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Post… Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism


Ten Years after the Publication of Mark Kinzer’s seminal work Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, the work has received significant attention from the National  (as in USA, I suppose) Professors of Hebrew in a special session dedicated to the cause at the 2015 Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Atlanta.

In a packed out room and to a hushed crowd of scholars, four speakers and their mediator Zev Garber took up the themes raised by Kinzer thoughtfully, respectfully and from a variety of perspectives. David Rudolph, a recent Cambridge graduate, rabbi and faculty member of the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute began by outlining the premises of PMMJ. Underscoring the fact that PMMJ did not (understandably) receive a rapturous welcome from Jewish Missions upon its publications he was able to note that some of the objections (most notably regarding its Soteriology)  raised were later addressed. One of these occasions for clarification was at the Borough Park Symposium. In fact, PMMJ has had a significant effect since its publication. In 2005 the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations adopted a statement on the Messianic Jewish Movement (MJM) incorporating much of Kinzer’s perspective. PMMJ has also irreversibly raised the level of theological discourse within the MJM and among those who write about it. Further, PMMJ has given the MJM something to share with the world at large.

Now David and Mark are friends of course, and the purpose of having David summarise Mark’s work was no doubt partly due to a concern that his work not be dismissed out of hand or held to unfair criticism.

The second respondent however, Peter Ochs, in dealing with PMMJ made salient and helpful observations regarding PMMJ’s interpretation of Scripture. Noting that Kinzer puts exegesis at the forefront of his argument, he showed that Kinzer is selective in choosing interpretations that forward his thesis. Going by memory, I recollect Kinzer explicitly touching on this in PMMJ, pointing out (for example) that if an interpretation of Scripture leads to demonstrably bad results it must be wrong. I.e. if one’s interpretation leads one to commit genocide against the Jews as for some Nazis, then it should be rejected.  Pleasantly for a Messianic Jew, Ochs used ‘Yeshua’ rather than the possibly derogative ‘Yeshu’.

Ochs was followed by R. Kendall Soulen who referred to arguments made by Michael Wyschogrod that if a Jew believes in Yeshua he or she is still obligated to keep Torah – God’s covenant with Israel. Soulen argued that Christianity is obligated to see this possibility that Jews should remain in every way Jews upon faith in Yeshua. Looking at the Church fathers, Soulen documented the shift in theology that over a few short centuries made this unacceptable to the Church. For further reading Soulen suggested an articleby Bruce Marshall in a festschrift for John Levinson.

Zev Farber’s (Not Garber, as in the convener of the session) presentation marked a notable shift in tone. His honest and straightforward approach began with a side note: In seminary a bunch of boys could easily spend months discussing laws regarding menstruation and permissible sexual positions, but as soon as a passage on Jesus came up there was a lot of nudge nudge, wink wink…. Jews are very uncomfortable with Jesus. In fact, Farber asserted, the core issue is not really about the Truth, but ‘identity politics’ necessitates rejection of Yeshua. Indeed, ‘to flirt with Jesus is a form of moral adultery’. And ‘as long as Messianic Judaism is a bridge to Christianity it will remain squarely outside Judaism.’ No one was questioning Farber’s rabbinic bona fides after that. My feeling was that this is what I would expect from someone charged with the task of preserving Judaism and the Jewish people. But a response to Farber requires a discussion beyond the scope of this blog.

Finally Mark Kinzer had his chance to respond. Kinzer thoughtfully took a long-term view. He hopes that within 100 or 200 years there might be a change in the church that would allow Jewish Believers in Yeshua to really live as Jews ‘if the church would honour that boundary’.
Mark – do we really have to wait for that?


4 Responses

  1. Regarding your rhetorical concluding question to Mark Kinzer — I would answer that Jewish messianists need not wait for the church to accept their Jewish identity and behavior before proceeding to enact them. And I must, regrettably, concede to Mark’s pessimism that such change in the views of the church at large could require a couple of centuries. After all, it took that long to go really wrong in the first place (though perhaps there was a bit of a head start on it even in the second century).

