Archive for the 'Messianic Judaism' Category

Messianic Quandaries about the “Oral Torah” of Rabbinic Judaism

 

Carl Schleicher — A Matter of Contention in the Talmud

Torah observant Messianics need to reflect on the status of what is called the “Oral Torah” — and Jewish tradition in general — for their religious practice. On the one hand it is clear that Yeshua followed many of the traditions of the Pharisees of his days, while on the other hand it cannot be denied that he opposed at least some of their traditions (cf. Mark 7:1-23).

Because of our adherence to Yeshua, we seem to enter quandaries and conundrums as soon as we get into the specific details about how actually to practice Torah. For example: It is a divine obligation to recite the Shema twice daily? Are we to follow the rabbinic guidelines about daily prayer, the halachot of Shabbat, &c?

We are in a dilemma here that cannot easily be solved and that carries with it many paradoxes or even outright contradictions. It is very difficult to accept one part of the “Oral Torah” and to reject another, and yet it is clear that we as Messianics cannot accept all of it, because this would imply our rejection of Yeshua. I have made a short list of the difficulties involved, to give a first impression of our whereabouts in this complex field

As already stated, it is part of the “Oral Torah” to reject the claims of Yeshua. Because this rejection is considered essential for Orthodox Judaism’s definition of the Jewish faith, full acceptance of the “Oral Torah” by Messianics is out of the question.

The “Oral Torah” cannot — per definitionem — be identified with any written document. It is actually nothing else but the living voice of Rabbinic Judaism in its own understanding of the normativity of Jewish tradition. For the “Oral Torah” requires the system of rabbinic authority. However, in the same manner as it is clear that we cannot accept Judaism’s rejection of Yeshua, it is also clear that we cannot without qualifications accept the authority of the Rabbis who are the embodiment of the “Oral Torah”, including its rejection of Yeshua.

According to the “Oral Torah” Gentile Messianics are simply Gentiles and nothing else. Paradoxically, our subjection to rabbinic legislation is not accepted by Judaism itself. If a Gentile Messianic should inform an orthodox Rabbi that he is obedient to the Jewish part of the “Oral Torah”, this Rabbi would contradict him by saying that in fact he isn’t obedient at all but instead very disobedient, perhaps even defiantly disobedient. For, the Rabbi would argue, while knowing quite well that Gentiles should only obey the Noachide laws, he tries to observe the laws of Israel that were never meant for him. The proper subjection of Gentiles to rabbinic authority should mean their obedience to only those parts of the “Oral Torah” which are clearly for Gentiles. Thus, on the basis of the prescriptions of the Jewish part of the “Oral Torah” itself it appears that Gentiles in fact disobey it by the very fact that they attempt to obey it. Such an attempt is completely illegal from a rabbinic viewpoint, and from the orthodox perspective it can be compared to the attempts of Korach and his followers who wanted to be priests. The only exception here is the case of giur (proselyte conversion). Gentiles are permitted to obey the Jewish parts of the Torah if they make serious efforts to become orthodox converts.

The Apostolic Writings are in the category of prohibited books by Orthodox Judaism, and this prohibition is certainly part of the “Oral Torah”. So, if we accept the entire “Oral Torah” we — eo ipso — reject the Apostolic Writings.

If we say that we as Messianics have our own viewpoint, and that we in part accept the “Oral Torah”, we seem to run into a predicament. For the very splitting up of the “Oral Torah” into parts seems to be something that, properly spoken, cannot be done at all, because it is clear that the living voice of Judaism is undivided. By its very definition the “Oral Torah” is an undivided whole which is not written and which can never be identified with its written historical sources, e.g. the Mishnah and the Talmud. This seems to exclude that Gentile believers can have proper access to the “Oral Torah” at all. For whatever written sources of the “Oral Torah” are studied by them, these sources, when detached from living Judaism, are not the “Oral Torah”.

The statement that as Messianics we accept certain parts of the “Oral Torah” needs further clarification. Above all, it requires a criterion that can provide us the instrument to decide between which parts of the “Oral Torah” should be accepted and which parts of it should be rejected. But where can that criterion, or instrument, be found? There seem only two available candidates here: The Apostolic Scriptures and the authority of the Christian Church. Of these two the authority of the Christian Church can be easily dismissed, for nothing at all of the “Oral Torah” and very little of the Written Torah is accepted by the Church. If, however, we try to find our criterion in the Apostolic Scriptures we face the big problems that, (1), these Scriptures do not nearly cover the whole domain of the “Oral Torah” and that, (2), these Scriptures were canonized by the same Christian Church which rejects the “Oral Torah”.

Only a few items of the “Oral Torah” are discussed or touched upon in the Apostolic Writings, and it is very difficult to develop from these the general instrument required to judge what to accept of the “Oral Torah”. Although we can safely conclude that for us as Messianics no part of the “Oral Torah” or rabbinic legislation may be accepted which contradicts the words of Yeshua and his Apostles, yet this negative rule of contradiction is by far not sufficient to provide us the criterion we are searching for. From this rule we can only conclude which parts of the “Oral Torah” should be rejected but not which parts should be accepted — except those of course which we already found to be observed and taught in the Apostolic Writings.

In particular we cannot, by means of the Apostolic Writings, know which later halachic delopments would have been accepted and authorized by the Apostles, had they lived in our times.

If we accept the “Oral Torah” in part — which seems to be the only possibility for Messianics — then not only a formal criterion is required for determining what parts should be accepted, but also a ruling halachic authority able to make these decisions. But it is by no means clear where this authority is to be found. We don’t have Apostles anymore nor any other undisputed authoritative body.

These difficulties should be duly recognized and as long as they remain unsolved we should try to be moderate in all things and not by our personal acceptance of disputable rabbinic halachot implicitly or explicitly lay burdens on the communities we belong to. However, in order to prevent individualism and sectarianism in our observance, we should accept rabbinic halachah where it is practically undisputed and not in any conflict with either the Written Torah or the other Scriptures, including the Apostolic Writings, as the default option for our observance. In this way we can accept much of it theoretically albeit hypothetically as well as practically.

And we should take heed of the warning expressed by David Stern in his Messianic Jewish Manifesto (p. 172) about making modifications in Jewish liturgy and ceremonies, when he said: “It would be wise for us to make such modifications only after much thought and prayer. For we are dealing with ceremonies weighted with intellectual, emotional and spiritual meaning. Ad hoc changes are likely to prove tasteless, offensive, theologically erroneous, or all three”. In my opinion this warning is not only applicable to ceremony and liturgy, but to the entire framework of halachah.

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Review: Two Messianic Passover Haggadoth

 

Passover Seder

Passover Seder

There’s no lack of Passover Haggadoth for Messianics. The best known are perhaps The Messianic Passover Haggadah by Barry & Steffi Rubin, and the more recent Vine of David Haggadah published by FFOZ. [1] There are many more, especially in internet editions. Some show a beautiful lay-out and are richly illustrated. There seems to be enough material available for all styles and tastes.

To our taste, however, the materials offered thus far show many liturgical defects and inconveniences. Despite many serious efforts that have been made we haven’t seen a messianic Haggadah which successfully and convincingly integrates the traditional Jewish and the typical messianic features of the Seder. It is our perception that the difficulty of doing so is often underestimated, and that authors and editors are not sufficiently aware of the decisions involved in such a project, or the halachic and theological problems connected to these decisions.

