Recently a new teaching has emerged in Messianic Judaism. “Divine Invitation Theology” has been defined as “other than” the so-called “One Law” position in Messianic Judaism. While we do not define ourselves by “One Law,” “Divine Invitation,” or any such name; here at Bereans Online, we will always question theologies that:
This series will address some of the questions that “Divine Invitation Theology” raises.
Our goal in this series is not to single out any person, or organization. We cannot know motives, and to pretend that we can would be to engage in lashon hara [evil speech]. We will we not engage in questioning the scholarship of those promoting differing views. We will not accuse others of being pro-Rabbinic, nor are we anti-Rabbinic (on the contrary, we find great value in extra-biblical Jewish texts and practice). We will not we place ourselves in the position of seeming to have a superior revelation.
We are simple students of the Bible. We are Bereans.
We will not “name names” because our goal is only to answer some of the issues this new teaching raises. To that goal we are guided by:
Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yehovah your God which I command you.
Our bottom line is:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.
Issue #1: This new teaching claims that Jews and Gentiles have different covenant obligations and different standards of righteousness.
This new teaching claims that Acts 15:20; 29; and 21:25 are the only standard of righteousness for Gentile believers (plus what they call the “moral and ethical” imperatives of the Torah). Using Acts 15 and 21 as proof-texts, this new teaching expresses a desire “not to go beyond the teaching of the Apostles” regarding Gentile covenant obligations. It teaches that when the issue of circumcision and full Torah observance were proposed by some Pharisees in Acts 15, the Apostles explicitly removed those (the commandment of circumcision and full Torah observance) as requirements for Gentile believers, but instead only imposed four dictates for Gentile believers. It teaches that the Apostles refused to lay any “greater burden” (ie. Torah observance) on believing Gentiles.
Key texts used by this new teaching:
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Acts 15:1 NKJV
Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
Acts 15:10 NKJV
Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.
Acts 15:29-20 NKJV
Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment...
Acts 15:24 NKJV
But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
Acts 21:25 NKJV
If you can bear the Lord’s full yoke, you will be perfect. But if you cannot, then do what you can. Now about food: undertake what you can. But keep strictly away from what is offered to idols, for that implies worshiping dead gods.
Bereans Online responds:
This new teaching falls into traditional antinomian explanations for what is occurring in Acts 15. It tries to argue that the “yoke” mentioned in Acts 15:10 is the “burden of the Torah;” all the while speaking of the Torah in terms of blessing for those who will accept the “invitation” to this yoke. It cannot be both. Because it also argues that Torah observance is an “obligation” for Jewish believers, its use of Acts 15:10 is confusing. If, as it argues, the “yoke… that neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” is the Torah, it must of course deal with these passages:
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
The Law of Yehovah is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of Yehovah is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of Yehovah are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of Yehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of Yehovah is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of Yehovah are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of d, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Clearly, the Torah is not a burden; and it was given for us to do.
How does this new teaching deal with these passages? As we will see later in issue #3, its definition of Torah observance is not simply “keep His commandments” – nor do the definitions of “Law” and “Torah” fit into the traditional enumeration of 613 commandments. It explains these by use of classical Christian definitions of “the commandments” (eg. “moral and ethical”) when they speak of how they relate to believing Gentiles, and also by resorting to the Oral Torah.
While teaching that the four Acts 15 dictates are not “Noachide Laws” this new teaching does appear to accept the Noachide Laws as the standard for non-believing Gentiles. With regard to believing Gentiles, it takes a similar approach that modern-day Orthodox Judaism takes to “righteous Gentiles” by providing them an inferior standard of conduct, with the intent to keep Jew and Gentile separate. This is how the Noachide Laws are used in normative Judaism today. Gaining acceptance by other Judaisms is one of the “benefits” that this new teaching touts for its stand on Gentiles and the Torah.
It should be noted that the seven Noachide Laws are not found in any literature that is contemporary with the Apostolic Scriptures. In fact, the Noachide Laws are not mentioned until the time of the Tosefta (after 200 CE). They are not mentioned in the Targums, Mishna, Josephus, nor are they referenced by Philo. The Noachide Laws have always been used to separate Jews and Gentiles. This new teaching uses this same method in their analysis of Acts 15, which is in direct contradiction to the injunctions of Scripture.
