Messianic Jewish theology

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Messianic Jewish theology is the study of God and Scripture from the perspective of Messianic Judaism, a disputed movement that claims to be a legitimate form of Judaism, but is considered by most Christians and Jews to be a form of Christianity.

Core doctrines

  • Creation: Messianic Jews accept old earth creationism.
  • God: Messianics believe in the God of the Bible, and that he is all-powerful, omni-present, eternal, exists outside of creation, and infinitely significant and benevolent. The vast majority of Messianics adhere to trinitarian views of God,[1] while others insist upon strict, unitarian monotheism.[2]
  • The Messiah: Yeshua (Jesus) is believed to be the promised Jewish messiah. The mainstream movement accepts Yeshua as God in the flesh, and as the Torah made flesh.
  • Written Torah: Messianics with a few exceptions, consider the written Torah (Pentateuch), the five books of Moses, to remain fully in force and a continuing covenant, to be observed both morally and ritually, by those who profess faith in God. They believe that Yeshua taught and re-affirmed the Torah, rather than doing away with it. This means that most Messianic Jews do not eat non-Kosher foods such as: shellfish or pork. They also will not work on Friday nights or Saturday days (the traditional Jewish Sabbath). This adherence to the biblical Law is where Messianic Judaism differs from most Christian denominations.
  • Israel: It is believed that the Children of Israel were, remain, and will continue to be the chosen people of the God of Jacob and are central to his plans. Virtually all Messianics (whether Jewish nor non-Jewish) oppose Replacement theology.
  • The Bible: The Tanakh and New Testament (sometimes called the B’rit Chadasha) are considered the established inerrant, and divinely inspired Biblical scripture by Messianic Judaism.
  • Eschatology: Messianics hold all of the following eschatological beliefs: the End of Days, the Second Coming of Jesus as the conquering Messiah, the re-gathering of Israel, a rebuilt Third Temple, a Resurrection of the Dead (and that Jesus was resurrected after his death). In addition most believe in the millennial sabbath,although some are Amillinialist.
  • Oral Torah: Messianic Jewish opinions concerning the "Oral Torah" (the Talmud) are varied and sometimes conflicting between individual congregations. Some congregations are very selective in their applications of Talmudic law, or do so for the sake of continuity with tradition, while others encourage a serious observance of the Jewish halakha. Virtually all Messianic congregations and synagogues believe that the oral traditions are subservient to the written Torah.

Additional doctrines

  • Sin and atonement: Some Messianics define sin as transgression of the Torah (Law/Instruction) of God and include the concept of original sin. Some adherents atone for their sins through prayer and repentance—that is, acknowledgment of the wrongdoing and seeking forgiveness for their sins (especially on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement). Other Messianics disagree with these rites and practices, believing that all sin (whether committed yet or not) is already atoned for through Jesus's death and resurrection. (Hebrews 9:26)
  • Faith and works: Some Messianics draw on Jewish rather than Christian tradition. In Hebrew, both "faith" and "faithfulness" are one word "אמונה" ("emunah"). Many adherents believe in a showing of their faith through righteous works (Jacob/"James" 2:17-26), defined by both the Tanakh and the New Testament. Some Messianics believe that faith and works are mutually exclusive or polarized; others believe that faith in God and righteous works are entirely complementary to each other (James 2:20), and that the one (faith) naturally leads to the other (works) - much like some Christian thinking. Some say that righteousness with God is solely by grace through faith and then acknowledge that works are still very important.
  • Salvation: In agreement with historical Protestantism, Messianics believe that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.{Ephesians 2:8-9}


Messianic believers commonly hold the תנ"ך (Tanakh; Hebrew Bible), to be divinely inspired. The הברית החדשה ("Brit Chadasha"; New Testament) is also considered to also be divinely inspired.

  • תורה (Torah; "Teaching" or "Instruction") is also called the חומש (Chumash; "The five"). "The Law" is called "The Five Books of Moses" or the "Pentateuch" especially by Christians.
  • נביאים (Nevi'im; "Prophets")
  • כתובים (Ketuvim; "Writings") is sometimes called "Αγιόγραφα" ("Hagiographa"; "Holy Writ")
  • Gospels
Gospel of מתתיהו ("Mattityahu"; "Gift of God")/מתי ("Mattay")/"Matthew",
 ‣ Gospel of Marcus/Μαρκοϲ ("Markos")/"Mark",
 ‣ Gospel of Lucas/Λουκᾶς ("Loukas")/"Luke", and
 ‣ Gospel of יהוחנן ("Yehochanan"; "God has been gracious")/יוחנן ("Yochanan")/"John".

David H. Stern has produced a Messianic Jewish version of the Bible called the Complete Jewish Bible.


