FAQ: The Sabbath and Gentiles

This is an emotional topic for people. It is a topic people argue about with anger. And it is not a popular position to say that the Sabbath is a sign commandment for Jewish people, that it is a sign between Israel and God, and that non-Jews are not required to keep the Sabbath.

No matter how often I say it or how much biblical support I provide, I will make little headway in changing the minds of a certain set of people who have come to love the Sabbath, to feel it is a long-lost truth needing to be rediscovered and taken up by all lovers of Messiah, and who think that Jews and Messianic Jews are trying to keep something precious and holy away from non-Jews.

But I continue to get email after email and to hear from people who want to believe that they have returned to a special practice of holiness that should never have been lost. I would say that if you have discovered the Sabbath and the Jewish traditions about it and love to practice it with you family, that can be a beautiful thing. But it is not biblical or necessary for you to believe that Sabbath is mandatory for non-Jews. I’d like to break down the many arguments for universal Sabbath keeping and at least try to change your mind.

Isn’t the Sabbath a “Creation Ordinance”?
No, the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance. No, it was never an “ordinance” or commandment for anyone to keep until Exodus 16.

But it would seem I am contradicted by two scripture passages:
(1) Genesis 2:2-3, “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.”
(2) Exodus 20:11 “. . . for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.”

It seems from (1) that God designated the seventh day of every week from the time of creation on as “the Sabbath.” Some people deduce from this that the Sabbath predates Israel, is a tangible fact of creation, and is universally true and demands obedience from all people, Jew and gentile.

But notice that God did not command anyone to keep the Sabbath until Exodus 16 — not even, for example, Noah or Abraham. This is a big point, so I hope you hear it before you angrily surf away from this article and ignore everything else I have to say: if God considers it sinful for people to ignore the Sabbath, why didn’t he teach the Sabbath to Noah and Abraham?

I think there are better ways of explaining the intent of Genesis 2:2-3. God had Israel in mind from the before the foundation of the world. And in the text written by Jews for Jews about creation (yes, Genesis is by Jews and is written with a Jewish audience in mind) it is very fitting that Israel and Israel’s Sabbath are foreshadowed. It is a beautiful thing to note that God followed a pattern which he would teach his people, Israel.

If the Sabbath is Holy, Shouldn’t We Want to Keep it?
Now this is a better argument. I have to admit, I find it to be powerfully persuasive. In fact, if you were to say, “Though I am not Jewish, when I read that the Sabbath is holy, and since I love God and want to be holy too, I want to keep the Sabbath,” I would not fault you.

But if you were to say, “People who claim they love God and yet do not keep the Sabbath are wrong and are violating God’s command,” I would disagree.

What is holy for one person is not necessarily so for another. We find examples of this in the Bible. I speak of them often and I sometimes feel like I repeat myself again and again. Abstaining from all products of the grape (wine, grapes, raisins) is holy for a person under a Nazirite vow. It would be false to conclude from this that wine is unholy.

The Sabbath is symbolic. Just saying that shocks some people, but it is true. Many things in Torah are symbolic. Touching a chair in which a woman on her period was just sitting renders one “unclean” or “impure,” according to Torah. This is all part of a symbolic system of purity laws (and they symbolize life and death, the loss of life being impure).

So, if you have discovered the Sabbath and various Jewish traditions and want to keep it, I think that with some provisos (like that you don’t take on a false Jewish identity or work to erase the distinction between Jews and non-Jews) it can be a beautiful thing. And I am not telling you that you must stop observing Sabbath.

But you should know that it is wrong to require it of everyone else. Judaism does not require the Sabbath of non-Jews. The apostles of the New Testament did not require the Sabbath of non-Jews. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any wiggle room in the New Testament allowing non-Jews to keep the Sabbath by choice. Because of a pervasive God-only-saves-Jews problem in the early congregations, Paul and others had to crack down and keep gentiles from observing Jewish customs.

But Sabbath is One of the Ten Commandments
Who told you that the Ten Commandments are a statement of universal law for all people? This is one of the misnomers of Christian theology.

Many Christians think, “The Ten Commandments are the essence of God’s requirement of humankind.” This then causes a problem for Christian practice. How so? Well, the Sabbath is one of the commandments.

How do many Christians deal with this? There are two primary ways: (1) some consider the Sabbath to have been changed to Sunday and at the same time completely ignore the command to rest and (2) some others relativize the Sabbath in various ways (it is a principle of rest and the day does not matter). But some Christians rightly recognize that the Sabbath commandment does not apply to them.

But try reading the Ten Commandments in their literary context: Exodus 19-20. They are given to the Jewish people in a very personal manner, as the Chosen People: “you shall be my own possession among all peoples” (Exod 19:5). They are the essence of God’s requirement for Israel. Therefore, they not only include matters of universal morality and justice (adultery, theft, murder, etc.) but also of Israel’s symbolic holiness requirements (Sabbath).

Context is very important in interpreting and applying biblical texts.

A Few Other Points

(1) In Acts 15, some people thought that as they proclaimed Yeshua to gentiles “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles disagreed.

(2) In Acts 15 the apostles said: “we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God” with Torah observances which are Jewish sign commandments (circumcision, Sabbath, dietary law, fringes).

(3) In Romans 14, Paul argued that the Sabbath is holy for Jews and that gentiles should not disdain Jews for keeping it. But assumed throughout is that non-Jews would not keep the Sabbath in the congregations overseen by Paul: “One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind.”

(4) Sabbath is a sign between Israel and God: “This is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you” (Exod 31:13).

