Introduction: People often wonder if there is any difference between Jewish believers in Jesus and Gentile Christians. This blog explores how we are similar and how we are unique.
I’ve been a believer in Jesus the Messiah for over 30 years. I’ve been a member in a handful of churches and 2 Messianic congregations in that time and have come to understand from Scripture, that while Jewish believers and Gentile Christians form “one new man” (Eph 2:17), we as Jews understand our faith within that Jewish context.
It seems to me that Gentile Christians largely look at the Old Testament from the perspective of the New. They look backward, so to speak. Jewish believers tend to look at the New Testament as the culmination of the Old — so look forward. It is not unexpected that we would do so, as many of us came to faith on the basis of what it said in the Old Testament. What other frame of reference was there, if not the Old?
Many of our journeys of faith are not that different than the Jews of the early church. We came to recognized the Messiah based on what it said in the Tenakh (what Christians call the Old Testament). If we didn’t grow up with Torah teaching and Hebrew School, we grew up with the festivals celebrating what God had done and so our understanding followed that same trajectory; from the Old to the New.
Maybe I am wrong, but I think since Gentile Christians come from a variety of different cultural backgrounds; Anglo Saxon, European, African, Asian; some of Roman Catholic or Buddhist or Hindu or Sikh religious background, that it natural to see how Hosea 2:23 played out in its fulfillment in Romans 9:25; that those who were “not a people” became “a people“, His beloved. The Jews were “a people” from God’s choosing them way back in Genesis 17. We have always been a people and remain a people. Perhaps you can understand from that perspective, that it is easy to see why we continue to see ourselves as Jews. We have always been Jews; we know nothing else and even more importantly, God made a covenant with our forefathers that is everlasting (Genesis 17:7-8). We never stop being Jews from His perspective.
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
The Early Church was comprised largely of Jews and it wasn’t until Jesus’ death and resurrection that Gentiles came into focus. It was only when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles in Acts, that the Church had to decide what to do with Gentile believers in Jesus.
While it might seem unpalatable to talk about, Jesus said to the 12 Disciples upon sending them out (Mt 10:6) “Don’t take the road leading to other nations and don’t go to any Samaritan town. Instead go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel“. He came to the Jews, as promised and He said so. This wasn’t the only time He said this. His response to a Gentile woman who came to Him (Mt 15:21-28) wanting Him to deliver her daughter from a distressing spirit was “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel“. That sounds pretty bigoted, doesn’t it? Actually, Jesus said something far more controversial to her. He said that “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to their dogs” which was clearly understood to mean to take bread out of Jewish mouths and give it to Gentiles. The Gentile woman, understood what Jesus meant — that He was referring to Gentiles with respect to Jews as “dogs” and the Jews (the lost sheep of the house of Israel) as “children”. The Gentile woman understood this, because this was the way Jews regarded Gentiles in that time. She replied “yes, even their dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Master’s table“.
As harsh as is sounds and as unpalatable as it is, prior to Jesus making us “one new man” by His death — from a Jewish perspective, we were “a people” and Gentiles were “not a people”, we were viewed as “children” and Gentiles, not. That ended on the cross.
“So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.” (Eph 2:11-22)
God did what He said He would do way back in Genesis when He said to Abraham “in you all the Nations of the world will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). The word here for nations of the world (is HaGoyim in Hebrew, which literally means “Gentiles”.
Because of Jesus’ death, no longer would we as Jews be judged on the basis of the Law (and in that way He “made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations”) but now, both Jew and Gentile would be judged the same way; on the basis of being found or not found in Him. We were made equals. That is what is meant in Galatians 3:28 when it says “there is no difference between Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus“. It’s not that there aren’t differences; of course there are differences; there are differences between males and females, but we are equal before God. Same with Jews and Gentiles; different but equal.
Prior to Jesus’ death, Jesus said explicitly that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. His Father sent Him to the Jews in fulfillment of 60 or more prophecies spoken of beforehand in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. But after Jesus’ death, the division between Jew and Gentile was broken down; as it says in Ephesians 2:15, He “created in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace”. After His ascension, the Sent One (Jesus) became the Sending One in what is commonly called the Great Commission (Mark 16:16, Matt 28:19). The Gospel was now “to the Jew first and also the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).
In Acts, when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, the Early Church comprised of Jews had to come to a decision as to whether these Gentiles had to be circumcised and become Jews, and keep Jewish law and customs. the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 settled the matter; Gentiles did not need to be circumcised, observe the Sabbath, keep the dietary laws or any of the other commands of the Law. The decision was they were to continue to follow the protocol set out for Gentiles living amongst Jews in Leviticus (Leviticus 17 & 18) and “(1) abstain from things polluted by idols, (2) from sexual immorality, (3) from eating anything that has been strangled and (4) from blood” (Acts 15:20).
Yes, this wasn’t “new”. This was the SAME protocol for Gentiles (also called foreigners) living amongst Jews in the Old Testament;
(1) abstain from things polluted by idols; (Leviticus 17:7-8) “They must no longer offer their sacrifices to the goat-demons that they have prostituted themselves with. This will be a permanent statute for them throughout their generations. Say to them: Anyone from the house of Israel or from the foreigners who live among them who offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice but does not bring it to the entrance to the tent of meeting to sacrifice it to the Lord, that person must be cut off from his people.
(2) abstain from sexual immorality; (Leviticus 18:1-26) “Do not profane the name of your God; I am Yahweh. You are not to sleep with a man as with a woman; it is detestable. You are not to have sexual intercourse with[f] any animal, defiling yourself with it; a woman is not to present herself to an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion….You must not commit any of these detestable things—not the native or the foreigner who lives among you.(Leviticus 18:21, 26)
(3) abstain from eating anything that has been strangled (Leviticus 17:15) “Every person, whether the native or the foreigner, who eats an animal that …was mauled by wild beasts is to wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will remain unclean until evening; then he will be clean. 16 But if he does not wash his clothes and bathe himself, he will bear his punishment.”
(4) abstain from blood (Leviticus 17:10,12) “Anyone from the house of Israel or from the foreigners who live among them who eats any blood, I will turn against that person who eats blood and cut him off from his people…Therefore I say to the Israelites: None of you and no foreigner who lives among you may eat blood
The Church settled the matter in the first century that Gentiles didn’t have to become Jews once they came to believe in Jesus, yet there seems to be a generally held, if not explicitly said belief, that Jews need to convert to Christianity and act like Gentiles. They certainly can’t keep acting like Jews, can they?
Did the Jews in the first century stop practicing as Jews once they believed in Jesus? What do the Scriptures say?
Something for you to consider; why would the Jerusalem Council have needed to meet to decide whether Gentiles had to convert to Judaism, undergo circumcision and follow Jewish dietary customs if the Jewish believers in the first century no longer did so?
And so began this blog…
This is an exploration of the practices of the Jews at the time of Jesus; their life involving the Temple and the Synagogue; the celebration of the holidays and festivals such as Sukkoth and Passover and how they lived as “Jews who believed” (also called “Nazarenes” or “of the Way”…and an understanding as to how we as Jews today do likewise.
My hope is that as you consider these posts your faith will be enriched and that through dialogue, we as Jews and Gentiles can relate in a way that doesn’t require either of us to become like the other, in order to live in unity.
Blessings and shalom,