How Jewish Is Christianity?: Two Views on the Messianic Movement

How Jewish Is Christianity?: Two Views on the Messianic Movement

by Stanley N. Gundry

Diverse perspectives about the messianic movement — from six contributors.

Are Messianic congregations necessary or should Jewish believers be incorporated into the Gentile church? This is the topic of the latest volume in the Counterpoints series. The question of how Christian Jews relate their Jewish practices and customs to the church has been an issue

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Diverse perspectives about the messianic movement — from six contributors.

Are Messianic congregations necessary or should Jewish believers be incorporated into the Gentile church? This is the topic of the latest volume in the Counterpoints series. The question of how Christian Jews relate their Jewish practices and customs to the church has been an issue within Christianity since the first century. Contemporary contributors who have lived and wrestled with this issue present informed arguments and counter-arguments. The book concludes with a chapter on the future for Messianic Jews and a directory of messianic movement organizations.

Contributors include:

• John Fischer (ThD, California Graduate School of Theology, PhD, University of South Florida) is a rabbi of Congregation Ohr Chadash and Chairman of Judaic Studies at St. Petersburg Theological Seminary.

• Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum (ThM, PhD, New York University) has served with the Chosen People Ministries and Christian Jew Foundation in the past and is now the founder and director of Ariel Ministries.

• Gershon Nerel (PhD, Hebrew University, Jerusalem) has served as “Israel Secretary” for the International Messianic Jewish Alliance and has also been a member of the executive committee for the Messianic Jewish Alliance of Israel.

• David Stern (PhD, MDiv) is the translator of the Jewish New Testament from Greek to English to express its Jewishness; his version of the Tanak is the Complete Jewish Bible.

• Will Varner (EdD, Temple University) servers as professor of biblical studies at the Master’s College, CA, and the director of the Israel Bible Extension campus of this college in Israel.

The Counterpoints series provides a forum for comparison and critique of different views on issues important to Christians. Counterpoints books address two categories: Church Life and Bible and Theology. Complete your library with other books in the Counterpoints series.

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How Jewish Is Christianity?

2 Views on the Messianic Movement


Copyright © 2003 Louis Goldberg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-310-24490-0

Chapter One


William Varner

Anyone writing about Messianic Judaism is faced with serious challenges. Not the least of these is what exactly to call the movement. The term "Messianic" could refer to any Jewish person who believes in a personal Messiah, whether or not that Messiah is identified with Jesus of Nazareth. For example, the Lubavitcher Hasidim fervently proclaim their belief in "Moshiach" (Messiah), some even to the point of identifying their former "Rebbe" (Rabbi Schneerson) with that Moshiach. Does that mean that Lubavitchers are also "Messianic Jews"?

Nevertheless, the term "Messianic Judaism" is here to stay, so it is fruitless to argue about its semantic nuances. This chapter will use the term, even though many may not believe it to be the best title. Likewise some within the movement prefer "congregation" over "synagogue" to describe their local body of believers. Recognizing this diversity of expression, I will simply use "Messianic synagogue" for convenience. Messianic Judaism, whatever the strengths or shortcomings of the title may be, is a fait accompli-and it is that which we will attempt to evaluate in the light of theological, historical, and pragmatic considerations.

The movement, in its modern form, is now about thirty years old. This book, therefore, is probably a quarter of a century late. Most of those in Messianic Judaism have made up their minds by now and will probably not be dissuaded by any arguments that I propose against their position. On the other hand, readers interested in exploring the questions Messianic congregations inevitably raise may find some help here as they sort out those issues.

Consider another obstacle we face in evaluating the movement. Which form of Messianic Judaism am I addressing? In the early 1990s a Reconstructionist rabbi named Carol Harris-Shapiro made an ethnographic study of Messianic Judaism. Ethnography involves the researcher entering a community as both an observer and, to an extent, a participant. While other full-length treatments of Messianic Judaism have been done by non-Messianic Jewish writers, Harris-Shapiro's work is a fairly reliable treatment by someone who, as an outsider, tried to view the movement from the inside. She summarizes the various organizational strands of Messianic Judaism into five basic groups:

1. Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations

2. International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues

3. Fellowship of Messianic Congregations

4. Association of Torah-Observant Messianics

5. The International Federation of Messianic Jews

Referring to the last three as the smaller of the five, Harris-Shapiro adds, "These Messianic margins point to the increasing diversity in the movement, while their small numbers highlight the strength of the mainstream expression of Messianic Judaism."

