Messianic Judaism

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The olive tree has long been used as a symbol in Messianic Judaism: "Thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them" (Romans 11:17)

Messianic Judaism is a Judeo-Christian movement with both historical and contemporary significance. Modern Messianic Jews adhere to the first three following points and mostly the fourth as well:[1][2]

They differ from other Jews, religious and secular, over their beliefs about the Messiah. Messianic Congregations are made up of people of Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds, and are distinctly Jewish in culture. All celebrate Jewish Holy Days and support the State of Israel, and most have their main service on the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday). They believe that all of the Bible, both the Tanakh and the New Testament, is inspired by God, and that the New Testament was written by Jewish writers to announce to the world the arrival of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.

Traditional rabbinical Jewish denominations reject Messianic Judaism on the principle that belief in Jesus automatically makes them Christian, and therefore outside of the Jewish community. According to some dictionaries, Messianic Judaism fits the definition of Christianity. Some, likely in ignorant disregard for the fact that Christianity began as Messianic Judaism, view the movement as a dangerous and subversive form of apostasy.

Early history of Messianic Judaism

Members of Messianic Judaism believe Messianic Judaism predates Christianity by several decades, and Christianity evolved from the Messianic Judaism of the first century. They assert Jesus and his disciples were all Jews. Furthermore, they interpret the Bible to mean that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah of Judaism, not to form a new religion. Whether the early Jewish followers of Jesus "left" Judaism to follow him is still debated today.

The first people to be known as Christians were the Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:20,21,26) but Christianity was still widely considered to be a sect of Judaism. In 70 AD, the Roman general Titus sacked the city of Jerusalem and the Second Temple was burned down. It is estimated that as many as one million Jews died during the revolt.[3] Many Jews were taken captive and deported to Italy where they were forced to build the Colosseum in Rome. The emperor Vespasian then introduced a tax (the "Fiscus Judaicus") to be paid by all Jews to finance the reconstruction of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Even after construction was completed, the tax was still levied, and was used as a measure to deter people from converting to Judaism.[4] Well into the second century, Gentile Christians were also required to pay the fiscus judaicus and persecuted as a sect of Judaism. Messianic Jews believe the Christians tried to escape this persecution, by widening the division between themselves and the Jews, and their practices became less and less Jewish. says concerning the alleged Jewish roots of Christianity the following, "A Christian might ask, "But weren't the first Christians actually Jews?" Yes, but this is irrelevant. The first Protestants were Roman Catholics. Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic Priest. The Roman Catholics do not consider Protestant Christianity to be merely another form of Roman Catholicism. If you read the Apocryphal book of I Maccabbees, you will see that the first person killed in the Maccabbee's rebellion was a Jew. He was willing to go ahead and sacrifice a pig to Zeus, just as Mattathias had refused to do. Obviously, he had to have been a very secular, assimilated Jew. Had he survived Mattathias's attack, and later formed a religion that was dedicated to the worship of Zeus and Zeus's half-human sons, would that make his newly formed faith just another form of Judaism? Should he call his new faith, "Jews For Zeus," or "Jews For Zeus And His Half-Human Sons?" Would that mean that his new faith had "Jewish Roots?" " [5]

The wild olive branch

The church in Rome was begun as a Jewish fellowship, started by those who returned from Pentecost in Jerusalem,[6] not by an apostle. As these Jewish believers evangelized, many Gentile believers joined them. Around 50 AD Claudius banished many Jews from Rome,[7] leaving the church entirely Gentile. Twelve years later Nero invited the Jews back to stimulate trade. However the Gentiles refused to allow the Messianic Jewish believers back into the church, having concluded that Claudius' rejection signified God's rejection, which is probably the first appearance of Replacement Theology.[8]

Paul's letter to the Roman church addresses this matter, and he urges them to remember that they are like a "wild olive tree, grafted in" among the Jews, and warns them against "conceit", particularly as it is the Jewish root which supported their Christian branch. (Romans 11:17,18,25)

However, by the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325, the early church, under the reign of Constantine and attempting to appease pagans, moved towards a direction that propagated anti-Judaism.[9]

How Messianic Jews see themselves

As a movement, modern Messianic Judaism is still very young. Prior to this, in the 1950s-1970s, Jews who believed in Jesus saw themselves as "Jewish Christians" or "Hebrew Christians" or a Christians of Jewish origins. Some were members of Churches, and some not but often met together to be "at home" with fellow Jewish believers. The most prominent organization of Jewish Christians was the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America, holding monthly meetings and annual banquets. It was not uncommon to hear Yiddish spoken at their meetings as well as English. But nowadays, Jewish expression among Jewish believers in Jesus is evinced in and through Messianic Congregations as well as home meetings rather than Churches.