From Acts 15 and Acts 21, the four prohibitions incumbent upon Gentiles who come to faith are:
We find the same four categories of commandments in Ezekiel 33:
Then the word of Yehovah came to me, saying: “Son of man, they who inhabit those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one, and he inherited the land. But we are many; the land has been given to us as a possession.’ “Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says Yehovah God: “You eat meat with blood, you lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood. Should you then possess the land? You rely on your sword, you commit abominations, and you defile one another’s wives. Should you then possess the land?” ‘
Notice the sins that God identifies:
Beloved, the accusation of Ezekiel 33 is not toward Gentiles, it is leveled against Israel. These are categories of Yehovah’s holy and eternal standard. Each one of these is found in the Torah, and like the Ten Commandments, provide categories for all the others. The Apostles were not limiting the Gentiles to four specific and narrow edicts. They were indeed providing the starting point. That is born out in Acts 15:21, which is the purpose clause for the four prohibitions:
Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For [gar = because] Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Verse 21 has no reason for being in this passage if it does not serve as the purpose clause for Acts 15:20. The four prohibitions are clearly the starting point for Gentile behavior after coming to faith. This new teaching insists that the Apostles are silent on the believing Gentile’s obligation to the righteous standard of Yehovah found in the Torah. An argument made solely from silence is always non-sequitur; but in any case: no, the Apostles are not silent in regard to the Gentiles and the Torah. If the Sabbath is a “Jewish identity” commandment as this new teaching insists, how would believing Gentiles hear “Moses… being read… every Sabbath?” This new teaching sees this as a vague “invitation” to Gentiles, while maintaining that the believing Jews in the synagogue would hear the same words and consider them an “obligation.” This denies the purpose of the Torah itself (Deuteronomy 4:5-6: to reveal the righteousness and wisdom of Yehovah to the nations).
This new teaching argues that in addition to the “four edicts” of Acts 15, the minimum standard of righteousness for believing Gentiles is obedience to the “moral and ethical” components of the Torah. This is the classical non-biblical division of the Torah. This is perhaps our most serious concern with this new teaching. By being careful not to define what it considers the “moral” commandments, it opens up the Scriptures to all manner of subjective interpretation and application. To be clear, nowhere in Scripture are the instructions of the Almighty categorized as anything even remotely resembling “moral, ritual, and civil” as this new teaching purports. This unbiblical classification comes from a doctrinal stand that seeks to divide the instructions of Yehovah into “Jewish” and “Christian” mandates. This method of classification permitted early church fathers to declare those “Jewish” commandments as a curse upon “stiff-necked Israel” – where the Sabbath was called a burden and a curse upon Jews.
Post-Modern Christianity uses the Scriptures in much the same way as this new teaching, where what is “moral” is defined as what is best for the community. That is not the way the King of the Universe defines His righteous standard Can we all admit that the Scriptures are quite clear and distinct in this passage?
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.
Is this a “moral” commandment? Does this apply equally to believing Gentiles as well as Jews? Is this an “invitation”? Do both Jew and Gentile have an obligation to adhere to this righteous standard? Would it be a sin for a believing Gentile to engage in such activity?
If so, why not these words, which use the same word – “abomination”?
Now Yehovah spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth: Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud—that you may eat. Nevertheless these you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves: the camel, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; the rock hyrax, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; the hare, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you. ‘These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers—that you may eat. But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you. They shall be an abomination to you; you shall not eat their flesh, but you shall regard their carcasses as an abomination. Whatever in the water does not have fins or scales—that shall be an abomination to you.
This new teaching suggests that the Apostles did not want to “burden” Gentile believers with Leviticus 11. When the believing Gentile is only obligated to keep the four edicts of Acts 15 plus the “moral” aspects of the Torah, it is the first step into moral anarchy – where as in the days of the Judges, “each man did what was right in his own eyes,” and each objection to such a perspective is met with the mocking, “Has God truly said...?”
