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The Model for the Messianic Community
As I began to study both the Scriptures and the history of Christianity with my new “Jewish eyes” I did my best to concentrate solely on what the Scriptures and history actually said, and to avoid what my seminary professors and former pastors had told me they said. Not that I thought that my professors and pastors were necessarily wrong, but only that I wanted to be sure that I was seeing in the Scriptures what their Divine Author, and not my human teachers, intended for me to see.
As a theological scientist I had been trained to approach systematic theology as the science of carefully examining what the Scriptures say and summarizing their teachings into concise statements of “doctrine” that can then be neatly placed into the various categories established by previous theological scientists. As with all the sciences, theology has its own set of “rules” and pre-defined ideas that have been established, and that provide the boundaries within which the theological scientist is expected to practice that science. As evolution is to the biologist and the so-called (but non-existent in actuality) “Geologic Column” is to the paleontologist, there are certain assumptions that the theological scientist is trained to simply accept without much thought. These assumptions have been accepted for so long that they simply are no longer questioned by those in the field, and the very act of questioning them would be tantamount to professional suicide.
Of course charismatic theological scientists have a different set of rules than non-charismatics, liberal theological scientists have a different set of rules than conservatives, Protestant theological scientists have a different set of rules than Catholics, and the list goes on. My formal training could best be described as “non-charismatic, conservative, evangelical, and dispensational,” and so the “rules” of my theology naturally reflected that orientation.
As I began to take this new (for me) approach to the Scriptures, I soon discovered what I have come to believe had previously been a major barrier to my understanding of what the Messianic Community actually looked like between the time of Messiah’s resurrection and the establishment of “Christianity” as the official religion of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine (ca. 325 CE). I discovered that my previous understanding of the early “Church” and its history had affected my earlier interpretation of the Apostolic Scriptures, and of the way Yeshua intended for His Body of Believers to live and function. I discovered that I had completely misunderstood upon what sociological “model” the Messianic Community was originally established by Yeshua and His Shliachim, particularly Rav Sha’ul who, more than any other early missionary, was responsible for bringing the Goyim into the Messianic Community.
From my formal theological training I had, I believe, developed an understanding of the Scriptures, particularly the “New Testament” Scriptures, that was significantly different from the way they would have most likely been understood by their original recipients.
This point was ever so starkly brought to my attention several years ago through a piece of Sunday school literature which came across my desk. It was written for grade school children and produced by a leading denominational publishing house. The part which caught my eye was a full-page drawing of Jesus. He was depicted as a boy and shown going up steps leading into a building. Underneath the drawing was this caption: ‘Jesus was a good Christian boy who went to church every Sunday.’ I scarcely could believe my eyes! Here were three glaring errors in one sentence: Jesus was a Christian, not a Jew; he attended church, not synagogue; and he went on Sunday, not the Sabbath. On seeing this I thought to myself, if this is what is being taught in certain church schools among the young, no wonder a problem persists today among many Christian adults. These Christians fail to grasp the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish background to the New Testament writings.
This little book is not intended to be anything even remotely approaching a thorough or exhaustive treatment of the subject. It is, however, intended to provide enough information to allow you, the reader, to begin the long and slow process of rethinking some previous conceptions of what the early Body of Messiah might have actually looked like and, perhaps, even of rethinking what the Messiah expects His Body and Bride to look like today.
The following are but a few of the ideas that I have had to wrestle with, and which we will be discussing as you read on:
1. Yeshua, His original
Talmidim, and His
Shliachim were all born as Jews, lived their entire lives as Jews,
and died as Torah-observant Jews. What other life-style could any of
them ever even considered?
2. The only “Scriptures” that any of them
knew was the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible
— that which Gentile Christians refer to as the “Old Testament.” As a friend of mine once
pointed out, “The Apostle Paul never preached a single sermon from the New Testament.” The
Apostolic Scriptures, or so-called “New Testament,” did not exist in its present form until
they were all long dead and buried.
3. The only form of worship that any of them knew was that of
the Temple and Synagogues. Why would they ever choose to abandon that form of worship?
4. Since Israel was the only people on earth
to have received direct revelation from the one true God, the only place to learn about Him
was in Israel’s Temple/Synagogue environment.
5. From the time of the Exodus out of Egypt
through the end of the Second Temple Period, and even until today, non-Jews have always been
welcome to participate in Jewish religious life, as long as certain acceptable forms of behavior
6. All the writers of the entire Bible, including
both the Tanakh and the Apostolic Scriptures, were Jews. The Bible was written by Jews,
to Jews, and for Jews, about the Jewish Patriarchs Avraham (Abraham), Yitzchak (Isaac), and Ya'akov
(Jacob), their ancestors, and their descendants, culminating in Avraham’s greatest Son Yeshua. Dr.