First, there’s the problem of how to preserve the internal logic and dynamics of the Jewish calendar in introducing the messianic theme. This is a problem that exceeds the boundaries of the Seder celebration and already announces itself in the days of the Passover preparations. According to traditional Jewish understanding, joy increases during the months of Adar and Nisan, up to Passover, and decreases during the days of counting the Omer. But according to messianic understanding the Omer is the time of the joyful celebration of Yeshua’s resurrection, while the time leading up to Passover is the time of Yeshua’s trial, passion, death, and burial.

The association of the Passover time with Yeshua’s suffering and death, and of the Omer with the resurrection joy is thus in apparent incongruence with the moods of these seasons in Jewish tradition, an incongruence which is intensified at the day of the Seder. According to the dominant Christian tradition Yeshua died on the 14th of Nisan, on the afternoon before Seder night, and was buried just before the sundown that initiated the Yom Tov of the 15th of Nisan and the weekly Sabbath, which in that year fell on the same day. [2] Again, according to the dominant tradition Yeshua was resurrected on the day after the Yom Tov, the 16th of Nisan. In the year of Yeshua’s death this was also the Sunday after the weekly Sabbath in the Passover week, and the first day of the Omer in the ancient priestly calendar. This calendar was probably still in use at that time. The tradition of starting the Omer on the first Sunday after Nisan 14 is followed by a considerable part of the messianic world and seems to be the best interpretation of the scriptural verses relating to it.

This implies that according to the Jewish calendar, the time of the celebration of the Seder reminds us of Messiah’s death and burial, not of his resurrection. [3] His resurrection occurs on a day that is not a Yom Tov at all. [4] One can ask a lot of questions here. What does this signify for the mood of the Seder? Is it apropriate to express joy at all at such a time when we remember Yeshua’s gruesome death and his lying in the tomb? Should the expression of joy perhaps be postponed to the day of the resurrection? How should this coincidence of a Yom Tov with a dead Messiah be treated liturgically? What is the deeper meaning of the fact that a holiday is celebrated while Messiah is resting in the grave?

I won’t try to answer these questions here and now, but my point is that I think they should be answered before a genuine messianic Haggadah can be developed.

The later Christian answer to this problem has been the dismissal of the Jewish calendrical system as being inadequate for expressing the great themes of Messiah’s passion, death and resurrection. The Sunday of the resurrection was made the important feast day and the days of the so-called Holy Week — from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — were all connected to the successive stages leading up to that great day. For that reason the joy of Passover in the Christian calendar is almost exclusively connected to the celebration of the resurrection. The other events, the institution of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion and burial on Good Friday, and the rest in the tomb on Holy Saturday, are solemn and of immense importance, but not specifically joyous, or a mix of joy and sadness at best.

The perception that the Jewish calendar was inadequate for the liturgical expression of the messianic content of the Apostolic Scriptures might also have been a motive for the Christian abrogation of the weekly Sabbath. Sunday, the day of the resurrection, had to become the day of joy and gladness, the day of celebration, while the Sabbath was viewed as a day of mourning. In the weekly order of days Messiah died on a Friday, rested in the grave during the Sabbath, and rose from the dead after the Sabbath. “This Saturday of death was the death of the Sabbath” says Häring in the Dutch edition of his important work Das Gesetz Christi, thus explaining his opinion that from a systematic theological perspective the celebration of the Sabbath is incompatible with faith in Messiah, because such a practice would be derogatory of the miracle of the resurrection and betray a silent approval of Yeshua’s execution. [5].

In a messianic concept of the Haggadah and the Seder these traditional Christian objections against the Jewish calendar and its celebrations should be convincingly refuted and overcome.

Second, there is the problem of how to introduce the messianic theme in the Haggadah text and liturgy. When we go more in detail, we discover a number of inconveniences and frictions.

The Messianic Passover Haggadah

The Messianic Passover Haggadah

In The Messianic Passover Haggadah, which doesn’t accurately follow the fifteen traditional rubrics of the Seder, the person of Messiah is introduced at the handwashing (Urkhatz) ceremony (p. 8) by means of a reference to the footwashing mentioned in John ch. XIII. Why and how these two washings, which from a traditional halachic viewpoint are unrelated, are theologically connected here remains entirely unclear. In the section where the four questions are answered, Messiah appears by a number of loose biblical quotations and a risible trinitarian speculation on the three matzot of the Seder. Another annoying pseudo-symbolism is made by comparing the pierced matzah with the pierced Yeshua on the Cross. As if unleavened bread were necessarily pierced! Hand made matzot are not pierced at all.  

The connection between the custom of reclining and the messianic theme is made by quoting Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”.

Generally it can be said that the Exodus from Egypt and the Exodus of Messiah are only superficially interrelated in this Haggadah.

Vine of David Haggadah

Vine of David Haggadah

When we consult FFOZ’s Vine of David Haggadah, the first thing we see is that it accurately follows the traditional fifteen rubrics of the traditional Jewish Seder liturgy. In this Haggadah the person of Messiah is introduced right at the beginning. Right before Kaddesh it opens with the words of the Last Supper scene according to the Gospel of Luke (22:14-16): “And when the hour had come, he reclined,… &c”. Like the Rubin’s, FFOZ’s Haggadah assumes that the Last Supper of Yeshua was a Passover Seder and it links the scene of the exit of Judas to the rubric of Karpas.

The Maggid of the FFOZ Haggadah doesn’t have any reference to Messiah at all, until the Pesach Matzah Maror section, where it is said that it would be appropriate at this time to discuss the messianic significance of the Passover offering, the Matzah, and the Maror, and how these items may serve as a remembrance of the Master” (pp. 39-41). Nothing is done, however, to really intertwine or synthesize the traditional Maggid text and the messianic theme.

The FFOZ Haggadah returns to the messianic theme at the moment of HaMotzi, and connects the HaMotzi blessing with Yeshua’s words at the Last Supper: “This is my body, which is given on your behalf. Do this for my remembrance” (Lk. 22:19). At the Shulchan Orech the passage about the footwashing of John 13:3-5; 12-17 is included. But it is not clear whether a real foot washing ceremony should be conducted here. The passage is given without any ceremonial directions.

Although the Vine of David Haggadah shows a better liturgical awareness than The Messianic Passover Haggadah, yet it can be said that both show a typical lack of real synthesis between the traditional Jewish and the specific messianic themes. The approach of both Haggadoth is not in line with the idea of progressive revelation so prevalent in messianic circles, and which implies a harmonious integration of the historically later into the historically earlier, and a new perspective on the earlier stages of revelation history from the end-goal reached in Messiah.

Both Haggadoth tend to connect the traditional and the messianic themes in a rather outward and superficial manner. This not only creates an impression of artificiality, since the messianic content just drops in at some typical moments, it also creates sudden breaks into the flow of the Seder liturgy. Take for example the summary of HaShem’s benefits to Israel as it occurs in and immediately after the Dayenu song. In the Rubin Haggadah a rather unsuccessful attempt is made to integrate Messiah’s redemption, by letting the Dayenu culminate in it; in the FFOZ Haggadah the traditional Dayenu is left intact, and consequently no place is found for Messiah in this summary.

