“Let’s say we could go back in time to the year 50 CE and we are sitting in a room with Paul, Peter, and maybe James, Matthew, and John. And let’s say that we turn to Peter, or maybe Paul, or any of these men and we ask, ‘What is your religion?’ Now assuming that they could understand the question, what do you think they would say?”
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to several classes at Bryan College, which is a Christian liberal arts institution in Tennessee.
I began one of my talks with the question above. It’s not a perfect question—as I’m aware that it is framed in modern terms and categories as opposed to Apostolic-era ones. However, the question got the attention of my audience and directed the conversation toward the point that I was seeking to make, which was that the apostles saw the Jesus movement as being within Judaism, not outside of it. That was an idea that most of these students had never considered.
When I was invited to speak at Bryan College, the hosting professor asked me to share a Messianic Jewish perspective on the New Testament. After asking the initial question above and giving the students the opportunity to weigh in with possible answers, I offered my own. I said, “I think that Paul or James would have said something along the line that their religion was Judaism, and that Jesus was their Rabbi and King.” This idea presented a framework for understanding Jesus, Paul, and the New Testament that most of the students had not considered. I found them to be very engaged and respectful, even if not entirely embracing what I was saying. As my talk proceeded, I shared that my reading of the New Testament led me to the following convictions:
- Salvation is in Yeshua alone—that is not up for debate and it’s not the issue at hand.
- Jesus was an observant Jew who practiced traditional Judaism.
- Paul was an observant Jew who practiced traditional Judaism, expected other Jews to do the same, but did not expect Gentiles to keep Torah in the same way as Jews.
There wasn’t much of a response to points one and two. However, point three is what got everyone’s juices flowing. That point opened the flood gates and the class times flew by. The discussions spilled over into the cafeteria, where I sat at a round table with my host and four students that couldn’t get the questions out fast enough. Here are just a few of them:
“Do you think Paul kept the Law to be a good witness, or for some other reason?”
“Do you think there will be a re-built Temple with sacrifices…and if so, how will that relate to what Jesus already did?”
“What parts of the Torah do you think I should follow as a Gentile?”
“What are the main reasons that Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus?”
“Tell us what you think about ecclesiology (view of the church)?”
To say the least, the time was intense. But it was so good. These students were asking important questions. Our exchanges were respectful and the atmosphere was entirely positive. I obtained a quick admiration for my hosting professor, who was eager for his students to engage with some ideas about the New Testament that had some significant differences with standard Christian theology.
Getting the opportunity to speak into the next generation is something that First Fruits of Zion values very much. This is why we love speaking on college campuses. And it’s also why we recently developed a new component of our ministry called 12-21.
12-21 is an FFOZ initiative that aims to pass on the values and vision of Messianic Judaism to the next generation. In the coming months, we will be sharing more of the vision of 12-21. Stay tuned for more information and opportunities to get involved with this exciting new work.