What About “the Gentiles”?



One of my all-time favorite films, going back to my experiences as a young child watching the Disney Channel, is the 1967 piece The Gnome Mobile, starring Walter Brennan as both the human D.J. Mulrooney and the gnome Knobby. Frequently throughout the story, as the much larger humans encounter the small gnomes, you hear the gnomes refer to the “big people” as dudeens. In the course of the story, it is entirely comedic, as the gnomes ride around in some old man’s Rolls Royce, they are carried in a picnic basket, and they are stolen by a trickster named Quaxton of Quaxton’s Academy of Fantastic Freaks. That the gnomes would have a term like dudeen to refer to big people makes the story rather humorous, but it cannot be denied that the gnomes—at least at first—have a strong distrust of humans. The 900-year old Knobby expresses to D.J. how the gnomes have almost gone extinct because of the chopping down of their redwood forest—with some “Mulrooney outfit” being the worst culprit. And to add to the irony of the story, at their first encounter, Knobby has no idea that D.J. is actually the owner of San Francisco-based Mulrooney Lumber. Suffice it to say, it is easily detected from watching The Gnome Mobile, that the term dudeen was probably not originally given out of some kind of respect to big people, in order to charm them.

Unfortunately due to some trends in Western society over the past two to three decades, it is no longer commonplace for a congregation leader, either in the Synagogue or Church, to be referred to by an appropriate title. Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Mr. and Mrs. Jones, are now often referred to by their first names by young people half their age. (To an extent, I can get upset at times when people I do not know do not refer to me as Mr. McKee, and instead call me John.) What happened to the doctors among us? Many are completely unaware if someone has ever served in the military, law enforcement, or some kind of other major service career. Things are expected to now be more informal and less-stuffy. Yet, from my early years of visiting my grandparents in Annapolis, MD, and going to the United States Naval Academy where my grandfather worked as museum director and chief archivist—it was always a thrill to see him referred to as Professor Jeffries. And, it was certainly rather impressive to see him call his colleagues titles like Commander, Captain, and Admiral. (I am sorry I was never there to see the President make a surprise visit.)

While the employment of proper titles is critical to establish some degree of formal respect for one’s peers—especially those who have worked hard for some high achievement, like those in academia or those in uniform—terms used in the context of a community of faith, are something even more important. How we refer to people in a local assembly or fellowship of Believers needs to convey not only a sense of respect, love, and a tenor of feeling welcome—but that we are, to some degree, to be sensitive to their various unique cultural and social needs.

A concept that is very popular not only in today’s Messianic Jewish movement, but much of the broader Messianic community in general, is that of “Jew and Gentile, one in Messiah.” Technically speaking, what is intended by this sentiment is that any person, regardless of if he or she is Jewish or not, is to be viewed as equal not only in the eyes of God—but most especially with one’s fellow Believers viewing one another as equal and valued because of saving faith in Yeshua (Jesus). For many of those in today’s Messianic Jewish community, this is exactly what the message of the Apostles is all about: Jew and Gentile becoming one in Messiah. For many of those in evangelical Christianity, in slight contrast, it can be all about Jew and Gentile becoming one in Messiah as a part of “the Church,” a group separated from Israel.

In the past two decades or so, given the significant growth of the Messianic movement via a large number of evangelical Christians embracing their Hebraic and Jewish Roots, in a very real and tangible way, various questions have been asked and trends can be noticed. A few of the claims of modern Christianity, and even Messianic Judaism, have been challenged on some noticeable levels. In a large part of today’s broad Messianic movement, non-Jewish Believers consider themselves a part of the Commonwealth of Israel, and equal partakers in Israel’s blessings along with their fellow Jewish Believers (cf. Ephesians 2:11-13; 3:6). While these people are obviously not Jewish either ethnically or culturally, they do not consider their status as God’s people to be something separate from Israel, in some kind of a “Church” entity that sits off to the distance or even more closely alongside it.

This causes some problems, because in various parts of Messianic Judaism, non-Jewish Believers can find themselves in congregations relegated to an almost “second class” status to their Jewish constituents. The main purpose that any non-Jewish Believer, a Gentile, would need to recognize in such a place, is that he or she is probably there to have an appreciation for the Jewish Roots of Christianity. Yet in some settings it goes even further, as the non-Jewish person or family is only and exclusively there to supplement the congregation’s outreach to the Jewish community (and perhaps with that only by financial offerings). Obviously, each individual Messianic congregation has to be evaluated on its own merits—and many places can and do change over the course of time—but in these sorts of environments, it is easy for many Messianic Jews’ reference to non-Jewish Believers as just “Gentiles” or “goyim” to have some additional things attached to it.