Both of these options are rather unlucky. On the one hand: How can a summary of HaShem’s benefits to his people be truthful if it doesn’t culminate in the incomparable gift of Messiah Yeshua? On the other hand: How can one expect that the messianic theme can be successfully assimilated in a song like Dayenu, which in each stanza emphasizes the sufficiency of the earlier benefits in comparison to the later? Bringing in Messiah unthoughtfully here would cause this song to culminate in the blasphemy that if HaShem had built the Temple but had not given Messiah Yeshua, it would have been enough! [6]

From this example it is clear that Messiah cannot be treated as simply an additional benefit of HaShem to Israel. The promised Messiah is the deeper reason of all the other benefits — those preceeding as well as those following him historically — and he is the centre and focus of the whole divine purpose in revelation and redemption. That’s why a Passover Haggadah cannot be made ‘messianic’ by adding a messianic point of attention here and there. It can only be truly messianic if Messiah is its golden thread from beginning to end and if this golden thread can be detected and followed throughout the entire celebration of the Seder.

The Messianic Passover Haggadah and the Vine of David Haggadah don’t succeed in brining the traditionally Jewish and messianic themes to a synthesis in a convincing Seder liturgy. Although both booklets should be considered as important pioneering efforts in introducing the Seder customs to Christians, we still have to wait for an Haggadah which is both truly Jewish and messianic.

______________

[1] Barry & Steffi Rubin, The Messianic Passover Haggadah, Messianic Jewish Publishers (Lederer) — Baltimore, MD 1989, 1994, 1996, 1998; Vine of David Haggadah, First Fruits of Zion — 2010 Marshfield, Missouri.

[2] John 19:31 informs us that “that Sabbath day was an High day”.

[3] There is an exception to this. In a year when the 15th of Nisan occurs on a Sunday, the Omer begins on this day. In such a year the obligations of the 14th of Nisan are preponed to the 13th because of the Sabbath.

[4] There are two exceptions to this. The first is the mentioned in the footnote no. 2. When the 15th of Nisan is a Sunday, the resurrection is celebrated on this same day. The other would be when the seventh day of Passover, which is a Yom Tov, falls on a Sunday. This exception is only theoretical nowadays, because the calculated calendar we use is so constructed that Nisan 14 can never happen on a Sunday. It should perhaps be avoided in a non-calculated calendar as well, for liturgical reasons.

[5] “Da­ags na Goede Vrijdag heeft de volmaakte rust van Christus in het graf een einde gemaakt aan de oude voorafbeel­ding. Deze zaterdag van de dood was de dood van de sabbat” In: De Wet van Christus, II.259,3. (Translation: “On the day after Good Friday, Christ’s perfect rest in the grave ended the old foreshadowing. This Saturday of death was the death of the Sabbath”.)

[6] Traditionally, the final stanza goes like this: “If He had let us enter the land of Israel, but had not built for us the House of his choosing, it would have been enough”.

The Afternoon Service (Minchah) for Weekdays

Mishkan

We have already presented a number of liturgical texts on this blog, and our efforts in developing a messianic liturgy have now resulted in a first contribution for the daily service. We are able to publish a messianic version of the Afternoon Service (Minchah) for Weekdays. Minchah is the shortest of the three daily prayers, and it has a relatively simple structure. That’s the reason why we have chosen it as the first part of our larger project of developing a Messianic Siddur. We hope to publish the texts of the daily Shacharit and Maariv services in the foreseeable future.

The translation of the Hebrew text mainly follows the English translation of the Standard Prayer Book (1915) by Simeon Singer, which is freely available on the web as an open online source. Our text is not freely available, however, since it is an original liturgical composition of its own. Insofar as our text differs from Singer’s and our liturgy deviates from the orthodox Minchah service and shows its own features, it is subject to copyright. It may not be reproduced without our written permission. The text can be viewed by clicking on the following link.

The Afternoon Service for Weekdays 10022014

Some Basic Contours of a Messianic Lectionary

Torah ScrollMany messianic congregations have adopted the orthodox Jewish practice of an annual Torah reading cycle. In Orthodox Judaism the Torah is read in a lectio continua and the sequence of the weekly sections is only interrupted at the major feasts, which have their own Torah portions. According to the traditional practice a second lesson, taken from the prophets, concludes the Sabbath morning reading service. In messianic congregations this Haftarah reading is often followed by a third reading taken from the Apostolic Writings.

The traditional practice is recommendable, and should not be lightly set aside. Yet it has some disadvantages and problems. Its principal disadvantage is that only a small section of Holy Scripture is publicly read. While the Torah is completely covered, only some fragments of the majority of the other Books are heard in the weekly Sabbath liturgy.

In a messianic setting there are three important aspects to the question what to read which could lead to a reconsideration of this orthodox liturgical lectionary. The first of these is our emphasis on the primacy of all Scripture, not just of the Books of the Torah, in communicating G-d’s revelation to us. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of G-d, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of G-d may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim 3:16-17). The messianic emphasis on Scripture as the prime and supreme source of divine revelation conflicts with the orthodox theological model, which has elevated the Oral Torah, i.e. rabbinic authority, to a position of overriding authority, at least in practice. For Messianics it should only be natural to undergird their emphasis on Scripture by customs of public reading that are in line with their doctrine. Although this doctrine doesn’t necessarily lead to a schedule that has all the Scriptures read in the Synagogue, it should be acknowledged that there are important arguments in favour of it.

If we as Messianics want to be a biblical people, devoted to the exclusion of selective, one-sided and erroneous theological developments, then an excellent way to do so is to stimulate a culture of scriptural study in the broadest sense of the word. More specifically this means that no part of Scripture is negligible for the discipline of interpreting and applying the precepts of the Torah. Oftentimes one sees Messianics jumping to principles found in talmudic and post-talmudic halachic sources, without duly considering the possibility that other parts of Scripture, for instance the Book of the Proverbs, may contain important clues or interpretional principles for the study of the Torah. This is not to say that the Talmud or later halachic sources shouldn’t be consulted. It is to say that Scripture comes first and that the post-scriptural and non-scriptural sources should be given their due place under the primacy and authority of Scripture.

A second aspect to be given due attention is the fact that one of the criteria of the traditonal selection of Haftarot has been the deliberate exclusion of all passages that could easily lead to Christian associations or interpretations. Almost nothing can be ascertained here with rigid historical proof, but it is remarkable that passages which have a prominent meaning for Messianics, such as Isaiah’s chapters LIII and LXI (cf. Luke 4:16-20), were left out of the later Synagogue liturgy. This is especially noteworthy in the case of Isaiah 61:1-2, because the chapters closely preceding and following it were made part of the seven Haftarot of Consolation, which are read after the Fast Day in Commemoration of the Destruction of the Temple, Tisha B’Av. The sixth of these is Is. 60:1-22 (Haftarah Ki Tavo) and the seventh is Is. 61:10-63:9 (Haftarah Nitzavim). It is completely legitimate for Messianics to seek a correction of this state of affairs in some way or other. And an impartial way of doing is by endorsing a non-selective reading of the prophetic books.

A third aspect to be considered by Messianics in this context is the question what passages should be read from the Apostolic Scriptures. If traditional Judaism has made its choice of Haftarah passages, should Messianic Judaism do the same with the Apostolic Writings? Or should we perhaps follow a less selective policy and read them all? However, if it should appear that we are unable to make a convincing liturgical selection, and instead decide to read them all, should we then not apply the same procedure to the Prophets, and also to the third category of Scripture contained in the Tanach, the Writings? And if it is our best option to read all the Scriptures, how are we to put this into practice? Many congregations nowadays have an overloaded schedule of readings already, caused by the addition of a third reading, taken from the Apostolic Scriptures, to the readings of the Sabbath morning service. From a traditional halachic viewpoint, a third reading during Shacharit causes certain technical inconveniences. It is problematic, for instance, to recite the traditional Haftarah blessings. These blessings indicate that the reading section of the service is concluded. Adding a third reading is a denial of this and requires the abrogation or modification of these blessings and the introduction of new ones specifically relating to the apostolic readings. It also demands for some corresponding modifications in the concluding blessings of the entire reading section, when the Torah Scroll is returned to the Aron HaKodesh.