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56 Responses to FAQ: The Sabbath and Gentiles

  1. Ken1020 says:

    If gentiles do not need to keep Shabbat, is it because gentiles are lower level? or gentile are higher level?

    • Derek Leman says:

      Ken:

      Thank you for your question, which is a very honest one. “Level” is about social status, superiority or inferiority. In the most important sense, we are all on the same level, all images of God. But there are other aspects of the term “level.” If I work at a job, my supervisor is on a higher “level” in the sense of authority structures at work. If I get a speeding ticket, the officer is at a higher “level” than I am. In the most general of terms, a high priest is higher in the level of holiness than a priest, a priest higher than an Israelite, and Israelite higher than a gentile. It is hard to say in a list like that where a Nazirite belongs in terms of the level of holiness (I would guess higher than an Israelite but not as high as a priest).

      But there are other ways in which levels of holiness are variable. Who is holier, a corrupt high priest like Caiphas or a faithful gentile like Cornelius?

      So, I would say that our “level” of holiness is dictated mostly by our nearness to God and not by our status as a Jew or gentile, our gender, or any other factor.

      • Ken1020 says:

        Shalom Brother!
        Thanks for your reply!
        My English is poor.
        I want to know your opinion about another:
        Is Moses Law only for Jews?
        Thanks!!

      • Arielle says:

        So, I am a non Jew who is all about the Sabbath and keeping kosher and all that. You make some interesting points. Here is my problem with people not observing the Sabbath: it is my understanding that the Sabbath was changed, by the Catholic church, to Sunday to appease the Sun worshippers. Is that incorrect? Because, if that is true, then I would put doing the church thing on Sunday on the same level with celebrating Christmas and Easter, ya? Doesn’t it say in the Bible that we are not suppose to have anything to do with other religions holy days? Anyway, thank you for your post. 🙂

  2. louise says:

    This subject of which day comes up endlessly even in non-Messianic congregations, i.e.regular churches. You sum up the Christian response quite well. Most of us in such circles end up letting the Lord guide us individually, such as not doing hard labor and/or commerce on the day we set aside as holy, Saturday or Sunday. The thing that always sticks in my craw though is changing the true Biblical meaning of Sabbath from the 7th day of the week to Sunday, the first day of the week. Once you start to change the real meaning of words you are in trouble. 7th day is still 7th day. Old calendars always reflected that standard somehow with Saturay appearing at the end of the first row of numbers, and more modern calendars are starting the show the months pictured with the two weekend days at the end of the first line, Sunday as the 7th day, an interesting change i think and not necessarily a good one. Words do matter and we should not change their meaning: when i was in college years ago, a liberal liberal (no that is not a typo) arts college that was supposedly Christian because it was affiliated with a denomination, the head of the religious dept -a PhD- told us clueless freshmen in the required NT course that virgin did not mean virgin. This twisting of words was in line with his philosophy of ‘Higher Criticism” (a term i had no idea about then) to debunk completely the holiness and divine nature of Christ’s birth. At the time I felt he had handed me a real plum because i could then argue with those who were –from my arrogant and entirely foolish position – silly enough to take the Bible literally. I had gotten my viewpoint not from having read the Sciptures for myself let alone from meeting the Saviour–but this type of twisted knowledge the prof passed on only fed into the cocky, self-assured liberated world viewpoint i had at the time. pathetic. The New Birth is truly wonderful in how it transforms the heart and the mind….

    Point 2 which i hope you will explain further troubled me: “And in the text written by Jews for Jews about creation (yes, Genesis is byJews and is written with a Jewish audience in mind)”… Replacement theology ends up making Jews fit into the church and spiritualizes the word Israel. But, i think it is correct to say that Goyim/Gentiles were in the picture from the start and so Genesis is their story too. And the truths of the Ten Commandments were upheld and taught by Jesus to be taught to all nations, and Gentiles are grafted into that root Israel. So i do not understand how it could be that Genesis is by Jews for Jews only. Jesus said to the disciples before He ascended they were to teach all people everything He had taught them, and of course that included only what we call the Old Testament from a written point of view. hope i explained this ok…..thanks…

    • Derek Leman says:

      louise:

      I know it confuses people when I say something like “Genesis is written by Jews for Jews.” They think I am saying, “God doesn’t want gentiles to read it or apply it.”

      That is not my point. When you read any literature, you have to ask, “Who is the intended audience?” Genesis has as its intended audience Israelites. This is important in interpretation. For example, if we ask the question, “Why does Genesis 2:2-3 foreshadow Israel’s Sabbath observance?”, and if we think Genesis is written for all humankind, we might answer: “it is written in order to teach all people to observe Sabbath.” But if we understand that Genesis is directed to Israelites, then we can understand that Genesis 2:2-3 should not be interpreted as a hint of universal Sabbath observance.

      We do this routinely when we read literature. If you are reading a policy manual for a company and in the management section you find a policy (“Acceptable work attire is business formal”), you would not assume that as a construction worker with this same company you must wear a dress or a suit to the construction site. The intended audience matters in interpretation.

  3. Derek Leman says:

    Ken:

    You said you have poor English. You asked me a question, “Is Moses’ law only for Jews?”

    I cannot give you a short answer to that. I’m sorry. I have many articles about the subject which you can find here:
    http://mjpassages.com/?page_id=311

    I hope this helps.

    • Ken1020 says:

      It’s true, because i live in Taiwan… 😀
      but i have Jews blood in my family.

      Blessings!