Many Messianic Jews in American are experiencing their 2nd and 3rd generation of believers and so provision is made for youth meetings and full family life that finds Jewish expression in the traditional home celebrations of Shabbat, Passover, Succoth and Hannukah celebrations. Messianic Jews also celebrate other of the Jewish Holidays but without the religious and Halachic commandments and significances. For example, few Messianic Jews keep the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) halakhically as Jesus' atonement on the cross has preempted the traditional rational for the Day and few Jews keep Tisha B'Av—the Ninth of Av, a fast day that mourns the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

On the other hand, Israel and its survival and its continued existence as a Jewish Nation and a homeland and a refuge for the Jews is almost universally supported by Messianic Jews, probably as much as among the non Messianic religious Jews, and probably much more than secular Jews. The foundation for this adherence to the rebirth and resurgence of Israel is more the Biblical promises of God that are believed in through the teaching and preaching of their Congregations than it being based on a nationalistic or cultural agenda.

Most Messianic Jews see themselves as the "first fruits" or the advanced guard of the Jewish people coming to faith in Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and the Light of the Gentiles and most are evangelistically minded toward Jews as well as non Jews coming to faith in Jesus. However, few of them have adopted "Jewishness" as a means of attracting Jews to the faith. This is for the simple reason that almost all Messianics either have experienced a deep and sincere personal conversion to Jesus that has affirmed them in whatever Jewishness that was theirs, either great or little, or they have grown up as Messianics and the Jewishness they live in is already "second nature". It is, they feel, not up for sale, for exploitation, or for "commercial use" in evangelism. This is not to say that Messianic Jews are not learning in their Jewishness and that in step with their learning to follow Jesus as their Lord. In that way, many Messianic Jews "become" more Jewish, much in the same way that secular Jews become more Jewish.

Most Messianic Jews are aware that to believe in Jesus is to be fulfilled personally in what God holds out for them and their people and are good Jews for doing so, and sincerely wish the same for their fellow Jews. Though Messianic Jews are sometimes thought to be merely Evangelical Christians in "Jewish disguise", and having the mainstay of Christian belief, this is not universally so. Groupings of Messianic Jews as well as individual ones, may be differing in their adherence to Christian trinitarian and incarnational theology, and range the full gamut in understanding and creedal confession - when there is a creed.

There is also a great range of practice of the Mitzvot or practice of the religious law and custom. This range of belief and custom, is evinced among the congregations in Israel as well as in the Unite States. Messianic Jews see that they have an added mission as believers in Jesus. This is to bring to Christians a deeper knowledge of the "Hebrew roots" of their own Christian faith.

Why Messianic Judaism sees itself as distinct from Christianity

Though Messianic Judaism shares with normative Christianity much of the beliefs about Jesus, it prefers to go its own way as a part of Judaism or completion of Biblical Judaism or an expression of Judaism for the following reasons:

1. It sees that belief in Jesus, is but a follow-through, and a reasonable expectation on the basis of the Jewish Scriptures (Tenakh) while it sees that Christianity often minimizes the Tenakh and the importance of Messianic Prophecies and indications in the Tenackh.

2. It sees that Christianity often is divorced or alienated from the appreciation and practice of the feasts and Holidays and customs of the Tenakh that Messianics are familiar with and in many cases have grown up with in an intimate way at home and in general Jewish society. An examples are the Passover, Hanukkah, Messianics see no reason for the discontinuance of these practices which they believe Jesus to have fully participated Himself in as being Jewish

3. Messianics are aware of much of the Church being influenced by "replacement theology". That is, God is "through with the Jews" with the Church inheriting by God the blessings he formerly bestowed on Israel - until the Jews should come to faith in Jesus. Most Messianics, though believing that Judaism's gone dreadfully wrong in its rejection of its Messiah has not annulled God's dealings with the Jews and with Israel as a nation and that He is following a timetable of His own that will bring Israel into the fold of faith in its Messiah - along with His other agenda for the people. Most Messianics do see the sufferings of the Jews through history as a punishment for the rejection of their Messiah, but also see it as a consequence of the "Evil in the World" for which perpetrators are responsible, and who will be brought to Judgement. In this way, it is not too dissimilar to religious Jews who believe that the sufferings of the Jews is due to the abandonment by the Jews generally of the Torah given them by God, but who allow other factors as explanation..

