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The Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology – a recap

Mark the date. November 16, 2018.

Meeting just before the annual meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature in Denver, leading theologians have inaugurated a society to promote post-supersessionist theology.

I was delighted to be able to attend this session, and would like to post what I heard.

Their mission statement, among other things, defines post-supersessionism as ‘a family of theological perspectives that affirms God’s irrevocable covenant with the Jewish people as a central and coherent part of ecclesial teaching.’ As the session ran on, it became clear what a massive statement that was, reaching down to the very foundations of Christian history and what Christianity is.

Holly Taylor Coolman (Providence College), a Catholic theologian, spoke first. She reminded us of the tragic story of Eduardo Mortara, who was baptised as an infant by his nanny and then declared to be a Christian who under law had to be given a Christian education. Eventually he was raised by Pope Pius IX himself, but in reality the fact that he was effectively kidnapped by the church caused much troubled soul searching. While a tragedy that will probably never be forgotten by the Jewish community, at least it was part of what paved the way to Nostra Aetate – the much more progressive statement of the Roman church on its relations with other ‘Non-Christian Religions’.

Coolman’s 10-minutes were followed by a stimulating and enlightening presentation by Willie J. Jennings (Yale). Jennings stated (if I get it right) that ‘we have contoured the features of our Christian witness in a profoundly problematic way’ and characterised Christianity as ‘imperialist to its bone’ and guilty of ‘theological hubris’. Thus whereas gentiles were originally a question for Israel, now they have become a problem for Israel. He questions how the church could discuss such lofty things as the Trinity and Divine nature of Jesus and at the same time speak of the Jewish people in such horrific ways. In all of this, the experience of the Jews raises issues of racism, and there is much work to be done to work through these issues.

Gerald McDermott (Beeson) gave an autobiographical account tied to his growth in understanding of the Scriptures as he began his journey as a supersessionist who interpreted the new ‘tenants’ of Matt 21 as the church. His wake up call caused him to realise that he had been ‘trained to miss’ that God reaches the Universal [the world] through the Particular [Israel]. McDermott quoted God’s ‘irrevocable’ covenant with Israel in Rom 11:28. He pointed out the importance of the word ‘and’ in Gal 6:16. Returning to Matt 21 he identified the ‘new tenants’ as the Messianic leaders, as in Matt 19 the Twelve Apostles are the ones who sit on thrones in His kingdom, the reference to the twelve tribes pointing to the restoration of Israel. As seen in Acts 1:6, Jesus believed in the future of Israel.


Mark Kinzer proceeded to point out that historically, if Jews who became Christians were no longer to be considered Jews, then how could the Church be both Jew and gentile? Kinzer pointed to his bilateral ecclesiology, most notably put forth in his 2005 book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism. Kinzer pointed out that there is a need for a Jewish expression of faith in Jesus that lives within God’s irrevocable covenant with Israel and respects Jewish tradition and norms.

Anders Runesson (University of Oslo) spiritedly stressed the huge diversity of stakeholders in this discussion, and the problems in Christian theology which has been characterised by triumphalism, antagonism, and fear. Pointing to a solution, he suggested the importance of exegetical ground rules. Historical reality resides outside the denominational framework. There is a need to speak across boundaries. Exegesis helps us to uncover the past, and to uncover the radical Jewishness of Christian texts – as Jewish texts (personal note: I have been impressed by Runesson’s published work on this very theme). Against the background of recent history there is great need for this post-supersessionist theology. Success will depend on how we respond to the diversity within our unity.

The last speaker was Adam Gregerman (St. Joseph’s University). Responding with questions from a Jewish perspective, he asked that if Christians affirm God’s ongoing covenant with Israel, should they not recognise that that covenant has specific provisions such as the promise of a Land, that have practical implications. He also asked whether Messianic Judaism is itself supersessionist in that it holds that all Jews should believe in the Messiahship of Jesus as it does. And then – is the conversion of Jews desirable for post-supersessionist Christianity?

I hope that this short sketch of the presentations at the first meeting of the Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology is somewhat accurate. The air conditioning was loud and I had difficulties in hearing everything. My wife says I need a hearing aid! My impression is that the Society will be a welcome forum for the Christian world as a whole to come to terms with the implications of its general renunciation of supersessionist (some say replacement) theology. The implications are deep and wide ranging as well as historical, reaching to the earliest decades of the Church. The society has the potential not only to advance reassessment of ancient assumptions, but also to greatly affect Christian-Jewish relations for the good of both parties.

Messianic Satire and Humor from The Oneg – Quality Fake News from the Messianic Jew-ish community


This is the first time I’ve recommended another WordPress blog, but the satire provided by the Oneg is spot-on. Take a look.

