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    Introducing Your Jewish Friend to Yeshua, by Nessim and Surey

One in Messiah? What Paul REALLY Said


Rav Shaul
Rav Shaul

By 1937 Hitler was well entrenched in power. Anti-Semitism was sickening Europe. The ”Jewish problem” was a frequent topic of discussion. In his book Le Mystère d’Israël. French philosopher Jacques Maritain proposed a ”decisive solution” to the ”Jewish problem”. This was “the emancipation of Jewry and the increasing recognition of their rights [as] a means toward their complete assimilation and silent disappearance as a distinct people.“[1]  Hebrew Christianity and often Messianic Judaism[2] have inevitably contributed to the assimilation[3] and silent disappearance of its adherents from the Jewish community into the greater church. What does Scripture have to say of this?

Hebrew-Catholic Schoeman asks: “Do the Jews continue to have a role to play in salvation history following Christ, that is, between the first and the Second Coming?”[4] He then evaluates several alternative rationales for Jewish identity in the Church, finally suggesting that Jews may be “yeast” for the Church, perpetually providing leavening, whereas unbelieving Jews may be the stock of “yeast” from which the leavening yeast is continually drawn until Messiah comes again. Thus the yeast being put into the Church is continually assimilated, as it should be.[5]

On the other hand, at the end of the 19th century, Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein appealed:

And will Israel cease to be a nation when at last he recognises in Christ his Redeemer and Messiah-King? Shall we then be absorbed in Christendom, and will there be an end to our God-consecrated people? By no means; Israel will then, at last, attain the position to which he is called of God.[6]

In America (and in many travels to England), Mark Levy tirelessly campaigned for the right of Jewish believers to maintain their Jewish customs in the Christian world. Writing for the Hebrew Christian Alliance, he railed against the prevailing tide:

When he wrote “In Messiah Yeshua there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond or free, male or female,” he was referring to the spiritual tie and no more intended to unjew the Jew than he did to unsex the Gentile. He mentions “All the Churches of the Gentiles” (Rom. 16.4) and proclaims himself a “Hebrew of the Hebrews.”….[7]

According to Levy, Paul was did not intend to erase Jewish identity, but to affirm that all believers in Messiah Yeshua are alike in their relationship to God. Levy both raises and interprets an apparent contradiction in Paul’s thinking, interpreting Galatians 3:28 in light of other Pauline epistles.

In Kishinev, Rabbi Rabinowitz affirmed in his statement of faith (article 4):

There is but one God, who shall justify the circumcised Jews by faith and the uncircumcised Gentiles through faith; and there is no difference between Jew and Greek, between bond and free, between male and female; for they are all one in Messiah Yeshua.[8]

But he wrote more (article 6) “And as we are the descendants of those whom the Lord brought out of the land of Egypt… we are bound to keep the Sabbath, the feast of unleavened bread, and the feast of weeks.”[9] Just as Levy did, Rabinowitz has quoted Galatians 3:28 and interpreted it in the light of other Scripture – this time not Paul’s, but the Torah.

Interestingly, both of these proponents of a distinguishable Jewish identity for Messianic Jews appeal to the same text – Galatians 3:28a, where Paul says:[10]

“there is neither Jew nor Greek, (οὐκ ἔνι Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ἕλλην)
“there is neither slave nor free, (οὐκ ἔνι δοῦλος οὐδὲ ἐλεύθερος)
“there is neither male nor female”; (οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ)

In our morning prayers we (men) bless God:

“who has not made me a Gentile, (בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁלֹא עָשַֽׂנִי גּוֹי)
“who has not made me a slave, (בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁלֹא עָשַֽׂנִי עָֽבֶד)
“who has not made me a woman”. (בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֶלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁלֹא עָשַֽׂנִי אִשָּׁה)

You will be encouraged to know that following the Conservative tradition the Siddur used by Beit Sar Shalom in London uses more inclusive language. However, this was the language of Paul’s day. Philo wrote “and if you give thanks for man, do not do so only for the whole genus but for its species and most essential parts, for men and women, for Greeks and barbarians”.[11] What did Paul mean by using such language, and does it provide Messianic Jews a Biblical basis for Jewish identity?