We contend that if the Apostles had indeed advocated that believing Gentiles should not keep all the instructions of Scripture, that they were false prophets. Not believing for a moment that such is the case, we contend that the Apostles were providing a method to include Gentiles in the believing community’s practice – a starting place, where they could graciously learn the commandments of Yehovah. This is the approach of a parent to an adopted child. The natural child already has learned the rules of the house. The adopted child is given an opportunity to learn them. Ask any parent that has both adoptive and natural children and they will tell you that in the end, a fair and wise parent will ensure that all their children are held to the same standard.
That “circumcision” can refer to the physical commandment of circumcision found in the Torah and also refer to the extra-biblical tradition of ritual conversion to Judaism is unfortunate. It is not impossible to deduce the different uses of the word in the Apostolic Scriptures, so it is disconcerting that this new teaching often reverts to the classical Christian interpretation that it refers to the physical commandment of circumcision. We would argue that except for the few places, such as in the Gospels, most often refers to the man-made tradition of ritual conversion to Judaism. Otherwise, such passages would make no sense:
Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.
After all, circumcision is a commandment of God. On the other hand, ritual conversion, a man-made ritual, is not. Instead, this new teaching does not acknowledge the “ritual conversion” usage of the word – choosing to revert to the physical commandment of circumcision in Acts 15:1, against all historical and grammatical evidence to the contrary.
This new teaching uses the Didache as if it were Scripture to support its case. Interestingly, the real argument of Acts 15 was whether Gentiles should go through ritual conversion to Judaism (also known as “ritual circumcision”) to be considered a part of Israel. The answer is unequivocally, “no!” However, most scholars believe the first part of the Didache had its origins as a Jewish document on how circumcised converts to Judaism were to behave while they learned the Torah. Ignoring the fact that the Didache has no clear date, no clear authorship (multiple authors and later editing is evident), and some disturbing similarities to the anti-Semitic Epistle of Barnabas; this new teaching chooses to use the Didache as a proof-text for what it thinks the Apostles meant in Acts 15. Parts of the Didache finds their origins in a murky time of competing and faulty imitations and pseudographs that make its use as a supposedly authoritative text quite troubling. Truly, the Didache provides some interesting insights into origins of Second Century Christianity – but it has no authority in determining the practice or standard of righteousness for the believer.
Lastly, this new teaching chooses to present Acts 15:24; 21:25 in the King James Version (KJV) or New King James Version (NKJV). Although it is not our intent to call into question those otherwise excellent translations – this new teaching seems to uses this version for a reason: The underlying Greek manuscript for the KJV and NKJV is the Textus Receptus, which has a much later origin than the manuscripts that comprise the earlier Majority Text. The Textus Receptus is the only Greek text that contains the phrases, “…You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment…” and “…that they should observe no such thing, except…” These phrases are not found at all in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts – and are pivotal in supporting this new teaching’s view of the believing Gentile’s inferior covenant obligations. The fact that they are not found in the vast majority of manuscripts, makes this passage all the more salient:
And if a stranger [ger = not native-born] dwells with you, or whoever is among you throughout your generations, and would present an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to Yehovah, just as you do, so shall he do. One ordinance [chok = suprarational commandment] shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you, an ordinance [chok] forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before Yehovah. One Torah and one custom [mishpat = judgment] shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.’ “
Issue #2: This new teaching identifies the ger [non native-born] listed in the Torah as a proselyte, or convert to Judaism.
This new teaching tries to determine the way that the Apostles would have read the Torah’s instructions regarding the ger toshav [stranger who dwells among you] by use of the intermediate Septuagint (LXX). It teaches that the Apostles used the LXX as their primary text in study and teaching, and would have understood the usages of ger toshav in light of the way the LXX translates the word as “proselutos” [proselyte]. This new teaching reasons that because the Apostles would have seen the issue through the lens of the LXX, they would have not considered the believing Gentile in the same category as the ger as mentioned in the Torah. Hence, this new teaching claims that none of the Torah passages that refer to gerim apply to today’s believing Gentiles.
Key texts used by this new teaching:
As for the assembly of, there shall be one statute for Jews and for the proselyte, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as a Jew is, so shall the proselyte be before Yehovah. There is to be one Torah and one ordinance for Jews and for the proselyte who sojourns with you.
