“One Law” as a foundation for civilization

This injunction [of One Law] undoubtedly has helped lay the foundation of Western civilization and democracy. The principle of there being the same law for people within a society to follow would mean there would not be one standard for the king or aristocracy to be loosely held
to (who in the Ancient Near East were often considered divine or semi-divine), and then another standard for the general populous (or peasantry) to be rigidly held to.

-J.K. McKee

I’m reading through Messianic apologist J.K. McKee’s paper on “one law”. It’s a deep paper. It’s long. Fortunately, its language is not too difficult or too intellectual for my simple mind. I’m writing here to record my initial reactions and to amplify parts that deserve a spotlight.

One Law, for the uninitiated, is the idea that God’s commandments are applicable to both Jews and gentiles. A single law for all. It’s taken from a phrase repeated in the Torah itself: torah achat, one law.

McKee’s paper intends to answer whether there are multiple standards for God’s people, who comprises God’s people, and whether humanity’s approach to God’s law changes with the arrival of Messiah.
 

One Law: foundational for civilization and human rights

McKee highlights how the “one law” issue isn’t just a theological debate. He shows “one law” to be a precedent for, lack of a better term, human rights: a single law for the native and for the sojourner means foreigners cannot be mistreated. The majority cannot mistreat the minority. Natives cannot mistreat immigrants – there’s a single law governing them both, after all. God’s commandments are clear on this point, repeated multiple times in the Bible:

The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

-Lev. 19

McKee believes this “one law” idea is a foundation stone for western democracies, even to the extent of positively influencing American civilization.

McKee isn’t alone here. I remember back to just a few months ago, Rabbi Russ Resnik of the UMJC suggesting we Americans ought to treat Mexican immigrants with the same respect the Torah demands of the stranger in Israel. (See Cinco De Mayo and the Jews.)

God’s command of a single law for native and stranger, combined with God’s command of treating the stranger “as one born among you” has big implications for modern civilization, and has been applied in the United States and other western democracies, positively affecting those civilizations.

Is the Torah universal?

It’s one thing to say “God’s one law applies to native and stranger”, but it’s another to say “God’s one law applies to the whole world.” Another way to ask is, is God’s one law for Jews and strangers in Israel, whereas non-Jews have something else?

God’s law wasn’t given to the nations, after all. Although one tradition holds the Torah went out in 70 languages from Sinai, the Biblical text records only Israel and the multitude with her receiving the commandments, with many commandments meant to exclude non-Israelites.

For example, no foreigner is to eat the Passover. (Ex. 12)

That’s straight Torah, yo. ;-)

Doesn’t this contradict the Torah’s own idea of “one law”?

Not so fast.

McKee notes that the Torah distinguishes between 2 groups:

On one hand, foreigners (ben-neikar), hired servants (sakir) and sojourners (toshav) are not to eat the Passover. God’s one law does not apply to them. Why? They are outside the Israel community. As McKee notes,

Ancient Israel might be a “welcoming” community in that outsiders are allowed in to work, and play a role within its economy. Yet, the commemoration of the Passover is to be a home affair for the Israelites, as “It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this.”

-J.K. McKee

But on the other hand, strangers (gerim) could partake of the Passover provided they become circumcised.

When a stranger [ger] sojourns with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land.

-Exodus 12

Notice again keeping the Passover applies only to Israel. Native-born Israel and the stranger who is circumcised.

At this point, you begin to think that circumcision = membership in Israel. It would seem God’s one law is applicable only for Israel and the circumcised. Indeed, this is the stance taken by many in Judaism, and even by many in Messianic Judaism.

If we leave it at that, gentiles should not keep the Passover, and maybe not even other parts of God’s one law. At least until they are circumcised.

McKee argues, however, that it is the commemoration of the Passover and Exodus from Egypt that defines Israel. To fully participate in the Passover, you get circumcised. Once circumcised, you’re celebrating the Passover, you’re considered no different than a native of the land. Passover is the central focus for membership in Israel.

So, should Messiah’s gentile disciples get circumcised, enabling them to eat the Passover, thus becoming indistinguishable from native Israel? Is this the same thing as conversion to Judaism? I’m a bit on-the-edge-of-my-seat to see McKee’s answers. I’ll cover it this in the next post.

36 comments:

  1. "At this point, you begin to think that circumcision = membership in Israel."

    Well, that part is definitely true. However, does membership in the COMMONWEALTH of Israel (or, the Messianic Kingdom of G-d where each nation will retain its own identity) necessitates the same standard? My answer to that is: no.

    At the same time, we find and interesting if enigmatic statement in Ezekiel 44:9:

    "Thus saith the L-rd G-D; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor UNCIRCUMCISED IN FLESH, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel."

    Notice that the circumcision of the heart does not at the same time spiritualize away the necessity for the circumcision of the flesh. So, will the uncircumcised in the flesh Gentiles be allowed in the sanctuary, or will their uncircumcision be counted as circumcision (per Romans 2:26)?

    Gene Shlomovich
    http://dailyminyan.wordpress.com

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  2. Here we go again.

    The passage from Ezekiel 44 seems to speak of who may enter the Sanctuary, which, if referring to the Holy place or even the Holy of Holies, not even all Jews may enter and certainly not Gentiles. I do wonder what would have happened though, since God mentioned those of "uncircumcised heart and flesh", if they'd been one but not the other rather than both. But I digress.

    I didn't read the McKee article as a straight endorsement of One Law for all no matter what, but I do think he's applying the Torah a bit more broadly than MJ/BE would. He also speaks (later in his paper) of the drive or "compulsion" towards Torah that even many Gentiles feel, once exposed to its teaching. I think that describes me and many like me. It would be easier to walk away from it all and avoid all the arguments, but as difficult as these conversations can be at times, something inside won't let go of me.

    Ironically, I just wrote a post for my congregation's blog called Healing that I think is related to how the Torah can be applied to the world for its healing.

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  3. There are, among "messianics," at least four creative loop-holes for proceeding with ritual circumcisions for Gentiles in spite of prohibitions expressed in NT:

    1. If not depending on it for salvation, Gentile believers can or should be circumcised "into the covenant" - because we are all Abraham's sons.

    2. Gentile adult males shouldn't get circumcised (sometimes the clause "at this time" is added), but they SHOULD definitely circumcise their children instead. (I am still not exactly sure where this idea came from, but I am only reporting it.)

    3. There's no difference between Jews and Gentiles in Messiah, we are all Israel now and because of that under "One Law" - therefore all must be circumcised and obey all other mitzvot.

    4. Gentiles CAN be ritually circumcised voluntarily, as long as they are converting to Judaism and are not doing it for "salvation."

    Am I missing any others?

    Gene Shlomovich
    http://dailyminyan.wordpress.com

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  4. Am I missing any others?

    Yes, there is one other one, that while Jews or Gentiles are not in the Land of Israel, they are not required to be circumcised. This is implied by the fact that the children(those born to the parents who died in the wilderness) of Israel, did not keep the passover until they came into the Land, since they were not circumcised. Joshua 5.

    There's always exceptions to the rule.

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  5. "Yes, there is one other one, that while Jews or Gentiles are not in the Land of Israel, they are not required to be circumcised."

    That's an excuse NOT to get circumcised, not a loop hole TO GET circumcised.

    But it's interesting that you brought this up - I think I've seen this before somewhere However, those who believe such a ridiculous thing, they must suppose that Ya'akov/James, the leader of the Jerusalem MJ community, was not aware of this "rule" when he told Paul the following:

    "They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who LIVE AMONG THE GENTILES (i.e. NOT IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL) to turn away from Moses, telling them NOT TO CIRCUMCISE THEIR CHILDREN or live according to our customs...Then everybody will know there is NOT TRUTH in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in OBEDIENCE TO TORAH."

    So, in the light of the above, I suppose folks who teach that Jews who are not in Land of Israel are not obliged to practice circumcision are guilty of the very thing that Paul was falsely accused of.

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  6. @Gene,

    Its actually very applicable, for example many of the feast cannot be kept according to Torah unless in the Land, so is there mercy for those who are in exile/diaspora, this is evidenced in Joshua 5. How could God have let them go so long without being circumcised, because of His mercy while in exile... If I remember correctly there are prescriptions for this in the Talmud, for those in diaspora... it is not as strange as you think.

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  7. "Joshua 5. How could God have let them go so long without being circumcised, because of His mercy while in exile..."

    You don't realize it, but you are affirming the requirement to be circumcised once you are a covenant member.

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  8. "You don't realize it, but you are affirming the requirement to be circumcised once you are a covenant member."

    I think even G-d himself didn't realize that he really meant to circumcise Gentiles coming to him through Yeshua, only you, Dan.

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  9. Gene,

    And now to the cherry on the cake...Gene became God's shrink...Could we have expected anything else?......

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  10. Ah, the ever-amusing banter on the Kineti blog. :-)

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  11. Dan, if some people feel that G-d needs a shrink, it's because some folks make him into a schizo who can't make up his mind.

    "Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Messiah. Not even those who are circumcised obey the Torah, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh...Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, and to the Israel of G-d." (Galatians 6)

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  12. And also from Galatians,

    Again, I warn you: any man who undergoes ritual circumcision is obligated to observe the entire Torah. You who are trying to be declared righteous by G-d through legalism have severed yourself from the Messiah. You have fallen away from G-d.

    Dan and myself and J.K. McKee are not trying to be righteous by circumcision/conversion to Judaism. :-)

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  13. "Dan and myself and J.K. McKee are not trying to be righteous by circumcision/conversion to Judaism."

    If apostles and elders thought that it was G-d's will for Gentiles to undergo circumcision, they would have said so. But they never did. Instead, they greatly discouraged it and even forbade it, while at the same time upholding circumcision as still valid for the Jews.

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  14. Deflection!

    Paul's statements against circumcision must be kept in the context in which it was given: gentiles thinking it was required for salvation.

    One law folks do not believe circumcision is required for salvation. If anybody here is gung-ho about circumcision/conversion, it's the MJTI camp. Zing! :grin:

    Banter banter! Good night.

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  15. You don't realize it, but you are affirming the requirement to be circumcised once you are a covenant member.

    I actually do believe it is required... just not in exile/diaspora, I believe there is mercy for that, just like the feast, are we all going to be held accountable for not keeping the feast in Jerusalem at the Temple, or will God have mercy on us... plain and simple, God is merciful.

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  16. "I actually do believe it is required... just not in exile/diaspora."

    Zion/Jeruz, with all due respect, it's a bogus argument. The reason that a generation of Israelites were not circumcised in the desert is because they were constantly on the move, making circumcisions physically dangerous. They were NOT in exile nor in diaspora at that time, as they were not even in possession of the Land yet nor were they yet kicked out of the Land.

    So, your "exile/diaspora" argument simply doesn't hold water, sorry.

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  17. Zion/Jeruz, with all due respect, it's a bogus argument. The reason that a generation of Israelites were not circumcised in the desert is because they were constantly on the move, making circumcisions physically dangerous. They were NOT in exile nor in diaspora at that time, as they were not even in possession of the Land yet nor were they yet kicked out of the Land.

    So, your "exile/diaspora" argument simply doesn't hold water, sorry.


    You just gave another example that proves my point.

    See the point is that it doesn't matter for what specific reason they were not circumcised, the point is that God allowed them to be in covenant without being circumcised, he had mercy for them, but as soon as they entered the land, they had no more excuse, they must be circumcised. etc.

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  18. "as soon as they entered the land, they had no more excuse, they must be circumcised"

    The problem with that argument is G-d has never intended for Gentiles to undergo circumcision. So, you are only partly correct - what you say only applies to the people of Israel.

    "there is only one G-d, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith." (Romans 3:30)

    As you can see - there are two groups of people in G-d's economy - circumcised and uncircumcised, Jews and Gentiles. And, it will always be this way, because "Only if these decrees vanish from my sight," declares the L-RD, "will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.""

    Where is the teaching in the Bible that Gentiles should wait for circumcision to be done at some later time? I think this theology is a "valid" as the one that twists apostles words in Acts to mean that "Gentiles will learn in synagogues so that they can take on more Torah later".

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  19. Gene, wonder why you convenietly omitted the verse just before that Rom,3:29: "Or is God the God the god of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also? yes, of the Gentiles also.

    As such, relationship with Him must be on the basis of His mercy, not on the merit of those He draws close.

    Hope you get it....

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  20. While Paul (in Galatians, for example) seemed to use circumcision as a short hand term for Gentile conversion to Judaism, I don't think that being circumcised in order to eat the Passover meal is an act of conversion. I do admit it's an topic that often causes lively discussion in my own congregation, but it we take the text "straight", it just means you have to be circumcised...period.

    This all seems to go back to "what Jesus changed". If the Gerim who followed the Israelites in the desert for 40 years did what the native Israelites did, what was their covenant status with God in comparison to the Gentiles who have accepted Yeshua as Savior and Messiah and entered the Kingdom?

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  21. The problem with that argument is G-d has never intended for Gentiles to undergo circumcision.

    So did God make a mistake with Abraham, lol, come on Gene, give it a break or get better arguments...

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  22. "So did God make a mistake with Abraham, lol, come on Gene, give it a break or get better arguments..."

    Abraham was a "Hebrew" - which is the most basic part of the Jewish identity. There are not Hebrew Gentiles.

    Besides, since there were not Jews back then, technically speaking there were no Gentiles either. By G-d choosing Abraham he created a brand new people for himself, and ever since then the world was divided into two - Hebrew/Israelites/Jews and Gentiles. Learn to live with it, friend.

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  23. Abraham was a "Hebrew" - which is the most basic part of the Jewish identity. There are not Hebrew Gentiles.

    Besides, since there were not Jews back then, technically speaking there were no Gentiles either. By G-d choosing Abraham he created a brand new people for himself, and ever since then the world was divided into two - Hebrew/Israelites/Jews and Gentiles. Learn to live with it, friend.


    You get credit for trying, but still no cigar.

    For the record Abraham was a Gentile, Israel did not exist yet. Not only was Abraham circumcised, but all of his gentile Compadres as well...

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  24. "You get credit for trying, but still no cigar."

    Zion/Jeruz, you are beginning to sound just like Dan Benzvi:)

    "For the record Abraham was a Gentile, Israel did not exist yet."

    I just told you - no Israel, no Gentiles. Abraham was a Hebrew, therefore already not a Gentile by definition. Abraham is never referred to as a "Gentile" - I am talking in the NT or modern sense of Jew vs. Gentile.

    Also, an uncircumcised Hebrew/Jew is still a Hebrew/Jew in every sense (and because of that he must be circumcised at earliest possible opportunity.)

    "Not only was Abraham circumcised, but all of his gentile Compadres as well..."

    Only his sons and his slaves (those he bought with his money therefor his property that ate from his table and lived in his house - not just his "Gentile buddies" that were hanging around with him) were circumcised - which is actually what Isralites themselves later practiced as required of them by Torah.

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  25. Zion/Jeruz, you are beginning to sound just like Dan Benzvi:)

    Great minds think alike... :)

    Obviously I can't argue against your self definitions, so have fun!

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  26. "Great minds think alike... :) Obviously I can't argue against your self definitions, so have fun!"

    Happy to oblige, Jeruz - LOL:)

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  27. Gene,

    Let me feed you with a spoon since you show a lack of understanding....

    1) Was Abraham's household the first covenant community? Yes!

    2) Was the members of Abrahams household already members before they were circumcised? Yes!

    3) Does this prove that circumcision is not a means to get INTO the covenant community? Yes!

    4) Does Gen. 17:14 say that if a male is not circumcised on the 8th day he will be cut off from his people? Yes!

    5) To be cut off from his people does someone have first to be part of a people? Yes!

    6) Does it show that circumcision is not the means to be a part of the people? Yes!

    7)Is circumcision a sign of the covenant? Yes!

    8)Was abraham and his household already members of the covenant before they Got circumcised? Yes! (Ask Paul if you don't believe).

    Hope i diluted that enogh for you?

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  28. Gene,

    Avraham was "called" a Hebrew by the indigenous people of Kena'an because he had come from across the great river. It simply means "one who has crossed over".

    He did not become a people group by being called a name. He was given a promise of becoming a great nation before he even left home, Ur of the Kasdim. Before the promise and the command to leave home and "cross over" to Kena'an.

    Receiving a promise from YHVH in an uncircumcised condition would qualify him more to be called a Christian than a Hebrew, looking at it from a NT, modern perspective.

    Based on your definition of who Israel is, Avram was a Gentile. From a family of Gentiles. And was promised to become the father of many Gentiles.

    Your confusion comes from your use of the word "Gentile" to describe a person or persons. It does not mean a person or persons, it means a nation or nations. Israel is a nation. The only difference between Israel and all the rest of nations is the fact that YHVH choose them and separated them from all the other nations for His purpose.

    I know that this is your point, but to ascribe to Avram a title, or moniker, in an effort to make your point is disingenuous and could be misleading to those who are not well versed in scripture.

    And YHVH says that Israel as a nation and those who make up that nation individually will be counted as and treated as the rest of the nations if they persist in their sin.

    Which is why the condition of circumcision has no bearing on receiving the promises of YHVH. The mark, or sign, of the covenant is not the covenant. It is the sign of the covenant. Avram was not called a Hebrew because of the covenant he had with YHVH.

    Remember that the Egyptians would not sit at the same table with the Hebrews? And that was before they had moved there with Ya'akov and his sons. The Hebrews were considered to be unclean or common to the Egyptians, what the NT references as being called "Gentiles".

    Funny how things change over time.

    Ef

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  29. OK, guys, you converted me to One-Law Torahism and Two-Houseism (respectively) by your persuasive, irrefutable, rock-solid arguments, and proved once and for all that everyone else's views to the contrary, that is of those outside of your tight-nit circle, are corrupted and just plain ridiculous. Where do I sign up to become just like you?:)

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  30. Gene it's a good thing I love you brother or that would have hurt my feelings. :-)

    Btw, I like your new blog and I promise not to try and give you heartburn.

    Take care.


    Ef

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  31. Thanks, Efrayim. You're a nice guy. I am in the planning stages of putting up some cool "discussable" stuff on the blog.

    BTW, I have a scripture that you can use to support your arguments of Gentile believers being Israelites/Efrayimtes from one of the "Two Houses" if they believe themselves to be:

    "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he..." (Proverbs 23:7)

    I know it's taken a bit out of context, but hey - I thought you guys could you a little help!

    One-Law folks, feel free to use that verse to support your own claims - it's on me this time:)

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  32. Gene,

    Keep killing the messenger....

    Have a good shabbat....

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  33. @Gene, there you go with the anachronisic "commonwealth" idea again. You need to spend some time in the Greek of Ephesians 2. politea does not mean "commonwealth" as in the British Commonwealth. It means "nation." Likewise sumpolite means "follow-citizen."

    It is only your interpretation that politea means that each "nation" retains its identity. That is not the meaning in classical Greek - nor is it Paul's usage in Ephesians.

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  34. Rick,

    Again are you confusing him with the facts?

    Shabbat Shalom Brother.

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  35. N.T. statement on Gentiles observing the Passover. This passage was given to the Corinthian church who were... wait for it... Gentiles.

    1 Cor 5:8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast,...

    I think this fits together with Acts 15:21

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  36. Dan,

    I liked your 8 point post.

    In it, you show that it is a process people are going through. At the beginning of the process, they are different people yet uncircumcised. And at the end of the process they are even more different people and also circumcised. Walla, what both mainstreams sides each do not seem to get...

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Husband, dad, disciple of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua, technologist. Author of Chavah Messianic Radio, MessianicChords, and EtzMitzvot. @judahgabriel


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