Critique of Messianic Judaism


The Christian church has held that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the administration of the law from Old Testament to New Testament. The nature of this discontinuity has been in contention since the early centuries of the Christian Church. This once again rose as a debate in the early 20th century with the rise of the movement known as Post Missionary Messianic Judaism. The most significant issue is the use of ceremonial rites from the Old Testament in the Christian Church. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, an early proponent of this movement argued that the Jewish Christian is allowed to keep the elements from the Law of Moses should he so desire.[1] Though this was an insignificant section of Fruchtenbaum’s thesis, it has played out into a major ethical category for contemporary Post Missionary Messianic Judaism. Ceremonial and national laws of Israel are practiced in the Christian church.[2]

Mark Kinzer, author of Postmissionary Messianic Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), argued that, “Our survey of the New Testament teaching on Jewish practice (for Jews) has produced a surprising result. We have good grounds for upholding the view that the New Testament as a whole treats Jewish practice as obligatory for Jews.”[3] He grounds this in the claim that there is a parallel body of the Israel of God which is separate from the gentile community in the Church of Jesus Christ., and has a separate mission from the gentile body.[4] He went on to argue that the conclusion is that Jewish believers are required, obligated, to keep Torah in order to be faithful to the Covenant. The implications of which are, as Kinzer argued,

“Jewish practice is inherently corporate in nature. Circumcision is a social rite, performed by a trained official within the community. Sabbath observance requires social support and communal expression. The dietary laws require kosher meat processing and a network of related families following similar food customs. The practical need for communal support reinforces the underlying meaning of all Jewish practice, which is to be an effective sign marking Israel as a people set apart for God At the same time.”[5] 

This paper contends that the use of the ceremonial laws of Moses is equal to denial that Jesus came in the flesh.

The reason for this claim is that the Old Testament ceremonies were preparatory signs which signified the first coming of Christ. To practice them now is to implicitly deny that Christ has already come. This will be demonstrated from the New Testament background of the ecclesia de circumcisione, the replacement of Aaron with Jesus, and the unified Jew/gentile salvation, single corpus Christi, and mission of the Christian Church.

 There are two things which this paper wishes to avoid. First, this thesis does not wish to proclaim an over-realized eschatology, where the Law is viewed as totally obsolete in its function for the Christian church. “The moral law doth forever bind all.”[6] Many ceremonial and national laws in the Old Testament had, and still have, moral significance. The moral does not cease to be moral. Rather, those principles of grace, justice, and love which reside in the Mosaic Law guide the Christian today.[7] However, the use of those laws in Post Missionary Messianic Judaism circles is not in principle or testimony to Jesus, but in national and ceremonial identity.

Second, this thesis wishes to avoid disunity with Post Missionary Messianic Judaism. The angels in heaven rejoice in the case that one lost sheep is found by the shepherd. Therefore, this paper contends that there is one body, salvation, and purpose for the Church of Jesus Christ. This denies the notion that there is a separate purpose for Israel and the Gentile Churches. Nevertheless, the purpose of this thesis is to bring the brethren into conformity to the New Testament’s teaching on the regulation of ceremonial rites and the identity of the Church.

The New Testament Background of the Ecclesia Ex Circumcisione 

E.P. Sanders has argued that the way of salvation for Second Temple Judaism was twofold. There was a national identity as a Jew, and that justification was by general observance of the Law. That is to say, salvation was by works of the law, but that the ability to work was not open to everyone.[8] These findings have been used for various means to prove a new perspective on Paul’s view of justification. Sander’s thesis concerning Paul is not very helpful, but his findings and thesis concerning second temple Judaism is well documented and explains with great clarity the nature of the New Testament schism which occasioned the Jerusalem Council in The Act of the Apostles chapter 15.

Post Missionary Messianic Judaism argues that they are the revived Party of the Circumcision.[9] They take this to be a good thing, and precedent for their existence as a parallel Church to the Church of Jesus Christ to the gentiles.

Sander’s view demonstrated that the soteriology of Second Temple Judaism was this twofold national covenant nomism. This fits the nature of the party of the circumcision in the New Testament record. Because the New Testament is that standard for life and practice in the Christian Church, not the works of E.P. Sanders, and because the thesis is simple enough to articulate without great elaboration, we now turn to the New Testament itself to see this pattern.

