiles” (Stern xi). The Jewishness of the apostolic writings is certainly evident in the cultural setting of the historical events and characters, but the Hebrew identity is especially present in both the language of the Scripture text and the commonality of the content with the Hebrew Scriptures. Moreover, Yeshua in the flesh was and is a Jew and would have naturally spoken to His disciples in their native language, traditions and Scriptures.
2. Good News of the Kingdom
Restore the proclamation of the kingdom to its rightful place in preaching. However, Yeshua came preaching “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2) and he promised that the good news of the kingdom would be preached to the whole world before He returned (Matt 24:14). The Messiah’s kingdom is not associated with a particular church or denomination. God’s kingdom is the rule of God through his Messiah, the King of the Jews. Wherever God is ruling, that is where His kingdom is (Juster 21). My identity is first and foremost as a citizen of Messiah’s kingdom, not by my membership in a particular church.
3. Salvation Theology
Accept the apostolic definition of salvation. The good news of the kingdom is for the Jew first and then to the Gentile (Rom 1:16). Gentiles only receive salvation by being granted citizenship in the commonwealth of Israel, the faithful remnant of Abraham (Rom 11:17, 24; Eph 2:11-13) and grafted into the root of Israel (Rom 11:17). There simply is no people of God and no salvation for anyone apart from Israel (Rom 11:26). No Gentile church organization, regardless of where headquartered, can claim sole ownership of the title "The True Israel."
Submit to the authority and pronouncements of the Jewish apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20; 2 Pet 2:3:2). Recognize the laws, commandments and statutes given to Moses (the Torah) as authoritative, as modified by the New Covenant, to guide personal beliefs, decision-making and practices.
5. Religious Calendar
Give attention to the feasts and holy days, including the Sabbath, which God instituted in the Torah. These celebrations were intended to be observed in perpetuity (forever) and under the New Covenant disciples have freedom in the manner of observance (Col 2:16). Easter, Christmas, and other familiar Christian observances have value if they are observed within a biblical framework minus pagan distractions, such as the Easter bunny and Santa Claus. However, there is no biblical basis for eliminating the calendar God has provided. God intended the biblical calendar events to function as celebrations of His grace. Since these festivals will be celebrated in the millennial kingdom (Lev 23:4; Isa 66:22-23; Ezek 46:1-11; Zeph 3:18; Zech 14:16; Matt 26:29), then Christians ought to become familiar with them. (See my web article Remember the Sabbath.)
6. Messianic Jews
Pursue positive relationships with Jews and honor Jews by valuing their traditions and stand against all prejudice against Jews. Honor Paul's dictum to give no offense to Jews (1 Cor 10:32). Worship with Messianic Jews as opportunity affords. Messianic Jews should be respected for their identification with their Messiah Yeshua and not expected to surrender their Jewishness to be acceptable to Christians. Be sensitive to the fact that believing Jews prefer to be known as Messianic Jews rather than "Christians" or "Jewish Christians." For too many centuries the "Christians" hated and persecuted Jews. Jews who accepted Yeshua as Savior were expected to give up all Jewish customs. How can they now call themselves by this name, especially when Christianity fails to acknowledge the Jewish background of the name? (See my web article What is a Christian?)
7. Ministry and Missions
Participate in and support evangelism and compassionate care of Jews around the world, either directly or by supporting Messianic Jewish organizations and congregations. The Jews brought the good news to the Gentiles and now it is the responsibility of the Gentiles to return the favor. Most of the Jews in Israel, many of whom grew up in Communist countries, are secular and atheistic. The readiness of Israel to meet their Redeemer requires the active involvement of Christians in prayer, charitable works and sharing the message of the Messiah. (See my web page Messianic Judaism for relevant articles and resources.)
8. Support for Israel
Support Israel’s right to ownership of the Holy Land and pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). God promised the nation of Israel ownership of the Land of Israel in perpetuity (erroneously called "Palestine"), including the territories of Judea and Samaria. God’s promises are inviolate and unaffected by how the Jews responded to Yeshua in the first century or today (Rom 11:2). When Yeshua returns his first stop will be Jerusalem, not Rome or any other city. See my web article I Am a Biblical Zionist.
Copyright © 2006-2015 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.