"Torah" refers to the first five books of the Bible. Torah reading in Hebrew is one qualifier for a congregation to be considered authentically Messianic. Individuals are encouraged to engage in private and corporate study of Torah for instruction in doctrine and righteousness.

The Torah contains the 613 commandments of the Covenant between God and Israel. Some Messianic congregations and synagoges hold that for Jews, whether they are Messianic or not, Torah observance is covenantally obligatory, for Gentiles it is not.

Scriptural commentary

Many messianic believers also look to Jewish texts and laws, such as the Babylonian Talmud and other rabbinic commentary, for historical insight into an understanding of the biblical texts. However, much like Karaite Judaism, some Messianics do not accept rabbinic commentary and traditional laws as authoritative where it seems to contradict the Scriptures of the Messianic canon. This, however, is debated and varies from congregation to congregation, or ministry to ministry, and perhaps even issue-to-issue.

Although there is much debate with regard to acceptance of the Babylonian Talmud, there does exist a small minority who adhere to the teachings of the Sages and oral teachings held in the Talmud and consider them authoritative. The main difference between them and mainstream Judaism remains the belief that Yeshua is the Messiah. These groups consider Yeshua's command, "The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses, all of which they command you to do, do, but do not do as they do." (Matt 23:2-3) to be a proclamation of Torah authority to the Pharisaic Jewish community. One of the great differences between them and most Messianics is their belief of non-separation from the Jewish community and the authority of the Rabbis. Although they hold the New Testament teachings as authoritative, there remain many details in Biblical Law which violate oral tradition, as well as the written Torah. Because of this, there remains for them another line of division between them and mainstream Judaism.

Many Messianic congregations use traditional Jewish rabbinic commentaries such as the Mishnah and Gemara to gain historical insight into biblical teachings and passages and to better comprehend the environment that the first-century New Testament writers would have been familiar with.

Messianic commentaries on various books of the Bible, with the exception of a handful of commentaries written on the Torah and New Testament texts, such as Matthew, Acts of the Apostles, Epistle to the Romans, Epistle to the Galatians and Epistle to the Hebrews, can be few and far between.

David H. Stern has released a one-volume Jewish New Testament Commentary, but it overlooks many of the issues of composition, history, date and setting, and only provides select explanatory notes from a Messianic Jewish point of view.

Other noted New Testament commentary authors include Joseph Shulam, who has written commentaries on Acts, Romans, and Galatians, Tim Hegg of TorahResource, who has written commentary on Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, and is presently examining Matthew,[3] Daniel Thomas Lancaster, who has written extensively for the First Fruits of Zion Torah Club series, and Stuart Sacks, author of Hebrews Through a Hebrews' Eyes.

Further scriptural commentary

"Many Messianic Jewish believers consider rabbinic commentaries such as the Mishnah and the Talmud dangerous," says Joshua Isaac Walters "When we begin to study and observe Torah to become like Messiah, there are pitfalls we must avoid. One such pitfall is the study of Mishnah and Talmud - Rabbinic traditional Law. There are many people and congregations that place a great emphasis on rabbinic legal works, such as the Mishnah and the Talmud in search of their Hebrew roots. People are looking to the rabbis for answers on how to keep God’s commands, but if one looks into the Mishnah and does what it says, he or she is not a follower of the Messiah. Or, if one looks into the Talmud and does what it says, he or she is not a follower of the Messiah – he or she is a follower of the rabbis because Rabbi Yeshua, the Messiah, is not quoted there. Rabbinic Judaism is not Messianic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism is not founded in Messiah. Rabbinic Judaism, for the most part, is founded in the yeast – the teachings of the Pharisees. Yeshua’s teachings and the discipleship that He brought His students through was not Rabbinic Judaism. There is a real danger in Rabbinics. There is a real danger in Mishnah and Talmud. No one involved in Rabbinics has ever come out on the other side more righteous than when he or she entered. He or she may look “holier than thou” – but they do not have the life changing experience clearly represented in the lives of the believers of the Messianic communities of the first century."

Halakhic commentary

While many in the Messianic movement, especially those who have come out of Protestant churches, have a sola scriptura approach to Torah, Tanakh and the B'rit Chadashah, it is incorrect to assume that all Messianics share this rejection of oral Torah. There are those who look to the Talmud and rabbinical interpretations of Israel for guidance in a fuller expression of obedience to Torah. If Messianic Judaism is indeed a Judaism, it stands to reason that it shares community with all Jews in its acceptance of standards and interpretations. Messianics who honor halakhah point out that Deuteronomy 17 instructs not only obedience to Torah, but also to the Judges we go to for Torah interpretation, to "do everything they direct you to do. Act according to the law they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left." Yeshua backs up the Torah teachers among the Pharisees in this authority in Matthew 23, "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you." [4]

In light of this, both the Jerusalem Council, and the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council have begun publishing halakha.[5][6]