  4. My sister, Dorla Aparicio, reads your work religiously and she shared this with me. When I first started reading it, I told her that you sound like Paul, writing in modern-day language and application. Thank you for saying it. Please, say it louder and say it again and again. Will you say it in a video? Sing it in a song? 🙂

    I can’t wait to share this with Seventh-day Adventist and Former SDA friends.
    Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

    • Derek Leman says:

      Gee, thanks, Delina. I’m sure that many will not be as happy with the article as you are. And hey to you, Dorla. Good to indirectly hear from you!

  5. Lrl79 says:

    It’s important to keep in mind the context of The book of Acts, or any part of the NT. One needs to remember that the Sabbath was not the issue it is today because it hadn’t been “changed” yet. Followers of Messiah worshiped together in Synogogues with Jews in the beginning, there is ample support for this.

    While I agree that Sabbath is not a requirement of Gentiles, it is a bigger topic than you address here. The only time I’ve ever heard “Christians say they love God and then don’t do what He says”, came not from a Christian, but a Jew who was explaining why they don’t take Christian’s claims about worshiping God seriously. Seems we’ve blocked their view of Messiah by these crazy notions that Sunday has replaced Sabbath because Constantine or the Roman Catholic Church said so! (there are documents which they claim to have changed it and that they have the “authority” to do so) or that we can eat whatever the heck we want to. They give little credence to our claims of knowing God considering these issues.

    How did you work this issue out while you were worshiping in a Messianic Synogogue and had not yet converted? How did you work it out when you started a Messianic fellowship and had not yet converted? You mentioned in another post that your wife missed worshipping Jewishly and that’s why you started it. Did you wait until you converted to begin to keep Sabbath and keep dietary laws and God’s appointed times?

    • Derek Leman says:

      Lrl79:

      The Sabbath definitely was one of the issues in Acts 15. If you read Second Temple Jewish history you will find that the Sabbath was a major issue with God-fearers, Romans, proselytes, and Jews. Historically speaking the Sabbath was one of two or three major issues dividing Jews and gentiles (along with diet and Temple).

      The fact that some Christian writers started using Sabbath language for Sunday at a date later than the New Testament period is irrelevant for interpreting Acts.

      Sabbath is not about which day to have weekly worship. That is a minor development in the history of the Sabbath. Sabbath is primarily about the command to rest. Maybe you are confusing those two issues. But if we ask, “How early did Christians make Sunday their primary day of worship?” then the evidence is very early. The few references in the New Testament are not enough to establish that early congregations met on Sunday, but (someone correct me if I’m wrong), the Didache which may be as early as 90-100 CE reflects a Sunday-worshipping community.

      Acts 15 definitely means the apostles did not “trouble the gentiles” with Sabbath observance and Romans 14 verifies this.

  6. Hi Derek,

    Like Delina, I’m a former Seventh-day Adventist. She and I are friends, so I learned about your “The Sabbath and Gentiles” blog from her this morning. I am so happy /impressed with it that I just linked to it on our “The Sabbath” section of the website my husband and I started about 17 months ago. SDAs NEED to hear this from Jews and Messianic Jews! (Most of my SDA family and friends believe we’re going to hell for abandoning the Sabbath). If you’d like to check out our site, it is http://www.sabbatismos.com

    Blessings in Christ,

    Jennifer

    • Derek Leman says:

      Thanks, Jennifer. Glad to hear from you. I do hope that your view of the Torah (law of Moses) and Judaism is a positive one and that the unusual teachings of your former church do not leave you with a negative taste for those who keep Torah by faith. Jews and gentiles need each other and Christianity and Judaism both have so much to offer the world.

  7. Dennis Sanders says:

    Very well stated. Thank you. I have sabbath keeping friends who argue that they are Jews too once coverted (Abraham’s seed) and that God never changes therefore his laws don’t change.

    I beleive the law was fulfiled and no longer nessesary from the crucifixtion forward. The sabbath was a sign as you say of the old covenant and terminated with the old covenant at the cross. Along with it went all the old law including the ten commandments and we have been given a new covenant of faith that we fulfil in the spirit rather than the flesh. Salvation is based on the condition of our hearts rather than our deeds.

    • Derek Leman says:

      Well, Dennis, my comments on the Sabbath might seem like they would indicate that I agree with you, but I do not. It is not true that “the law was fulfilled and is no longer necessary from the crucifixion forward” or that “the old covenant was terminated.”

      You misread what I am saying. I think you are confusing two things: (1) The Torah (at least the sign commandments) is not commanded of gentiles and (2) the Torah is obsolete. I do not believe (2) and never implied it. The Torah is for Jews and much of the Torah applies universally to everyone. The idea that parts of the Torah (morality and justice issues) is teaching for the whole world was well understood by the apostles (Paul uses the Torah to prove how Christians should live many times).

      Dennis, what makes you think the Torah is terminated? I’d like to discuss this with you and try to dissuade you.

      • Dennis Sanders says:

        Derek, my views are very much in line with evangelical christians. I put them forth to see what comments you might make. I agree completely with your assesment of (1) and our differences over (2) are much less glaring than you might think.

        The bible says that the law existed before it was written and that is true. It is also true that it will always exist into the future. The apostles and Jesus were very clear that all the commandments except the 4th were still relevant by indirect statements without referencing the Torah. The only one of the ten they did not mention was the 4th.

        The Torah its self is a guide post of who God is and what he is about. Much of western court law is from the Torah. We also learn from the Torah that it was not possible to keep the law of our flesh and blood. Jesus is the only man to have never sinned. All the rest of us have. The Torah does depict a different God than we see in the New Testament. A God wheeling army’s through the desert his nation against all others who kills even Isrealites for simple disobiedience. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

        The New Testament on the other hand is “turn the other cheek.” Living in faith, worshiping in the spirit, and about changed hearts. I see this as a new way to worship and love God only made possible by Jesus crucifixtion.