4. Messianic Jews see no reason to give up their peoplehood because, on one hand, other Jews do not agree with their choice of Jesus nor, on the other hand, the Church sees no reason for the Jews continuing unique and singular existence. They feel that Jesus was a Jew. Peter and Paul were Jews, the New Testament was written by Jews, God made the Jews, and "I am a Jew".

Doctrinal comparisons

Table comparing the mainstream beliefs of these movements with each other

Judaism Christianity Messianic Judaism
Trinity no yes yes
Divinity of Jesus no yes yes
Accept Talmud as authoritative yes no no
Accept New Testament as part of canon no yes yes
Jesus is the son of God no yes yes
Jesus is the messiah no yes yes
Hell exists no yes yes
Second coming of Jesus Christ no yes yes
Jesus was born of a virgin no yes yes
Jesus died on a cross for the sins of humanity no yes yes
Jesus was resurrected from the dead no yes yes
Jesus is an intermediary between man and God no yes yes
Original Sin no yes yes
skepticism towards evolution no*[10] yes yes
follow teachings of past rabbis yes no no*[11]
Jesus was God made flesh no yes yes
interpretation of the text by a scholar should be preferred yes no, the laity's interpretation is equally valid to that of a scholar's interpretation no, the laity's interpretation is equally valid to that of a scholar's interpretation
Is Daniel a prophet? no yes, Jesus Christ called Daniel a prophet in the Gospels yes, Jesus Christ called Daniel a prophet in the Gospels
Is Enoch a prophet? no yes yes
Is Sarah a prophetess? yes no no
Has the messiah came? no yes, he is Jesus Christ yes, he is Jesus Christ
Who was the greatest prophet? Moses Jesus Christ Jesus Christ

According to the idea that God became flesh disagrees with the words of the Bible saying,

"There is the verse from Hosea in which God specifically tells us that God is not a human being:

I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not a man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city. Hosea 11:9

And then there is another verse, in Numbers 23:19, where God specifically tells us that if God were a human being, then he would be a liar, as all human beings do lie on occasion. Furthermore, this verse tell us that if God were a human being, he would be in need of repentance because all human beings sin at some point in their lives. Finally, this verse also tells us that if God were a human being, then he would make promises, but not keep them:

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the Son of Man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Numbers 23:19"


Support for Messianic Judaism

The Unification Church is arguably the biggest supporter of the main ideas of Messianic Judaism. It promotes a bridge of understanding between traditional Jewish concepts and the New Testament idea that Jesus (Yeshua) was the Jewish Messiah.

Unificationism maintains that Jesus "came to his own people, but they accepted him not" (Gospels) Indeed, it is official UC theology that God prepared the Jewish people for 2,000 years primarily to be ready to accept the Messiah when he came. It was the mission of John the Baptist to "make ready for the Lord a people prepared" (OT, Gospels). When John fell into belief - possibly because of jealousy towards Jesus - this posed a stumbling block to Jewish acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah.

The church portrays itself as a "Completed Testament" religion, coming on the foundation of New Testament Christianity and Old Testament Judaism. Its theology argues that Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah were correct to do so, and that when the Messiah comes again in the last day it behooves both Jews and Christians to accept him. Needless to say, this view is almost universally rejected by modern Jews and Christians.

Israeli secular support

In Israel, there is great opposition to Messianic Judaism, while at the same time, there is a growing awareness of the movement that is keeping pace with the growing numbers of Israelis (estimated to be 15,000) that are turning to Yeshua (Jesus) in faith.

Support for the civil rights of Messianic Jews in Israel has come from the quarters of civil rights activists and lawyers and some on the secular political spectrum. The reason for this has to do with the political apportionment of cabinet positions and ministries. Israel rarely has enough support in the electorate to ensure majority vote for any one party in the election of the government. Therefore, political parties vie for the support of smaller parties to bring them into the government on their side. Shas, the Sephardic-based religious party, often is one of these parties, and for their support, the larger parties usually offer it the Ministry of the Interior which deals with their interests. Part of their interest is the curtailing of missionary work in Israel which is accomplished by the Ministry of the Interior blocking the issuance to foreign missionaries of visas, and the preventing of Messianic Jews from abroad from taking out citizenship. Anti-missionary groups (foremost among them being "Yad L'Ahim"-Hand to the Brothers) unofficially are resource to the Ministry of Interior. Thus Messianic Jews find support among these civil rights lawyers and groups who find that in the defense of Messianic Jews, the power of the Ministry of the Interior is limited and civil rights for all citizens are more strongly established.

