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Messiah’s Resurrection and Messianic Jewish Belief

Wow, am I behind on this one!… Might you be, too?

I mean the rise of various groups of Messianic Jews in the United States.  It appears there are two major ones, Messianic Jewish Alliance of America and the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.  I hadn’t updated much on this from the days when Jews for Jesus was the main organization for Messianic Jews.

Now I’ve just learned that a fairly high proportion of those in active Messianic Jewish congregations are not racially Jewish (I don’t know specifics of numbers).  They either consider themselves Jewish converts (practicing Jews) who believe Jesus is the promised Messiah or believers who are interested in learning about and following Jewish traditions and beliefs to varying degrees.

In one sense this is not surprising to me, given the little I know of current Judaism and the relatively more I know of ancient Judaism and the beginnings of “rabbinic” Judaism.  The New Testament itself speaks of what other historical data backs up: that Judaism of the first century had many “god-fearers” — Gentiles who attended synagogue and loved much of Judaism but did not desire to fully convert.  There were also full converts, probably in much smaller numbers.  Judaism had several attractive features for even Hellenized non-Jewish peoples  in Palestine and around the Mediterranean Sea (basically everyone).

While the conquering Romans had great troubles with Israel before and after the major war of 66-70 which included the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, anti-semitism as we think of it had not arisen until a bit later.  Nor was the break between emerging Christianity and Judaism any where close to complete by the time of the death of Peter and Paul (ca. 65 CE/AD) — key leaders who had conflicts over issues of theology and practice.  Things were in great theological and organizational flux, to say the least… something that is generally not realized or is glossed over by Christians because of the problems it raises.

What Meaning did the Resurrection have?

Among the various things that the Jerusalem disciples of Jesus (including the 12 Apostles, with Matthias in Judas’ place) shared with Paul, was some kind of firm belief in the resurrection of Jesus.  Just what kind of resurrection they thought it to be is far from clear.  Even more important is the implications (meaning) they saw in it. 

That is where we basically lose track of the Jerusalem Jesus-followers.  We can’t follow what they may have taken from their experiences (appearances of Jesus?) and beliefs about the Resurrection beyond about 70 because the group (of unknown size, but well into the thousands if Acts is to be considered accurate and literal on it, which is very questionable) either fled during the war or many were killed and the movement re-located.  This was perhaps to Pella initially, then mostly in areas north and east (present day Jordan and Syria).

With this very minimal background let me share parts of a comment I left where this movement and the personal experiences of one of its Rabbis, Crystal Lutton (yes, a woman), is shared on the blog of Rachel Held Evans (.com).  My comments were prompted by my belief that Paul is the real “founder” (or molder) of Christianity as we have it today… basically he invented it by cleverly combining elements from Judaism, the early traditions of Jesus’ followers, Gnosticism and Pagan religions.

He was more a church planter, pastor and evangelist than a systematic thinker, so looking for consistency in his writing is basically futile.  Nevertheless, it is important to understand and respect the implications of his eventual pre-empting (via his influence, especially just prior to the writings of the Gospels) of the message of the Kingdom that Jesus taught.

So here I break into a comment I left in reply to Rabbi Crystal’s statements, thought not directly to her, as it wasn’t interactive at that point:

I do wonder about something raised by a few already: whether she does believe in the Trinity in a more-or-less orthodox way (realizing it took several hundred years to reach “orthodoxy,” with much vitriol and sometimes both manipulation and violence getting there). As a Process person, I’m not trinitarian in the orthodox sense myself, but it is an important and fascinating question when it comes to Jewish-Christian relations and other issues of importance, not just abstractions.

Then, when it comes to her statement about “all those who are saved are saved through him,” I’m wondering about her view of atonement… penal substitutionary or something else? Relative to that is incarnation of course, and virgin birth…. Gets very complicated very quickly. It seems to me impossible to see people as “saved” through Jesus-as-Messiah, individually, from within a first-century Jewish way of understanding Torah and the Prophets. That is, in terms of who Messiah was to be and do (which Jesus appeared loyal to, maybe with minor corrections of interpretation as she referenced in general). He was crucified by the ROMANS (with Saduceean/priestly collaboration) because of the political/nationalist aspect of this — its main feature.

Any way one approaches this area — the “saving work of Christ” — one has to admit to a radical direction-change, shown both biblically and historically.  And the major influence toward that change can only be Paul, who quite literally and apparently single-handedly “invented” Christianity, in terms of a muddled (not consistent theologically or actually tied well to the Hebrew Scriptures) mixture of Jewish, Gnostic and Pagan (“mystery”) beliefs. (I know many think Gnosticism was post-New Testament, but I see stronger evidence it was at least contemporaneous with Paul and the “Jerusalem Church”.)  Jumping from Jewish Messiah to Paul’s kind of cosmic (more than just multi-ethnic) Savior requires a true “leap of faith.”  And the only authority for that, at bottom, is Paul’s own claim to divine revelation and his mainly self-asserted authority to explain how things “came down” (literally a divine descent as in Gnosticism, with his own spin, of course.)

I’ve titled this as about the Resurrection, which is just one part of a complex of beliefs… but let’s return and end there… What similarities or differences do you see in Paul’s Resurrection statements and beliefs and those of the early Jerusalem Jesus-followers?

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