Year 01: The UMJC Conversion Position Paper – The Majority Position, Point 3b

MAJORITY POSITION

b. There is no example in the B’rit Hadasha of a Gentile believer becoming a Jew. Rav Shaul’s circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16:1-3) was a pragmatic measure primarily motivated by the Apostle’s desire to have Timothy accompany him into the synagogues of Asia Minor. More important, Timothy was already half-Jewish by his mother and according to II Timothy 3:15, was raised according to the Jewish Scriptures. Thus, his circumcision cannot provide an adequate example for any such practice involving Gentiles today.

The fact that there are not examples of Gentile believers becoming Jews can be understood as that within the context of the Brit Chadashah their still was a sense of two communities of believers the “congregation of the circumcised” and the “congregation of the uncircumcised”. This two congregation approach can be seen in the ruling in Acts 15 that set forth the standards for the Gentile believers to live by and as Jews the Jewish believers had the Torah to live by. So then the issue of non-Jews in the Messianic Jewish congregations was really not an issue of their day. The Gentile believers were being reached by Paul and they were founding Gentile congregations.

Now to the issue of Timothy. In Second Temple Judaism the identifying sign of being a Jew for men was circumcision, basically Jewish status for men was dependent on whether or not they had a foreskin or not. So then Timothy even though a son of a Jewish mother and being raised according to the Scriptures may have made him a good follower of the God of Israel but until his circumcision he was not a Jew. Though in modern times there is more lax definition of who is a Jew, in the context of life in the Brit Chadashah whether one was circumcised or not was the key to Jewish identity. This can be seen in the Jerusalem community being referred as the ones reaching out to the “circumcised” and Paul’s mission to the “uncircumcised”.

Paul’s circumcision of Timothy was a conversion of a person of non-Jewish status, much like the conversions as an adult in Orthodox or Conservative Judaism for someone born of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, this was a matter of Timothy making a choice to embrace Judaism. It was also a practical matter for their outreach work in the Jewish communities so that Timothy’s Jewish identity would be clear.

So then the fact that there is a lack of examples in the Brit Chadashah of Gentiles converting to Messianic Judaism is primarily based in the fact that their were two congregations one of Jews and one of non-Jews and therefore this was not an issue as today when Messianic synagogues are mixed communities of Jews and non-Jews. Timothy was not a Jew until his circumcision according to the understanding of Judaism at the time and therefore he can be seen as a convert to Messianic Judaism. Timothy is a good example for us for those among us in our congregations who are of questionable Jewish heritage and via conversion can clear up ambiguities in their Jewish status or for those who are seeking to reclaim the “faith of their fathers”.

We can establish a credible Messianic Jewish conversion process and we must if we are truly going to build a mature Messianic Judaism for the future.

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