There is an investigative report about the Messianic movement in a recent feature by "Ulpan Shishi" (Friday Studio), a secular Israeli News T.V. review. This video is in Hebrew but with English subtitles. [1] The report is an example of the surprising diversity found among Messianic Jews. The subject is an Indian physician working among the tribe of Bnei Menasha of northeast India, whom he was instrumental in "discovering", who have been recently declared eligible for immigration to the State of Israel as descendants of Menaseh, together with Ephraim, one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel [2]. The doctor's hope is that the "hundreds of thousands" of Messianic Jews, like himself, found among the Bnei Menasha will with the rest of the tribe, also be eligible for immigration to Israel.

Evangelical support

Support for Messianic Jews has grown appreciably in the last 40 years on the part of the Evangelical Church. This is due in great part to the fact that the Evangelical Church is deeply Bible based and therefore well appreciative of the promises of God to bring the people back into the Land at or near the End of Days. This has been abetted by a number of factors, which on the surface seem to be contradictory, but do find a resolution by leaders of the Evangelical Churches who are, by and large, politically conservative and who teach and lead their people. These factors are:

1. admiration for the State of Israel in its victory over its enemies, particularly in the 1967 Six Day War.

2. Increase in Evangelical tourism that visits the sites of the Lord and, as well, the Israeli Messianic scene and congregations (see Israel Tourism)

3. Evangelical deepening appreciation of the logistic and strategic support Israel provides the United States as the only democracy in the Middle East and the common ideological front the U.S. and Israel have.

4. Understanding that has been increasing among Evangelicals that both Israel and the United States are now shoulder to shoulder in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

These political factors impact on Evangelical support for Messianics in that Messianics are seen by Evangelicals as being the forefront of a new entity bringing hope and an opening for the future. An entity combining Jewishness, Israel, and belief in Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Savior. Much of these factors are highlighted by the once a year at Succoth Celebration in Jerusalem, when thousands of Christians from all over the world meet for a week, participate in the yearly march to Jerusalem that all Israel takes part in, and at which most often the Prime Minister of Israel delivers an address and expression of Israel's appreciation for support given to Israel by Christians throughout the world.

Criticism of Messianic Judaism

Criticism of Messianic Judaism is predicated on the assumption that Judaism and Christanity are implacably incompatible: one must be either a Jew or a Christian: there is no such thing as a Jewish Christian or a Christian Jew. Attempts by groups like Jews for Jesus are seen in this light as outrageously deceptive.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis has stated: "For us in the Jewish community, anyone who claims that Jesus is their savior is no longer a Jew and is an apostate. Through that belief she has placed herself outside the Jewish community. Whether she cares to define herself as a Christian or as a 'fulfilled Jew,' 'Messianic Jew,' or any other designation is irrelevant; to us, she is clearly a Christian."[13] In acknowledging Jesus and the Christian Scriptures, these congregations are accepting many other theological concepts contrary to the Jewish belief system, including original sin, the devil and demonology, “vicarious blood atonement,” and the trinity, Margolis said.[14]

One rabbi said the following concerning Messianic Judaism: “Messianic congregations are Christians portraying themselves as Jews,” said Rabbi Richard Margolis, the leader of Temple Beth Sholom in Melbourne and a member of the Jewish Federation board of Brevard. In an e-mail, he added, “The issue is deceit. This is a deceptive missionary movement, organized and heavily funded by evangelical Christians whose sole purpose is to convert Jews to (fundamentalist) Christianity. There is nothing Jewish about any of this.”[14] “I have great respect for the authentic Christian tradition and maintain an ongoing program of interfaith activities in our community,” Margolis said. “But I cannot countenance couching fundamentalist Christianity in Jewish symbols.”[14]

Robinson states that "converts to Messianic Judaism are usually shunned by their Jewish families of origin and are excluded from the local Jewish community."