Another question that has to be answered is: Is it possible to develop a consistent program of reading all Scripture, and yet to be faithful to the format of the liturgical year by having the passages read in their proper seasons? Naturally, this particularly applies to the readings from the Gospels, since Messiah’s life is the spiritual centre or axis of the entire orbit of the liturgical year. Diverse congregations try to find tenable solutions for this problem. The following outline is a detailed proposal for your consideration. As is obvious, it has its own presuppositions, some of which may not be shared by all Messianics.

At Messianic613 we favour a liturgical model which includes the celebration of the Lord’s Supper at the evening services of Shabbat, New Moon (Rosh Chodesh), and the major annual festivals. According to a long-standing Christian tradition in these eucharistic services two passages of the Apostolic Scriptures are read — which by their traditional names are called the “Epistle” and “Gospel” readings.

We discovered that the practice of having the Apostolic Scriptures read in the evening service has the advantage of not overburdening the Sabbath morning service with additional readings. Due to the Torah and Haftarah readings, and the Mussaf prayers, this service is already of considerable length.

The first problem we had to solve was: How should we read the Torah, in a one-year or a three-year cycle? Since both traditions have their ancient roots as well as their specific merits, we have sought to combine them and have found the following solution. During the Shmittah– or Sabbath-years we follow the annual cycle of Orthodox Judaism. During the six normal years we follow the triennial cycle. Thus we have always two triennial cycles alternated by an annual cycle. This solution has the merit of giving a distinctive mark to the Shmittah-years. Below we’ll see that it also has certain advantages as an architectural principle for ordering the remainder of the scriptural readings.

For the Haftarah reading we propose a schedule of reading all the prophetic books in sequence. Now, because the prophets are a large body to read, it is obvious that this cannot be done in one year on a weekly basis. We have made a timeframe of seven years, based on the twofold division we find in the prophetic books: the former or early prophets (i.e. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), and the later prophets (i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) which are concluded by the so called 12 minor prophets (i.e. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). The former prophets are to be read as Haftarot during the first triennial Torah cycle, the later prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, during the second triennial cycle.

This solution left us with the question what to do with the minor prophets. For during the Shmittah years the traditional Haftarot are read.

The next problem for us was how and when to read from the other Scriptures, the Writings or Ketuvim. After some trial and error we developed the proposal to read from these Scriptures during the Sabbath and festival Minchah services. Several of the Books of the Ketuvim already have an annually fixed season of public reading. According to this the Book of Canticles should be read during Passover, Ruth at Shavuot, and the Lamentations of Jeremiah at Tisha B’Av. The Book of Ecclesiastes is to be read during Sukkot, and Esther is the Megillah to be read at Purim. If we add to this that it is appropriate to read the Book of Daniel during Chanukah (at Maariv), the books that remain are Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. From these the Psalms can be excluded from public reading, however,  since they are already used in the liturgy as the main hymnal. We have developed a format for the daily Shacharit and Minchah services in which the Book of Psalms is used in a manner that follows its traditional division into thirty sections, according to the maximum of days of the Jewish month. The Psalms are thus recited or sung in a monthly cycle. And in the Maariv services of Shabbat and Yom Tov Psalms are used as intermediate hymns between the Epistle and Gospel readings.

According to the chiastic structure of the Writings as found in the Jewish canonical order, it would be proper to have Proverbs and Job read at Minchah during the first triennial Torah cycle, and Ezra-Nehemia and Chronicles during the second triennial Torah cycle. This leaves open the question what to read during the Sabbath Minchah service of the Shmittah year. Our suggestion would be to insert the minor prophets here

Now about the reading schedule of the Apostolic Scriptures. In order to follow the liturgical year and to have the reading sections in harmony with the major festive seasons (Yamim Tovim) of Messiah’s birth (at Sukkot), his death and resurrection (at Pesach), and the outpouring of the Ruach HaKodesh after his Ascension (at Shavuot), the readings from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles have to be divided over the two halves of the year. Our proposal is to read each year one of the Gospels in a lectio continua during the first half of the year (from Shabbat Bereisheet to Pesach), thus covering Messiah’s earthly life, and to read the Acts of the Apostles during the second half of every year (from Shavuot to Rosh HaShanah), thus covering Messiah’s post-resurrection activity. The seven Sabbaths of the Omer can be used to repeat important Gospel lessons (e.g. the parables of the Kingdom in the Gospel of Mathew) in preparation of the festival of Shavuot. We intend the Yamim Tovim to keep the privilige of having their own distinctive readings and on these days the lectio continua schedule is to be interrupted. However, the normal Shabbat readings should properly lead up to the major feasts and from one festive season to next.

The above made alternation between the triennial and annual Torah cycles can be used as a key for allotting the Gospels their place in our liturgical framework. The main distinction in the Gospels is between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. This would suggest that the Gospel of John should be read during the Shmittah years and that the three Synoptic Gospels should be read in tune with the triennial cycle. This results in two cycles of readings from Matthew, Mark and Luke successively, alternated with a year in which the Gospel of John is read. In this manner each Gospel has its own years of reading.

The reading of the Epistles allows for a similar division. The Epistles can be divided in three sections: the general Epistles and Hebrews, the earlier Epistles of Paul, and the later or prison Epistles of Paul. According to this division each group of Epistles can be assigned to one of the synoptic Gospels: The general Epistles, including Hebrews, to the Gospel of Matthew; the early Epistles of Paul to the Gospel of Mark, and the prison Epistles of Paul to the Gospel of Luke.

The only remaining book which has yet to find a place is the Apocalypse of John. I suggest its reading as replacing the Epistle reading during the Shmittah year, thus accompanying the reading of the Gospel of John.

While it is clear that this whole schedule is not a necessary consequence which follows from undisputed and universally accepted principles, yet we think that it should be given due weight and consideration. It shows both simplicity and elegance in combining the two demands of having all of Scripture read and of having an order of reading which is in harmony with the seasons of the liturgical year.

It remains to be seen of course whether this schedule is practical enough to maintain and whether its details can be ordered in such a manner as to establish sensible connections between the diverse cycles of reading interfering with each other. Will it be possible to have the four readings — Epistle, Gospel (or Acts), Torah, and Haftarah — occuring on any given Sabbath to illuminate each other under the conditions of a lectio continua? We hope to explore this question further in our efforts to develop a truly messianic liturgy.

The 7th of Tammuz: The Yahrzeit of Manuel Lacunza (5561)

 

There are not many Roman Catholic theologians who could make a legitimate claim of being worthy of having their Yahrzeit remembered by Messianic Jews and their co-religionists. And one would certainly not expect a priest of the Jesuit order to be an exception to this. However, if there is a Roman clergyman deserving to be an exception it is Manuel Lacunza (1731-1801), who can be regarded as the founder of modern Christian Zionism and Millenarianism. [1]

Manuel Lacunza Y Diaz was born in Santiago (Chile) as the son of Charles and Josefa Diaz. His father was a wealthy merchant in colonial trade between Lima and Chile. Manuel entered the religious life and joined the Jesuit order in 1747. He was ordained a priest in 1766. His daily profession was being a teacher in grammar at a school in Santiago. He seems to have enjoyed some fame as a pulpit preacher.