Hebrew or Greek?

When Messiah Yeshua arose from the dead and His disciples began to spread the Good News of the Kingdom, they lived in a very diverse world. Their religious life and frame of reference was Biblical and part of the nascent Judaism of the day, and they never seem to have thought of themselves as other than people living a life of devotion to the Almighty. Now that they knew Yeshua’s true Identity, their devotion and service to the Father also meant devotion and service to His Son.

Theirs was a world where they also interacted with Romans and Greek culture had had a deep influence for over two centuries. When they began to preach the Good News, they did so on the first Shavuot* to the crowds in Jerusalem, who were both Jews and Gentile proselytes (Acts 2:11) they did so to people from all over the world. When the Brit Hadasha was written they wrote according to their personalities, educations and backgrounds. This means we can understand the Scriptures so much better when we understand more about who the writers the Spirit inspired were, and the way they thought.

The Brit Hadasha was written in Greek and until recently most often interpreted by Europeans, whose cultures have been greatly influenced by their Roman and Greek heritage. This means that there have been almost 2,000 years of interpretation of the Bible that reads it in light of its “Greek” mindset, all too often this has been at the expense of understanding the Hebrew and Jewish mindset of the writers.

What is important is also to remember that there can sometimes be a false dichotomy between “Greek” and “Hebrew” thought, and that we can throw out the baby with the bathwater. Yochanan*** 1:1 is an example, as the “Word” spoken of has layers of meaning that draw not only upon Hebrew but also Greek thought.


Should we read the Scripture with a ‘Greek’ mindset or a ‘Hebrew’ one? Sometimes the answer is both. Earlier we noted Yohanan* 1:1 and its layers of meaning that draw on both Hebrew and Greek thought. We should also look at what we might think is the most Jewish of all Jewish quotations in the Gospels. It is Yeshua quoting the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, quoted twice daily in Jewish prayer. In Deuteronomy, Israel is told to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength’.

What is interesting is that Mark cites Yeshua saying this (Mark 12:30, 37). When Yeshua quotes it He adds the word dianoia (which basically means ‘heart’ or ‘mind’). It can’t be that Mark didn’t know the Shema and got it wrong. Apart from the fact that we hold the Scriptures to be inerrant, he correctly quotes it three verses later in 12:33.
The common explanation is that Yeshua was stressing the intellectual aspect of the Shema. Knowing that those He spoke to knew the exact words, He paraphrased for the sake of emphasis, in a form of midrash (interpretation).

It must be remembered that when the Shema is recited it is accompanied by the recitation of the following verses. In those verses Israel is told to teach the commandments to one’s children, to talk of them throughout the day, to bind them on one’s hand and forehead and gates. These verses stress the internalising and understanding of the Shema and all that it entails – using one’s mind.

We can see why, then, Yeshua emphasised understanding, but the scribe’s response is interesting. Picking up on Yeshua’s emphasis he says ‘heart, understanding and strength’, replacing Yeshua’s “dianoia” with his own word for ‘understanding’, one that emphasises intelligence and sharp thinking. That is both a value of rabbinic thinking, which highly values acuteness of mind to study Torah, and of the influential Greek culture, which also highly valued the intellect.

In fact, there is something deeper going on under the surface, as after the exchange with the scribe ‘no one dared to ask him any more questions’. For us one lesson to learn is that part of loving God with all of our ‘heart, mind and soul’ is to love Him with all of our intellect.

Rabbis and Fathers

matthew 23.12

May Messianic Jews appoint Rabbis?

Messianic Jews have a natural predisposition and tendency, as Jews who care about our people and our peculiar calling, to maintain the traditions and culture of our ancestors. This means that in our lives, traditions and prayers it is most natural and fitting for us to follow the ways of our people’s lifestyles, traditions and prayers which are founded in the complete Jewish Bible and secondarily in the sea of Jewish holy writings and literature that we have inherited.

It is therefore with great surprise that many Messianic Jews have considered the words of Yeshua which seem to prohibit calling anyone ‘rabbi’ (= ‘teacher’), ‘father’, or even ‘leader’. Does this mean that Messianic Jews may not ordain rabbis, or may not call their teachers by that title? Christians call their pastors ‘pastor’, or their teachers ‘teacher’, don’t they? Why are rabbis in particular singled out?