Many people, see Messianic Judaism, as the Church's last resort to convince Jews to accept Jesus as their messiah. Anti-missionaries, Jews who try to counter the work of Messianic missionaries have reported being assaulted.[15] The Jewish community has produced several groups to counter Messianic Judaism, which it sees as Evangelical Christianity disguised in Jewish garb, such as, Jews for Judaism, Outreach Judaism, and produced the Lets Get Biblical Series, a tape series produced by Outreach Judaism. The Jewish community often perceives Messianic Judaism as Christianity hijacking Judaism in order to convert Jews and misrepresenting Judaism to gain converts. They believe that Messianic Judaism is a corruption of the most deeply spiritual rituals and customs that honor Judaism's connection to God through Torah. Dr. David A. Rausch, associate professor of church history and Judaic studies at Ashland Theological Seminary, Ohio, summed up the attitude of many Jewish people in the comment he was given by a member of the Jewish Defense League: "These Messianics are the Nazis - the spiritual Nazis. They pretend to be Jews and use traditional Jewish symbols to trap children and the unsuspecting."[16] The sentiments are not confined entirely to Judaism; the same author was told by a Christian missionary: "To these "Messianic Jews" Jewishness means Judaism, a rabbinic Judaism of the Ashkenazic flavor. They neither have a real knowledge of Jewish history or of Jewish-Christian history, nor do they possess a good handle on biblical exegesis. Like the Ebionites of old they will finally blend into Judaism and deny the Messiah."[17]

In the summer of 1987 in Washington D.C. (USA), there was held an Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. Partaking in the conference were representatives of various Protestant churches, Roman-Catholics, together with Moslems and representatives of Jewish organizations. The Conference concluded with an official statement (published in "Interfaith Connector" Vol. 8, No. 2) which stated:

"We condemn proselytizing efforts which delegitimize the faith tradition of the person whose conversion is being sought. Such tactics go beyond the bounds of appropriate and ethically based religious outreach. Examples of such practices are those common among groups that have adopted the label of Hebrew Christianity, Messianic Judaism, or Jews for Jesus. These groups specifically target Jews for conversion to their version of Christianity, making claim that in accepting Jesus as the savior/messiah, a Jews 'fulfills' his/her faith. Furthermore, by celebrating Jewish festivals, worshipping on the Jewish Shabbat, appropriating Jewish symbols, rituals and prayers in their churches, and, sometimes, even calling their leaders 'Rabbi', the seek to win over, often by deception, many Jews who are sincerely looking for a path back to their ancestral heritage. Deceptive proselytizing is practiced on the most vulnerable of populations - residents of hospitals and old aged homes, confused youth, college students away from home. These proselytizing techniques are tantamount to coerced conversions and should be condemned."[18]

In 2008 the Israeli Supreme Court, ruled Messianic Jews can immigrate to Israel.[19]

Jews for Judaism claims that Messianic missionaries have used deceit to trick Jews into converting, such as not mentioning that Messianic Jews believe Jesus is God to people who they evangelize to.[20]

Messianic organizations get most of their funding from Evangelical Christian organizations.[20] In fact many Messianic organizations are former Evangelical Christian missions to Jews. For example, Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, one of the most well known Messianic organizations, was originally named the, Hebrew Christian Alliance of America, an Evangelical Christian organization geared towards spreading Christianity amongst Jews. Chosen People Ministries, another Messianic organization was originally named the, American Board of Missions to the Jews. Another organization called Jews for Jesus, which some identify with the Messianic movement, was founded in 1973 by Martin Meyer Rosen, an ordained Baptist minister. He had been a missionary for several years in the past geared towards converting Jews to Christianity, when he was unsuccessful he came up with Jews for Jesus.

See also

External links


  1. Robinson, B. Messianic Judaism Religious Tolerance. Accessed 21 February 2008
  2. There is no contemporary founder or leader and no single group or individual speaks for all Messianics. However, most Messianics would generally accept these points.
  3. The Great Revolt Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed 18 February 2008
  4. Lendering, Jona Fiscus Judaicus "Articles on Ancient History" Livius. Accessed 18 February 2008
  6. Acts 2
  7. Barclay, John M. G.; Hooker, Morna Dorothy and McMurdo, John Philip (ed.) "Early Christian Thought in Its Jewish Context" (Cambridge University Press; 2007) ISBN 0-5210-4412-X
  8. The Olive Tree and the wild olive branch "The Wild Olive Branch" Accessed 18 February 2008
  9. As Constantine said at the Council: "Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews." Boyle, Isaac "A Historical View of The Council of Nicea" (T Mason and G Lane, New York; 1839)
  10. Even amongst Orthodox Jews, the mainstream belief is evolution happened, although generally Orthodox Jews believe in theistic evolution, meaning evolution but that it was caused by God.
  11. Messianic Jews have even been known to criticize Judaism by calling it Rabbinic Judaism, despite the fact that Messianic Jews call their pastors, rabbis.
  13. Robinson, B. Opposition to Messianic Judaism Religious Tolerance. Accessed 21 February 2008
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2
  16. Rausch, David A. The Messianic Jewish Congregational Movement Religion Online. Accessed 21 February 2008
  17. ibid
  20. 20.0 20.1