People of God

Messianic Judaism has as a core teaching that Israel remains Israel and the Nations remain the Nations, Jews remain Jews and Gentiles remain Gentiles. Jews are those who are born of a Jewish mother or have undergone halakhic conversion to Judaism. An exception is also made for those born of Jewish fathers if and only if the individual claims Jewish identity, similar to the Reform position.[7]

The Jerusalem Council, a Messianic halakhic body, maintains that Israel is defined as a people group of members of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; chosen by God from the nations, and includes their descendants."[8]

The "People of God" is a larger set which includes Israel, but also includes Gentiles in the Christian Churches as well as Messianic Gentiles. Thus, a rabbinical Jew is part of "Israel", a Baptist is part of Ἐκκλησία ("Ekklesia") and a Messianic Jew is both "Israel" and Ekklesia. Further, rabbinical Jew, Baptist, and Messianic Jew, both Israel and Ekklesia, are "People of God." Messianic Judaism sees itself as the "link," the point of the graft between Israel and Ekklesia.

The issue of the relationship of Israel to Ekklesia, especially in terms of Covenant, is highly important to Messianics. While Jews are considered within an irrevocable Covenant given at Mt. Sinai, gentiles are not. A Messianic Jew must keep Covenant, but a Methodist need not. Those Gentiles who have joined Messianic congregations take up Torah observance, some more than others, but do so voluntarily, either out of love for God or simply as part of being in the community. Jews and Gentiles are seen as completely equal before God, as "one new man" in their belief in Yeshua, but this union is not a homogenization but more analogous to the union of husband and wife in marriage, where differentiation is preserved even within unity.

Thus, Messianic Judaism does not require Gentile conversion to Judaism, and in fact discourages it. However, the UMJC makes exceptions for those rare individuals who identify in a stronger way than simply to be "grafted on." The reasoning for this variance is as follows: While Titus may have been the norm in the epistles, a Gentile not converted to Judaism, Paul nevertheless made an exception for Timothy, whom he circumcised and brought under the Covenant. (The statement of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council regarding Conversion [3]) These converts to Judaism do not in any way have a higher status within Messianic Judaism than the gentiles attached to the communities.

A statement on circumcision is provided by the Jerusalem Council: "...although circumcision is not a requirement for positional right standing with HaShem, it is a requirement for those who are Abraham's seed, and who desire to "walk blameless."[9]

Jewish law

The more mainstream Messianic congregations adhere to a strongly halakhic definition for God's people. In these groups, Gentiles are colleagues and are strongly encouraged, but not required, to keep the Torah.


Issues of creation and eschatology are not central to Messianic Judaism with the following exception: the idea that one age is ending, as the fullness of the Gentiles has been reached, and the next age beginning, where we shall see the fullness of Israel. The wording is a reference to Romans 11,

"Again I ask: Did [the Jews] stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! ... For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? ... I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved."

The "fullness of the Gentiles" might be said to refer to the Great Commission, which is complete. The rebirth of the nation of Israel, the re-establishment of Jerusalem as its capital, the return of Jews from Russia, "the nation to the north," and the return of Jews worldwide to greater observance are all seen as signs of the beginning of the age of Israel. Messianics believe that when the fullness of Israel is reached, the Messiah will return and the world will see the resurrection of the dead prior to a final judgement.[10]

Overview of issues

Traditional Christianity affirms that the Torah is the word of God, though most Christians deny that all of the laws of the Pentateuch directly apply to themselves as Christians. The New Testament suggests that Yeshua established a new covenant relationship between God and his people (Hebrews 8; Jeremiah 31:31-34) and this new covenant speaks of the Torah being written upon the heart. Various passages such as Matthew 5:17-19, Matthew 28:19-20, 1John 3:4 and Romans 3:3, as well as various examples of Torah observance in the New Testament, are cited by Messianics in suggesting that the Torah was not and could not have been abolished.

Many Messianics believe that it is absurd to assume that any of the 613 Mitzvot would be abolished simply because certain commandments are or are not repeated or reaffirmed individually in the New Testament, proclaiming the belief that such was never the job of the Apostles in the first place, and that the Torah has always been immutable. Messianics sometimes challenge Christians by arguing that if they believe Jesus is the Messiah, then according to the Torah itself Yeshua could not have changed the Torah (Deuteronomy 13).

