In Defense of All This Jewish Stuff

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Too often I bump into people, even theologically educated Christian people, who are impatient with talk about the Jewishness of Yeshua and the place the Jewish people have in the consummating purposes of God.  Recently, someone commented that Yeshua coming to and through the Jeewish people is simply an accident of history. After all, he had to come through some people, and that he came through the Jews is nothing special.

Let’s look at that for a moment. Is it really true that Yeshua coming to and through the Jewish people is simply an accident of history because he had  to come through some people, and that he came through the Jews is nothing special?

Well, there are some problems with that approach. If Yeshua had come through any other people he could not have been the Savior of the world and his coming to and through the Jewish people is not the same as his coming to any other because the Jewish people are not a people just like any other. He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, he is the King of the Jews, he is the Son of David, he is the One in whom Israel’s status as the covenant bearing nation, [for the sake of all, yes], is epitomized and he is the One in whom God’s purposes for Israel and the nations moves forward to its consummation.

In Isaiah 49 he is to be the Israel within Israel, in the words of Will Herberg, “the one man Israel.” Read this passage carefully and chew on its glories without spitting anything out. You will see that the Servant/Messiah is on the one hand called “Israel,” and on the other hand has a ministry to Israel and then beyond to the other nations as well:

Listen to me, O coastlands,and give attention, you peoples from afar.The Lord called me from the womb,from the body of my mother he named my name.He made my mouth like a sharp sword;in the shadow of his hand he hid me;he made me a polished arrow;in his quiver he hid me away.And he said to me, “You are my servant,Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”But I said, “I have labored in vain;I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;yet surely my right is with the Lord,and my recompense with my God.”And now the Lord says,he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,to bring Jacob back to him;and that Israel might be gathered to him—for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,and my God has become my strength—he says:“It is too light a thing that you should be my servantto raise up the tribes of Jacoband to bring back the preserved of Israel;I will make you as a light for the nations,that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”Thus says the Lord,the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,the servant of rulers:“Kings shall see and arise;princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;because of the Lord, who is faithful,the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

I live across the street from one of the greatest  systematic and historical theologians of the 20th/21st century, Dr. Colin Brown, now well up in his eighties, and still researching and writing. He commented to me about six weeks ago how the Church has from very early on not only neglected the Jewishness of Jesus, but sought to suppress it. He says this has been a litany of his for many years. For me to state this is one thing, but for Dr. Colin Brown, who was asked by InterVarsity Press years ago to write a history of Western Civilization to say this, is quite another. Dr Brown is a polymath, a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different fields.

God’s continuing and foundational work with the Jewish people is the root that supports God’s work among the other branches of the human family. The Bible is clear that in the sovereignty of God the Jewish people are not just like any other nation. “This is a people that dwells apart that shall not be numbered with the nations.” Gentile pagans can only become part of the people of God if and as they become part of the Commonwealth of Israel, and  Yeshua is, as John 4: 26, 29 and 42 reminds us BOTH the Messiah/King of the Jews and the Saviour of the World. And earlier in the chapter Yeshua reminds the Samaritan woman “we worship what WE [jews] know, for salvation is of the Jews.” It still is. And he remains the Son of David, and only THUS the Savior of the world. This is how I put this in my monograph, Son of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Jewish Movement, which is available through the Interfaithfulness website.

Examine the church’s artistic and literary legacy and you will detect amnesia concerning the Jewishness of Yeshua.  Instead, the church embraces a generic Christ, the cosmic Savior, the Man for Others, a Metaphysical Hero, a Chameleon Redeemer who blends in perfectly wherever he is found. In its paintings, icons, weavings, drawings, and sculptures, the church in every culture makes Jesus over in its own image.  You will find the Gentile Christ with the aquiline nose, the rugged white Anglo Saxon Marlboro Man Christ, African and Afro-American Christs, Asian Christs, often in Buddhist postures of meditative repose, Indian Christs looking more Guru than “Jewru,” Swinburne’s conquering pale Galilean, Mexican Cristos twisting in crucified agony, and various designer Christs, tailored to fit each consumer culture.  Somehow the church lost sight of what was so obvious to the Samaritan woman: Jesus was, is, and evermore will be a Jew.