In 1767 Lacunza had to face the misfortune of the expulsion of the Jesuit order from the Spanish Americas by king Charles III. The specific reasons for this expulsion are still shrouded in an air of mystery. All we know with certainty is that the European monarchs felt threatened by Jesuit political power and were under the influence of Enlightenment secularism. The expulsion from Latin America was not an isolated phenomenon. In 1759 the Jesuits had been expelled from Portugal, and in 1762 from France.

The expulsion forced Lacunza and his fellow Jesuits into exile in Europe, first to Cadiz in Andalusia, and later to Imola, within the surroundings of Bologna. When in 1799 the Spanish Crown lifted the restrictions against the Jesuits, Lacunza did not return to Chile. He lived in Imola until his death in 1801. [2]

In 1773 Pope Clement XIV for political reasons dissolved the Jesuit order altogether. Against his will, and without any possibility of appeal, Lacunza thus found himself secularized by papal decree.

These events seem to have caused severe spiritual blows to Lacunza, who, to regain his peace of mind and to find consolation in the midst of the troubles of life, devoted himself to religious studies, especially of holy Scripture. He became gradually fascinated by the subject of prophecy. The main result of his studies was a book in three volumes, entitled La Venida del Mesías en Gloria y Majestad — which later (in 1826 or 27) was published in a two volume English translation by the Rev. Edward Irving (1792-1834) as: The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty. [3]

Lacunza’s work was completed in 1790 but the first Spanish edition was not printed until 1810 or 1811, about ten years after his death. The remarkable thing about the book is that it defends the idea of a future glorious restoration of the Jewish nation in a millennial Kingdom Age to be inaugurated by the return of Messiah Yeshua. It contains a fundamental criticism of the traditional doctrine of the Church on the Jewish people.

One of the famous passages deserving our attention is the following (Vol I, p. 326 of Irving’s edition):

The Jews may be considered in three states infinitely different: the first, is that which they were in before Messiah; the second, is that which they have held, and still hold, since the death of Messiah, in consequence of having  rejected him, and much more, of having obstinately persisted in their unbelief; the third is yet future, nor is it known when it shall be. In these three states are they frequently regarded and spoken of in scripture; and in each it regards them under four principal aspects.

In the first state, before Messiah, the scriptures regard them; First, as the owners and legitimate masters of all that portion of the earth which God himself gave to their fathers in solemn and perpetual gift: “All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever,” Gen. xv. 18. and xiii. 15. Secondly; it considers them as the only people of God, or which is the same as his church. Thirdly; as a true and lawful spouse of God himself, whose espousals were solemnly celebrated in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, Exod. xix. and Ezek. xxiii. Fourthly; it considers them as endued with another kind of life infinitely more valuable than natural life.

In the second state, after Messiah, it considers them; First, as disinherited of their native land, scattered to every wind, and abandoned to the contempt and derision, and hatred, and barbarity of all nations. Secondly; as deprived of the honour and dignity of the people of God, as if God himself were no longer their God. Thirdly; as a faithless and most ungrateful spouse, ignominiously cast forth from the house  of her husband, despoiled of all her attire and precious jewels, which had been heaped upon her with such profusion, and enduring the greatest hardships and miseries in her solitude, in her dishonour, in her total abandonment of heaven and earth. Fourthly; it regards them as deprived of that life which so highly distinguished them from all the living.

In the third state still future, but infallibly believed and expected, Divine Scripture regards them; First, as gathered again, by  the omnipotent arm of the living God, from among all the peoples and nations of the world, as restored to their own land, and reestablished in it, not to be removed for ever. “And I will plant them and not pluck them up,” Jer. xxiv. 6. “And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them,” Amos ix. 15. Secondly; it regards them as restored with the highest honour, and with the greatest advantages, to the dignity of the people of God, yea, even under another and an everlasting covenant. “And I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God…And I will make an everlasting covenant with them,” Jer. xxxii. 37,38,40. Thirdly; it considers them as a spouse  of God, so much beloved in other times, whose desolation, trouble, affliction, and lamentation, do at length move the heart of her husband; who, forgetting his wrongs and reconciled, recalls her to  her ancient dignity, receives her with the warmest welcome, forgets all the past, restores her to all her honours, and, opening his treasures, heaps upon her new and greater gifts; clothes her with new attire, adorns her with new and inestimable jewels, incomparably more precious than those which she had lost; Isa. xl. 49. Hos. ii. 18. Micah vii. Fourthly and finally; the scriptures consider them as resuscitated and reanimated with that spirit of life, of which, for so many ages, they have been deprived. These three estates of the Jews perfectly correspond to the three states of the life of holy Job, which we may regard as a figure, or as a history written in cypher of the three mighty revolutions of the people of God.

Lacunza adopted the Jewish pen-name Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, and posed himself in the work as a Jew converted to Christianity.  This was a tactical move to raise the curiosity of the Jews and to get the book accepted and read by them. [4]

In the Dedication of the work — which is “To the Messiah Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Son of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Son of David, and Son of Abraham” (ibid., p. 135) — Lacunza mentions three motives for its composition. First, he says that he wanted the Roman priesthood “to shake off the dust from their Bibles, inviting them to a new study and examination, a new and more attentive consideration of that Divine Book” (ibid.). Second, he wanted to prevent as many people as he could reach from slipping “towards the horrible gulf of infidelity” (ibid, p. 136). His third motive is that he wanted give the Jews “knowledge of their true Messiah whom they love, and for whom they sigh night and day without knowing Him” (ibid.).

I understand the first motive to mean that in the midst of the perils and revolutionary upheavels of his times Lacunza wanted improve the level of knowledge of the holy Scriptures of the priesthood in general and more specifically about the subject of biblical prophecy, with the purpose of strengthening the Church. This at least seems to be implied by the following passage: “What advantages might we not expect from this new study, were it possible to re-establish it among the priests, in themselves qualified, and by the church set apart for masters and teachers of the christian community!” (ibid., p. 136).

The second motive is tightly connected to the first. It seems that Lacunza thought that a genuine knowledge of biblical prophecy would give Catholic Christians a perspective that would be able to strenghten their faith and give them the consolation that the tumultuous course of world history was not something outside the scope of the divine purpose — or irrelevant to it — but was part of the very process by which the destination of all things in Messiah’s Kingdom was to realized. By knowing the outline of biblical prophecy, Lacunza hoped, Catholics would be withheld from adopting secular views and from the dangers of apostasy. Essentially, Lacunza thus held his work to be an answer to the devastating influences of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

The third motive is again tightly connected to the first and the second, and is essentially to give the Jewish people an opportunity to proper and scriptural knowledge of their Messiah, in preparation for the Second Coming.

Although these motives were in Lacunza’s mind related to efforts to maintain the Roman Church system, it is not difficult to discover in them a latent criticism of Catholicism. In fact his interpretation of biblical prophecy can be called the remote starting point of a dispensational type of eschatology. With some caution Lacunza can be considered as the father of modern dispensationalist millennialism. He offered an explanation for the recently diminished authority of the Church to traditional Christians and equipped them for the apocalyptic events which were to happen sooner or later and would lead to the return of Jesus Christ. The messianic kingdom couldn’t come without a temporary rise of evil, culminating in an anti-Christian regime, which in its turn would be destroyed by Christ at his Second Advent.