Numbers 15:15-16 (paraphrased)
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Acts 15:1 NKJV
But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
Bereans Online responds:
This new teaching introduces several anachronisms into the discussion. It also pretends to know the way that the Apostles “read” the Scriptures – denying the power of the Holy Spirit to clearly communicate through His eternal word in their native language: Hebrew. If the Apostles were biased to accept what this new teaching contends was the First Century practice of proselytism by the LXX, then that very position undermines their subsequent rulings as extra-biblical, and having no authority for the believer then or now.
While the Septuagint (LXX) is invaluable to our understanding of ancient Hebrew as well as First Century Greek, using it the way that this new teaching does is anachronistic. It takes the usage of the word “proselutos” as it was used in a time after the First Century and projects it back into the days of the Apostles – and then even further back to the time of the translating of the LXX (270 BCE). This ignores the history and etymology of the Greek word “proselutos.”
During the reign of the King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (of Selucid Egypt), around 270 BCE, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. Traditionally, this translation was made by seventy [LXX] Jewish scholars.
The translators of the Septuagint considered the context of each usage of the word ger [stranger, sojourner] to consider if it was referring to a covenant member or a pagan. When the context dictated that the reference was to a Gentile covenant member, they translated ger into the Greek word proselutos. It is from this word that we get the English word “proselyte.” Much confusion has arisen because of the character that this word acquired after the translating of the Septuagint. When the Septuagint was written, this Greek word was found nowhere else. The word seems to have come into existence solely for the purposes of the Septuagint translators – and its usage is not divinely inspired. It was the translators’ paraphrase.
The Greek adjective proselutos comes from pros [toward] and erxomai [to come or go]. In other words, “to come over toward.” This usage started as a way to describe those covenant members who were not members of the covenant community of Israel by birth. This usage eventually redefined the word. It started off as a way to identify those Gentiles who “crossed over” to side with the God of Israel and to live with Israel in the covenant community (to “come near” is Temple language).
It was only later that the word came to mean “those who formally converted” to another religion. The important distinction is that the word was not used in the Septuagint because it implied formal conversion, but rather because it described the actual way that such people could be distinguished: namely, that they had drawn near to Israel to participate in the worship of the One True God. It is anachronistic to read the Septuagint usage of the word proselutos and the present meaning of “proselyte” back into the usage at the time of the translating of the Septuagint. To assume that the Apostles did not correctly read and use the Hebrew text is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in helping them rule correctly regarding Gentiles.
Normative Judaism has this same usage of the word “ger.” Many English translations that are used in normative Judaism translate the word “ger” as “proselyte.” For instance, the Stone Chumash translates Leviticus 19:34 in this way:
The proselyte who dwells with you shall be like a native among you, and you shall love him like yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
Leviticus 19:34a – Stone Chumash
If the word ger was translated consistently, it would read:
The proselyte who dwells with you shall be like a native among you, and you shall love him like yourself, for you were a proselyte in the land of Egypt.
This is obviously a case of writing a theology into the text as opposed to allowing the text to frame our teaching. This is a fundamental principle in Bible study: the text informs us, we do not inform the text. The Bereans of Acts 17 practiced exegesis (meaning from the text), not eisegesis (meaning into the text). Eisegesis is something used by experimental theologies.
There is no Scriptural basis for “ritual conversion” or to become a proselyte. The Scriptures speak against those who would seek to gain some sort of “Jewish identity” by undergoing this man-made ritual. Beloved, it is a man-made tradition that says that a man or woman can become a Jew by undergoing a ceremony – it is not the Torah.
When this new teaching promotes the idea that the Apostles fell into the trap of allowing the practice of ritual conversion to twist their understanding of Scripture, it is a great concern. If, as this new teaching asserts, the Apostles read the passages pertaining to gerim and their covenant obligations and were influenced by a much later understanding of the Greek word “proselutos” then it is proof that their teaching of Acts 15 and 21 is in error, and is only included in the Apostolic Scriptures to give us an account of how they made that error. While we do not consider this to be the case, we are steadfast in our understanding that God’s Word is immutable. It does not change meaning as the culture or language around it changes. It means precisely today, what it meant in the ancient past – and it will mean the same for all of eternity.