        I am certain that we may not agree on the fine points but I don’t find any fault with your theology and I don’t think we are so far apart. If we are then I have missunderstood you.

        • Derek Leman says:

          Dennis:

          You and I have tons in common, true. I would like, however, to improve your perception of the Torah.

          Instead of thinking the-law-was-bad and Jesus came to set people from the bad law, I’d rather you thought the Law was and is good and spiritual. No one needed to be set free from the law (only from the judgment that comes from breaking the law).

          And it is not true that the Law-Torah is impossible to keep while Christian commandments are easier. The commandment to love God with all of the heart and soul is impossible and it is both a Jewish Torah command and a New Testament command.

          I just think your theology on the law needs some tweaking, but I am glad to count you a brother and hope you have been challenged by your visit here.

          Derek Leman

          • Dennis Sanders says:

            I am a new christian and thank you I have been challenged. I am an open minded man and you make some very good points. I will read some scripture and check back with you my brother.

        • Dennis Sanders says:

          I didn’t address one item sorry. Pual is clear when he says Gal 3:12 “…the law is not of faith;” he also says Gal 5:1 “…do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” While the Torah is not terminated the Torah law has been replaced by faith wich brings about a volyuntary compliance with Gods law from the heart.

          • Derek Leman says:

            I think you are misunderstanding the rhetoric of Galatians. I have a book about Paul which I’d love for you to read. Here is what I disagree with in your comment: “Torah law has been replaced by faith.” Torah law always required faith and assumed faith. There is no disjunction between law and faith.

            Here is what Paul means. The Galatian gentiles were told they would be saved by becoming Jews (taking on the yoke of the law as converts or proselytes). Paul says no, you don’t have to be Jewish to be kosher to God. When Paul says “the law is not of faith” it is shorthand for “taking on the full yoke of the law as converts is not of faith.” In other words, Paul contrasts two ways: being saved by faith and being saved by conversion (circumcision). Language can be a tricky thing. You might enjoy reading about the New Perspective on Paul.

            Derek

  8. benicho says:

    The apostles didn’t trouble the gentiles with Sabbath observance because they needed milk, not solid food. I’m not opposing what you’re saying, in some odd way I agree with what you’ve said.

    What does the 8th day mean and represent?

  9. James says:

    It’s difficult to believe that the 1st century God-fearers and the pagan converts to Christianity (which was administered by the Jewish Jerusalem Council) would have actively ignored the Sabbath just because they lacked the obligation of observance. If you have congregations containing both Jews and non-Jewish God-fearers/disciples, the non-Jews are going to, in some manner or fashion, “keep” the Sabbath, just because they’re picking up on the behaviors of their Jewish counterparts. The goyim disciples are also going to pray the same or similar prayers as their Jewish mentors as well as keep table fellowship with the Jewish disciples of Yeshua by not partaking in “treif” in communal settings.

    This isn’t to say that the non-Jewish disciples were “commanded” to keep the Sabbath, pray the Hebrew prayers, and refrain from pork, but in order to have some sort of synagogue relationship with the Jews, they would likely begin adapting their behaviors for that purpose.

    In this day and age, I honestly don’t see any reason why a non-Jewish believer couldn’t choose to rest on the Sabbath, refrain from pork, shellfish, and so forth, and if they so desire, pray some prayers from a siddur. Being an intermarried (my wife is Jewish and non-Messianic), it would be rather poor form on my part to eat a ham sandwich in front of my wife, just because I’m not “commanded” to refrain from such meats. Many of my personal convictions and values dovetail into her observance and, even though she and my daughter recognize that I’m not “obligated”, they respect my voluntary choices for the most part.

    I personally take great comfort in resting on the Sabbath (as best I can), studying, praying, and unplugging from the “daily grind”. I do admit however, that as a family, we continue to develop our Shabbat “observance” and I sometimes find myself in the role of “Shabbos goy”. Ah, such is life.

  10. There is much distortion in this article, I wonder whether Derek is even aware of it.

    Examples:

    Editorializing passed off as fact: “In Romans 14, Paul argued that the Sabbath is holy for Jews”

    Reality: Paul doesn’t mention Jews or God’s Sabbath in Romans 14. In fact, in context he speaks of vegetarian diets and not judging brothers in Messiah over dietary issues. He does not mention Jew-gentile distinctions. You might suggest otherwise, but that would just be an interpretation, and yours is not the One True Interpretation.

    Misleading editorializing: In Acts 15, some people thought that as they proclaimed Yeshua to gentiles “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles disagreed.”

    Reality: The disciples came to a Holy Spirit-approved compromise: they should not make it difficult for gentiles turning to God, but would be required to keep 4 laws from the Torah, adding, “for Moses is preached in synagogues every Sabbath.” You might interpret that differently, but again, that’s an interpretation, and yours is not the One True Interpretation.

    Distortion: “Try reading the Ten Commandments in their literary context: Exodus 19-20. They are given to the Jewish people in a very personal manner…they include holiness commandments [specific to Israel]”

    Reality: The whole Torah was given to Israel, and was prophesied to go forth from Zion into all the nations. That prophecy has come to pass; it’s here. By saying it Torah not applicable to the God’s people in the nations, Derek is nullifying a work of God that is happening today: Jews and gentiles waking up to the holiness of God’s commandments.

    Blind guidance: “It is wrong to require [sabbath] of everyone else. Judaism does not require the Sabbath of non-Jews

    Reality: Judaism doesn’t know Yeshua, nor of his purposeful work that transformed gentiles into the commonwealth of Israel, so why would we expected them to lead us in this matter?

