Sid and I truly enjoyed life as Jewish gypsies in the Pugabego n/k/a Mitzvah Mobile for the month of July, culminating in the UMJC conference in Columbus, Ohio, my old stomping ground. Beth Messiah was my home during my first years as a new believer in Yeshua, now over 20 years ago. It was such a blessing to be back after decades to such an incredibly uplifting experience hosted so beautifully by this very special congregation.
It’s always wonderful to see acquaintances we have come to know as most of us go annually to this conference. There were also special highlights this year, such as David Stern’s widow Martha’s pictorial presentation on David’s life in memory of his passing this year. Services were off the chart. I want a CD of Beth Messiah’s worship group! Not to mention Kyle and Rachel, as well as . . . Joshua Aaron! Oh, and the Kabbalat Shabbat music and dancing – the Ruach was there, our Camp Or L’Dor campers present in good numbers jumping right in! Such a Ruach-filled experience!
Having said all that, for me the “Wow” moment came at a presentation by Dr. Daniel Nessim on the Didache, meaning the “Teaching”, with the subtitle, “The Teaching of the L-rd Through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles”. This is an early document now known to have been written by early Jewish believers in Yeshua, most likely Matthew in combination with perhaps James or Luke instructing non Jewish believers on the ways to live as believers in Yeshua. It starts with instruction on living lives that are good, mirroring and expanding on the Ten Commandments. It is not a long document, just 2300 words, and yet covers so many of the topics that it seems we still struggle with today – immersion, prayer practices, fasting – providing different, yet holy, observances to non Jewish believers. The presenter cites Scripture elaboration of the first of our Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt where you lived as slaves”, a statement clearly intended for the Jews, seeing the first tablet as to the Jews, the second an expansion of God’s teachings to all Nations.
Taking us to the original translations of these early writings was fascinating. For example, in probably all English bibles, the Greek word “ekklesia” is translated to mean “church”. Actually, the word means “an assembly” and during the time of its usage in the first century in these writings would have more likely referred to a synagogue. To use the word “church” when translating this word in this document and other early writings would be anachronistic since the church as we think of it was not founded until centuries later, and the misuse of it in bibles suggests there were no Jewish believers in Yeshua who remained Jewish. We know that the Apostles (other than Luke) were Jewish and continued to practice Judaism and go to their synagogues. Not just distorting reality, this anachronistic error would be like using the word “ice cream” to describe a food available in the first century. And yet, this misinterpretation is what much of the world understands – that if a Jew believes in Jesus they become Christian. This seemingly benign mistake wipes out the Jewish voice in history and changes the intent of the writings of the Apostles and early Jewish believers in Yeshua.
Why is understanding the omission of our voice so important? Clearly, at the end of the age we will all be as one in Yeshua when He returns and we are with HaShem. Yet we are not at the end of times yet. There is much work to be done before then. As much as we as modern people struggle with boundaries, and have had trouble providing and living them lovingly and with understanding of their purposes, the presentation on the Didache made it so clear. The distinctive roles of Jewish believers in Yeshua and non Jewish believers was intended and explained, from the start, from the mouths of the Apostles. Perhaps their purpose was to make Messianic Jews better emissaries, more relatable, to Jews and non Jewish believers better emissaries to non Jews. For whatever reason, the original writings, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the scholarly work that has developed over the past decades correctly reading these works provide for us an amazing opportunity to more deeply understand and live the Word, to more closely follow God’s purposes for all of us.
One simple word, “ecclesia”, as used over millennia wiped out the Jewish voice of those who are Jewish and believe in Yeshua, the voice that we call Messianic Judaism. So why does this matter? As Dr. Rabbi Mark Kinzer so eloquently stated at the conference (by his decades of work with Vatican leaders) that voice is now known, being understood, and bringing to scholarly theological discussions an understanding of important truths that will fulfill the prophecies of Biblical writings. As we know, the Vatican’s influence is great. Once Rome (how ironic!) understands the bigger picture, no doubt even more controversy will result as Israel will no longer be able to consider Messianic Jews as non Jews, as Hebrew Christians, currently unable to straightforwardly make Aliyah. The struggles in our homeland Israel will be real, on many fronts. The days to come will not be easy, but no worthwhile change ever is. And to think, we are living in those times. . .
What a future for our children, our children’s children, and theirs as well. For us older folks, it feels much as Moses who did not see the Promised Land. Well, we also know he did. It just took several thousand years in mankind’s time, but a blink of the eye of HaShem, for Moses is seen with Elijah by Yeshua in that momentous vision (again one often misinterpreted, but that discussion is for another day).
No words can describe the joy, the awe, the anticipation . . .