ISRAEL'S MESSIANIC JEWS AND THE DEITY OF YESHUA: AN UPDATE
By David H. Stern
The following article written by David Stern, was written for "Israel Today" magazine July 2002 issue, and is reprinted here with the permission of the author. We are grateful
The November 2001 issue of israel today cited the opinions of twelve of our country's Messianic Jews on the deity of Yeshua. Since then the debate has evolved into a complicated knot which I will try to unravel.
Five-hundred-page tomes have been written on this subject, but the citations in the magazine were less than 100 words, barely slogans; and theology can't be done that way because the biblical data underlying the theology of Yeshua's deity are too complex. For example, the New Testament contains what philosophers of religion call antinomies, topics which refuse to submit to law (anti + nomos) -- paradoxes, mysteries, phenomena in which "A" and "not-A" both hold.
Here are three instances: 1) God is One, and yet the New Testament portrays Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- all three -- as fully divine; 2) The Son, Yeshua, though fully divine, is yet fully human; and 3) "I and the Father are One," yet "the Father is greater than I" -- equality, yet hierarchy.
These are the data, and our theories, theologies, creeds, etc., have to cope with them. But they can't cope completely, since the data constitute antinomies.
Therefore the twelve statements cannot possibly represent these people' views in their fullness. In at least one case, the four sentences cited imply that the person does not believe Yeshua is God, whereas in fact he does.
More importantly, while most of the twelve are concerned not to become "Gentilized," few have theological training; and this combination can distort theologizing. In such cases the statements should be evaluated less as theology than as a heart cry to preserve Jewish identity. I think all twelve of the Messianic Jews quoted are believers who love God and his Messiah Yeshua with all their heart, even if some of their words about Yeshua deviate from what most Christians consider acceptable.
Because three or four of the twelve persons stated or were made to seem to state that Yeshua is not God, some readers of israel today began wondering whether many of us Messianic Jews in Israel aren't heretics. In response the Conference of Congregation Leaders met, and its organizing committee presented the 60 or so congregation leaders in attendance with a paragraph on the deity of the Messiah, which they signed.
I myself believe in the deity of Yeshua, and I can affirm the paragraph, but I would not have signed it, because I don't believe others should require me to sign their creeds as a test of my faith. I know that those who organized this process were attempting to defend the Israeli Body against accusations of heresy or to quarantine suspected heretics.
I don't question the genuineness of their concern, even if some of them have no more theological training than those whose views they oppose. Nevertheless, I prefer to see Messianic Jews given room to express their theological views within the framework of Jewish thought, rather than be required to sign on the dotted line of theological formulations that have a non-Jewish origin and a non-Jewish cast to them.
What I mean was well put in the most recent issue of the Israeli Messianic journal Mishkan, where a 1979 book by the German Christian Heinz Kremers is quoted: "In order to become Christians, [Jews] were no longer allowed, like the Jewish Christians before them, to understand Messiah Jesus and the entire Christ event in a Jewish way. That had now become synonymous with heresy. On the contrary, they had to…sacrifice their Jewish intellect, and understand Messiah Jesus and the entire Christ event in a Hellenistic and western way."
Finally, I have requests for three groups of believers. First, during this last month a number of us Israeli believers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have been too quick to attack each other over this issue rather than address each other courteously and lovingly. Those affected should repent and forgive, as befits people who hold not only to the two most important commandments, loving God with all our heart, soul and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, but also to the "new commandment," loving one another as Yeshua loves us.
Second, I challenge Messianic Jews, especially those of us who feel in our gut the need for staying Jewish, to get enough training in theology to deal seriously with the complex data underlying the Church's affirmation of Yeshua's deity -- which can even be supported by material in the Talmud and other classical Jewish writings.
Third, I would like Christians interested in the well-being of Israel's Messianic Jews to encourage us to develop our own expression of the principles and practices of our faith in Yeshua the Messiah and not press us to affirm creeds developed within a non-Jewish, "Hellenistic and western" mind-set.
I ask all to pray about these things for the good of the Body and the glory of God.
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David Stern is a leading figure in the Messianic Jewish movement in Israel and around the world. He is the translator of the Jewish New Testament and the Complete Jewish Bible. He is also the author of the Jewish New Testament Commentary, which if I might say so is the next best thing to the New Testament. His other books are the Messianic Jewish Manifesto, and Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message for Christians. All these wonderful books can be order from Mayim Hayim Ministries On-line Bookstore. We hope if you do not have them you will get them. Shalom