Orthodox Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod lays out for us the nature and persistence of the chosen status of the Jewish people:
This election (of Israel) is that of the seed of Abraham. A descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a Jew irrespective of what he believes or how virtuous he is. . . . Nowhere does the Bible tell us why Abraham rather than someone else was chosen. The implication is that God chooses whom he wishes and that he owes no accounting to anyone for his choices.

Israel’s election is therefore a carnal election. . . . If it was his decision to make Abraham his beloved servant and the descendants of Abraham his beloved people, then it is for man to accept God’s will with obedience.[1]

If Wyschogrod is correct, then in this 21st century of its existence, the church will have to learn to stammer such strange syllables. Otherwise, she cannot walk with the people of Israel, nor can she truly walk with God.

Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger makes this point clearly, speaking of the church’s election as enfolded within that of Israel:

God chooses, among all the pagan nations, sons and daughters who, through faith in Christ . . . henceforth share in Israel’s election, grace and mission . . . (and) through and with the crucified and living Messiah . . share in the filial adoption promised to Israel.”[2]

Notice his careful language: the church shares in Israel’s (prior) filial adoption. There is no language of usurpation here. Not only can the church not walk as the people of God apart from Israel’s enduring election. Without Israel’s enduring election, the church cannot be the people of God.

Far from being embarrassed or apologetic on the matter, the biblical text highlights the arbitrariness of Israel’s election: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the LORD loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers.”[3] Later, Paul will confirm this thrust, highlighting that Jacob was elected instead of the older Esau “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue” (Ro 9:10-11). Again highlighting the counter-intuitiveness of God’s election, Paul will show how even in their stance as opponents to the gospel of God, Israel remains beloved for the sake of the fathers, because the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Ro 11:28-29).[4]

Markus Barth blows away the fog that often clings to these issues.  His words on the matter are a worthy template for our own, exhibiting a clarity of thought that somehow eludes many:

It is God’s prerogative to decide who is God’s people. This people is constituted by God’s choice and promise alone; it is sustained by his faithfulness and power, judged by his righteousness, pardoned by his mercy, and made complete for his honor. Its characteristics and identity, therefore, are not determined by the inclusive or exclusive self-consciousness of either Jews or Christians, except perhaps by the recognition common to both—that each of them is utterly unworthy to belong to this people.[5]

While it is difficult to disagree with Markus Barth here, many in the church have their heels dug in. Why this is so will have to wait for a later posting.

 

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Portions of this post are from my forthcoming book, Converging Destinies: Jews, Christians, and the Mission of God. Therefore please remember what is always true, this material is ©2013 Stuart Dauermann.


[1] Michael Wyschogrod, The Body of Faith: God and the People Israel (Northvale, NJ: Aronson, 1996), 176.

[2] Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, The Promise (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) 95.

[3] Dt.7:77-8

[4] Against such a background, it is remarkable that the Reformed (Calvinist) stream of Christianity has historically been at the forefront of supersessionism, postulating the cessation of Israel’s elect status. You would think that the wing of Christendom that most stresses sovereign election, would have the least problem with Israel’s continuing election. However, such is not the case. For a thorough treatment of Reformed supersessionism, anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism by a committed Reformed scholar, see Barry E, Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007). Horner traces supersessionism and its anti-Judaic, anti-Semitic spawn back to the Patristic period, and especially to Augustine, whose views became formative of the Western theological tradition.

[5] Markus Barth, The People of God, JSNT Supplement Series, 5 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1983), 44.

9 Comments

  1. Great points Stuart – the real, literal physical people of Israel, today’s Israel, are at the center of His covenant whether they know it or not. Yeshua as the “One Man Israel” is in their midst today, whether they know it or not. While Jews are no better than Gentiles in God’s sight, the Jews are still be a light to the Gentile world, and so many indeed seek to be, Messianic and not. Therefore the many centuries of wise Jewish thought, the teachings of Talmud, Rashi, Maimonides, and so many others, should be eagerly sought after and embraced by Christians. Yet too many shun Judaism as a dead religion full of meaningless teaching and rituals – so sad and so much their loss.