Despite its latent — and at times not so latent — criticism of Catholicism, Lacunza’s work was received by the Church’s authorities with a certain benevolency. Although it didn’t reflect the traditional Catholic teachings about the Second Coming and the end of the world, Rome found nothing wrong or heretical with Lacunza’s approach, as Ovid E. Need remarks in his Death of the Church Victorious (p. 48). [5] And it must be admitted that in a manner Lacunza continued and expanded an existing Catholic and Jesuit tradition of interpretation. When the Reformers accused the Papacy to be the Antichrist, and began to interpret the Book of the Apocalypse accordingly, the theologians of the Counter Reformation, particularly the Jesuits, tried to answer the Protestant charges by adopting futurist interpretations. It was a Jesuit, Francisco Ribiera (1537-1591), who took the position that the events described in John’s Revelation had nothing to do with the course of Church history but belonged to the distant future and were to happen immediately before the end of the world.

The new element in Lacunza’s interpretations was that he combined a futurist prophetic model with a literal interpretation of the texts of Scripture, and in this way he was led to the idea of a future restoration of the Jewish nation. He not only expanded the dynamics of the futurist interpretation model, but he also shattered the limits imposed upon it by the inherent constraints of Roman Catholicism.

The person who was asked to inspect Lacunza’s book and give advice to the ecclesiastical censor was a certain Fr. Paul, who gave his judgment not until after a long period of study and meditation. He confessed his great admiration for the author and his work:

[…] every time that I have read it over, my admiration has been redoubled in witnessing the profound study which the author had made of the Holy Scriptures; the method, order, and exactness which adorn his work; and, above all, the light which it casts upon the most deep mysteries and obscure passages of the sacred books.

The truth, the abundance, and  natural application of the  passages which he adduces from the sacred Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testaments, incline me in such a way to the understanding and reception of his system, that I dare take upon me to affirm, that, if what he says be false, never has falsehood  presented itself so attired in the simple and beautiful garb of truth, as this author hath set it forth in:  for the tone of ingenuousness and candour, the very simplicity of the style, the invitation which he always gives to read the whole of the chapter, or chapters he quotes from, as well as those which precede and follow the quotation, the exact correspondence, not only with the quotations, but with that sense of the sacred text which first strikes the mind; all this, I say, gives such strong presumption of truth, that it seems impossible to refuse one’s assent, unless through obstinate prepossession in favour of the contrary system. (Vol I, p.131)

Fr. Paul added that Lacunza’s system of interpreting prophecy was not new, but had firm roots in the ancient Church. He uttered only a single reservation:

Nevertheless, when I take into consideration the number of ages which have elapsed in the church, without even the mention of this system, otherwise than as a fabulous opinion; and advert to certain fathers and doctors, as Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, and to all the theologians since their day, who treat it with aversion, and some of them as positive error; I cannot help quaking and trembling, under the impression that there is less risk in erring with so many learned and very holy masters, than in venturing to aim at the mark by one’s own inclination and judgment. (ibid.)

His final conclusion was favourable, and he recommended the work should receive a permission to be printed:

[…] my judgement is; That in this work there is not contained any thing repugnant to our holy faith, but that it may be of good service in making known, and publishing abroad, many truths, whereof the knowledge, though not absolutely necessary in the first ages of the church, is become indispensable in the times in which we now live.

And with respect to customs, not only does it contain nothing contrary thereto, but on the other hand tends much to reform them by the motives which it brings forward; as will appear from what I shall slightly point out, First; by the magnificent idea which he gives of our Lord Jesus Christ, clothed with glory and majesty, and of his immense empire and power, he stimulates the soul to that fear and love of him, which is the fountain of all righteousness. He infuses, moreover, into the mind a profound feeling of the truth of the holy scriptures, and draws to the perusal of them all believers, and especially the priests, to whom above others belong the exact understanding and explanation of them. The hearts of true christians he fills with fear and trembling, by showing them how they themselves through the looseness of discipline, are threatened with that most fearful calamity which the Jews endure at present, of being cast out from the marriage chamber, which is the holy church, into the outer darkness of infidelity in which they shall perish, for ever lost to Christ Jesus the Saviour. Before the unbelievers and ungodly, who have renounced the profession of their faith, he sets forth with energy and truth, the horrible  lot to which they are reserved, if they renounce not with detestation their blasphemies and errors, and cease not to fight against the Lord, and his Christ. To all classes of men it may be profitable; because it turns their eyes inwards upon themselves, and leads them to consider their eternal destiny, and so to shun their own ruin, and the desolation of the whole earth, when, as God hath told us by the mouth of his prophet, “desolations, &c”. (ibid., pp. 133-134)

This verdict did not prevent the later prohibition of Lacunza’s book by the Roman Holy Office in 1824. The prohibition was repeated in a condemnation of Lacunza’s type of Millennialism in 1941. [6]

Meanwhile Lacunza’s work had drawn wider attention, and already in 1816 it appeared in London. Irving was so impressed by it that he translated it into English. His translation was published in 1827, with a critical introduction of more than a hundred pages, since Irving’s opinions differed in important respects from Lacunza’s. Although Irving believed in a future Millennium, he took a historicist position in many issues of prophetic hermeneutics. However, Irving was a preacher who was famous for his rhetorical skills and he enjoyed great popularity among the higher classes. The fact that his name was attached to Lacunza’s book did its work and within no time The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty obtained the status of a Christian cult book. [7] Prophetic conferences were organized to study and discuss its implications.[8]

The founder of the Plymouth Brethren, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) developed Lacunza’s thought definitely into the direction of a systematic dispensationalist theology. Darby separated the Church and Israel through the introduction of the (unbiblical) doctrine of a Secret, pre-tribulational Rapture of the Church. [9]

Notwithstanding Darby’s additions — or even perhaps because of them — it was through the enormous influence of the Brethren movement that large parts of orthodox Christianity, in particular in the US, were converted to Millennialism and accepted the idea of a restoration of the Jewish nation in a future messianic Kingdom.

We cannot agree to the theoretical framework and the presuppositions of Darby’s dispensationalist theology with its opposition between Law and Grace and its separation between Israel and the Assembly of Messiah, and certainly not to his introduction of a Secret Rapture. Yet we must acknowledge that it was through Darby and his followers that the idea of a future restoration of Israel, which is fundamental for all branches of Messianic Judaism, has spread over all the earth.

One of the implications of this idea, once it is detached from its dispensationalist limitations and errors and brought back to the framework of a covenantal theology, is nothing less than the necessity of a return to a Torah observant lifestyle for the whole Body of Messiah. There are thus enough reasons to honour the memory of an important initiator of it, Manuel Lacunza.

Lacunza was a great and creative theological thinker and a person of great spirituality, as is confirmed by his admirers and his opponents. He did not fall into despair because of the humiliations of his exile and his undeserved secularization. He led a life of prayer and study and served his Lord day and night. He saw his suffering as a means of sharing in the suffering of Messiah.

We may perhaps add that Lacunza’s sufferings have contributed to return to a biblical perspective on that time when Yeshua shall arrive “in glory and majesty” to accept his reign as the King-Messiah of all Israel.

During his exile in Italy Lacunza used to undertake solitary walks during which he thought and meditated. It is assumed that he died of natural causes during one of these. On June 18, 1801, he was found dead in a pit beside a road not far from Imola. On the Jewish calendar this was the 7th of Tammuz of the year 5561. Upcoming Shabbat is his 210th Yahrzeit. May his memory continue to be a blessing.

I think it is proper for messianic congregations and individuals to keep in remembrance Manuel Lacunza and to pay attention to his Yahrzeit, especially those with historical roots in Catholicism, the Plymouth Brethren, or the Irvingites.