In answer, we will first examine Galatians 3:28 in the context of the epistle’s purpose. We will then examine the text itself more carefully.

Paul’s Premise

Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with both a forceful assertion of his apostleship and a forthright defense of the Gospel “preached by me” (1:11), which he received “through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). His very first lines contain two balanced clauses that highlight the basis of his appeal to the troubled congregation:

1:1          Yeshua Messiah and God the Father who raised him from the dead (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν)

1:3-4      God our Father and the Lord Yeshua Messiah who gave himself on account of our sins (θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ δόντος ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν)

The two phrases make two points. In the first phrase, God the Father is referred to as the Agent of the resurrection. In the second, the Lord Yeshua Messiah is referred to as the One who has given himself “ὑπὲρ” (on account of) our sins.

Paul’s Primary Concern

Paul’s primary concern in writing was the perversion of the Gospel by those who taught that Gentiles ought to live as Jews (2:14).  Paul was vitally concerned to protect his mission to the Gentiles from this, “threat of marginalization and subjugation of his Gentile mission and the community members.”[12] The question was whether Gentiles should be permitted to keep their Gentile identity.

Galatians 3:26-29 brings the argument that Paul makes throughout the letter concerning the Gospel’s implications for Messianic community life, to a head. Paul’s conclusion is bracketed by two related phrases.

3:26        Πάντες γὰρ    υἱοὶ θεοῦ        ἐστε (For you are all sons of God)

3:28b      πάντες γὰρ    ὑμεῖς εἷς         ἐστε (For you are all one)

Diversity and Unity

Galatians 3:28a is therefore in a wider structure (all sons of God – all one) which is itself nested in the sequence of Paul’s argument for the Gospel. This gives a framework for the three assertions he now makes.

The first is that for those who have been immersed into Messiah and have therefore “put on” Messiah, “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (οὐκ ἔνι Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ἕλλην).[13]

Years later (1 Cor 7:17-18) Paul wrote “And so I ordain in all the churches… Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised.”[14] This is notable because it was possible to surgically reverse circumcision in order to facilitate assimilation with the Greeks.[15] Paul is opposing not only reverse circumcision, but kol vachomer assimilation in general. Likewise, Paul did not expect Gentiles to jump through hoops in order to become acceptable company for Jews.

Paul’s second assertion goes further. In Messiah “there is neither slave nor free” (οὐκ ἔνι δοῦλος οὐδὲ ἐλεύθερος). Slavery was not merely a matter of status. Aristotle famously viewed slaves to be “by nature”[16] inferior of soul. Both Jews and Gentiles tended to this prejudice. Paul did not deny that these differences exist. On the contrary, he advised δοῦλοι (slaves) to obey their masters (Eph 6:5; Col 3:22).

Paul’s third assertion, “there is neither male nor female” (οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ) is the most impassable of the three mutually exclusive categories he invokes. Nevertheless, Paul (controversially) holds to distinctions between men and women, even within the Messianic community. For Paul there is a distinction in gender, domestic order and community functions between men and women. “The head of a woman is her husband” he writes in 1 Cor 11:3. “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men” he tells Timothy in 1 Tim 2:12. He was not alone in this. It may be an unfair comparison, but according to Josephus “The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive, not for her humiliation, but that she may be directed; for the authority has been given by God to the man.”[17]

Thus Paul’s “neither male nor female” is in some ways the most instructive dyad of the three.

Paul concludes the pericope with one final thought. “And if you are Messiah’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (3:29). As Burton notes, the “δέ” that begins this final sentence “is continuative… adding fresh inferences from what has already been said.”[18] The fresh inference is that those who are in Messiah are indeed Abraham’s seed as Paul has argued earlier (3:7). As a dialectician, Hietanen considers this an issue. “The argument is problematic: what is the relationship between belonging to Christ and being one of Abraham’s offspring? The connection is assumed without further arguments.”[19] Abraham’s ‘offspring’ are thus Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free, male and female. “What is new is the new corporate person, as the final clause of the formula shows (v 28b). It is Christ and the community of those incorporated into him who lie beyond religious distinctions.”[20]

Differences do, indeed must exist. All however are one “in Messiah” and children of God, and this unity must be displayed in the Messianic community. The “law” must give way to this higher principle.[21] “We answer to a higher authority”.