  2. As usual Stuart, a very cogent argument neither from ignorance nor silence. For me the texts themselves cry out the message of God’s eternal choosing of the Jewish people to be the vehicle by which not just themselves but the world would be blessed. Funny how some strains of the evangelical/reformed Church are quick to point out Isra’els sins, and cry out that God has abandoned his children and yet never cry out about the sins of the Gentile world. All this “Jewish stuff” is so relevant especially in todays world in the times. The eternal values of justice, mercy, and love of ones neighbor forever bear the indelible fingerprint of a people so maligned by the world. No other people group has suffered the wrath, pain, and abuse at the hands if the Church like Am Yisra’el. As I have told you about my past, I have been on the nasty end of that abuse, even being told I should remove my yarmulke when visiting a church to speak. Anyway I’m rambling on…great job, I’m sure Avraham Avinu and Rabbeinu Moshe are smiling in Gan Eden!

    1. Thank you Tony. Just be sure not to let being “on the nasty end of that abuse” cause you to grow bitter. It’s too much of a drain on one’s energy. Just move on. And thanks for ringing in.

  3. There’s a twist on the “Why all the Jewish stuff” whine when more articulate people dismiss a (hopefully balanced, non-philo-semitic) commitment to Klal Yisrael / “Jewish stuff”–as mere cultural chauvinism or affectation.

    Recently a leader in the MJ world asked me in disbelief what was biblical about MJs actively identifying, committing to the larger J community, as if the the whole “azkenazic” thing was an prideful affectation/boosting of ones own heritage under the pious rubric of “biblical.”

    I was stunned that this could even have been asked. (Forgive my bias but I felt like I had been asked why I kept acknowledging the wetness of water during the discussion of same.)

  4. Shalom Rav
    Thank you for this insight as always you help me advance in my faith. I would like to ask you this: following your post and the others you have already written, would it be very wrong to claim that It is exactly our Judaism (Torah observance) that provides us with the framework required to interpret Yeshua’s revelation and at the same time we are re- configured and shaped by this same revelation? Like an organically integrated process?
    Be assured of my prayers
    Shabbat shalom

  5. Thank you Stuart. I would just like to mention that coming out of the RCC, then from Protestantism, I have done extensive research and reading regarding Christianity. I have come to understand that Christianity is based on the pagan Babylonian religion with their savior based on Bacchus (Mithraism) and or Tammuz, who has been “painted” with Jewish/Hebrew colors, in order to deceive many and draw many away from the truth. So, for me to hear “Jesus” is the Jewish Messiah is quite awful. This “Jesus” is not the same person as Y’hoshua.

    1. Sharon, I am afraid you have been sold a bill of goods. There are a number of logical fallacies that combine to result in the kind of position you have come to, and I am afraid the people and sources you have consulted have not served you well. As but one example, a common fallacy is presuming that a real or perceived relationship between things means that one is the cause of the other. Many people confuse correlation (things happening together or in sequence) for causation (that one thing actually causes the other to happen). Sometimes correlation is coincidental, or it may be attributable to a common cause. Parallels between pagan religions and Christianity do not in any manner establish that one is descended from the other. This is a logical fallacy.

      In addition, beware of the genetic fallacy which disqualified or stigmatizes something on the basis of its origins. Things are NOT to be judged on the basis of their origins but on the basis of their use. My favorite example is this one. The Temple of Solomon was built on the floor plan of a Phoenician temple. This is no surprise since Phonecian artisans assisted Solomon in the building of it. This floor plan is the same one used in Phoenician temples where the Phoenicians sacrificed not only animals, but also their children to their deity. The children were burned alive in fire, and loud drums and pipes were used to drown out the screams. People who adhere to the genetic fallacy which is evident in your comment and rife in your sources no doubt, would therefore axiomatically say that God would NEVER use the floor plan of such a temple as the dwelling place of His glory. Yet, that is precisely what he did. It is USE that determines the sanctity of something, not its origins.

      There is always the danger of looking for the absolutely most pure religion. Beware of that quest. It often precedes getting involved in a cultic or ultra sectarian group that imagines itself to be the purest of the pure. This is an exercise in self-deceit.

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