    I wonder just what Zev Farber meant by the phrase “a bridge to Christianity”. If he was referring to a passage by which Jews would cross over out of Judaism into Christianity as it has been developed, then I quite understand and agree with his position that this would keep Messianic Judaism outside the boundaries that constitute Judaism. I would hope, however, that he was not viewing interaction with Christians, including perhaps shared activities, as likewise a criterion antithetical to inclusion within Judaism.

    I’m not sure that I understand the value of the observation by Peter Ochs that Dr.Kinzer was somewhat selective in presenting references to exegetical interpretations by others that support his PMMJ thesis. Of course one could never expect to find complete or even widespread agreement with the exegesis that leads to the PMMJ conclusions. If so, the book would not have been required at all, nor would it have met the objections and surprise that it has done. As you point out, one can well envision an alternatively selective exegesis that leads to justifying genocidal conclusions, which by the Kantian Imperative demonstrate its invalidity. On the other hand, if Peter Ochs were suggesting that the PMMJ presentation had not exegetically examined every possibly relevant scriptural passage to prove exhaustively that there were no holes in its argument, then I would suggest that such work is a continuing effort in response to the spearhead of challenge represented by PMMJ. I do not believe that Jewish messianists have been shirking this effort during the past decade, and MJ theological development and discussion is continuing to be presented in books and conferences, and even in responses to weblogs. [:)]

  2. Thank you. Mark’s (MK as Ochs preferred to call him – not as informal as ‘Mark’ but not too formal as ‘Kinzer’) comments were very short, so I’m sure his thinking is more sophisticated, so I’m very glad that you note this as a ‘rhetorical question’ rather than a direct challenge to him. My personal view is that there is a sense in which the Kingdom belongs to those who take it by force (as per Matt 11:12 even if I’m mis-quoting it). In this respect those who disregard flak from the church and live as they believe God has called them to as Jews and among Jews can indeed succeed even today in living a truly Jewish lifestyle as followers of Messiah Yeshua. In general though, the majority will never buck the trend and in this respect Mark is probably right – the movement will probably never reach its potential until (if) the church at large actively endorses the fact that Jews within it have a distinct calling that has practical implications in terms of their lifestyle and relationship to Jews and gentiles within and without the Body.

    • You might enjoy a clarification regarding Mt.11:12, even though it doesn’t precisely support your use of it. It employs a Hebrew pun, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with violence. It references the image of a shepherd breaking open a temporary pen of rocks with which he corralled his sheep overnight for their protection. In breaking down a portion of its wall in the morning, he allows the sheep to break out of the crowded pen, which they are anxious to do in order to get out to water and food. He is called the “poretz”, in breaking down the wall, and the action of the sheep in breaking out of the pen through this opening is another version of the same word. In this passage, the barrier to the kingdom is described as being broken open, with a horde of people enthusiastically breaking out of their boundaries to enter into it. Alternatively, it can be viewed as if the kingdom itself were an anthropomorphic entity that was breaking out of its boundaries to spread out among the people. So you must divest yourself of these notions of violence and force — though if you wish to think in terms of energetic enthusiasm, you wouldn’t be off the mark.

  3. On the poretz explanation, yes PL I was taught that many years ago and I agree.
    Further, thanks Daniel for summarizing this historic event at SBL. I have benefited from Soulen’s work in the past and also Ochs has some interesting descriptions of post-critical biblical interpretation.
    I know folk in Israel are not always too happy with Kinzer’s thesis. If it refers to Kinzer’s pleading of allowing Torah observant Messianic Jews, I don’t see the problem–as Soulen pointed out. I however, have heard that the book has more to say, but I will refrain from saying more, in order to avoid possibly misrepresent Kinzer.
    Great to hear that this book was discussed! Somewhat of a landmark in my opinion.

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