A modern-day return of an old false teaching:
Pastor Andy Stanley, Marcion and the rejection of the Hebrew Bible, The God of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish People.
On May 30, 2018, Pastor Andy Stanley concluded the 3 part sermon series entitled, Aftermath with the final sermon in the series, Not Difficult. Pastor Stanley laid out in the opening sermon that he was hoping to help people come to a new understanding of the Bible and especially to understand the relation of the Hebrew Bible to Christian faith.
Though this article will focus on the 3rd sermon, to give context, I would like to briefly look at some comments in the first 2 sermons that lead into the final sermon.
Stanley begins by stating in the first sermon, that there was
“no Bible until the 4th century”
as a way of distancing his hearers from the importance of the written Word to their lives. He stated that the preaching of Peter in Acts 2 on the day of Shavuot was not based in the Hebrew Bible but just in the eyewitness testimony of the resurrection of Yeshua. Though the formal canonization of the New Testament was not until the 4th century, the Hebrew Bible, the Bible of the early Messianic Jewish community, was available and read each week in synagogues (Acts 15:21). He is also incorrect in stating that the proclamation of Peter and the apostles of Yeshua was only grounded in their witness of the resurrection with no reference to the Hebrew Bible. We see clearly in Peter’s opening words in Acts 2, that the proclamation of the Gospel with the believers speaking in various languages was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel (Acts 2:16-21/Joel 3:1-5).
In the second sermon, Stanley begins making the point that the earliest followers of Yeshua as Jews living in Judea needed to
He continued that the most important part of the new life of these Jews that were now “Christians” was for them to understand that they had to make a clean break from the Torah and the Prophets and to
“knockoff practicing the Jewish religion”.
Stanley even goes as far as concluding that the Hebrew Bible and New Testament are
“incompatible in everything”
and that Paul immediately let go of God’s covenant with the Jews (Torah) to embrace the completely new covenant made by Yeshua. Interestingly enough the New Covenant that Stanley is promoting was made with the Jewish People like the Mosaic Covenant (Jer. 31:31). It is interesting to make his clean break and now Gentile-focused New Covenant imperative, Stanley completely misses that the Gentiles are added into the New Covenant and not as Stanley put forward that Jews had to abandon Judaism and Jewish life to become a Gentile member of the Church’s New Covenant.
These first 2 sermons lead into the 3rd sermon that was the main source of controversy and analysis by various Christian and Messianic Jewish leaders.
In his opening words of Not Difficult, Stanley stated that there were 3 historic covenants that God made. The first with an Individual, Abraham, the Abrahamic Covenant; the second with a Nation, The People of Israel, the Mosaic Covenant; and the third with the Nations, the Gentiles. Not only is Stanley calling his hearers and his International audience to understand that the Hebrew Bible has no place in their lives but that with the coming of Yeshua, the Jewish People as a distinct People has been done away with and now God is dealing only with the Gentiles. To Stanley, Jewish peoplehood, history, and lifestyle ended with the coming of Yeshua, the
“New Covenant with the Gentiles”
has begun a new people of God with no room for Jews that don’t reject Judaism and their Jewish way of life.
Stanley then in continuing to downplay the importance of the Hebrew Bible said,
The Bible of the earliest followers of Yeshua was the Hebrew Bible, and it was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Bible that was central to their call to faith in the risen Yeshua. Though Stanley said that the Gospel message can stand alone,
“on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures”,
it is exactly opposite in the teaching of the earliest followers of Yeshua that the
“nail-scarred resurrection feet”
were significant because of them being a fulfillment of Hebrew Bible prophecy. This can be seen clearly in Paul’s reminding the Corinthians of the Gospel message where he wrote:
“For among the first things I passed on to you was what I also received, namely this: the Messiah died for our sins, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; and he was buried; and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with what the Tanakh says;” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4, CJB)
Even though Paul was an eyewitness to the risen Yeshua and could if Stanley were correct just told the Corinthians, “I am an eyewitness to Yeshua alive after his death” and that is it. But Paul knew that the import of the empty tomb was ingrained in fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah given in the Hebrew Bible to the Jewish People. A “Good News” message that is not tied to the promise made to Abraham and to the Jewish People is not the true “Good News,” but a meaningless message detached from it’s context. If Yeshua is not the Jewish Messiah that came to fulfill the Hebrew Bible’s prophecies he is no Savior for the Gentiles. A “New Covenant” faith that Stanley is calling for that is completely unhooked from the Hebrew Bible, and the Jewish People is not a Biblical faith, but a modern revival of Marcion, one of the first Christian false teachers that like Stanley taught a rejection of the Hebrew Bible and the God of the Hebrew Bible.
Stanley continued in his sermon to state that with the coming of Yeshua, a new world order had begun that was detached from the past (Hebrew Bible, Torah, Judaism, Jewish People). In this new order,
“through the Jews is now over”
and now Yeshua faith is defined as completely
Though he has been focusing on the rejection of the Hebrew Bible for Yeshua followers, here he goes as far to teach an end to the Jewish People’s priestly role in the world and that those who follow the King of the Jews must understand their faith completely unhooked from anything Jewish. This moves Stanley into the dangerous path toward anti-semitism as he rejects a continuing place for Jewish People in the divine plan, more than just rejecting the place of the Hebrew Bible in the life of Yeshua followers here Stanley takes his polemic against Jewish People themselves as now the promises to Abraham and to the Jewish People are now done away with in the new Gentile world order.
After laying the groundwork that New Covenant faith was now broken away from the Hebrew Bible, Judaism and the Jewish People, Stanley began a look at Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council. He set forward that the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was the key for how Yeshua followers today must understand their relationship to the Hebrew Bible and as we will see to Judaism and the Jewish People too.