Yahrzeit Prayer:

O G-d, the King of saints, we praise and magnify thy Holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; for the blessed virgin Miryam; for the holy patriarchs, apostles and martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants known to us and unknown; and also for our teacher — in thee and for thee — Manuel Lacunza Y Diaz; and we beseech thee that, encouraged and inspired by their examples, and strengthened by their fellowship, we may with them be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, in that great Day of the Appearing of our Lord and Saviour Yeshua the Messiah, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Remark:

In case one wants to burn a Yahrzeit light during Shabbat care should be taken to kindle the Yahrzeit light before the Shabbat candles are lit. After Shabbat the Yahrzeit light can be used to kindle the Havdalah candle.

______________

[1] For an historical study of XIXth century Millennarianism, Christian Zionism, and Prophetic Futurism view: Sandeen, Ernest R., The Roots of Fundamentalism. British and American Millenarianism 1800-1930, The University of Chicago Press — Chicago & London 1970.

[2] For some biographical facts on Lacunza, view the Wikipedia article about him, at: Wikipedia: Manuel Lacunza. There is also a good article on Lacunza on an Adventist website, which gives a basic summary of his book, by Sergio Olivares, “Manuel Lacunza: The Adventist Connection”, at: College and University Dialogue.

[3] Ben-Ezra, Juan Josafat, The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty, translated from the Spanish, with a preliminary discourse by the Rev. Edward Irving, A.M. Published by L.B. Seeley & Son, Fleet Street — London 1827 (J.G. Tillin, England 2000). This edition is in two volumes and is currently available as a web publication at the Birthpangs website: Volume I & Volume II.

[4] Others say that Lacunza adopted this pseudonym to hide himself before the authorities. Both possibilities are not mutually exclusive.  Sandeen remarks (p. 17-18): “His treatise, completed about 1791, was not published during his lifetime for fear of condemnation by the authorities, but manuscript copies circulated and some printed editions appeared in Spain and Latin America beginning about 1812. Shortly before Irving’s translation appeared, the work was placed on the Index, which was not surprising since Lacunza had concluded that the Catholic hierarchy and priesthood were the Antichrist”. Sandeen is not entirely correct here. Lacunza’s position was that the Catholic hierarchy would in the prophetic future develop into an anti-Christian power. Notwithstanding this nuance, there was obviously enough reason to fear the Inquisition.

[5] Need, Ovid E., Death of the Church Victorious. Tracing the Roots and Implications of Modern Dispensationalism, Sovereign Grace Publishers — Lafayette, Indiana 2002.

[6] For some details and for references to official Church documents on this condemnation, view Denzigers Enchiridion: The Lacunza case can be found under Denz. no. 3839 (ed. XXXVI).

[7] According to Sandeen (p. 17) “Irving spent the whole of the summer of 1826 on leave from his parish duties, translating a millenarian treatise by a Chilean Jesuit, Manuel Lacunza. The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty was a ponderous two-volume work, seldom cited by later British millenarians; in fact, many of Lacunza’s positions were rejected by the British school and by Irving himself. Yet the aura of mystery and providential intervention surrounding the book drew Irving into the labor of translation and seems to have stimulated a short period of popularity for its name if not for its substance”. The “providential intervention” mentioned by Sandeen refers to the coincidence that Irving had just learned Spanish when he received the work (ibid., p. 18): “Irving had not known any Spanish until a few months before he was sent a copy of Lacunza’s book. That he had begun learning Spanish (while trying to assist some Spanish refugees) just at the moment this startling work from the Catholic “underground” appeared at his door convinced him that he was being providentially prepared to present the work to the British public. Even though Lacunza’s prophetic interpretations often varied from the customary British views, he did make a strong case for the premillennial advent of Christ, and this was the aspect of his work that Irving and the British millenarians emphasized. Lacunza might have been confused on some points (so the defense ran), but notice the manner in which testimony from this Roman Catholic scholar reinforces our heralding of the imminent return of Christ”. Sandeen’s account suggests that Irving already held millenarian views before he got acquainted with Lacunza’s work. This is controversial. There are many voices insisting that Lacunza was influenced by Ribiera, Irving by Lacunza, and Darby by Irving. It is difficult, however, to find reliable sources about the actual historic development of movements like Millenarianism and Dispensationalism. According to Mark Patterson and Andrew Walker (p. 107) “the influence of Lacunza (and fellow Jesuits Alcazar and Reberia) upon nineteenth century millennianism may prove profound” [Mark Patterson & Andrew Walker, “‘Our Unspeakable Comfort’ Irving, Albury, and the Origins of the Pre-tribulation Rapture” In: Stephen Hunt (ed.), Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, Indiana University Press — Bloomington and Indianapolis 2001.]

[8] For example the Albury and Powerscourt conferences. Cf. Sandeen, pp. 18-22 & 34-38.

[9] It is disputed whether Darby can be called the originator of the concept of the Secret Rapture, or that others had preceded him. In any case, Darby systematized it by adopting a consequent dispensationalist hermeneutics, and in this form the concept became a part of the highly influential theology of the Plymouth Brethren.

The Two Parts of Israel: Reflections on the Continuing Relevance of Rabbinic Judaism for the Messianic Community

 

One of the causes of the difficulties inherent in either the “One Law” (TorahResource) or the “Divine Invitation” (FFOZ) theological models — which were discussed in our two previous posts — is perhaps that we not duly consider all the factors involved in the issue of Gentile Torah observance. It might be that one of the neglected factors in the problem is in fact part of the solution. By this factor I mean the yet unbelieving part of Israel, more precisely: Rabbinic Judaism.

What I’m thinking of is that perhaps traditional Rabbinic Judaism and the Messianic Community are, in a mysterious way, working in tandem, so to say, for the sake of the redemption of the world.

During the time-period covered by the first parts of the Book of the Acts — the part preceding the introduction of the Gentiles, roughly Acts chs. I-IX — there were two possible results of the mission of Yeshua’s Apostles to the nation of Israel. The first possibility was that all Israel accepted the Messiah; the second was that only a part of the nation accepted him. If all Israel had accepted him, the national restoration of Israel would have happened first, is my hypothesis, and, after that, the ingathering of the Gentiles would have followed. In that schedule of things there would be no problem as we now have it of a premature mixing of Jews and Gentiles, because Israel would have been firmly restored in the Land first.

This is not what happened, as we all know. Only a minor part of the nation accepted Yeshua as Messiah. And this fact caused a change in the historical schedule of things. Now the believing remnant of Israel had to go to the Gentiles and lead them to the Kingdom of Messiah, before the national restoration of the chosen people. In this schedule the remnant minority had to mix with Gentiles in the formation of the Messianic Community. The unbelieving majority was now given the historical role of preserving Jewish national identity. Thus Israel was split “into two bands” (cf. Gen. 32:7, 10). In the great spiritual struggle against the Roman Empire (the spiritual descendants of Esau), Jacob had become two bands. One was made the instrument of “attack”. This was the missionary part that believed in Messiah. The other part stood — and until now still stands — aloof. This state of affairs can be interpreted as being part of a deep spiritual strategy, for “if Esau come to the one company, and smite it — which has happened in the formation of Roman Catholicism, when the remainders of the faithful Jewish remnant were swallowed and Torah obedient messianic faith was destroyed — then the other company which is left (i.e. Rabbinic Judaism) shall escape” (Gen. 32:8).