    Mischaracterization: “I will make little headway in changing the minds of a certain set of people who have come to love the Sabbath…and who think that Jews and Messianic Jews are trying to keep something precious and holy away from non-Jews.”

    Reality: We don’t think that. We think Bilateral Ecclesiology, a theology Derek is pushing here, is more than a little nutty, if not divisive and harmful to the Messianic movement. But we don’t think Jews are trying to keep the Torah from us, and, thank God, a vast majority of Messianic congregations amplify the sabbath, both for Jews and gentiles.

    (Thank you, Lord, that Jews and the Messianic movement are not trying to keep the Sabbath from gentiles!)

    For those readers that are discouraged by Derek’s post, take heart; his view does not represent the majority of Messianic congregations — most Messianic congregations welcome or encourage gentile Sabbath observance. His theology is one that many of us find divisive and harmful to the Messianic movement, and though Derek is a brother and we love him, we will continue to stand up for God’s commandments and continue encouraging all God’s people to live holy lives through them.

  11. Dan Benzvi says:

    It is quite hard to walk in Yashua’s steps and half ass keep the Shabbat, but don’t despair our lovable Derek will pull the wool over your eyes….

  12. Derek Leman says:

    Judah:

    You make some worthy arguments, but you couch them in unnecessarily negative language. You say “editorializing passed off as fact.” I assumed those interpreting my writing would know that I was describing my interpretation of Romans 14 (and also the interpretation of many commentators, and I especially would refer readers to Mark Nanos’ book on Romans). So I was writing my opinion, not passing off my opinion as fact. You and I could have a fun discussion about Romans 14 but there is no reason to act as if I represent myself as THE authority. We all write our opinions.

    Then you say my assertion that the Ten Commandments were given specifically and personally to the people of Israel is a “distortion.” I showed from the context that it is true. If you feel that later God took what had been given to Israel and gave it to the nations, this does not make my original statement a distortion. Even if you are right (and I don’t think you are completely right, though your point has merit) my statement is not a “distortion,” but true in itself.

    In other words, you could have raised some good discussion points, Judah, but instead you chose to characterize my opinions as “editorializing” while granting pseudo-divine status to your own opinions. This is preferable how?

    Derek

  13. Lrl79 says:

    I am somewhat new to MJ and so not completely informed. I’ve been an evangelical Christian my whole life but I am trying to see God for who HE is, and not through the lenses forced onto Him by various Christian or Jewish doctrines.

    I am also trying to wrap my mind around Derek.

    What is “ultimate authority” in your eyes? Is it the “Old” Testament, NT, both, Jewish writings, Didache? In reading your articles, it seems to be a moving target at times. Your fond of citing “context” also but I guess that is where my hang up is. You don’t seem to apply the context consistently.

    Example A: I’ve seen you say a few days ago that the Ten Commandments aren’t for Gentiles. (Which clearly means that they may not partake of them. For if I have an apple pie on the counter and tell my husband, as he takes a knife to cut himself a piece, “no, it’s not for you” then that would mean that I made it for someone other than him and he cannot have any of it.)

    You use Exodus 19-20 as proof. But this doesn’t take into account what came after. Namely, Messiah and apostles. Larger context.

    But then you changed your language to say that Gentiles aren’t OBLIGATED to keep Sabbath. Now that is a different thing, and you use Acts 15 as your evidence which is the issue of deciding if the gentiles need to be circumcised and become fully Jewish. It is not a debate of trying to prevent gentiles from keeping Sabbath.

    Example B: You make claims like “Noah Ate Pork.” But not one place in scripture says he did. You make the statement based on the permission God gave him to eat anything that moves, but that is not the same thing. Were there pigs accessible to him? If there were, did he eat them? He knew they were considered unclean for sacrificing to God.
    At best, we cannot know at all, but you make an emphatic and authoritative statement that he did do it.

    By your reasoning you may as well say “Noah ate dogs and cats, and monkey brains.” It is just as sound based on your point of view.

    So you argue for what is not to be found in scripture, and argue against what IS found in scripture.

    Example C: The NT does not support, and in fact directs gentile believers not to become circumcised (convert). This is a very strong theme in the NT and Paul even says in 1 Cor. that one should remain what they are when they are called. The exception is Timothy but his mother was Jewish.

    Apparently Paul is not authoritative regarding this topic in your view?

    Acts 15 would actually be an example that converting was not to be done.

    So, for me, the struggle with these issues are not only how they are laid out but by the circumstances of the messenger.

    When you began your Messianic Fellowship did you hold services on Sunday? Did you refuse to say the Sh’ma and the Jewish prayers? Did you use a Prayer Shawl and was everyone instructed then that the ten Commandments were not for gentiles? Did you teach them to eat pork and not keep (rest) Sabbath?

    I’m so confused.

    How in the world could you convert to Messianic Judaism based on all the admonitions of the NT and the clear context and thrust of this issue?

    It is far more clearly laid out than Noah eating Pork or the ignoring Acts 15 when convenient and using it to stress something that isn’t actually found in the text.

    • benicho says:

      Paul says it’s pointless to become circumcised without circumcision of the heart. This was known to the Jewish teachers well before Paul came along. And indeed, just as you accuse Derek’s logic—with the logic you have given here it seems to imply that converts to Judaism before Yeshua came had done some sort of wrong by becoming circumcised—certainly they did not. Paul was addressing the false teachings by some who had convinced the gentiles that salvation came by obeying the law. We know this not to be possible, sanctification simply cannot happen via earthly deeds. Our deeds are as dirty rags, so how then can we be sanctified through them? Does this mean we nullify the law through faith? No.

