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  • Derech Yeshua

    Derech Yeshua: The Way of Salvation

    Derech Yeshua: The Way of Salvation, by Daniel Nessim

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    Siddur Sar Shalom, edited by Daniel Nessim

    Siddur Sar Shalom, edited by Daniel Nessim

  • Introducing Your Jewish Friend to Yeshua

    Introducing Your Jewish Friend to Yeshua, by Nessim and Surey

    Introducing Your Jewish Friend to Yeshua, by Nessim and Surey

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


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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.

 

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Introduction to Messianic Judaism


Thank you Drs. Rudolph and Willitts!
Willitts and Rudolph have done a great Mitzvah for Messianic Judaism, providing a resource that supersedes a few ‘introductions’ of a previous era and reflecting the tremendous growth in theological capability in our movement of Jewish people to our Jewish Messiah. I see great value in I2MJ on a number of counts:

  1. While not perfect, and as was mentioned by Seth in the Rosh Pina Project, a ‘mixed bag’ it reflects the growing credibility and theological acumen of the Messianic movement (MJM).
  2. The ‘mixed bag’ further reflects where we are as a movement. We have yet to see many monographs demonstrating first-rate scholarship from our midst. However, we have a lot more than we did and we know more is on the way, giving the MJM a voice into the Jewish and Christian worlds.
  3. Published by a mainstream Christian publisher, it gives astute Christians a contemporary resource by which to understand the movement. Someday – Messianic authors will be found in the mainstream, and even Jewish press. Today, this is a step forward.
  4. Some of the published material is original research, adding to our body of knowledge of the MJM. Rudolph’s historical piece comes to mind.
  5. Because of the publisher and the reputation of some of the contributors, this book will be found in every theological training institution of any credibility. This will mean that students, pastors and scholars will use this as a key text to understand the MJM and so we should be glad that we have a word that is so much more advanced than anything we have had until now.
  6. A couple links that show how Messianic Jews are maturing theologically in the English speaking world: The Messianic Jewish Theological Symposium – http://www.messianicsymposium.eu (next in London, February 2014) and the Borough Park Symposium – http://www.boroughparksymposium.com.

A work like I2MJ is… a lot of WORK. And there is no money in it. My thanks go to Rudolph, Willitts, and all the contributors, each sterling in their own right.

דרך ישוע / Derech Yeshua: The Way of Salvation


Publication Announcement

Derech Yeshua picIs Yeshua the hoped for Messiah? Is he Salvation as his name implies? What makes Yeshua different from all the other would-be Messiahs scattered about Jewish history?

As a Jew who believes that Yeshua was and is King Messiah, a number of years ago, I attempted to teach a course on the Good News about Yeshua, and predictably found a tremendous lack of appropriate material, so I began to write up my own explanation of the דרך ישוע: the Way of SalvationDerech Yeshua being an obvious play on words, I yet felt it to be a convenient title, and so have stuck with it. Since that time on the University of Washington campus other contributions have been made. Thankfully. Since then Sam Nadler, Derek Leman and others have produced great literature, but I still needed something I felt that I could comfortably put in the hands of Jewish person who I was talking to. I wanted something that would answer at least some of their questions about my faith that Yeshua is Messiah. At the end of a long, slow process, with the help of an excellent proofreader (thank you Meirav!) and a talented Messianic Israeli graphic artist (thank you, Steve at www.giantjellyfish.com!) and Lois Gable (thank you, too!) who did a great cover, not to mention generous donations that helped to cover our many costs, Derech Yeshua is now in print.

One of the issues that needs to be addressed, and I hope that I have at least partially done so, is that Jews who are considering the claims of Jesus are also implicitly required to accept a whole truck load of other baggage. This ‘baggage’ is a load of cultural and communal expectations. In many cases this culminates in a rejection of the Jewish people in favour of the church. Derech Yeshua says that yes, you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. It is my heartfelt desire that this might be at least one spark that will help to ignite an acceptance, turning to, and recognition of Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel from within the Jewish world.

If you are in the UK, you can order the book from this link. Derech Yeshua is 128 in paperback.

Every chapter concludes with discussion questions, making this book suitable for small study groups.

Lastly, if you are a Jewish person who wants to know more about Yeshua – or if you have a Jewish friend who is enquiring and wants to know more about Yeshua – please just email my office at info@chosenpeople.org.uk or call +44 208-455-7911 and we will send you a copy for free!

Want to Be Jewish?


