Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Messianic Acrobatics: Question #6

On a recent post (and it'd have to be since this is like day 2 of actual blogging for me), Judah stated:

"You'll find Messianic Jewish folks on the web doing Scriptural acrobats to say "Commonwealth of Israel" is something besides Israel."

Judah is referring to how main line Messianics (I suppose as distinguished with independent Messianics) try to get around Ephesians 2 where it says that the gentiles have become citizens [politeia] in Israel.

On on post by Derek Leman (http://www.derekleman.com/musings/2012/01/06/answering-peter/), Derek finally agreed that politeia means "citizen" but he tried to do some damage control:

"Peter argues that in Ephesians 2:12, the phrase often translated “commonwealth of Israel” should be “citizenship of Israel.” I agree. But does this make non-Jews in Messiah Israelites? As I argue in my response, “citizen” in a Roman imperial context makes one equal in privilege but does not make one a Roman — and neither does being a “citizen” of Israel make one an Israelite..."

The rebuttal is that Ephesians 2 is not about how citizenship operated in the client states of ancient Rome but rather about the covenantal privileges associated with citizenship in Israel and the fact that Torah only gives these covenantal privileges to those gerim who are equated with ezrach (citizens).  Thus, the underlying concept is Hebraic rather than Roman.

On a recent post by Gene Shlomovich, Gene tried (initially) to argue that politeia was a vague term and could've been rendered as "state":

"The ancient Greek word Politeia (πολιτεία) can mean a ‘government,’ ‘state, nation, country,’. It can also mean “conduct”, “behavior”, “adventures,” or even a single “town.” It could also mean “administration”. It is also translated as a “Republic” (e.g. Plato). KJV translates the word as “freedom”, while most English Bible translations use the word “commonwealth”. NIV is one of the very few translations that uses the word “citizenship”.

I offered a lexical evidence rebuttal but Gene deleted that comment on the basis of it being "snobbish" or something like that.  So later I made this rebuttal:

"I defy anyone to not be frustrated with Gene for his comment that politeia doesn’t mean citizenship, anyone who knows that the latin analogue to politeia is civitas which literally means “citizenry” and denotes the contractual duties/rights of citizens as a group. This is basic history. Not to mention the context of Eph 2. If Gene renders politeia as “state” then he must render sumpolites absurdly as “fellow states” rather than fellow citizens. Not to mention as well that Paul shows us in Acts 22:28 that he knows politeia means citizen because Paul has a conversation with a commander and employs the term with that sense."


Considering the lexical evidence, historical evidence, contextual evidence, etc, what do you make of Ephesians 2?


  1. Could you post here (where Gene cannot delete) "where [you] cited to roughly twenty lexical sources to show you what the word “politeia” means." ?

    That may help with the lexical evidence we should consider to respond to your question. : )

    1. Marko, it wouldn't let me paste it all in one reply. So see the multiple comments below. Thanks for your comment!

  2. >> "Considering the lexical evidence, historical evidence, contextual evidence, etc, what do you make of Ephesians 2?"

    Gentiles are no longer foreigners to the covenants God made with Israel. Gentiles are no longer aliens, but instead are citizens of the commonwealth of Israel.

    What's your take on Paul's "dividing wall, the enmity, the law of commandments contained in ordinances", which Messiah tore down in order to create one new man of Jew and gentile? Many Christians interpret this to mean the Torah was abolished by Messiah in order to create a single entity, One New Man, out of Jew and Gentile.

    1. Judah,

      Oh, boy, that's a tough exegetical question that I haven't considered fully. I'm going to spend some time today reading about that since I don't have an opinion as yet. But while I'm doing that I would certainly appreciate hearing what G-d has shared with you on the subject. What's your take?