Luke, writer of the Gospel account that bears his name and the book of Acts, is often assumed to have
been a Gentile, but that is simply not possible. He was a Jew, either natural-born or a proselyte;
if he were a Gentile he would have had absolutely
no access to the Temple or the synagogues of his time.
7. Yeshua taught that the entire Tanakh
speaks of Him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; cp. John 1:45). Thus the Apostolic Scriptures, those letters which His
Shliachim wrote about His life and ministry and to explain His teachings that they were
commissioned to pass on—and which we have received as the Apostolic Scriptures—can best
be considered as God-inspired midrashim (commentaries) on the Tanakh, which enable Believers
to properly understand both the Tanakh and Yeshua’s teaching as interpreted by Ruach HaKodesh
through the Shliachim.
8. Since Hebrew was the common
language of Eretz Yisra'el in the late
Second Temple Period, and “Koine Greek” was
assumed to be the lingua franca of all Goyim in the then-known world, and since the
Gospel was to be delivered “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek,” the case has been made by
some very reputable scholars that the Apostolic letters were very probably originally written in
Hebrew (the native tongue of all the writers except perhaps Dr. Luke) for transmission
to the Jewish Messianic Believers, both in Eretz Yisra'el and in the Diaspora, and were immediately
translated into Greek for transmission to the Non-Jewish Messianic Believers. At
the very least, the early Church fathers held that the original source document for the Synoptic
Gospels was written in Hebrew by Mattityahu.
See (Appendix B and
With these ideas in mind, let us now look at the history of the Body of Messiah from its earliest beginnings and see if we can discover for ourselves just what Yeshua and the Shliachim may have actually expected the Messianic Community to look like.
10. If you skipped the first chapter, you won’t understand what this means. [RETURN]
11. I prefer the term “theological scientist” to “theologian” for the reasons explained in this paragraph. [RETURN]
12. Common Era. I prefer to use CE instead of AD (Ano Domini, or Year of the Lord) and BCE (Before the Common Era) instead of BC (Before Christ) for reasons that will become apparent as you read on. [RETURN]
13. The letters written by the first Messianic Jewish Rabbis who were the disciples of Yeshua and witnesses to His resurrection. Also erroneously called the B'rit Hadasha, Renewed Covenant, or “New Testament.” [RETURN]
14. Shliachim is the Hebrew word for emissaries or ambassadors, or those who are “sent forth” as official representatives. The ambassadors from Israel to other countries are sometimes called shliachim in Hebrew. The Greek translation of shliachim used in the Apostolic Scriptures is ajpovstoloß (apostolos), from which we get the word “apostles.” [RETURN]
15. Rav Sha’ul is the original Hebrew name and title of Rabbi Saul of Tarsus, also known as the Apostle Paul. Rav is a shortened form of the Hebrew word Rabbi, or teacher. [RETURN]
16. Goyim is the Hebrew word for nations and usually refers to Gentiles, though it is sometimes also used to refer to the nation of Israel. [RETURN]
17. Marvin R. Wilson in the Foreword to Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad H. Young. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995, p. xvii. I have personally seen versions of this same illustration in the literature of several different denominations. [RETURN]
18. Talmidim is the Hebrew word for disciples. The Scriptures make a distinction between Messiah’s Talmidim (Disciples) and Shliachim (Apostles). The Talmidim would include all those who have followed the Messiah from the first century to the present; the term Shliachim refers specifically to those eye-witnesses to the Resurrection who were directly commissioned and sent by Messiah to be the ambassadors from His Kingdom to the first-century world. I believe those who refer to themselves as Apostles today do so out of arrogance, ignorance, or both, unless they have had a face-to-face encounter with the resurrected Messiah. [RETURN]
19. Tanakh is an acronym (TNK) for the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the five Books of Moshe, or “Law”), Nevi'im (Prophets), Kituvim (Writings). Please see the Glossary for more information. [RETURN]
22. “One way that the Jewish people resisted the pagan influence of Greece was by maintaining loyalty to the law of God and by speaking their native language. In the letter of Aristeas, for example, we discover a reference to the language of the people. The language of the Torah, Hebrew, is said to be the language of the people, though some have confused this with Aramaic. While it would not be correct to say that Hebrew was the only language understood and spoken by the Jewish people during the time of Jesus, there is abundant evidence that indeed the people’s holy books, prayers, studies in the classroom, parables, and quite naturally, then, their everyday speech, was conducted in the language of the Bible — Hebrew.” (Young, Brad. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999, p. 263.) For more information on the Hebrew source for the Apostolic Scriptures, please see Appendix B and Appendix C. [RETURN]