As with Orthodox Judaism, capital punishment and animal sacrifice are not practiced because there are strict Biblical conditions on how these are to be practiced, requiring a functioning Temple in Jerusalem with its Levite priesthood. When the power of capital punishment is available, often its exercise is only after exhausting loopholes in Torah which are used to set a suspect free. According to the Talmud, capital punishment in Jewish law always had to lean on merciful alternatives to execution and make every effort not to give the strictest punishment within the confines of the Torah: "A Sanhedrin which kills once in seven years is considered murderous. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said: once in seventy years. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon said: if we had been in the Sanhedrin, no one would have ever been killed."[11]

Most Messianics believe that observance of the Torah brings about sanctification, not salvation, which was to be produced only by the Messiah.[12]

See also


  1. "2. We believe that there is one G-d, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." (Statement of Faith. Standards for Messianic Jewish congregations and chavurot, @
  2. Who Do You Say That I Am? An introduction to the true Messiah from a non-Trinitarian view. (@
  3. "TorahResource - BIBLICALLY BASED • HONORING YESHUA • UPHOLDING THE TORAH".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Mission, Vision, & Purpose of the Jerusalem Council". 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-23. Our vision also includes the hope of re-appointing a beit din for Messianic believers worldwide, to be called the Jerusalem Council, or Beit HaDin HaYerushalmi, modeled after the original, and submitted to the new Jewish Sanhedrin in issues that do not contradict obedient faith to Messiah Yeshua or his teachings; to provide guidance in issues that may conflict with the Sanhedrin, or in issues that contradict the primacy of the written Word of God, or in issues which may divide the Body of Messiah; to promote the unity of the Body of Messiah worldwide by Spirit-led direction through means of accountability, open dialogue, reasoned doctrine, and sound leadership; and to provide corporate and individual edification by providing apologetic, midrashic, and halakhic guidance for the Body of Messiah.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "The Jerusalem Council - Who Are We?". The Jerusalem Council. 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-02. We are rabbis, pastors, teachers, students, lay people, and believers in Messiah Yeshua who desire to see the development of a central location with which to discuss Messianic halakha, and take on the challenges that divide our various communities.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  6. "Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council Standards of Observance". ourrabbis.og. Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-23. At that time a set of Messianic Jewish leaders from New England invited some of their colleagues from outside the region to join them in working on a common set of halakhic standards for themselves and their congregations. While other areas of Messianic Jewish life are of profound importance, such as worship, ethics, education, and social concern, we believed that halakhic standards had received far less attention than their place in Messianic Jewish life warranted.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. The statement of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council on Jewish identity may be found HERE: [1]
  8. "Halakha Shel HaDerech - Messianic Halakha 2.0 Conversion - 2.1 Identity - 2.1.1 Am Israel". 2008. Archived from the original on June 10, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-02. The people of Israel are members of the covenant HaShem made with Avraham, Yitzhak, and Ya'akov. Covenant membership is extended to converts to Judaism from the nations, as well as to the descendants of covenant members. Israel is a nation of nations and their descendants, or more specifically a people group called out from other people groups to be a people separated unto HaShem for his purposes. HaShem's promise of covenantal blessings and curses as described in the Torah are unique to Am Yisrael (People of Israel), and to no other nation or people group. The bible describes an Israelite as one descended from Ya'akov ben Yitzhak ben Avraham, or one who has been converted or adopted into that group by either human or spiritual means (Ex 1:1-7, Ex 12:38, Ex 12:48).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Halakha Shel HaDerech - Messianic Halakha 2.0 Conversion - 2.2 Milah - 2.2.2 Definition of Necessity for Behavioral Righteousness". 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-05-30. Retrieved 2008-04-02. Not addressed by the first Jerusalem Council, is the necessity of believers from the nations to fulfill the scriptural commandment of circumcision from a behavioral righteousness standpoint. The commandment is clear: "This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised." (Gen 17:10). Believers are reckoned as Abraham's seed: "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal 3:29). So then, although circumcision is not a requirement for positional right standing with HaShem, it is a requirement for those who are Abraham's seed, and who desire to "walk blameless." (Gen 17:1).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. (Rabbenu -- A New Paradigm For Messianic Jewish Outreach: Catching Up With the Future [2] May 28, 2006)
  11. Mishnah Makot 1:10
  12. Lancaster and Berkowitz (see below)
  • Ariel, Yaakov, Evangelizing the Chosen People: Mission to the Jews in America, 1880-2000. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2000.
  • Cohn-Sherbok, Dan (ed.), Voices of Messianic Judaism: Confronting Critical Issues Facing a Maturing Movement, Baltimore, MO: Lederer Books, 2001.
  • Cohn-Sherbok, Dan. Messianic Judaism. London: Cassell, 2000.
  • Harvey, Richard, Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology: A Constructive Approach, Carlisle: Paternoster, 2009.
  • Juster, Dan, Jewish Roots: A Foundation of Biblical Theology for Messianic Judaism, Rockville, MD: Davar Publishing, 1986, 1992.
  • Kinzer, Mark, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005)

Publications, 1991.

  • Robinson, Richard, The Messianic Movement: A Fieldguide for Evangelical Christians, San Francisco, Purple Pomegranate Productions: 2006.
  • Stern, David H. Messianic Jewish Manifesto. Clarksville Maryland: Jewish New Testament [Category:Judaism]]