    2. Judah, this deserves a post of its own. It'll be entitled "Dividing Wall"

  3. Yes, Marko and thank you for your comment. While I don't have that original comment that was deleted by Gene, here is I think the substance of that original comment (forgive the sloppiness of the pasting):

    The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties
    by Shaye J. D. Cohen

    "JUDAISM AS POLITEIA...The Greek word politeia means in the first instance 'citizenship,' the quality of being a citizen (a polites). By extension the word also refers to the institutions and conventions within which a citizen exercises his citizenship. In the latter sense the word is often translated as 'constitution' but in many texts the translation 'law of the land' or 'way of life' would be better. The politeia of an individual is his citizenship; the politeia of a state is its way of doing things.
    The Judaeans too had their own way of life, given to them by their lawgiver Moses. Hecataeus is the first (ca. 300 B.C.E.) Greek writer to describe Moses and his 'constitution,' and his description is the first of many. Upon his conquest of Judaea in 200 B.C.E. Antiochus III decreed: 'Let all those from this nation conduct their way of life (politeia) in accordance with their ancestral laws.' The decree is the first official document extant that demonstrates that the ancestral laws of the Judaeans--that is, the laws of the Torah--constituted the law of the land. Both Philo and Josephus explicitly label Judaism a politeia and speak of outsiders who become insiders by adopting the politeia of the Judaeans. In a passage cited above, Josephus remarks that Hyrcanus had altered the way of life (politeia) of the Idumaeans to make it conform to the customs and laws of the Judaeans.
    If the ancestral laws of the Judaeans constituted their politeia, then the Judaeans themselves, not only in Judaea but even in the diaspora, will have been politai or 'citizens.' ....Judaeans are 'citizens,' and Jewishness is their citizenship." pg. 125

    footnote 43 on pg. 126 "Antiochus III: AJ 12.142. 'Proselytes' are so called, Philo says (On the Special Laws 1.9.51), because 'they have come to a new and God-loving politeia,' and Josephus has a similar conception (S.J.D. Cohen, 'Respect for Judaism' 425-427).

    pg. 127 "If a 'constitution' or 'way of life' was mutable, so was 'citizenship.' Individuals and groups could obtain a 'citizenship' that was not theirs by birth."

  4. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary by Harold W. Hoehner

    pg. 357 "In the present context [Eph 2:12] the last view [rendering politeia as citizenship] is preferred because the whole context discusses the privileges of belonging to a group of people who had a relationship with God. Furthermore, in verse 19 Paul states that we are fellow citizens with all the saints, not with fellow countrymen. In addition, the meaning of citizenship is more inclusive than the meaning of state or commonwealth because one can be a resident of a state and not be a citizen and hence would not feel a part of that state. On the other hand, a citizen can feel that he belongs to a state, whether or not he is living in it. The Ephesians could relate well to this concept for they knew what it was like to live within the political state of Rome without being a citizen of Rome with all the accompanying privileges. Besides, in reality there was no commonwealth of Israel functioning as an independent state in Paul's day. Rather it was part of the commonwealth or political state of Rome...What [the Greeks] sought was the citizenship of Israel because of the special privileges God bestowed on her. Up to this time, some Gentiles were admitted into Judaism as proselytes, but as a whole, Gentiles were excluded and thus alienated from the citizenship of Israel."

    pg. 356 "In Acts 22:28 [politeia] refers to a Roman commander who has purchased his 'citizenship.'"

    Ephesians: A Handbook on the Greek Text by William J. Larkin

    "Best (241) defines [politeia] here as 'the right to be a member of a sociopolitical entity,' probably due to the phrase's link to 'the covenants of promise.' Given the following genitive...however, the sense of 'a socio-political unit or body of citizens' is more likely (Calvin, 233; BDAG, 845.2)." pg 38

    The Continuation of Gentiles Identity in Ephesians by J. Brian Tucker

    pg. 16-17 "...it seems that these gentiles in Christ, building on Kinzer and Rudolph's understanding, may be described as 'fellow-citizens' in the 'politeia of Israel,' while not becoming Jews (2:12, 19; 3:6)."

