Sunday, August 19, 2012
A Letter to My Friend Who is Being Trained by UMJC to be a Rabbi
[DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING LETTER HAS BEEN EDITED IN ORDER TO BETTER PRESERVE ANONYMITY]
I enjoyed your recent sermon entitled [space]. When you talked about the need for conflict resolution, it made me want to talk to you. Since I support you and know you to be a good man, when I hear that you are studying at MJTI, the leadership wing of UMJC, it makes me want to tell you what's on my heart. I have a conflict with the UMJC and I don't want it to be a conflict with you. I hope you will permit me to share with you what is on my heart.
I feel that the UMJC is teaching something very hurtful: the teaching that gentiles should not follow the Torah. So I'd like to talk about three things: (1) the teaching itself; (2) why the teaching is harmful and; (3) why the passages used to support this position are being misused. I hope that I can talk about this without causing you offense. This is truly weighing on my heart and it is my sincere desire to see this conflict resolved.
There are many Rabbis in the UMJC who teach this position. David Rudolph is one among many. He puts it this way, "…there are two universal rules in the New Testament that enjoin Jews to remain Jews, and Gentiles to remain Gentiles--one authorized by Paul (1 Cor 7:17-24) and the other by the Jerusalem apostles (Acts 15)," (Rudolph, "Paul's Rule"). And he states what this means for praxis here: "…Gentiles do not need to take on Torah observance as proselytes…" (Rudolph, "Paul's Rule").
Why is this harmful? Because Torah is G-d's instructions for righteousness and freedom. The Torah is meant to be taught to all the nations (Mic 4:2; Zec 2; 8:22-23, etc). It is a crucial part of the New Covenant to which both Jews and gentiles belong (Jer 31:33, etc), telling all Believers how to become His people, an Am Segula. So when G-d instills in them a desire to follow Torah but they're taught by the UMJC that Torah is not for them, this plunges them into identity confusion, cognitive dissonance, and sometimes can even lead to them abandoning Messianic Judaism for a non-Messianic form of Judaism in which they will be encouraged to follow Torah provided they reject Yeshua as the Messiah.
The UMJC primarily bases this teaching on three passages: Acts 15; 1 Cor 7:17-24; and Galatians 5. I will briefly state the UMJC's case and then respond to each in turn.
The UMJC states that the issue before the Jerusalem Council was "Should gentiles get circumcised and be required to follow Torah?" Dan Juster writes that the answer is a resounding "no" and that the council decreed that the gentiles were merely bound to the Noahic Covenant. Other UMJC writings echo this belief that the council decided against including gentiles in the Sinaitic Covenant and elected instead to bind them to the Noahic Covenant. Rudolph himself says that the fourfold decree was a proto-rabbinic form of the Noahide Law.
In reality, the issue before the Jerusalem Council was whether gentiles were accepted into the covenant by grace (15:11) and Peter's assertion that "…we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they" is a direct attack on the Pharisaic position stated in 15:1 "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." In short, Peter argued that the gentiles were saved by grace and that the Ruach accepted them into the covenant so that from out of the gentiles G-d had created "a people for His name" (15:14). In Tenak, this expression refers to the covenantal relationship between HaShem and Israel. Israel actually took on G-d's name and became Am Yisra-EL.
The fourfold decree is not ethical in nature but rather refers to "pollutions of idols" and various pagan practices connected with idolatry that must be avoided at all costs since they "pollute." These gentile "converts" (note the use of epistrepho in vs 3, 19) were expected to renounce idolatry and the rest of normative covenantal Torah lifestyle was well known since it had been taught from ancient times in every city each Shabbat in synagogues (15:21).
1 CORINTHIANS 7:17-24
In this passage, Paul tells Jews and gentiles to remain as they were called. The UMJC argues that this proves that gentiles should not follow Torah.
However, verse 19 says "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what counts." The plain reading here is that whether or not one is circumcised, each Believer should follow the Torah of Moses. The scholar Frank Thielman notes that that expression "commandments of God" occurs in the Septuagint's translation of Ezra 9:4 as a synonym for the law of Moses. So this verse actually damages the UMJC's argument pretty severely.
Russ Resnik and Dan Juster write, "Galatians 5 warns Gentiles not to receive circumcision or they will be required to keep the whole Torah. The clear implication here is that without circumcision, Gentiles are not required to keep the whole Torah" (Resnik and Juster, "One Law Movements").
But did Paul really see circumcision as a horrible "yoke of bondage"? If we look in the context we see that Paul wasn't against proper circumcision at all but rather he was arguing against the false doctrine from Acts 15:1--the teaching that unless one is circumcised one cannot be saved. We know that Paul is attacking works-based justification and not circumcision itself because Paul says "You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (5:4).
Thank you for taking the time to hear what was on my heart. I hope that even if you choose to disagree with my position (which is fine by the way) that we can respect each other. However, my fervent hope is that you will reevaluate the UMJC's position since I've demonstrated how it is unstable. And if you ever want to talk more about this then I would take that as a sign that you also desire to resolve any doctrinal conflicts that have arisen between us and work towards mutual respect.
Shalom in Moshiach,
Posted by Peter at 5:37 PM