Paul has radically reshaped the Messianic community’s social world. He has affirmed the validity of Gentile identity in Messiah. He is making an “effort to construct community-identity”,[22] but that community is not intended to be monolithic or homogeneous. Rather, the different members of that community are to be treated as equals.

Conclusion

We now turn Paul on his head to answer the question of Jewish identity. For two millennia, assimilation and loss of Jewish identity has been the experience of Messianic Jews, yet Galatians 3:26-28 asserts that Paul intended Gentile believers to maintain their Gentile identity. It therefore follows that the Jewish believer must as well. Schoeman’s “yeast” hypothesis does not hold true.

If called upon to defend Jewish identity, Paul may well have applied the words of British Rabbi Louis Jacobs zt”l, to that of the communities he taught:

‘The Jew who prefers the Jewish way of life above all others can as little be accused of fostering an egocentric form of particularism as those who, with good cause, wax eloquent over the British of the American way of life.’[23]


[1] W. D. Davies, Christian Engagements with Judaism (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press, 1999), 157.

[2] For the purposes of this discussion, “Hebrew Christian” is used of Jewish believers in Yeshua who primarily identify socially with the Christian community. “Messianic Jew” is used of the Jewish believer in Yeshua who primarily identify socially with the Jewish community.

[3] Encyclopedia Judaica, “Assimilation.” Arthur Hertzberg here defines assimilation: “In general the sociocultural process in which the sense and consciousness of association with one national and cultural group changes to identification with another such group, so that the merged individual or group may partially or totally lose its original national identity.”

[4] Roy H. Schoeman, Salvation if from the Jews: The role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 67.

[5] Ibid, 70-71.

[6] Isaac Lichtenstein, An Appeal to the Jewish People (London: Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel, c. 1895), 21.

[7] Mark Levy, “Jewish Ordinances in the Light of Hebrew Christianity,” The Hebrew Christian Alliance Quarterly, Vol. 1:3&4 (1917), 138-143.

[8] Ibid, 103. Kjær-Hansen quotes the translation of J. Adler, The First-ripe Fig (London: 1885).

[9] Ibid, 104.

[10] Given the striking similarity, it is also unlikely that there is a direct relationship between the two lists. It is most likely that Paul wrote in reaction to sentiments that were current in his day, also the basis of the Jewish man’s daily prayers that are not attested to until much later.

[11] F. H. Colson, trans. Philo (London: Heinemann, 1937), vol. 7 of 10, 221.

[12] Atsuhiro Asan, Community-Identity Construction in Galatians: Exegetical, Social-Anthropological and Socio-Historical Studies, (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 200. Rhetorical analysis such as this are useful for answering the question as to Paul’s primary concern. Was it the Gospel or the subjugation of his mission?

[13] Cp. Col 3.10-11 “the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”

[14] Rudolph rightly asks “Should a teaching that Paul considered important enough to be a universal rule be almost universally neglected by contemporary Christians?” David Rudolph, “Paul’s ’Rule in All the Churches’” (1 Cor 7.17-24) and Torah-Defined Ecclesiological Variegation”, American Academy of Religion Conference, November 3, 2008, (Boston: Boston College University, 2008), 1.

[15] 1 Maccabees 1.13-15, NRSV: “and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.” This interpretation is followed by Margaret Thrall, The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge, 1965), 55; Charles Hodge, I & II Corinthians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 122,

[16] Aristotle, Politics, V.

[17] Flavius Josephus, Against Apion, trans. H. Thackeray (London: Heinemann, 1926), 2:24.

[18] Ernest De Witt Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1920), 208.

[19] Mika Hietanen, Paul’s Argument in Galatians: A Pragma-Dialectical Analysis (London: T&T Clarke, 2007), 135.

[20] J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 382.

[21] Another application of this might be to take Paul’s command to “great one another with a holy kiss” as even permitting Jews to kiss Gentiles, men to kiss possibly impure women, all in contravention of Jewish purity laws.

[22] Atsuhiro Asan, Community-Identity Construction in Galatians: Exegetical, Social-Anthropological and Socio-Historical Studies, (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 205.

[23] Louis Jacobs, We have Reason to Believe (London: Valentine, Mitchell, 1957), p. 132.

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