      If you had read Derek’s statements you would know that he believes Paul’s doctrine to be perfect understanding, so that leaves little question as to how authoritative he views Paul.

    • Well said! Thank you for posting this. You highlight some…frustrations…myself and others have had with the theology Derek often writes about.

      Blessings in Messiah, and I hope you keep searching for clarity on these matters.

      • Lrl79 says:

        Judah,
        Thank you for your encouragement. I’m trying to find balanced teaching from mature believers without agendas and thought this may be a place to experience it.

        Since coming into MJ I have been shocked at the insecurity of some gentile believers in the synagogue I attend and the outlandish things some do and what some think. I just don’t get how, in a gentile dominated world, Gentiles can justify being so insecure. I wonder if they stop and think how Jews must feel.

        It seems there are only 3 responses that I’ve noticed so far.
        1. Gentiles are indifferent to Israel/ Jewish feelings and or identity. (I see this a lot as my husband is Jewish)
        2. Gentiles despise Israel/ Jews. (yep, seen some of this too)
        3. Gentiles want to take what belongs to Jews.
        And I’ve seen some creative things regarding this.

        Of course the other category is respecting Jews and Gods calling, not interfering or coveting it but, rather, strengthening and facilitating it. That requires humility, especially in a Synagogue setting with the liturgy and prayers etc. I suppose it proves to be too much for some.

        Any ideas where I could hear/read some well balanced and mature teachings from a MJ Jewish person?

        Blessings on you Judah.

  14. jburger says:

    we should all keep the sabbath and God Willing follow the commandments of Jesus, and the ten big ones By GOD, a ‘royal priesthood, chosen people’ 1pt. addresses to whom may have been gentiles….The Spirit God Willing of the day of worship and rest should be maintained, perhaps noah and abraham were in enough reverence or contact with God, or perhaps folks before those times knew and adhered to such things without them being said….or who knows, but worship n rest, time for God is important, ‘shabbat shalom’ whenever you take it friends n God Willing adhere to His 10 Commandments, And The Message behind The Law, actions/traditions that predicted Jesus and helped one to learn order and Truth, but Salvation through God In Christ Amen….God Willing the ‘seventh’ day rest, worship on the first ok maybz Lord Have Mercy be i ‘off-base’ here….who knows if the world or calendar ‘kept up’ with the days properly, could the world have been formed starting on a tuesday, etc. perhaps, Lord Have Mercy Indeed, thanks n thank God PLGB

  15. Dan Benzvi says:

    “one should remain what they are when they are called”

    Obviously, in this case Derek received a pass?

  16. Baronjetjaguar says:

    Derek,

    It is interesting to note the full circle nature of Sabbath observance. The Sunday-Sabbath Movement in Reform Judaism of the late 1800-1958 gave Jews the opportunity to worship on Sunday as opposed to the traditional Sabbath. For some reason we tend to skip over these instances and assume that this was a bad idea or an embrace of “pagan” custom because the Christians did it. Perhaps this was a divine means to bring down the wall of seperation between Jews and Gentiles to embrace a level of holiness- a glimpse of the World to Come.

    Baron

  17. Very good article. In response to the question above about authority—what is our authority? the OT? the NT? Both?—I would say this: our “authority” is all of Scripture, and our interpretation depends upon the NT fulfilling and explaining the OT. Ultimately, “Law” or “Torah” are not the center of Scripture or God’s revelation to us: the Lord Jesus is that center.

    Jesus fulfilled the law. The book of Hebrews is explicit in showing how the law is realized in the Lord Jesus. John even said, “For the law was revealed through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17).

    If we go to Scripture and look for the law, we miss the whole point. From Genesis through the giving of the Law through the NT, the purpose of all Scripture is to reveal God’s unfolding mystery of His salvation. Each successive revelation—from the call of Abraham through the giving of the law through the incarnation through the birth of the church—reveals increasing perspectives of His purpose and will.

    And the church is not “Israel”. Israel is Israel; the church is grafted into the olive tree of God’s purposes and plan. Israel, ultimately, still has to be grafted back into that olive tree because their natural branches were cut off. All of us are grafted in, but there are different times: the time of the gentiles, and then the unhardening of Israel (Romans 11).

    Sabbath and the law are distractions from the real issue: God came to earth clothed in mortal human flesh and became sin for us. He became a curse for us. He paid the price He Himself decreed was necessary for sin. He became the mediator between God and man: the second person of the Trinity became a man, and He represented both parties: God and estranged humanity. In His own flesh He became sin and died a sinner’s death…yet He was without sin. He is the perfect and eternal mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

    It’s Jesus we must see! It’s Jesus who saves, and the law was just a shadow of the good things that were realized in Him (Col 2:16-17; Hebrews 10:1).

    • Derek Leman says:

      Colleen:

      I understand how, coming from an oppressive background, you have let the pendulum swing back the other way. But I think you have let a bad experience cause you to miss a beautiful thing. The Jesus-came-to-do-away-with-the-law theology is not the answer. Part of what you say indicates that you think what God did was irrelevent until Jesus came (“the real issue: God came to earth clothed in mortal human flesh”). There is no reason to make the law the bad guy. It was the bad guy in your experience because you were part of a movement that misused it. But the law is actually a good guy, Yeshua a Torah observant prophet and Messiah (and, yes, God made flesh–not denying it). I am glad that you have been freed from an oppressive theology (“must keep the Jewish law to be kosher to God”), but I also hope you will be able to get a more positive view of the Torah in time. The law was not just a shadow (the “just” betrays Christian supersessionism). The law is a shadow, a blessed shadow, of the Holy One, and all things that reveal him are precious. And when people practice Torah in faith and with lovingkindness, it is a beautiful and spiritual thing. But people should not confuse the signs of Israel’s priestly calling (circumcision, Sabbath, dietary law, etc.) with the essence of righteousness (love, justice, peace).