The counsel of Yehovah stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.
The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of Yehovah blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”
Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.
Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the Kingdom of heaven.
Issue #3: This new teaching defines “Torah” and “obedient to the Torah” in ways that are not biblical.
The operative word in this new teaching is “invitation.” It is careful not to speak in clear terms because the goal is to “invite Gentiles” at the same time it teaches a covenant “obligation” to the Torah for Jews.
Because this new teaching insists on using the word “invitation” regarding a Gentile’s relationship to the Torah we must ask, an invitation to what, really? Regarding this new teaching’s insistence of Jewish obligation to the Torah, we must ask, an invitation to what, really?
This is where this new teaching confuses the issue, because it defines “Torah” in much the same way that Orthodox Judaism does. For example: this new teaching says that Gentiles have an obligation to the “moral and ethical” parts of the Torah plus the four dictates of Acts 15:20; 29; 21:25. It goes on to teach that as long as a Gentile believer keeps these, they are in fact “keeping the Torah.” Whereas a Jewish believer is obligated to keep the commands that pertain to “Jewish identity” (as this new teaching defines them). Although this new teaching rejects Orthodox Judaism’s “Seven Noachide Laws” as the basis for Gentile righteousness, it defines “Torah observance” similarly to normative Judaism. Here are some examples:
This new teaching is careful not to clearly define what the Gentile invitation to “Torah” entails.
Bereans Online responds:
As human beings, we all like words like “may,” “invite,” “permitted” – while at the same time we are put off by words like “should,” “must,” “obey.” What does the Bible say about such an “invitation” – does any “invitation” of Scripture speak to equal outcome no matter what one’s response is to the “invitation”?
For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore...
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels...
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:18-19; 22; 25-29
This passage reminds us of the awesomeness of the Sinai experience in order to teach how much more awesome it is that Messiah “invites” us even now. Does Messiah “invite” us to be a part of His People? Does Messiah “invite” us to be holy as He is holy? Does Messiah “invite” us to be full citizens in His Kingdom, under His singular jurisdiction? If that is the meaning of the word “invitation” – we would completely agree. See to it that you do not refuse this “invitation” – for our God is a consuming fire!
What is the Torah? Who gets to define “obedience to the Torah”? Are we permitted to define righteousness? The answer of course is clear, and it is the Torah itself that says it.
Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which Yehovah God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yehovah your God which I command you.
Beloved, the Torah is self-defining and we are not at liberty to redefine it – nor to let tradition define it. While traditions may be helpful for us know some of the “how” of obedience, there is no question that the traditions are simply man-made. This new teaching seems to want to blur that distinction as it does when it holds “Torah Observance” only counts if it meets the test of Rabbinic Judaism. While we find rabbinic praxis to be welcome in many ways and on many levels, we reject it as the test for obedience to the Torah.
While “inviting” those who hear to take hold of the Torah (as much or as little as one likes), it promotes its own definition of what that “taking hold” looks like. For a traditional Christian, it might be enjoy Sunday rest a little more; a Seventh-Day Adventist to consider the Jewish nature of the Sabbath; a Messianic Gentile to do a little bit of the Torah; and a Jew to full Orthodox praxis.
Truly, this new teaching promotes invitation; but it does not clearly state what we feel will be the consequences of this invitation: Gentiles invited to go back their churches or invited to go through ritual conversion to Judaism. This new teaching stakes out what it feels is an overarching position between traditional Christianity and traditional Judaism. At the same time it is promoting both of those religious traditions’ lines of demarcation (Jews do “Jewish things,” Gentiles do the “moral things”). We feel the outcome will not be “one people” – but rather the opposite.
There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call - one Lord, one faith, one immersion, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Issue #4: This new teaching incorrectly asserts that the Scriptures mandate Jewish and Gentile distinction within the believing community.