A significant cause of the rise of various independent Messianic congregations and fellowships from the late 1990s into the 2000s, and even now into the 2010s, has been when non-Jewish Believers find themselves unwelcome in a Messianic Jewish congregation—and they know that they do belong in the Messianic world. A feeling of being unwelcome, even in places where non-Jewish Believers want to clearly fellowship with their Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah, and be very sensitive to their unique social and cultural needs—has helped give significant rise to the One Law/One Torah and Two-House sub-movements. While both of these sectors of the broader Messianic world have their issues for sure, they can at times more widely emphasize the word of Yeshua’s prayer, “that they may be one, just as We are one” (John 17:22). The kind of unity that Messiah followers are to reach for is the kind of unity that the Father and Son—as God—have. This presents us as limited mortals with an almost impossible goal to achieve, but a grand, magnanimous unity of this kind should not be left outside of our view.

Within the Two-House sub-movement, it has become significantly commonplace for non-Jewish Believers to consider themselves “former Gentiles,” based on one reading of Paul’s statement “remember that formerly you, the Gentiles…” (Ephesians 2:11). Along with this, it is said that the word Gentile most always means pagan, and some verses can be quoted as support for this. 1 Corinthians 5:1, for example, where Paul is horrified upon hearing about “immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles,” more specifically means “there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans” (RSV). When various people speak about non-Jewish Believers with the term “Gentiles,” there can be easily detected a wide amount of resentment and offense. Populist Two-House teachers have stirred their audiences to the point of not only resisting any kind of usage of the word “Gentile,” but they frequently direct them to insist on being referred to as some sort of “Israelite(s).” Along with this, given their high emphasis on restoration of Israel prophecies that speak of the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim, one can often fail to detect the inclusion of any Gentiles—those outside of the bloodlines of physical Israel—in such a restoration process. This presents some serious theological problems, including the warranted accusation that their message withholds God’s salvation from the vast, vast majority of human beings, created by Him, who live on Planet Earth.

Among many of the advocates and adherents of the Two-House teaching, have certainly been found many overstatements made about the English word “Gentile” meaning “pagan.” Some people have taken offense a little too readily. But at the same time, it would be disingenuous to think that terms such as “Gentile,” the Hebrew noun “goy,” or adjectives such as the Yiddish “goyische,” as have been used in much of the Jewish community—have been in an entirely neutral sense, without any context of disparagement. Along these same lines, it should also be observed that there have been Messianic Jewish individuals, at least, who have used the term “Gentile” or “goyim” to refer to non-Jewish people as something other than not being Jewish. Some have used the English term Gentile as a means of disparagement, or even a derogative slur.

The issue regarding the term “Gentile” cannot be separated from a much bigger issue that has been present in a great deal of Christian theology, and to a lesser extent Jewish theology, over the past two decades: the inclusive language debate. Given the changing contours of modern English speech, be it in Great Britain, North America, Australia and New Zealand, or elsewhere—is it appropriate to exclusively use terms like man, men, mankind, and brothers where the community of God is concerned? Inclusive language advocates, even those of a more mild variety, would argue that terms such as human being(s), humanity, humankind, brothers and sisters (or perhaps the more generic, although older term brethren), and people—are far better and clearer to now use. Taking some cues from this, would it be advisable that today’s Messianics employ some acceptable substitutes for the term Gentile(s), such as nation(s) or people(s)? Implementing some very easy alternatives, which are already known to Bible readers, might deflate an unnecessarily big balloon.

Click here for the complete version of “What About ‘the Gentiles’?”


reproduced from Israel in Future Prophecy

In too many Messianic settings, when questions are asked about Biblical passages like Isaiah 11:12-16; Jeremiah 31:6-10; Ezekiel 37:15-28; and Zechariah 10:6-10, among others, polarized extremes are likely to be witnessed. One side makes these kinds of verses a central part of its spiritual identity—even more important than faith in the Messiah. Another side, when encountering past abuses, tends to totally dismiss legitimate questions and expectations that such passages pose. How can Bible readers have a mature approach to a larger restoration of Israel, prophesied in the Holy Writ, which is able to navigate through much of the immaturity detectable?

A significant question asked by the Apostles, before Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) ascended into Heaven, was, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Recognizing the restoration of Israel as a critical part of the Apostles own expectations of the Last Days—might there be any aspects of the restoration of Israel, beyond the rebirth of the State of Israel and many Jewish people coming to faith in Messiah Yeshua, that any of us have missed? Is there possibly more to be anticipated in future salvation history, as it concerns the emergence of the Messianic movement, non-Jewish Believers embracing their Hebraic Roots in a very tangible way, and many turning to the truths of God’s Torah?

Israel in Future Prophecy: Is There a Larger Restoration of the Kingdom to Israel? addresses some of the controversies and problems that have been caused, by what is commonly known as the Two-House movement/sub-movement. This book attempts to sort through much of the religious politics and abuse that one commonly encounters when poignant questions are asked about what is happening in today’s Messianic community. It intends to provide some preliminary resolution to the issues which are Biblically-rooted, and are engaged with contemporary Jewish and Christian scholarship, providing some viable alternatives to the posturing more likely to be encountered. Above all, this publication directly takes on over-statements, exaggerations, and sound bytes offered by prominent advocates within the Two-House sub-movement, providing more Scriptural answers to welcoming in the many masses of people from the nations, as a part of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13) or the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).

278 pages