  18. James says:

    Just woke up and am devouring my first cup of coffee, so excuse me if my thinking is fuzzy at the moment.

    There are a lot of good comments here, not because we all agree with each other, but because a lot of good questions are coming up (I sometimes like good questions more than so-so answers). One thing that’s been mentioned is Paul’s attitude toward non-Jewish disciples of the Master converting to Judaism as recorded in Galatians. Derek, since you obviously chose to convert to Judaism in an MJ context, I think you’d be the perfect person to write a blog article (or series) about when it is and isn’t appropriate for a Gentile disciple (i.e. “a Christian”) to convert. I think it would answer a lot of people’s questions including mine.

    • Lrl79 says:

      I agree with your comment on the many questions on this topic. It is illuminating!

      Personally, since he has made an issue of “the 10 Commandments aren’t for Gentiles,” I am more interested in seeing how he managed this principle while he was in a MJ Synagogue in the beginning as well as the M Fellowship he started. In light of what he has said at other times I just am sensing that something isn’t tracking.

      He talks about Gentiles not taking on the markers of Jewish identity and says those are “Sabbath, dietary, circumcision et.”, but he never deals with how he maintained that and then started a MFellowship.

      Or how he did it while he was in a MJ Synagogue. I would be very interested in a post like that.

      Of course it would also be nice to see him answer what the ultimate authority
      is in his theology.

  19. Derek Leman says:

    Nothing like having people talk about you behind your back . . . while they know you are listening!

  20. Derek Leman says:

    Lrl79, so what do you think I would say to your question about the ultimate authority in my theology? And why are you on the attack?

    • Lrl79 says:

      Sorry, not attacking at all.

      Just asking.

      MJ has shown me different paradigms of various levels, some of which are rich and already I’ve embraced them. Some are downright bizarre and I have no interest in.

      I have hung out with E Christians (and been one) my whole life so I am familiar with their thought patterns but not so much with MJ.

      I guess I am in the identifying mode and I am not one to fall inline with anyones point of view if it doesn’t line up with scripture.

      For me, scripture, (all of it, all the time) is authoritative. I cannot read the NT without understanding the context which would be, in part what came before it. Likewise, I cannot read the Tanake with out the benefit of the NT which is, in my view Authoritative on what happened prior to the NT. It SEEMS that you don’t have this view point. (can’t be sure, hence the question) And if not, then I am curious as to what yours is.

      At one moment you default to Jewish tradition even though that tradition is not supported biblically (conversion, to name one). Another time you use NT as authoritative and not at others. Sometimes you use Tanakh but act as if nothing happened after it. Then you use the Didache but the Didache tells the believers to take on as much Torah as they can. I think I’ve laid out the issues pretty well in other posts.

      I am a bit skeptical of your theology thats all. Sometimes it seems that you are at a huge buffet and just taking portions of your favorite things. This happens in Christianity too, and Judaism. It’s human nature I guess. So, I am trying to understand you better.

      • Lrl79 says:

        ooops, Sorry, I should have said some of the gentiles are downright bizarre, not MJ. The Jews in MJ, in my experience are awesome.

      • Derek Leman says:

        Lrl79:

        The question of authority is complicated. Yes, I read scripture as sacred text inspired by God and authoritative. That does not answer all questions about how we know things. The theology of knowledge is a big topic and I hesitate to give short and incomplete answers. No one believes what they believe purely based on scripture. If you think about it, you will realize we all bring in traditions and perspectives from outside of the Bible into our knowledge.

        As for the Didache, I answered a question of history from the Didache, yes, but I did not indicate that I thought the Didache was scripture. I’m not sure why that confused you. If I quoted Josephus to answer a question, would you assume I thought Josephus was divinely inspired? I’m just not sure how I am confusing you.

        I do think that tradition is important. For example, when my family lights candles tonight, I am not bothered that this ceremony is not in the Bible. It is a tradition for us to fill in the commandment to sanctify the Sabbath. Traditions add specificity to broad biblical commands.

        • Lrl79 says:

          No confusion on your point about the Didache and or Josephus, my is “authority” seems to be a moving target for you.

          Your right about traditions and perspectives, we all have them. And reading historical works are necessary.

          But when you proclaim and support things that are not backed up by scripture, or contradicted by scripture, in one area and then act as if your using the authority of scripture by saying things that aren’t in scripture (Noah ate pork for ex.) to shoot down other things that you don’t like it just seems a little self serving. Doing this puts us in the place of God and I think that is in consistent and heretical (NOT calling you a heretic, I am speaking to the thought process that leads to heresy)

          I think God’s opinions are higher than mine and yours. His definitions are what matters and we have the blessing of the whole of scripture which the Israelites didn’t have. I do not believe God has to bow to Rabbinic Judaism or Roman Catholicism either.

          Also, with regards to the “Attack”.

          When I saw your page I saw “Rabbi, Writer, Speaker.” I assumed you were a Jewish man who came to believe in Messiah and I wanted to see what you had to say. This is a very important topic to me.

          And if you had made the statement that Ten Commandments aren’t for Gentiles, I would have received that in a different way.

          But instead you are a Christian gentile who was so captivated (I assume) with the beauty that MJ opens up to gentile Christians that you wanted to take it for yourself. The comment about the 10 Commandments just lands differently in that light.