The immediate context is the first place one should look for an answer:

In Matthew 23:1-12 (CJB), Yeshua addressed the crowds and his talmidim: “The Torah-teachers and the P’rushim,” he said, “sit in the seat of Moshe. So whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But don’t do what they do, because they talk but don’t act! They tie heavy loads onto people’s shoulders but won’t lift a finger to help carry them. Everything they do is done to be seen by others; for they make their t’fillin broad and their tzitziyot long, they love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and they love being greeted deferentially in the marketplaces and being called ‘Rabbi.’
“But you are not to let yourselves be called ‘Rabbi; because you have one Rabbi [here ‘Teacher‘ in the original], and you are all each other’s brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘Father.’ because you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to let yourselves be called ‘leaders,’ because you have one Leader, and he is the Messiah! The greatest among you must be your servant, for whoever promotes himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be promoted.

These terms: teacher/master/Ῥαββί (=’διδάσκαλος’), and father/πατέρα and leader/καθηγηταί are innocuous enough. It is their use in the realm of the community – synagogue and marketplace that is a problem. The problem is their use as a basis for pride and elitism (versus Yeshua’s egalitarianism).

What is Yeshua saying?

First, we must note the content of what he says:

  1. Yeshua notes that these people do sit in Moses’ seat. This is a place of authority and prestige.
  2. Yeshua notes that these people do not help others with the burdens that they impose upon them.
  3. Further, these people glory in the prestige they are accorded.
  4. Yeshua teaches:
    a. equality among the people
    b. the fatherhood of God
    c. the leadership of Messiah
    d. the necessity of humility.

Here, Yeshua is opposing elitism and the honouring of persons. As he does elsewhere in Matthew, Yeshua teaches servant leadership where the leader does not self exalt nor is exalted by those he or she serves. Thus no one is to be called rabbi, father, or leader. But it is interesting that there are few who would quibble about calling their fathers ‘father’ or leaders ‘leader’. Innately, it is understood that Yeshua is teaching regarding what is behind the use of these terms, as the context shows: The leaders he castigates are those who love the honour accorded them. This is what is unseemly. As Yeshua’s followers, we should not be enamoured by titles but together, equally, give all honour to God and Messiah.

After looking at the immediate context, we must look at it in the context of all Scripture. No major teaching stands alone or should be asserted on the basis of one passage.

If this were the only Scripture that we have that bears on the topic, it would be case closed: Don’t use the terms rabbi, father or leader. Yeshua decries the elitism that these terms engender.

Other Scriptures show that against the problem of pride and elitism, a statement of fact in a way that does not glorify individuals other than God or Messiah is appropriate. Yeshua himself did not hesitate to call teachers by their title, as was the case with Nicodemus (John 3:10).

Teachers and leader in the New Testament are also frequently addressed as such. Thus Paul asserts his apostleship too many times to mention (e.g. Gal 1:1). He does this for the purpose of establishing his God-given authority rather than to exalt himself. Likewise he calls himself the father of the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:15). Again, he does not do so in such a way to glorify himself but as a statement of what is known.

The real message of Yeshua’s teaching is that The greatest among you must be your servant (Matt 23:12). This is also what He says in Luke 22:26-27: let the greater among you become like the younger, and one who rules like one who serves. For who is greater? The one reclining at the table? or the one who serves? It’s the one reclining at the table, isn’t it? But I myself am among you like one who serves. Yeshua is to us the supreme example of servant leadership, and that is what He asks of us. He asks us to serve one another. 

The result from a look at Matt 23:1-12 as a whole, and its relationship to the rest of Scripture is that titles are not to be used by individuals to exalt themselves nor by others to exalt those individuals. On the other hand, titles such as rabbi (teacher), father and leader are indeed appropriate when used in a descriptive sense or as a statement of fact.

Messianic Jews have good reason to use the term rabbi of their ordained teachers and leaders. It is not that that teachers should be called rabbis if they are not appointed as such by a reputable body. Abuses of this abound, and remind one of the doctoral degrees that are proverbially offered via cereal box tops for a sum of money. It is in fact a statement of fact. It asserts to the community, the Jewish community and the world at large that Messianic Jewish communities are in fact Jewish communities.

Titles are widely used in the Christian world. Elder, Pastor, Father, Brother, and so on. These too find their genesis in the complete Jewish Bible. They also perform a role in their communities to provide a sense of order. Yeshua says to the use of such terms: Do not use them to aggrandise. We are all siblings, we all look to God and His Messiah, not to others.