In Acts 15, Luke gave us an account of the first council of the early Yeshua community to decide the major issue of the earliest followers of Yeshua, the Gentile question. As the Gospel had spread out from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria and was beginning to go to the uttermost parts of the world there began to be those from the Nations, Gentiles that were coming to follow Yeshua. There was debate over whether Gentiles would need to convert to Judaism first before becoming Yeshua followers or that Gentiles could come to Yeshua faith as Gentiles. Given this conflict over the inclusion of Gentiles into the Messianic Community, Ya’akov the brother of Yeshua, Peter, and Paul along with other leaders met to discuss this issue and come to a ruling on how Gentiles could be welcomed into the faith.
After much debate, it was decided that the Gentiles coming to Yeshua faith could come as Gentiles without the necessity to be circumcised and in essence, convert to Judaism first and then become a Yeshua follower. Stanley rather than seeing this ruling as the Jerusalem leaders allowing Gentiles like him to come as Gentiles into the Messianic Community and into Yeshua faith as he was he interprets the grace offered to him as a Gentile as a way of interpreting the ruling of the Council as the complete rejection of Jewish life and Torah observance for the Body of Yeshua. Rather than rejoicing that Gentiles could become followers of Yeshua as Gentiles, Stanley interprets Ya’akov and the other leaders that it is not Gentiles coming into Yeshua faith but it is the Jews also moving towards the Gentiles, where he stated in words put in the mouth of Ya’akov and the other Jerusalem leaders,
“We Jews must move in their direction and they not move in our direction”.
To Stanley, the Gentiles not needing to live as Jews was also to be the way of life for the Jewish followers of Yeshua. Again in calling for an unhooking of Yeshua faith from the Hebrew Bible leads Stanley to call for the end of Jewish life and practice for Jewish followers of Yeshua. This great passage is re-interpreted by Stanley from it being about the inclusion of Gentiles into the Messianic Community and also becomes an exclusion of all things Jewish from Yeshua faith, especially Jews that hold to Torah and Jewish life.
Rather than understanding Acts 15 as a story of inclusion of the Gentiles into the Body of Messiah made up of Jew and Gentile brought together by the Jewish Messiah, Stanley sees that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem decided to abandon Judaism and Jewish life to become Gentiles so as to bring the Gentiles into the fold of the Messianic Community. Rather than Jew and Gentile as one in Messiah, Stanley just sees a Gentile Messianic Community with no longer room for a Jewish contingency. When Ya’akov, the brother of Yeshua declared in Acts 15:19-20:
“Therefore, my opinion is that we should not put obstacles in the way of the Goyim who are turning to God. Instead, we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from what is strangled and from blood.” (CJB)
Stanley put forward
“God’s arrangement with Israel must be eliminated”.
To bring unity to the Body of Believers, in Stanley’s view then the Jewish side of the Body must cease to be and going forward the One Body of Messiah would be Gentile, the days of the Jewish People and faith in God is tied to the Jewish People ends for Stanley with the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Messianic Community.
In what began as a teaching for Yeshua believers to “unhitch” their faith from the Hebrew Bible as a way to have a palatable faith to draw in Gentiles, which is a renewal of Marcion’s false teachings from the 2nd century CE, but like Marcion, Stanley also “unhitches” Yeshua faith from the Jewish People as he declared that the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 marked the official end of God’s covenantal relationship with the Jews. Even worse than that at near the end of the 3rd sermon, Stanley also denigrated the God of Israel and commended the “unhitching” of belief in the God of the Hebrew Bible when he said,
“God modeled Himself in the [Hebrew Bible] to be like the Nations of the World”.
In this, he joins Marcion in a rejection of the God of the Hebrew Bible that Stanley said modeled Himself after the Gods of the Ancient World that were cruel and rejecting of outsiders. Stanley here picked up the “cruel God of the Hebrew Bible” line of argumentation to not only espouse a new world order with a better “Judaism/Jewish free Gospel” but also a new gracious New Covenant God revealed by Yeshua.
When I first heard Stanley’s sermon, I was upset at how he so cavalierly in less than 2 hours rejects the Hebrew Bible, God’s Covenant relationship to the Jewish People, Judaism & Jewish life and even the God of the Hebrew Bible, but after further reflection, I have become deeply saddened. These are not new or different interpretations of the Bible and God’s work in the world but the embracing of a teaching that was quashed by the Messianic Community when espoused by Marcion. Stanley here is putting forward false teaching and calling on his flock of over 36,000 and millions online to join him in this rightly called heretical teaching.
As Stanley seeks to “unhitch” his faith from the Jewish Scriptures, he also is really “unhitching” Yeshua from his faith. A Yeshua “unhitched” from the Hebrew Bible and God’s Covenant with the Jewish People is not the Messiah of Israel, and if He is not the Messiah of Israel, then He is nothing but one of many thousands of Jewish criminals that were nailed to a Roman stake. Without the Hebrew Bible’s prophecies being fulfilled Yeshua has no place for his “nail-scarred resurrection feet” to stand. Though miraculous they would not be the feet of the Messiah that offered atonement.
So then what Stanley is doing is not making a welcoming community for Gentiles by “unhitching” his faith and others from the Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Jewish life and God’s Covenantal Relationship, but he is removing the core of faith and making Yeshua into a cosmic Lord “unhitched” from the Yeshua presented in the New Covenant Scriptures that Stanley commends. Stanley is presenting a different Yeshua and a different Good News to his hearers. May we pray for his repentance and also challenge ourselves to come to know in a real way the true Yeshua that is spoken of in the Hebrew Bible and is still honored today by faithful Jews that live Jewish lives renewed in Yeshua.