  5. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary

    "2. sumpolites...denotes 'a fellow citizen,' i.e., possessing the same 'citizenship,'...3. politeia...signifies (a) 'the relation in which a citizen stands to the state, the condition of a citizen, citizenship,' Acts 22:28, 'with a great sum obtained I this citizenship' (KJV, 'freedom'). While Paul's 'citizenship' of Tarsus was not of advantage outside that city, yet his Roman 'citizenship' availed throughout the Roman Empire and, besides private rights, included (1) exemption from all degrading punishments; (2) a right of appeal to the emperor after a sentence; (3) a right to be sent to Rom for trial before the emperor if charged with a capital offense..." pg. 103 of Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary

    A Greek Lexicon to the New Testament by Charles Robinson

    "[politeia]...'the being a free citizen,' the relation of a free citizen to the state; hence a) citizenship, the right of citizenship, freedom of a city, Acts 22:28. b) the state itself, a community, commonwealth, Eph 2.12"

    A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament by Ethelbert William Bullinger

    "[polites], a member of a city or state, citizen, freeman, gen. belonging to, connected with one's city or country."

    "[polis], a city or town...properly a town enclosed with a wall."

    A Greek and English Lexicon to the New Testament by John Parkhurst

    "[politeia]...I. A political society...Eph. ii.12, where, however, the following sense is also applied. II. Citizenship, the rights of a citizen..."

    A Greek and English Manual Lexicon to the New Testament by J.H. Bass

    "[polites]...a citizen"

    A Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament by William Greenfield

    "[politeia]...the state of being a citizen; citizenship, the right or privilege of being a citizen..."

    A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament by Alexander Souter

    "[politeia]...(a)...polity; citizen body, Eph. ii 12; (b)...citizenship, citizen-rights..."

    A Lexicon of New Testament Greek by Theodore Jones

    "[polites]...a citizen"

    The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Frederick William Danker

    "[sumpolites] ...'one sharing in citizenship enjoyed by others,' fellow citizen, compatriot Eph 2:19"

    Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Geoffrey William Bromiley

    "Polis [city], polites [citizen], politeuomai [religious behavior of a citizen], politeia [citizenship, conduct], politeuma [behavior befitting one's citizenship]

    ...2. politeuomai occurs only in Acts 23:1 and Phil. 1:27. In both cases it refers to conduct that is shaped by religion with no political implications.
    ...4. politeuma occurs only in Phil. 3:20. Exhorting believers to appropriate conduct, Paul tells them that their true homeland is in heaven. On earth (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11) they have no right to domicile; they are not citizens rooted in nature, thought, or interests...The kingdom of heaven is their politeuma. They should act accordingly."

  6. Well it makes sense, I think that people have to twist in order for their theology to be consistent. If they render it as citizen, it could throw a wrench in their beliefs, and they might have to reconsider, which is a big no-no. So they ultimately have to conclude something else, does not matter what else, just something that works.

    Thank you for the sources.

  7. "If they render it as citizen, it could throw a wrench in their beliefs..."

    OK, I believe that Gentiles are or will be citizens of or in the Commonwealth of Israel, but they are not Israelites or Israel. Is there a problem?

    1. Yes, see blog entitled "Gene vs. the Nations"

      : )

    2. Well it would seem to me, being that Israel represents a nation, then how could one be a citizen of a nation, and at the same time, not be considered part of the nation.

      If a Chinese man becomes a citizen of America, he is considered an American... He does not turn into a white/black man or lose his Chinese self, but he is an American.

      So what are you saying? It would seem your definition comes from a book called Gene, and some world you live in called "Gene's fantasy world" :P

  8. "OK, I believe that Gentiles are or will be citizens of or in the Commonwealth of Israel, but they are not Israelites or Israel. Is there a problem?"

    So . . . what would you call a citizen of the Commonwealth of Israel?