This new teaching claims that maintaining Jewish and Gentile distinction is a prime directive of the Scriptures. This new teaching claims that Acts 15 and Acts 21 gives Jewish and Gentiles believers different standards of righteousness. It recognizes that the Torah mentions some commandments that are gender-specific, and others that relate only to the Levites and the Priests. Taking into account that both native-born and those not native-born are identified in the Torah, it extrapolates that there must be distinctive commandments for Jew and Gentile as well. It presents as Galatians 5:3 as its irrefutable proof that Gentile believers and Jewish believers are to be distinct. It claims that within the community of believers there is a difference between being Jewish and being Gentile.
And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.
Bereans Online responds:
Rightfully, this new teaching sees the horrible atrocities inflicted upon the Jewish people that resulted in the theft of Israel’s identity by the early Christian church. Rightfully, it is concerned about how often times, Gentiles have lead Israel astray. But regarding the need to maintain a separate and distinct identity it is wrong. There is only one identity for the believer and follower of Messiah: In Him, we are One People.
As we have seen regarding Acts 15 and 21, this requirement to maintain distinction is false. But arguing that the Apostles only obliged Gentile believers to some mythical “moral” code plus the four dictates of Acts 15:20; 29; 21:25 misses the entire point. Those that espouse such a theology are focused on the righteous standard (or their view as to what that standard is) at expense to the greater picture: One People in Messiah.
While it is clear that there are clear distinctions in some commandments regarding male, female, and priest etc., nowhere does the Torah permit that method be extrapolated to distinction between native born and those who were not native born.
The fact is, there are clear and explicit instructions found within the Scriptures that tell us how Gentiles and Jews are to be identified within the singular People of God - and it isn’t to be distinct and separate. Arguing as it does that Galatians 5:3 is irrefutable proof that there is a distinction and that it is to be maintained takes the passage completely out of its historical and grammatical context. Let’s include the verse preceding Galatians 5:3 this time:
Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Messiah will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.
As we have already seen, the “become circumcised” here is not speaking of the physical act of undergoing circumcision, but rather the act of going through ritual conversion to Judaism. It is ironic that some of the very scholars that this new teaching uses in commentary on this verse themselves promote ritual conversion. Some of those commentators say that ritual conversion is a perfectly acceptable path for a believing Gentile if they desire to “take hold of the full yoke of the Torah.” And yet, Paul indicates that would be a disastrous decision. This new teaching counters that the use of the word “law” cannot refer to man-made traditions (the “Oral Torah”) because that is not how Paul refers to traditions. And yet the Apostolic Scriptures have many places that the Greek “nomos” [law] does not refer to the Torah, but rather to man-made laws.
What this new teaching fails to do, is to compare the usage of the phrase “whole law” [holos ho nomos] elsewhere in Scripture. If holos ho nomos simply means “obedience to all the Torah commandments” as this teaching purports, then there are some difficulties such a view brings to this passage that uses the same phrase:
For whoever shall keep the whole law [holos ho nomos], and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
Whatever it means, clearly, to keep “the whole law” [ holos ho nomos] is not desirable – for Jew or Gentile. So in simply and plain language, this says what Paul himself says to such a person, “Messiah will profit you nothing.” (Galatians 5:2)
If Paul was telling people not to keep the whole Torah (Jew or Gentile, because the context of Galatians 5:2-3 tells us that this is linked to ritual conversion which is abhorrent), then of course he was a false prophet. So was Paul speaking simply about “keeping the commandments” when he uses the phrase, “a debtor to keep the whole law.” Clearly not.
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Is ritual conversion (“circumcision” as it is described here) “according to the custom of Moses” – clearly not. As we have seen, there was (and is) great confusion between what is written and what is transmitted by tradition.
When Paul and James use the phrase, “whole law” they were using a phrase that denotes the entire "law" – both written and oral. They were not referring to the written Torah. It is made clear when you see what the man-made process of ritual conversion included:
It was a well-known test of loyalty for proselytes to commit to the “written Torah” and the “oral Torah” – the “whole Torah.”
Our Rabbis taught: A certain heathen once came before Shammai and asked him, "How many Torahs have you?’ “Two,” he replied: “the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.’ ‘I believe you with respect to the Written, but not with respect to the Oral Torah; make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me the Written Torah only. But he scolded and repulsed him in anger. When he went before Hillel, he accepted him as a proselyte. On the first day, he taught him, alef, bet, gimmel, dalet; the following day he reversed them to him. “But yesterday you did not teach them to me thus,” he protested. “Must you then not rely upon me? Then rely upon me with respect to the Oral too.