Maybe Paul is alluding to the emerging reality of an Israel divided in two companies when he says, in Rom. 11:25: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in”. What I mean is that, after the fact of the rejction of Messiah by the leading majority of the nation, this splitting of Israel, and this division of roles indicated above, became a kind of necessity (with emphasis on “after the fact”). A further indication for this interpretation can perhaps be found in Paul’s words immediately following: “And so (i.e. in exactly this manner) all Israel shall be saved”. Paul’s words seem to signify that the very process of blinding is part of the greater story of Israel’s redemption.

One part of Israel, the remnant, is saved within the Messianic Community. The other part is “saved” — i.e. historically preserved — without it and will ultimately be saved in its eschatological encounter with Messiah at his second and definitive coming.

My guess is that during this time of Israel being “two companies” the Messianic Community is called to express the perfect unity of Jew and Gentile as “one new man” in Messiah (Eph. 2:15). This perfect unity of Jew and Gentile in faith and observance — which naturally includes the possibility of intermarriage — is an anticipation of the state of affairs in the World to Come, when the unity of mankind will be perfectly restored. In the meanwhile the unbelieving part of Israel is functioning — through the sovereign counsel of G-d which cannot be thwarted by their unbelief — as the preserver of the peculiar identity of the chosen nation in preparation of the Kingdom Age, when Israel as a nation will be ultimately redeemed and fully restored (cf. Acts 1:6-7!).

If what I said is true, then there is a solution for the difficulties signalled in the interaction of Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Community (either according to the “One Law” or the “Divine Invitation” model). The equality of Jew and Gentile in the Messianic Community can be maintained and propagated, including their equal access to the blessings of the Torah and the possibility of intermarriage — which actually is a very beautiful illustration of the union between Jew and Gentile as “one new man” — because the distinct preservation of Jewish national identity is relegated to traditional Judaism and is in save hands there, until Messiah will return.

I acknowledge, of course, that this hypothesis has to be further examined. But what I like about it is that it gives a positive role to traditional Judaism, while at the same time it keeps its focus firmly on Messiah and does not give way to a cheap “two-ways” –theology in dealing with the division between traditional and messianic Judaism.

“Divine Invitation”, “One Law” and the Case for Intermarriage: Some Nagging Questions Asked From A Generational Perspective

 

The following questionary remarks on intermarriage are meant as a follow-up of the comments on my previous article, “FFOZ’s New Theology of Divine Inviation”. They should be viewed as a contribution to the ongoing discussion between the “One Law”-viewpoint of TorahResource and the new “Invitation Theology” of FFOZ. This is the second in a series of articles devoted to enquiring the recent theological shift at FFOZ.

If we adopt the “One Law” position endorsed by Tim Hegg of the ministry of TorahResource [1], intermarriage heightens the problem — already inherent in this position — that being Jewish loses all practical and legal relevance, at least within the context of the Messianic Community, since both Jew and non-Jew are accountable to the same standards regarding Torah observance. The distinction between Jew and non-Jew evaporates into an empty distinction that only reveals something about a person’s descent. Intermarriage in this theological position has the additional effect of completely wiping out Jewishness. For the question that arises now is: what offspring of a mixed marriage should count as Jewish offspring? Offspring of a Jewish mother? Of at least one Jewish parent? What halachah is to decide this question? What halachah is to be followed in this domain by communities who adopt a “One Law” position?

The inevitable effect of “One Law” — at least as it is currently proposed — is that after a few generations all children that stay within the community will simply enjoy a homogeneous “Israelite” status without any remaining possibility to determine whether they are in fact Jewish or Gentile. The Jew-Gentile distinction is thus not merely made irrelevant, i.e. of no practical importance; it is also made unmanageable, i.e. unfit to be handled at all. It simply can no longer be known, and thus no longer reasonably be asked, who is a Jew and who is a non-Jew, for these names do not make sense any more. Only new members, coming from traditional Judaism could rightly be called Jews in “One Law” communities.

This seems to imply that the “One Law” position, that endorses the full equality between Jew and Gentile within the Body of Messiah, remains dependent on traditional Judaism in referring to persons as Jews or non-Jews. In declaring the equality of Jew and non-Jew in matters of Torah it makes use of the commonplace Jew-Gentile distinction while at the same wiping out its relevance and, for future generations, even its meaning. It uses the names “Jew” and “non-Jew” thus in a parasitic manner, for its communal policy doesn’t allow for the preservation of the distinction referred to by these names.

If we adopt the FFOZ “Invitation theology” perspective, intermarriage itself has problematic aspects. For the Invitation perspective requires a clear distinction between Jewish believers, who are legally obligated to full Torah observance, and Gentile believers, who are not under the same obligation. Now the question is: What actually does happen, legally or halachically, in the case of intermarriage? Does the Gentile partner perhaps become formally obligated to the whole Torah by his or her marriage with a Jewish person? In other words, does he or she become Jewish by the marriage itself, (for being Jewish and being obligated to the entire Torah are one and the same thing, according to FFOZ author Daniel Lancaster in his blogpost: “An Unbearable Yoke”)?[2] If not, how is unity of observance to be preserved in such a marriage?

What halachah is to be followed in this question? And what is the status of the children? Are they Jews or non-Jews? This is a matter of importance here, because if they are Jews they are born within the legal framework of being obligated to the Torah. If they are Gentiles, however, their relation to the Torah is one of invitation. If, for example, a certain male child is considered Jewish, it will make sense to have a Bar-Mitzvah ceremony when he reaches the age of 13 years. This would be superfluous — or non-obligatory at least — in the case of a Gentile male child. One can legitimately ask whether it is recommendable at all to have Jewish and Gentile children to have strong communal ties if the obligations of the one are to be considerably different from the obligations of the other. And how can, in the situation of a mixed marriage,  a Gentile father, who is only invited, not legally obligated to a Torah obedient lifestyle, prepare his presumably Jewish children for a lifestyle of obligatory obedience to the requirements of the Torah in a credible and sustainable way?

If the traditional halachah is followed Invitation theology leads to the consequence that intermarriage between a Gentile man and a Jewish woman causes the children to be Jewish. However, traditional halachah also teaches that such a marriage, although it is valid, is prohibited. Should this traditional halachah be adopted by the Messianic Community? This would lead to a general prohibition of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews within the Body of Messiah. And then the question about the wisdom of having Jews and Gentiles together in one (local) community returns.

Intermarriage and offspring are very interesting topics for investigating the broader and deeper inherent problems and viabilities of the diverse theological positions on Gentile Torah observance. Thus far, however, all proposed solutions — save only perhaps that one that simply keeps intact the since long accepted traditional distinctions and separations between Jews and Gentiles — seem to lead to rather puzzling and confusing consequences. These traditional distinctions and separations, however, although internally consistent, are clearly opposed to the message of the Apostolic Writings. In these writings, and particularly in the letters of Paul, the Body of Messiah is regarded as a community in which Jews and Gentiles worship and live together. And thus the problems surrounding intermarriage in a messianic context remain unsolved for the time being.

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[1] For example in Fellow Heirs: Jews & Gentiles Together in the Family of God, First Fruits of Zion — Littleton, Colorado 2003. And in his article: “Is the Torah Only for Jews?”. The pdf-version of this article can be found at: http://www.google.nl/search?hl=nl&source=hp&q=%22Is+the+Torah+Only+for+Jews%3F%22&btnG=Google+zoeken&meta=&aq=f&oq=

[2] D. Thomas Lancaster, “An Unbearable Yoke”, In: FFOZ Blogs, at: http://ffoz.org/blogs/2009/09/an_unbearable_yoke_acts_1510.html