Today’s Messianic movement is in a very precarious situation. On the one hand, some good things are happening as many Jewish people are coming to faith in Messiah Yeshua, and Christians are expressing a love for Israel and embracing their Hebraic Roots. Our numbers are getting larger and larger—with many not having to really wonder what “Messianic” is any more. Many people know that when you call yourself “Messianic” you are either a Jewish Believer in Yeshua, or a non-Jewish Believer in Yeshua who has some kind of strong connection to Israel.
On the other hand, though, there are some not so good things happening today in the Messianic movement. The theology of the Messianic community and its understanding of the Bible have largely not been able to keep up with its growth. On the whole, many of the answers that we have to give in response to external criticisms of our convictions have not been very deep. They have sometimes not been examined very well from the Scriptures, and our engagement with theological discussions—in some cases going back several centuries—is often just not there. We have a great deal of progress that we must make in the coming years as a more coherent and scholastically-minded Messianic theology begins to come forward.
What needs to be done to secure a stable and secure future for today’s emerging Messianic movement? How can we be people who make a positive difference in the fallen world in which we live?
Matthew 23:2-3 is a passage which has been used to justify everything from today’s Messianic Jewish Believers following almost every single halachic ruling of the ultra Orthodox and/or Chassidic Jewish authorities and their literature, to Messianic Believers completely disregarding all forms of ancient and/or modern Jewish tradition in their approach to the Torah or Law of Moses, totally dismissing works like the Mishnah or Talmud as valuable historical records. Unfortunately, for whatever reason or series of reasons, moderating the extremes on Matthew 23:2-3 has not been too permitted in the Messianic movement of 2013—for it is easy to see the negative spiritual and theological fruit of the extremes of Matthew 23:2-3, either (1) representing a widescale dismissal of all forms of Rabbinic Jewish tradition and custom, or (2) requiring a blind obedience to Orthodox Judaism on the part of contemporary Messianic Believers. A third, depolarizing alternative to the current interpretations widely touted, desperately needs to be presented.
Today’s Messianic movement, as a still-developing and emerging move of God, has many areas of its theology which are sufficiently developed, and others which are presently in various stages of maturation.
The modern Messianic movement got started as an outreach of Jewish Believers, to see the Jewish people come to saving faith in Israel’s Messiah. To be sure, there are other things which have taken place since, such as non-Jewish Believers entering in and more tangibly embracing their Jewish Roots. There are theological and spiritual issues, which the original leaders could not have anticipated being discussed. We pray that God raises up the right people to perform the diversity of tasks before us. The original mission of seeing Jewish people come to faith in Israel’s Messiah still has not gone away. And, if you are a part of today’s Messianic movement, you have to ask yourself, “What contribution am I making to Jewish evangelism?”
The claim that the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew is something that must be substantiated by those who believe it with historical references, textual support, and most of all extant manuscripts in Hebrew. These references must be credible, the textual claims must be supported within a relatively conservative framework of exposition, and the manuscripts must be verified as authentic by organizations such as United Bible Societies or the American Bible Society. Thus far, no one in the Messianic community has been able to prove a written Hebrew origin for the entirety of the New Testament on the basis of these factors.
Many Messianic Believers think that it is important to learn the Hebrew language, the language of the Tanach or Old Testament. This is to be commended and encouraged, as these texts make up the first two-thirds of our Bible that many Christians, sadly, ignore or feel are important only for Bible history. However, there is another portion of the Bible, the Apostolic Scriptures or Messianic Writings, commonly known as the New Testament, which were not written in Hebrew, and should not be cast by the wayside.
This one verse written by the Apostle Paul speaks of a new status for human beings that has been inaugurated via the sacrificial work of Yeshua, as God’s people are to be united as “one person” (NEB), actively accomplishing His tasks in the Earth. At times, we do find Galatians 3:28 quoted among those in our Messianic faith community, but its ramifications are not often fully considered or probed for their significant spiritual power. Current and severe developments in the Messianic movement in our day—with the future steadily looming—require that we take a fresh look at this verse, what its message of equality means for us, and things that we are certainly missing as we seek to be those who are useful in the Lord’s work. This single verse asks us many difficult questions about both Biblical equality and why the Messianic community seems to have less unity and more rivalry.
This article will attempt to explore some of the key details which today’s Messianic people need to be aware of when they encounter various English Bible versions. We will be reviewing some of the contemporary Jewish and Christian versions which are used in sectors of the Messianic movement. Also important will be a review of some Messianic Bible versions, particularly of the Apostolic Scriptures, which tend to be encountered.
We could go on and on for many more pages discussing how there were problems in the First Century and how many of those problems are now manifesting themselves, in various forms today, in distinct sectors of the broad Messianic movement. But this would only stir up negative emotions. We have to understand why there are problems, so that we might properly counter them.
What would happen if your Messianic congregational leader, or rabbi, asked the congregational constituents why they believe that Yeshua the Messiah is God? What would be some of the reasons given? Would they encounter dogma or doctrine? Would people express a principled set of reasons for affirming Yeshua’s Divinity, or would they only express a dogmatic “you have to believe” reason, without any real substance? Many might indeed affirm something having to do with only God being able to redeem human beings from their sins (Psalm 49:7, 15), or explicit claims made by Yeshua (i.e., John 8:58). But, how many people would not really know what to say? Do we even want to know some of the reasons why people might believe that Yeshua is God?
To many people in today’s broad Messianic movement, the issues involving the place of husbands and wives in the family, as well as men and women in the local assembly, is a done deal. Husbands lead the family, and wives abide by their husbands’ decisions. Men lead the congregation, and women are there to help facilitate congregational functions. Any position about men and women in the Body of Messiah which might invoke terms such as co-equal, shared responsibility, and mutual submission are often viewed as compromise with the prevailing culture at best, or capitulation to liberal theology at worst. You do not just throw around the term “egalitarian” in the Messianic movement, unless you really are willing to experience some blowback.
In examining some Messianic Jewish teaching materials, they explained to me that the Commonwealth of Israel is made up of both the Jewish people and the Church, sort of like the British Commonwealth. They have actually said that as a non-Jewish Believer, I am really not a part of Israel, only the Commonwealth. Does this viewpoint have any legitimacy?
Having a Torah foundation requires Bible students to encounter some uncomfortable and controversial matters. Ancient Israel was commanded to annihilate the Canaanites. Man and woman before the Fall were equals.
Messianic people all claim to have a Torah foundation. Yet when confronted with difficult issues such as slavery, the ethics of lying, or the presence of animal sacrifices–gloss over these matters in the Pentateuch. How do we approach issues such as these?
How do modern Believers approach the Torah for the post-resurrection era? Significant Torah issues, with lasting effects on society at large–involve our approach to humans made in the image of God, and the Torah penalties for murder.
There are different spiritual and theological “camps” in today’s Messianic Jewish movement. And beyond this is a Hebrew Roots movement ten to twenty times its size! How do individual Messianic people and families maneuver their way around some of this, as they seek to humbly serve God and His Kingdom?
Many people in the Torah movement have lost sight of the most significant event in human history: the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah. They frequently deny that we live in a post-resurrection era, with some new spiritual realities.
There are different groups which one will encounter today, who use the term “Messianic” in some form or fashion. What do each of these groups really stand for, in terms of their mission and theology? How challenging is it, to perhaps find a diversity of people attending your local Messianic congregation—without even realizing it?