As we know from the account of Peter’s vision and his response to it in Acts 10, there was great confusion between what was “tradition” and what was Torah. Just like today in normative Judaism, the “whole law” is not simply the written text of the Torah. Ironically, as we saw in issue #3 of this series, this new teaching makes the point that to “keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:3) requires adhering to the rabbinic definitions of things such as kashrut, Sabbath keeping,and ritual circumcision, etc. What does this teaching really believe about Galatians 5:3? Is the “whole law” the written Torah, or is in the “Torah + tradition”?
No beloved, Galatians 5:2-3 is not speaking of a distinction between Jew and Gentile as this teaching purports. Instead, Paul is making the case that ritual conversion (aka “circumcision” aka “keep the whole law”) is a bad thing, for both Jew and Gentile. He is making the same case as Yeshua did:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
Beloved, please remember this: there are no instructions either in the TaNaKh, or in the Apostolic Scriptures that tell us that we must maintain distinct “Jewish identity” and “Gentile identity.” None. In fact we read of just the opposite - there must not be distinction:
One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger [ger, Gentile] who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before Yehovah.
Therefore remember that you, once [former] Gentiles in the flesh - who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands - that at that time you were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances [man-made rules of distinction], so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.
...the mystery...that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Messiah through the gospel.
Ephesians 2:11-16; 3:6
Beloved, the Torah is not a “cultural expression” meant for Jewish people. It is the self-revelation of the Almighty.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.
“Divine Invitation Theology” certainly sounds inviting. Although the aim of developing a theology that makes Torah observance friendly, gracious, and allowing for individual growth is laudable – it is unnecessary. The Scriptures have always indicated that new believers are permitted time to grow in their faith and practice.
So who can oppose something that simply unnecessary? That is where we look beyond the name, and the stated purpose for this new theology. It is a theology of division. While purporting to permit healing between Messianic Judaism and greater Christianity (which would be a very good thing indeed), it only fosters greater division within Messianic Judaism – where Jews and Gentiles are not fellow-heirs, fellow-citizens, nor are they family.
“Divine Invitation Theology” digs up traditional explanations that in the past have been used to impugn the Law and those that sought to live by it. Although it claims not to divide the “moral” from “ceremonial” commandments, it certain does. It claims the commandments are “a burden” and “very difficult” – but only because it sees Torah observance from the prism of strict rabbinic halakah. We would argue that even in light of rabbinic halakah (which we find instructive and valuable), the Torah is not too difficult, but regardless, this teaching of in direct contradiction to the Scriptures that declare that Yehovah’s instructions are not too far off, too difficult, or unattainable. Our Master’s yoke is light.
Ironically, some of those that promote “Divine Invitation Theology” also claim to promote Torah study. Yet, they base this new theology upon a few passages in the Apostolic Scriptures, and then interpret those in contradiction to the very Torah passages they want to promote. The Torah contains over thirty references to the “ger” [sojourner] with the native-born in reference to the commandments. The majority of those references are specifically focused on what “Divine Invitation Theology” purports to be “Jewish identity commandments.” When confronted with the Torah, the adherents of this new theology explain the meaning of “ger” in an eisegetical way – projecting a much later Greek translation back into the original Hebrew, and perverting the very meaning of the Torah with regard to Gentiles.
Beloved, while we can love those who claim this new theology as their raison d’être; we must speak out against this divisive philosophy. It is like the man-made traditions of the First Century that kept Gentiles at bay – where the man-made soreg kept them away from intimate fellowship with the very God that had called them.
The Almighty sent Messiah into this world to redeem men from every tribe and tongue. He joined them into One People. His righteous standard is a guide for them all – each one.
We have all been brought near. All of us. One King, One People, One Torah.
All who are native-born shall do these things in this manner, in presenting an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to Yehovah. And if a stranger dwells with you, or whoever is among you throughout your generations, and would present an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to Yehovah, just as you do, so shall he do. One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before Yehovah. One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.’”
We remain steadfast that there is only One King, there is only One People, and that we have been given One Torah.