I'm in the process of reading through the Book of Jeremiah. I can't help but be taken by the loving comments God has to say to the Children of Israel, even as He is sending them off into exile in Babylonia for 70 years. He's already encouraging them and saying to them that they will call out to Him and He will listen to them and restore them to their Lands and they will be His people and He will be their God.
I can only imagine, even in the bitterness of exile and servitude in Babylonia, that this love must have been of great comfort and that the Jewish nation must have realized, no matter what happened to them, nothing would separate them from the love of God. I don't doubt many a Christian Pastor has used these passages to illustrate the love that Jesus has for Gentile Christians, but can comments made by God, through Jeremiah to the Jewish people be generalized to the rest of humanity? That may not be the case, but let's see.
I ask this question because, as you probably know by now if you've been reading this blog, I've been re-examining my assumptions about God, Yeshua, and my relationship to the Lord of Heaven, in order to see how or even if I somehow fit into His plan. I think I can definitively say that God has not abandoned or forsaken the rest of humanity, but do we have a clear picture of our role in relationship to God? Does the Bible, the totality of the Bible, speak to all of humanity, or do only certain portions apply? To take it a step further, are there portions of the Bible that Gentile believers in Yeshua read in vain?
Besides the Book of Jeremiah, some of the comments made in response to my prior blog article Who am I? inspired today's blog. For instance:
James, of course one can study G-d's word without being obligated to it or parts of it. Think about this: I am not a Kohaine or a Levite, but I can learn a lot from studying the very specific requirements given to them, even though all of them are not only NOT required for me, it would be grave SIN for me if I even attempted to take on the role of Kohaine or Levite (with me not being one).This seems to answer my question. I can indeed study all parts of the Bible with the understanding that some or even most of the Bible really doesn't apply to me, at least from the point of view of the Bilateral Ecclesiology contingent of Messianic Judaism. As part of my self re-examination, I've been using MJ/BE as one of the mechanisms to test my understanding of my role in life and my role in the universe. I'm not saying that I believe MJ/BE is the best possible lens for which a Gentile "Yeshua-believer" to view himself or herself, but it does present a strikingly different view of who I'm supposed to be, relative to my usual understanding. Utilizing their teachings about Jews, Gentiles, and God, if nothing else, helps me to see where any gaps may exist in my faith and my knowledge. If I can "survive" an examination from the MJ/BE point of view, perhaps some of my dross will be burned away and I can become a more pure product.
I was entertaining visions of having my Bible being reduced to a pamphlet if I was only "allowed" access to the portions that specifically address Gentiles. There's an "urban legend" (I don't know if it's true or not) about Thomas Jefferson that says he used a pair of shears to cut out the parts of the Bible he didn't like. I had a vision of that being done to my Bible so that I could only read those bits and pieces that MJ/BE believes apply to me. Thankfully, it was just a wild bit of imagination.
It's somewhat comforting to know that I can still read those portions that don't have anything to do with me, though somewhat disturbing that some MJ/BE folks may consider it not only inappropriate for me to rest on the Shabbat but even, by implication, a sin.
Fear not. I fully intend on continuing to read all of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, and attempt to gain a deeper understanding of God and humanity from His word. While not 100% of the Bible operates as a set of directives to be accessed by Gentiles, I believe a larger portion of the principles and examples are illuminating for all mankind. As far as I can tell, MJ/BE apparently limits the Torah to a set of directives aimed at two primary audiences: Jews and Gentiles.
The majority of directives apply to the Jewish people and only a tiny subset apply to Gentiles. Even directives in the Torah such as "Thou Shalt not Kill" and "Thou Shalt not Covet" apply only to the Jews, according to MJ/BE. Of course, not even MJ/BE believes that Gentiles are enabled by God to murder and covet freely and without consequences. Their justification for those commandments not applying to Gentile believers is that A. It's already written on our hearts, so we should know better and B. The written version of "Thou Shalt Not Kill" carries with it increased penalties for the Jewish people should they violate that commandment. Somehow this means that the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" written on my heart applies to me but the version written in the Bible does not. Yes, it's confusing to me, too.
To a degree, I'm a believer of the principle of Occam's Razor which, according to Wikipedia, states in part, ...that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. In order for the above explanation about the Torah to work, you have to perform more than a few literary and theological gymnastics (not unlike some portions of Kinzer's Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People, which I will review at a later time). Hardly the "simplest explanation". While I don't advocate Gentiles dressing up and pretending to be Jewish, I do believe that a larger portion of the Bible describes principles and lifestyle standards that can and should be applied to the wider Ekklesia. There is nothing wrong with Gentile believers feeding the poor, as it says in the Torah. There is nothing wrong with Gentile believers visiting the sick as it says in the Torah. There is nothing wrong with helping your neighbor with a problem, even if you don't really like your neighbor, as it says in the Torah. Most importantly, there is nothing wrong with a Gentile believer reading of these principles in the Torah/Bible, understanding that these are behaviors that God approves of in all humanity, and behaving out of these principles as written in the Torah. It takes nothing away from Judaism and specifically Messianic Judaism. Some support for this can be found in the commentary of Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth on Torah Portion Vaetchanan. Quoting R. Shmuel David Luzzatto, Rabbi Sacks says:
The effect of Christianity and Islam was to spread the Jewish message - albeit in ways with which Jews could not fully agree - throughout the world. Today these religions represent more than half of the six billion people on the face of the earth. The 'Judeo-Christian ethic' and the Abrahamic faiths have shaped much of the civilization of the West. The Torah really did become 'your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations.'One of the obvious intents of God for the Jewish people and the Torah, was to be a "light to the world", as cited in the aforementioned Torah Portion. This is echoed in Yeshua's statements in both Matthew 5:13-16 in which he calls himself a "light of the world" and in Matthew 5:43-48 in which he refers to his Jewish disciples as that light. Connecting that to Matthew 28 and the ministries of Paul and Peter to the Gentiles, it seems clear that Yeshua expected his Jewish disciples to ...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (emphasis mine). I'm not saying in this, that Yeshua necessarily told his Jewish disciples to go and teach the Gentiles to obey the totality of the Torah commandments, but putting all this together, there seems to be an intent for Gentiles to be taught a set of morals, ethics, practices, and principles of righteousness that are God-based and Torah-based (as perhaps opposed to Torah-inclusive). If all of the Torah that we needed was already written on our hearts, why would Yeshua specifically direct his disciples to teach all of his lessons to the nations? And why oh why, would Gentiles have the Bible in our hands today if we didn't need a written copy of what is written on our hearts? If MJ/BE is right, all I really need is to consult with my human intuition and just "know" what God wants me to do. No need to "test the spirits" by comparing my feelings with the word of God (and this last comment is definitely tongue-in-cheek).
Yes of course, the Bible is for everyone and, although not every specific commandment or situation is directly applicable to Gentile Yeshua-believers, much more can and should be relevant and meaningful to us than a mere portion of Acts 15.