A Critical Review of “One Law and the Messianic Gentile”
MJ 101(Aug 2009), 46–70
by Tim Hegg
The recent issue of Messiah Journal (#101, Aug, 2009) published by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) has taken many of its readers by surprise. The article “One Law and the Messianic Gentile” (pp. 46–70) authored by Boaz Michael and D. Thomas Lancaster has boldly stated the desire of FFOZ to distance itself from the “One Law” theology that characterized the ministry for the past number of years. The authors make it clear throughout the article that this is a return to their original position regarding Gentiles and the Torah, and that their foray into the “One Law” teaching resulted from allowing their zeal to run ahead of their scholarship.1 We are now to be assured that things have been put in order, and that in their current teaching, a more mature approach has been achieved in which scholarship has appropriately bridled zeal. In other words, their new position, which they label “Divine Invitation,” is entirely worthy of our trust.
The arguments they make may seem formidable when first read, at least for the most part. But a closer look reveals some very troubling issues. There are also some curious examples of proof-texting which call for a more thorough investigation, as well as some leaps in logic that can only be described as sophomoric. When one reads the article with a discerning eye, one is not so sure that a more mature and trustworthy scholarship is now at work.
Going Beyond the Message of the Apostles
The article opens with a short historical narrative, describing a meeting that took place in 2004 with Dr. Dwight Pryor, a meeting that impacted the authors significantly. Dr. Pryor pointed out to them that their theology of the Torah and its present day application to Gentiles was something that did not “come from the apostles.”2 They recount Dr. Pryor’s argument in these words:
They [the Apostles] never did settle on a theology of Torah concerning the Gentiles, perhaps because of their expectation of the imminent return of Yeshua. I would be very cautious about advancing a theology that the apostles did not raise.3
The presupposition of such a statement is that the Apostles, who were disciples of Yeshua, did not consider Moses to have given a theology of the Torah that pertained to Gentiles. The scenario that is presented is that the Apostles found themselves in uncharted waters when it came to the question of Gentile believers and their relationship to the Torah.
But it also proceeds on the premise that the Apostles had the authority to annul, amend, or suspend Torah commandments with respect to Gentile believers, or at least to redefine them against the obvious meaning of the Torah texts themselves. From what other premise could the argument be derived? For the Torah clearly speaks to the place of the “foreigner” within Israel, and that there is to be one Torah for both the foreigner and the native born.
The argument that the Apostles were silent regarding the Gentile believer’s obligation to obey the Torah is built upon the idea that the Apostles were given authority to adjust the Torah’s requirements for Gentile believers. In light of Matthew 5:17–20 and 28:18–20, one wonders how such a premise could be maintained. One is dismayed to discover that the answer given by the authors is, in fact, that in the Torah, the “foreigner” (גֵּר, ger) who joins Israel to worship Israel’s God is to be interpreted as a “convert” who has gone through the proselyte ritual and as a result has been granted “legal status as a Jew.” So the meaning of the Torah texts pertaining to foreigners who join Israel are interpreted against their historical grammatical sense, giving precedence to the later rabbinic interpretation as evidenced in the Lxx. Accepting the rabbinic view, the FFOZ authors can conclude that the Torah actually does not have anything to say about Gentile relationship to the Torah. Whenever we read “stranger” or “alien” or “foreigner” as having the same relationship to the Torah as the “native born,” we are to interpret the text as speaking of a “proselyte” or “convert to Judaism.” We will discuss this issue below.
An Argument from Silence
But for now let us consider their opening argument, that the Apostles never settled on a theology of Torah for the Gentile believers. This is an argument from silence, and silence offers no premise for a valid conclusion. What the Apostles did not say, we cannot know. For the sake of inquiry, let us put the argument into a syllogism: