Import jQuery

Be Honest About Your Theology: Disclose Your Assumptions

I’ll well into my 7th year of authoring the Kineti blog. In those discussion-filled years, I’ve seen a veritable carousel of theologies come and go. I’ve seen a lot of arguing over those theologies. I’ve seen people lose sight of brotherhood in Messiah in order to win theological arguments. But on a positive note, I’ve gained some wisdom – difficult-to-acquire, battle-earned wisdom – regarding how to approach and evaluate theology. Oh yes! I’ve gained some insight, my friends.

And today, fine and fortunate blog readers, you’re going to acquire some of this wisdom awesome-sauce.

(Just think, it took me eight years to develop this insight, but you’ll have it in a few short minutes by the end of this post – lucky you! Think of it like enjoying a nice glass of wine that someone else had aged and preserved for a few decades. )

So here’s some uncommon wisdom for the Messianic Mensch: disclose your theological assumptions.

What does that mean?

It means you first acknowledge your beliefs have assumptions. That’s surprisingly hard to do, because no one wants to admit their beliefs are based on assumptions -- and worse! -- that those assumptions could be wrong.

Those assumptions may seem positively certain to you, but it might not for everyone. When people argue for a belief, they often don’t disclose these assumptions, because it does not strengthen their position. It might even appear to weaken their position, because it allows for doubt about their position. So, the assumptions are left out of theological sales pitches, while you, the theological consumer, are left with context-less, assumption-less beliefs that seem positively certain, but truthfully are not so.

Why is disclosing assumptions important?

For clarity’s sake and for honesty’s sake.

Honesty, because it’s ultimately dishonest to show only the things that strengthen your position while withholding the things upon which that position is based.

Clarity, because without knowing the assumptions of a theology, one can be convinced of almost anything from Scripture. Removed from its context, and based on the sand of faulty assumptions, one can argue virtually any idea and claim Scriptural support. Slavery, genocides, anti-Semitism and all kinds of evil has been done in the name of theology; but if we properly understood the assumptions behind those theologies, people would not have been so easily fooled, I’m convinced.

Likewise for us: don’t be fooled by various trending theologies. Understand them at a deep level, including all the assumptions made to arrive at that theology. Only then you stake out your position.

What do you mean by “assumptions”?

The easiest way to grok it is to see an example:

I hold a general belief, a theological position, common among many Messianics, that the Torah (the first 5 books of the Jewish and Christian Bibles) contain instructions that are still relevant for God’s people.

We’ll call this “Torah Relevance” theology. (I just made that name up, so don’t use it for real stuff, mmmkay? )

Normally, if I was arguing for my theology, I’d show you all the verses and Scriptures that support my position. I wouldn’t disclose the assumptions about this theology, since that wouldn’t strengthen my argument. But today, for the sake of clarity and honesty, I’m going to disclose the assumptions behind my theology.

What are the assumptions of Torah Relevance theology?

  • Jesus didn’t intend to start a new religion.
  • Jesus and his disciples practiced the religion of Israel, which was and is based on Torah.
  • Jesus was Torah-observant, observing the laws and commandments in the Torah.
  • Disciples of Jesus observed the Torah.
  • Mark 7’s “Jesus declared all foods clean” is a scribal interpretation, and a faulty one at that.
  • Jesus never broke a Torah commandment nor encouraged his disciples to do so.
  • The New Testament doesn’t contain any “the Torah has ended” instruction, and thus, today’s followers of Jesus are in error for discarding the Torah’s instruction.
  • The Torah was given as an eternal covenant.
  • Jesus was the only person to have ever kept the Torah blamelessly, that is, never breaking a single commandment.
  • The Torah defines sin.
  • Without the Torah, we don’t know what sin is.
  • Paul’s writings that seem to contradict the Torah are mostly misinterpretations by today’s gentile audience, far removed from the context of Israel, Judaism, and the practice of Jesus.
  • The Song of the Lamb and the Song of Moses spoken of in Revelation refers to those who hold to Yeshua and to Torah.
  • God has one people for himself, and the Torah contains God’s instruction for that people.
  • The Torah contains God’s instructions.
  • Jesus was the Messiah.
  • God exists.

That’s just a few from the fore stream of my thoughts; there are undoubtedly many more unspoken assumptions upon which the general “Torah is relevant for people today” theology is based.

It gets complex from here: there are more intricate extrapolations of this theology: One Law (Torah for everyone), Divine Invitation (Torah obligation for Jews, invitation for gentiles), Bilateral Ecclesiology (Torah obligation for Jews, gentiles are separate people and no observance needed), Moral Law Only (Torah’s moral laws are applicable to all) – we’re barely scratching the surface here. These complex differences arise out of assumptions being interpreted in different ways.

Bottom line: assumptions matter. If enough of the assumptions are incorrect, the theology itself might, just might, be wrong.

Next time you’re presented with a theology, consider the assumptions it makes. Ask the person pitching you the theology what are the assumptions behind it. It’ll cause introspect in the proponent of the theology, and, best yet, it will let you judge a theology not on trends or personal tastes, but on the merit of its foundations.


  1. With all due respect, I do not understand the wisdom behind this blog.

  2. Hi Dan,

    Behind this post, you mean?

    I'm not sure how to state it clearer: our beliefs are based on assumptions. But when we discuss theology, we rarely disclose those assumptions. We ought to.

  3. You're kidding, right? ;-)

    For a full year, I questioned my assumptions in full public view (i.e. on the Internet). I'm sure you recall the scene of the crime.

    Of course, we make assumptions and of course we're biased. I don't think they are avoidable in a human thought process. Also, because there are sometimes enormous gaps in our understanding of the Bible, we fill in the missing pieces with parts of our personality or parts of someone else's theology that fit where we think they fit (or where we want them to fit).

    Anything you want to know about what I think or believe right now can be found on my current blog. I didn't think I was being particularly mysterious about my opinions. Oh, I think you'll like my latest "meditation" (as of Wednesday afternoon), since it involves the identities and roles of the Messiah as seen through a rabbinic lens.

    Any other questions?

  4. No questions posed.

    Rather, I wish to exhort Messiah's followers to understand the assumptions behind their beliefs.

    James, you did acknowledge assumptions behind your old beliefs, that's true. You not only acknowledged there we assumptions behind your beliefs, but you went further and questioned them and, in some cases, rejected them.

    That's good.

    Doesn't mean you're correct, but it does mean you are at least cognizant of the assumptions behind your old beliefs.

  5. As far as it relates to Mark 7, what do you think about the translation of "purging/cleansing all the foods"? This would mean that food eaten with unwashed or dirty hands does not matter, as the digestive system is strong enough to process minute waste products.

  6. Hah, sure.

    First, it should be stated the Greek of Mark 7 does not say Jesus cleansed all the meats. In Greek, it's "katharizōn panta ta brōmata", literally, "purging all the foods". Notice the absence of Jesus making any declaration.

    What's contested here is the meaning behind Jesus referencing the body's ability to purge meat.

    I'm not an expert theologian, so I'll point to Messianic scholar J.K. McKee's excellent article on the subject: What is meant by, "Jesus declared all foods clean"?

  7. To add to what Judah has noted here on his blog, I have written a longer article called "To Eat or Not to Eat?" One of our longer term ministry plans is definitely to add a Messianic Kosher Helper to our Messianic Helper series, where Mark 7:19 and other tough passages regaring food will be addressed.

    One thing that cannot escape our notice has been the Summer 2011 release of the Tree of Life--The New Covenant, a Messianic Bible version published by Destiny Image. It renders Mark 7:19 with,

    "For it does not enter into the heart but into the stomach, and then goes out into the sewer, cleansing all foods."

    I have been largely displeased with Messianic Bible versions over the years, but the TLV is actually something quite good, and is a definite improvement over the CJB in many places.

  8. Doesn't mean you're correct, but it does mean you are at least cognizant of the assumptions behind your old beliefs.

    I'm not here to claim that I'm right and everybody else is wrong. Far from it. I seriously doubt that anyone has it completely figured out as far as God, the Bible, and the things of Heaven are concerned. We're all doing our best, taking whatever path we find ourselves on and trying to aim at a common goal: God.

  9. taking whatever path we find ourselves on and trying to aim at a common goal


    And some people, like you, fail at it, while others, like me, succeed triumphantly. ;-)

  10. Great post, Judah. You've made a excellent point, did so honestly, and gave us something to take away and think about. No small feat. Well done.

  11. I've been thinking about your list of assumptions, Judah. The last assumption in your list is that God exists. I suppose your list isn't ordered by priority, since I would think that knowing God exists would have to come first before anything else. However, it is an assumption?

    Exodus 20:2 is the first of the Ten Commandments according to Judaism: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." But is this an assumption or is it a commandment? When does assumption cross the line and become an act of faith?

  12. @James,

    After I posted this blog, I had edited it to remove a section on foundational-truths-as-assumptions. I removed it for brevity's sake.

    But in the original post, I mentioned that, among brothers in Messiah, some "assumptions" don't need to be disclosed: assumptions that God exists and Yeshua is the Messiah, for example. For us, these sort of things are not just assumptions, they're foundational truths. They are only assumptions to people outside of Messiah's body.

  13. Not sure that a person who, for example, isn't a Christian, would assume Jesus (Yeshua) was the Messiah. Upon becoming a Christian, that piece of information would bypass assumption and shoot straight to the status of "profession of faith". The certainty that God exists and knowing that Jesus is Lord and Messiah are the essential foundations of a life of Christian/Messianic faith. After that, theology and dogma rear their ugly heads and we start making assumptions.

    Interestingly enough, Abraham Heschel in his book God in Search of Man says, "Man does not live by insight alone; he is in need of a creed, of dogma, of expression, of a way of living."

    While dogma gets a bad rap in the secular world, Rabbi Heschel believes that we cannot live a spiritual life without religion. Religion and theology provide the structure upon which we build our life of faith. We may take different paths (different theologies) based on who we are, but we have a single goal: God (this is also from Heschel and I comment further on this in tomorrow's "morning meditation" blog).

  14. To clarify, I meant that people outside Messiah's body view our "Jesus is Messiah" belief as an assumption that we make. But we who hold that belief consider it a foundational truth, not an assumption.

    And among brothers in Messiah, there's no need to disclose foundational truths like the existence of God.

  15. By the way, James, I usually do read your new blog. Just don't always comment. I comment when I have something worthy to contribute, which is rare. :)

  16. I'll take that as a compliment. Thanks.

  17. This is a great post. I think it is a major issue in MJ'ism. I know when we first started in the movement years back, we "assumed" alot about the movement only to find out later that what they really meant or their real calling wasn't openly disclosed.

    This has caused alot of frustration for sure.

    Another issue that has come to light in a more recent nature is this talk of the NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) movement. They are purposely not disclosing things and staying fragmented (or at least underground) to hide their real agenda (and yes a few big names in MJ'ism are, unfortunately, involved).

    This is a seriously negative image of the movement and goes totally against, IMO, what the core of emerging Messianic Judaism is all about.

    It is important for everyone involved, regardless of their personal beliefs, to remain transparent in their dialogue.

  18. "(and yes a few big names in MJ'ism are, unfortunately, involved)."

    You mean like Stuart dauermann?


  20. "You mean like Stuart dauermann?"

    Dan, care to back up your words with some evidence?

  21. The story, if at all accurate, mentions a series of charismatic Christian leaders, and among those listed includes Dan Juster.

  22. Anonymous said...

    The church is looking less and less like an option for worship all the time.

  23. Gene,

    Did Stuart write on his blog that we all change from Missionaries to prophets?

  24. The post Dan is referring to is Post-Missionary Outreach to the Jewish People, where Rabbi Dauermann writes,

    "We Jews who believe in Yeshua should see ourselves as prophets to our people, not missionaries...
    Missionaries are outsiders coming in: prophets are insiders speaking out."

    It's unclear to me how this supposedly links Rabbi Dauermann to the "New Apostolic Reformation", which I'm unfamiliar with in the first place.

  25. "Did Stuart write on his blog that we all change from Missionaries to prophets?"

    Dan, it was quite clear to me even when I first read his words that "prophets" (not predictors of the future but messengers) in this context were simply those Jews who carry the Word of G-d to their OWN people (in contrast to missionaries who are outsiders). He was referring to ALL of us who are Jewish believers, not some special caste of wannabe "prophets" and "apostles" of the "New Apostolic Reformation", with which, at least as far as I know, Dauermann (who has spoken out against charismatic excesses on his blog) has nothing to do with.

  26. "The New Apostolic Reformation is a movement in Protestant Christianity largely associated with the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. The basic thesis asserts that God is restoring the lost offices of church governance, namely the offices of Prophet and Apostle."


    !5 years ago when I first read Hashivenu term "mature Messianic Judaism" I smelled the smoke and did not yet see the fire. Now we all see the fire.

    gene, you can spin it anyway you want, but I smell the smoke.....

  27. Dan,

    If you're suggesting Rabbi Dauermann is linked to this NAR movement, do you have some proof towards that?

    Dauermann suggesting Jews be insider prophets rather than outsider missionaries is not compelling.

  28. "gene, you can spin it anyway you want, but I smell the smoke....."

    Dan, you must be inhaling it too!

    "!5 years ago when I first read Hashivenu term "mature Messianic Judaism" I smelled the smoke and did not yet see the fire. Now we all see the fire."

    When you say "we all", you must mean you and some of your online buddies. What are you talking about?

  29. Gene,

    You know exactly what I am talking about. "mature MJ" became "bilateral Ecclesiology."

    I don't trust these guys....

  30. ""mature MJ" became "bilateral Ecclesiology." I don't trust these guys...."

    Dan, are you suggesting that R. Stuart Dauermann, Dr. Schiffman and other Messianic Jewish leaders who are part of Hashevenu or MJTI are somehow deceptive, dishonest people?

  31. Gene,

    Not at all. MISGUIDED is more of a word that come to mind.....

  32. With reference to your assumptions, Judah, I'm curious.

    Under your interpretation of the NT, should both Jews and Gentiles be observing Torah? I only ask because it seems to fly in the face of Paul's prohibition on forcing Gentiles to become Jews in order to attain salvation.

    As far as my own assumptions, I assume it is perfectly legitimate for Jewish believers to retain Torah observance. Jesus himself observed the commandments. However, I would disagree (if indeed that is your assumption) that Gentiles should be laying tefillin, etc. They are not under the same covenant as Am Yisrael.

  33. Not under the same covenant as Am Yisrael? (head scratch)

    I guess I'll have to go back re-read that part in Yirmeyahu where I could have sworn YHVH had promised only ONE new covenant.

    If there is another covenant in play I haven't yet found it in my version of the scriptures.

    Anyone else have two covenants detailed in their scriptures?

    And if someone does, is there some kind of different a Messiah for that one too?

    But I guess I'm just assuming that is what you meant.

  34. "I guess I'll have to go back re-read that part in Yirmeyahu where I could have sworn YHVH had promised only ONE new covenant."

    Efrayim, you must be late to the conversation. The Mosaic Covenant G-d has made with Israel is not exactly "New", nor is it incumbent upon Gentiles to observe it. In that regard, Robert is defiantly correct when he wrote "They are not under the same covenant as Am Yisrael."

    The New Covenant that G-d is in the process of making with Israel and in which by G-d grace Gentiles are allowed to partake not only does not obligate Gentiles to live as Jews, it opposes in strongest condemning terms all those who would make such a requirement on Gentiles who are drawn by G-d to join His family.

  35. Efrayim--

    Do you believe circumcision is required for all Gentiles?

    If no, do you believe circumcision is still required for all Jews (halachically speaking)?

    Do you believe gentiles are required to observe Kashrut?

    If no, do you believe Jews are still required to observe Kashrut?

    Just curious...

  36. You beat me to the punch Gene... :)

  37. No, I do not believe that Jews are any more obligated to circumcision than anyone else when it comes to the covenant enacted by Messiah Yeshua.

    If someone has the assumption that due to physical birth one person is justified differently by Messiah than another, then I would have to say that assumption is incorrect according to scripture.

    Read Romans chapter 9. If after reading said chapter you can still work under the assumption I have previously stated, then you are at the very least unwilling to acknowledge what the emissary Sha'ul so clearly taught.

    "In the process of making..."? Really Gene. When do you think He might be done? Is He having trouble getting it put in place? Whatever covenant you are referring to, I hope for your sake He finished soon.

    The covenant we have joined through faith in Messiah Yeshua, on the other hand, is quite complete and does not need any additional requirements beyond those already detailed by Yeshua.

    Can you see the difference?

  38. I'm probably going to regret this, but...

    Everyone will sit under their own vine and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.

    All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.

    If the prophet was speaking of Israel, then that hasn't happened yet. If he is speaking of the Messianic age when both Jews and the Gentiles who have attached themselves to the God of Israel through the Messiah will be at peace, then that hasn't happened yet either.

    Either way, all the promises of the covenant of Messiah haven't been completed yet. The finger of God is still writing His Word on our hearts. If He were done, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation.

  39. "If the prophet was speaking of Israel, then that hasn't happened yet."

    James, since one of the tenets of Efrayim's faith is that the non-Jewish believers are in fact long-lost flesh-and-blood Israelites, and since so many Christians/Gentiles have come to faith vs the relatively tiny number of Jews who did (and the small number of Jews in general), it's enough for Efrayim to claim that "Israel" overall has received and accepted the covenant.

  40. Sorry James but you've missed my point it seems.

    The covenant cut by Messiah Yeshua is complete and cannot be added to or taken from. "It is done", to quote someone famous.

    Now the promises made to all believers in Messiah have obviously not been fulfilled as yet. And we are waiting for the clock to wind down until they are all fulfilled.

    Promises are contained within the covenant. The promises do not comprise the entirety of the covenant.

    Gene I have told you and others many times that I do not believe what you say I believe. Please respect the fact that I just might be telling the truth about what it is I do believe.

    thank you

  41. I probably did. It sounded as if you said all of the Messiah's work had been completed and there was nothing left to be done in the world or in our hearts. He certainly has to come again and finish what was started.

    I'm confused on a specific point, Efrayim. You make it sound like the Messianic covenant has wholly replaced the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants:

    No, I do not believe that Jews are any more obligated to circumcision than anyone else when it comes to the covenant enacted by Messiah Yeshua.

    I may be reading you wrong, but it seems as if you are saying that the Jews, thanks to the Messiah, are no longer obligated to perform a Bris on eight-day old baby boys. I don't see where the Messiah "undid" this, or any other part of the covenants given to the Children of Israel.

    Admittedly, the Epistles are difficult to understand and can even be used to support supersessionism (grace replacing Torah; the church replacing the Jews), but I think there are different ways to look at these teachings.

    I had the opportunity to read and review Lancaster's (FFOZ's) Galatians some months back, and it really goes a long way in illustrating how Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Messiah can be equal in God's love and compassion, but with the Jews bearing a greater responsibility to God relative to the Torah. Gentiles couldn't enter into a covenant relationship with God under the Mosaic covenant, but the Messianic covenant allows everyone who is willing to come under His grace and love. It does not, however, turn Gentiles into Jews.

    I know we'll go round and round this argument until the Messiah returns and straightens us out, but one of my "assumptions" (after a long, hard year of examining my assumptions), is that Gentiles have a different (though in some cases overlapping) responsibility to God than the Jews.

  42. Well James that is exactly the problem. The idea that Jews are somehow obligated beyond anyone else on the planet is another form of supersessionism. Because of a physical birth that is supposed to contain an unbroken line back to Jacob there is the assumption that there are not only additional requirements, but also additional blessings due to lineage.

    Based on the clear teachings of Messiah Yeshua and His emissaries, how can that be?

    Grace does not replace Torah, it supports Torah. But a Torah of faith and righteousness, not of works.

    The new covenant did not replace the previous covenants. It has brought them to their fulness.

    Isaac was a child of promise. What did he do to deserve that? Nothing.

    Look at both Galatians and Romans chapter 9.

    You misunderstand the Mosaic covenant. Anyone who professed a faith in the Elohim of Yisrael and was willing to do the works of Torah was accepted as a native born son. And they were to be treated the same as any other descendant of Jacob.

    If those who say they are Jews believe that they are obligated and required to observe more of Torah than those of the nations who come to Messiah, then they are wrong.

    Yes it might make someone feel more special than someone else who is not part of the exclusive club that is based on a physical birth or conversion to a set of strict religious rules, but all of that has nothing to do with the covenant that was cut by Messiah Yeshua.

    If physical birth and works of Torah would bring about salvation, than what did Messiah die for? And if those works could only be performed by those who, through no effort of their own, were born into a Jewish culture, and those same works were prohibited to all others, again, why did Messiah die?

    If my responsibilities are different than those who say they are Jews, then what hope do I have since I am required to walk in the same love and righteousness as anyone else?

    Are you saying that my love should be different because my walk is supposed to be different than those who say they are Jews? I am talking about love toward Messiah. He defined what that looks like for all. And you say it is not the same?

    Neither I nor anyone else on the planet is justified by performing the works of Torah. Whether that is circumcision or the food we eat, it doesn't matter. And isn't that what we are talking about?

  43. "The idea that Jews are somehow obligated beyond anyone else on the planet is another form of supersessionism."

    Huh? Efrayim , can you clarify who exactly Jews are superseding in this novel form of "supersessionism"?

    su·per·sede (verb) - Take the place of a person or thing previously in authority or use; supplant.

  44. You misunderstand the Mosaic covenant. Anyone who professed a faith in the Elohim of Yisrael and was willing to do the works of Torah was accepted as a native born son. And they were to be treated the same as any other descendant of Jacob.

    True, if they converted to Judaism. That's why the "one law for the Israelite and the stranger" argument doesn't work to explain Gentile Messianic Torah observance today. All of the Gentile Gerim eventually assimilated into Israel. They didn't retain their non-Jewish identities generation after generation. They became Jews.

    Salvation is by faith, not by Torah. Abraham established this and Paul supported it. Jews obeying their Torah obligations doesn't make them any more saved then Christians (including Gentile Messianics) and it doesn't make them any more loved by God. We have that in the letters of Paul ("neither Jew nor Greek"), but it doesn't make Jews and Gentiles identical units under the Messianic covenant either. Gentiles remain Gentiles and Jews remain Jews. "Neither male nor female" doesn't mean male and female physical/biological/structural differences are obliterated, but it does mean the males and females are equally loved by God. Yet men and women are still different and maintain different roles and functions (guys, never try to have babies just because you're equal to your wives under Messiah).

    Think of it like this (I've said this before). All Americans have equal rights in our nation under the Constitution, but there are some citizens who have greater responsibilites because of their roles. Police officers, firefighters, and soldiers have greater responsibilities under certain circumstances, even when off duty, because of the roles they fulfill and the oaths they swore when they first took on those roles. The rest of us aren't legally obligated to stop a robbery, put out our neighbor's garage fire, or to defend the shores of our nation (although we can do so voluntarily). Jews have greater responsibilities with penalties attached if they fail to fulfill them, than the rest of us. However, as a matter of personal conviction, the rest of us can choose to take on board some of the same "tasks". We just don't *have* to.

    Since tonight is Erev Rosh Hashanah, I'd like to end my participation in this dialogue on a high note. Won't be blogging/commenting again from sundown today until Saturday night/Sunday morning.

    L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem. May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

  45. James,

    Where Scriptures makes distinction between men and women, priests, etc. There is no mentions whatsoever for Jew a nd Gentile distinctions as far as keeping Torah is concerned. Even your beloved "scholars at FFOZ only come up with one, only one verse where they have to twist it in order to sustain their agenda, and you drink the kool-aid....

    Shana Tova to all.

  46. I'm out sick for 2 days, and I come back to a big debate thread!

    Jeez, guys, take a break - it's the holy days. :-) Be blessed, all of ya. :-)

  47. OK. The break is over. This blog post and conversation inspired a blog post of my own (what a surprise) and in fact, a series of them. There's the first one: Journey of the Ger Toshav: First Step.

  48. The simple explanation of "declaring all foods clean" requires the advanced knowledge (or in-depth study) of what actually constitutes food.

    Few Christians would consider dogs and cats food, yet when it comes to Torah observance, they tend to get all prickly over trying to take away their hogs and sea crabs.

    Paraphrasing Paul, he warned about getting stuck in a rut when he spoke of believers trying to pass off milk as meat, (consider in this instance the establishing the testimony of at least two witnesses -- where's the beef of witness #@?).

    In other words, if it ain't kosher, it ain't food.


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