          I guess I would like to see something like: I know how awesome it is to discover these perspectives but when I was involved prior to converting, here is how I dealt with NOT taking on Jewish identity markers and avoided eating kosher and keeping sabbath, wearing Jewish garb etc. while worshiping in a MJ congregation or how you managed it while starting a M Fellowship.

  21. Dan Benzvi says:

    “Nothing like having people talk about you behind your back . . . while they know you are listening!”

    If you are referring to me, Derek, I am not talking behind your back, I am straight forward right here on your blog telling you that your conversion is a farce. Even the organization that you belong to rejects it…..

    • Derek Leman says:

      Ah, Dan, always such a pleasant individual. Obviously we disagree. I’m not sure why you keep harping on it. How about I live my life and you live yours? I’m easy to ignore and you always have that option.

  22. James says:

    I’m pretty sure I addressed you directly in my last comment, Derek. 😉

    I was being sincere in what I said. I think it would be a fascinating topic and a good conversation. As far as I know, there wasn’t support in the 1st century church for non-Jewish God fearers or disciples to convert to Judaism. Exploring the modern practice in MJ, how common or uncommon it is (I can’t imagine it happens very much, but I don’t have any data to support that assumption), and what the more conservative elements of Messianic Judaism think of the practice would be illuminating.

    Please don’t take this as a personal slam, Derek, That isn’t my intention. But in examining the different roles of Jewish vs. non-Jewish disciples of the Messiah in relation to Bilateral Ecclesiology, the idea of a Christian specifically converting to Messianic Judaism (as opposed to Reform/Conservative/Orthodox Judaism) is an apparent gap in our information base.

  23. Dan Benzvi says:

    Obvious Derek, we disagree, but that does not free you to keep pretending you are Jewish when you are not. You are a teacher who is causing people to stumble….

  24. Derek Leman says:

    Lrl79:

    I’m letting you have the last word. You have said that I contradict the Bible, that I am not Jewish, and that I am in a thought process that leads toward heresy. These are not words that lead to friendship. I don’t know if the impersonal nature of the Web emboldens you to speak so rudely to people, but if we were speaking face to face, I think you would more clearly recognize how insulting your words are. I have no animosity towards you, but I do not find it pleasant discussing issues with a person who sanctifies their own interpretations as “the word of God” and refers to others’ interpretations as contradicting the Bible. If you use these methods of rhetoric in your own congregation, I would imagine you would cause a number of people to avoid you. If you’d like to discuss something, try being more friendly.

    • Lrl79 says:

      Wow, Derek, I think I have been very friendly and even respectful.

      I made a point of saying I wasn’t calling you a heretic, I am trying to understand where you are coming from based on my own understandings and limitations. I think that is the job of all believers.

      BTW, a convert is never Jewish, they are proselytes (Ruth was always “Ruth the Moabitess”) but that really isn’t the issue I am addressing at all nor am I addressing my attitude or beliefs about the validity of such a conversion.

      As I said, if you were a Jewish man who came to believe in MEssiah and said the Ten Commandments aren’t for Gentiles, that would land a certain way.
      And, I assumed this was the case about you, based on your description of yourself as a Rabbi. That isn’t an unreasonable or unfriendly conclusion to come to.

      But the fact that you converted to MJ makes your comments come off in a different light. Thats all. I also don’t think that is unfriendly to say.

      Apparently this is a tender topic for you and you are unwilling to explain how it worked for you when you were one of “us” gentiles. I think, based on your experiences, that would be more truthful and illuminating but if you can’t go there then fine, just say so, don’t put words or motives into my mouth.

      YOU SAID:
      “I do not find it pleasant discussing issues with a person who sanctifies their own interpretations as “the word of God” and refers to others’ interpretations as contradicting the Bible.”

      This is a gross mischaracterization! I haven’t given any interpretations nor have I sanctified any. I’ve asked questions you are not comfortable addressing. Thats all. You put your opinion out very forcefully but get wounded when called on any of it?

      And if we were face to face it WOULD be different because you would see that I am not accusatory or mean, I’m just trying to understand. You would be able to tell from my expression and tone of voice. The fact that I don’t just accept anything and everything you say without question just tells you I have a healthy mind and a devoted heart.

      And your repeated refusal to answer specific aspects and questions tells a lot too. I get it, you can’t go there. Fine.

      • Derek Leman says:

        Lrl79:

        I don’t expect you or anyone else to accept things on my authority. I do prefer to converse with people who don’t say things like “you’re not Jewish” or “you’re a Christian gentile” or “you proclaim and support things that are not backed up by scripture.” If you can’t see that such statements are rude, I’d be curious to see how you interact among friends and family.

        I also get asked the same 50 questions over and over again. I don’t always take time to answer all questions. I come back to subjects repeatedly. It gets tedious sometimes.

        I’m sure we can discuss these matters more in coming days and I hope you will be more polite.

        • Lrl79 says:

          Derek,

          I didn’t make the remark that you’re not Jewish. And my remark about being a Christian Gentile was referencing what you were prior to converting. This is not to say I think you are correct in thinking yourself Jewish or not because I did not address that issue.

          Please give me the benefit of the doubt that I am a tenacious follower of Messiah and view you as made in God’s image. I’m not at all willing to hurt you purposely.

          Perhaps it is my communication skills that are lacking but rest assured I am not trying to be mean to you.

  25. Derek Leman says:

    Lrl79:

    I’m just going to let you have the last word there, Lrl79. Maybe next week there will be an issue you wish to comment on and we can discuss more.

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