A few weeks ago a gentleman turned up at the door for our Erev Shabbat service. The first words out of his mouth were ‘I want to be a Jew.’
I wonder if I would be married to Deborah today if the first time I ran into her (25 March 1989) I had started with ‘I want to be your husband’. Yikes! Talk about getting off on the wrong foot!
Why do so many Gentiles want to be Jewish? Israel is meant to be a Light to the Nations, not to relegate the Nations to obliteration by making the Nations all Jewish, or all Israel. Israel’s very raison d’etre is linked to the fact that Hashem ‘so loved the world’ that He blessed Abraham that in him all the nations of the world should be blessed. Israel is a peculiar treasure of the L-rd but certainly not His only treasure. Egypt will one day be called ‘My people’ He says. His praise shall be declared in the Islands, Isaiah says. I would like to suggest to you that there is as much to rejoice in being a Gentile as there is in being a Jew.
The Shliach Shaul (Apostle Paul) reminds us that there is no distinction between male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile in our Messiah. Awesome! Along with our Conservative (Masorti) friends we can now amend the prayers that say ‘thank you that you have not made me a woman/slave/heathen’ to a more egalitarian form. While we all have clearly different roles in the world He has created, we also have a wonderful unity.
All the more not to insult G-d by saying ‘I want to be a Jew (or woman or man) when He has divinely ordained that we should be other than in His infinite Wisdom He has created us.
So please, please, do not come to my door and say ‘I wanna be a Jew’

Conversions to Messianic Judaism? Maybe So.


A controversy that I should have seen coming – Conversions from Christianity to Messianic Judaism.

In this blog I am exploring the topic. Your comments and criticisms will be helpful.

The first time I heard of Messianic Jews offering conversion to Messianic Judaism I was completely dismissive. Absolutely crazy. They’ll think we are nuts. Who would recognise a Messianic conversion anyway?

Then I had a chat with my good friend Eleanor, and then I learned some more, read some more, and met my new friend Derek. Derek is sane, believe it or not! A sane prospective convert to Messianic Judaism. Would I tell him he’s all washed up? Do I think he’s driven by an identity crisis? Do I think he woudl discredit us? No.

What do you think? I think we need to keep studying this issue and thinking about it.

We are in danger of being reactionary. Here in the UK there is a group called the Union of British Messianic Jewish Congregations. I believe it is fair to say that they see themselves as more true to the ideals of historic Messianic Judaism than the majority of members of the British Messianic Jewish Alliance (est. 1866!). Maybe in some ways they are right, but BMJA members would counter ‘show us the Jews!’. The UBMJC’s membership is less Jewish in composition than that of the BMJA which requires Jewish parentage of its voting and office-holding members.

I would be very pleased if Rabbi Dr Ruth Fleischer was willing to comment on these observations. I hope that I am being fair and am open to being corrected. However, given that the BMJA sees itself as more Jewish, and the UBMJC sees itself as more Messianic, we have a stand-off in the makings. To BMJA members, the UBMJC conversion process is questionable. The lack of communication between the two groups intesifies the lack of mutual understanding.

I am not alone in being concerned that conversions could become a ‘Trojan horse’ that could turn some Messianic groups into completely Gentile, fraudulent copies of what Messianic Judaism initially set out to be. On the other hand, if Messianic Judaism is truly a Judaism it must have a means of admittance! (Maybe the root of the BMJA’s issue with the UBMJC is that it is seen as non-Jewish and therefore an inappropriate body to offer conversions). A way to keep conversion from being a Trojan horse would be to make the conversion process and expectations as rigorous as those of the orthodox community…

Is Messianic Judaism a form of Christianity or Judaism? Some would assert that we are both 100% Jewish and 100% ‘Christian’, although we might eschew the word Christian. That’s a difficult position to hold – theologically or sociologically.

Our identity in Messiah is distinct from our form and traditions of worship – which are rightly called religion. If we call ourselves Messianic Judaism, and Messianic Jews, then we have to say the latter. It is no wonder that there was such disharmony on the name change from Hebrew Christian Alliance to BMJA in days past. It was appropriate!

Most of us would agree that there are ‘true believers’, the ‘saved’, in both Christianity and Judaism. There is no doubt that these are different religions, but the key issue is whether or not an individual’s heart belongs to God and Messiah Yeshua – it is our relationship to Messiah that matters.

There is and must be a dichotomy between religion and relationship with God. Then it is OK to say that we and Christians have different religions but the same Lord and Messiah. Then it is OK to provide conversions, too – with the proviso that people clearly understand that there is nothing soteriological about the conversion’s meaning!

Last rambling thought… for the BMJA the question is whether toaccept conversions in general, and whose it should not accept (e.g. what if we accept UMJC conversions but not UBMJC?). For the BMJAF, the BMJA’s congregational network, the question is both that and whether we should consider offering a conversion path ourselves, and I don’t think we can even think about doing so at this point!

Shalom,

Daniel

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