Therefore, to whom do my observations apply? I will leave this question to be answered by the reader, who must realize that I paint with a broad brush. If I wrongly cover someone, I fully realize that such is inevitable in light of the movement's great diversity.

Before I address my concerns, I would like to share a few personal observations about myself and my interest in this subject. First, I rejoice greatly in the fact that God is preserving a remnant of Jewish believers, as Paul would say, "at the present time" (Romans 11:5). Jewish evangelism has always been a major factor in my life, even after seminary during my seven years as a pastor. I then had the privilege of working with a ministry to Jewish people for seventeen years, ten of which I served as dean of a Bible institute dedicated to teaching students, many of whom were Jewish believers, about the history and culture of the Jewish people both in America and Israel. I received a master's degree in Judaic Studies under the tutelage of a well-known Conservative Rabbinical scholar and gave the valedictory address at graduation in a Philadelphia synagogue. Recently my teaching has been primarily to Gentile Christian students and it has been a joy to introduce them to the culture, history, and spiritual need of the Jewish people. In this teaching connection, I am also the director of our college's branch campus program in Israel and have led thirty-six study trips to that country. There I have tried to familiarize myself with the challenges that "Yehudim Meshichim" (Messianic Jews) face in their homeland.

I write this, not to impress anyone, but to let the reader know that, although I am a Gentile, I write as one who is a sympathetic friend to Jewish believers. One of my ministry goals has always been to educate the churches where I minister about the Jewish people and about Israel and to expose anti-Jewishness wherever it raises its ugly head. So let my criticisms of Messianic Judaism be understood in this light. If I wound anyone, be assured that it is done in the spirit of the proverb: "Faithful are the wounds of a friend ..." (Proverbs 27:6 NASB).


Jewish Christianity is certainly not a modern phenomenon, but has existed since the first century. As an identifiable movement within the church, however, it ceased to exist by the sixth century A.D. Arenaissance came during the nineteenth century, when literally thousands of Jewish people came to faith in Jesus as Messiah. Jewish Christian organizations formed, and new Jewish missions appeared in England, in America, and on the Continent. Some of the greatest "giants" in Jewish Christianity lived and ministered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among the most notable was the great David Baron, who came to faith in Jesus from an Orthodox European background and went on to found the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel in England. Baron contributed major scholarly works that are still read and appreciated today, such as Rays of Messiah's Glory; Types, Psalms and Prophecies; Israel in the Plan of God; and the invaluable commentary, Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah. The editor of this current volume has written, "Many of David Baron's friends testified that he was the most Christlike man they had ever known."

Most of Baron's writing originally appeared in the periodical The Scattered Nation, the magazine of the "Testimony." In 1911 he published an article in that periodical titled "Messianic Judaism; or Judaising Christianity." Reading this article should remind us of the statement made by Qohelet (the Teacher) in Ecclesiastes that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This article makes it clear that the Messianic Jewish movement is not a new phenomenon but was significant enough at the turn of the last century to cause great concern to David Baron. The concerns he expressed ninety years ago should be noted today, especially since he was such a highly regarded Jewish believer.

Baron writes that the movement's founders, such as Theodore Lucky, advocated

that it is incumbent on the Hebrew Christian not only to identify themselves with their unbelieving Jewish brethren in their national aspirations-as explained, for instance, in Zionism ... but to observe the national rites and customs of the Jews, such as the keeping of the Sabbath, circumcision, and other observances, some of which have not even their origin in the law of Moses, but are part of the unbearable yoke which was laid on the neck of our people by the Rabbis.

Baron cites writers who prepared both a "Minimum Programme" and a "Maximum Programme" for their turn-of-the-century form of Messianic Judaism. The "Minimum Programme" advocated the following:

A Hebrew Christian movement will hold fast to Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, Chanucah, and Purim; will include in its liturgy a good deal of the traditional Synagogue prayer; will be favorably disposed towards every ceremony that has entwined itself in the Hebrew consciousness; ... insists on circumcision; attaches itself to the Hebrew consciousness and holds by the historical and Biblical continuity of Israel's mission.

This was the "Minimum Programme." In Baron's words, the "Maximum Programme" also included "joining in all forms and ceremonies of the Christ-rejecting synagogue, to wear phylacteries and the talith, to use the Jewish liturgy, just as the other Jews do, only to smuggle in now and then the Name of Jesus into their prayers."


Excerpted from How Jewish Is Christianity? Copyright © 2003 by Louis Goldberg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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