The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles – Book Review


Toby Janicki

The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles

Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion / Vine of David, 2017. 581 pages. $35.00 ISBN 978-1941534243



For over a century, scholars have discovered in the Didache an intriguing ‘window’ into the lives of the earliest Christians. A short discipleship and church manual for gentiles, it was written sometime around the first great Jewish War in 70 CE. Apart from a few decades in the early 20th century, before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed its very early date, scholars have generally been keen to notice the very Jewish nature of this book. What the Didache is, is a manual written by early Messianic Jews to new disciples as part of what is sometimes called the ‘gentile mission’ – the rapid explosion of the Good News of Messiah’s advent and redemptive work around the Roman Empire and beyond. The title of this famous manual, written in Greek, is translated as ‘Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles‘. This is where Janicki has found a model for the subtitle for his substantial commentary. In case any might think the Didache is pseudepigraphic – falsely attributing its writings to a famous author – the Didache simply claims that its teachings are representative of the teachings of the Twelve Apostles, and its author(s) remains unnamed and anonymous.

One would think that with an ancient book full of teachings collected and presented by early Messianic Jews, their modern counterparts would have been all over it to discover what the perspective of their predecessors might have been. Such has not been the case apart from an Aberdeen PhD dissertation by E. Spivak in 2007. This is where Toby Janicki has made a remarkable contribution. While he makes no claim to being a Messianic Jew himself, as a member of the Movement he examines the Didache from a thoroughgoing Messianic Jewish perspective, in what is the second largest and most extensive commentary on the Didache ever published.

The introduction sets the tone, with a relatively brief but comprehensive overview of the history and background required to understand the background of the Didache. Janicki demonstrates that he has come to grips with the full body of Didache scholarship and has his own specific contribution to make. Thus already a Messianic Jewish perspective comes to the fore as Janicki proposes that the Didache ‘is a Mishnah for Gentile believers. It addresses key halachic issues of everyday life and community’ (pp. 16-19). The introduction is followed by the text of the Didache in Greek, with Janicki’s own translation into English.

The commentary deals with the Didache chapter by chapter. The Didache has 16 chapters. Each chapter begins with the English of the Didache cross-referenced to quotations and allusions in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, but not to extant Jewish literature or other early Christian literature. The focus then is, as through the commentary, on the practical value of the Didache.

Each chapter translation is followed by an overview in which Janicki grapples with the general questions raised by each chapter, with reference to the comments and observations raised by scholarship thus far. Janicki does so in a way that while not easy for the casual or elementary student or reader, is not difficult at all for someone who has mastered the basics.

In turn, the overview is followed by verse-by-verse commentary on the Didache. This is where Janicki’s contribution shines. Each verse is dealt with in depth, with reference not only to Didache scholarship but also comparable writings of the early church. Especially useful is his careful incorporation of insights from the Talmud and other Jewish writings. While somewhat questionable, because the Mishnah and Talmud were not committed to writing until later centuries, the insights do provide a Jewish frame of reference from which to view the teachings of the Didache. Further, they accentuate the Didache’s affinity of thought to that of other Jewish literature, as opposed to that of Christianity in those same later centuries, which was rapidly distancing itself from Jewish modes of thinking.

One of Janicki’s own distinct contributions is important to highlight. Page after page, Janicki treats the Didache as a book of value for directing the life of Jesus’ disciples today. There is a distinctly pastoral tone to the book, and the Didache is not merely exegeted, but potential applications to the lives of modern Christians are highlighted for consideration. Thus we are told ‘According to the Didache, idle and lazy members of our communities who rely on the benevolence of believers are not true followers of the Master’ (p. 442).  It is strong language, but a logical application of the Didache’s teaching in Didache 12. This is nothing less than the re-incorporation of the Didache into the tradition of a church that has long forgotten its precepts in favour of those of later church writers.

Two appendices include the text of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1782. A bibliography is also included but no comprehensive indexes of references or subjects, items which are admittedly an option for commentaries. The layout of the book is excellent and the typeset clear and readable, which helps in making it an accessible resource for all. Jesus is consistently referred to as the ‘Master’, a usage that seems somewhat awkward, but also appropriate. Footnotes unfortunately do not flow from page to page, which sometimes causes problems in the page layout (as in page 9, which is half blank), but in general the book is very well produced.

For those who want to get an idea of how at least some early Messianic Jews taught regarding personal and congregational life, in more than just a dry, scholarly way, Janicki’s book is well worth the $35 asking price. I have a suspicion that Janicki’s contribution will be welcomed not only by laypersons but also Didache scholars for his fresh contribution and integration with contemporary Messianic Jewish thought.


Sefaria – Don’t Miss out on This Amazing Resource

More than fifty years ago, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Israel took it upon himself to make the Talmud, the central text of Jewish life, available to all. In 1965, he began translating the 37 tractates of the Talmud from ancient Aramaic into Modern Hebrew, with an English translation published in the Koren Talmud Bavli Noé Edition. Ninety […]

via Setting the Talmud Free — The Sefaria Blog

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