The Party of the Circumcision held to this Second Temple Judaistic view of ceremonial conversion, and then general law keeping. This should not be taken as a slight of hand way to accuse Post Missionary Messianic Judaism of teaching works salvation, but simple to deter them from citing the party of the circumcision as their claim to existence as a parallel body to the Christian church because it was decisively decided against in Galatians and the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. This supplements the main thesis by demonstrating that Post Missionary Messianic Judaism is not truly a parallel Church, and therefore has not special or distinct privileges from the rest of the Church of Jesus Christ. The New Testament church concilliar decided, and preached against this party. Therefore, the use of this party of the circumcision is not a foundation for a “revived” “parallel” religious body.

The New Testament deliberately mentions party of the circumcision with a condemning tone or argument several times in Acts 11:2, Acts 15:1-2, Galatians 2:12, possibly Ephesians 2:11, and Titus 1:10. The nature of the teaching fits with the idea of conversion of identity by circumcision, Acts 15:5. Luke recorded that these men were believing-Pharisees. The phrase “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” aligns with the notion that Sanders argued was the view of the Pharisees.  Therefore the New Testament witness decided against this in the Jerusalem council. Post Missionary Messianic Judaism should not seek to justify a parallel body on this ground.

Galatians 5:1- is the most pointed against that party of the circumcision. 2:12 demonstrates that this is indeed the party of the circumcision. Paul mentioned that the notion behind this view was that those who were submitting themselves to circumcision were aligning themselves with a view of the Covenant of Grace that rejects justification by faith alone for the justification by works of the covenant people. Paul said, “And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.” It is a covenant nomist salvation that this party was teaching, that is to where Paul assigned his opponents.

Taking circumcision was the first step into the Jewish nation, which lead to covenant life by general law-keeping. “Circumcision” then became the way to refer to this notion per synecdoche. Paul used the acceptance of circumcision as the sign of rejection of faith alone in Christ. He said, “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” (Gal. 5:2). This resulted in his conclusion, that taking circumcision led to rejection of Jesus; “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (v 4) It is a sign that signified a school of thought. This is not a party, therefore, that Post Missionary Messianic Judaism should want to align with.

Jesus the New Aaron, not the Church the new Israel

The charge has been levied against reformation theology that it is a “replacement theology” which means that the Jews as a people were replaced by the gentiles as the elect people of God. This suffers from inadequate understanding of the reformation view. What is being replaced is not the ethnic people of the Jews, but the ceremonial typological administration of the Covenant of Grace.  What is replaced is the Aaronic priesthood in the New Covenant by Jesus. This leads to the conclusion that the people of Israel, as far as they enjoyed the “circumcision of the heart,” were included in the Christian Church.

Hebrews 7 alludes to Psalm 110:4, the royal priest. The notion of a royal priesthood pointed forward to another priesthood which would replace the Levitical one. This pointed forward to an abrogation of the Levitical system when the new priesthood arose. Hebrews 7:12 says, “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.” Hebrews interprets Jesus as this royal priest who replaces the Levitical one. Hebrews explains, “But Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.” (v 24). The results are first, that Jesus replaces Aaron, and second there is a change of the Law. The latter is the most pertinent to the current thesis, though it cannot be disconnected from the former. Jesus replaced Aaron, and thus the whole typological system. Therefore the truth of the signs continues to be true insofar as they preach the legal reconciliation between God and His people in Jesus. 

There is a functional difference between moral and ceremonial laws, though Fruchtenbaum denies this. 1 Corintians 7:18-19 made a distinction between the “circumcision” and the “commandments.” Galatians 6:15 has a similar construction but the notion of “New creation” is contrasted instead of the “commandments.” This simply shows the distinction between moral principle and the ceremonial particulars. There is a functional difference between the moral and the ceremonial laws. The difference is function. The moral define what is good and what the lord requires from men, but the ceremonial restores and reconciles men to God. This reconciliation has taken place by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The function of the ceremonial in the Old Testament was preparation. If preparatory, then it is not functional now when the reality has come. The church has renewed ceremonies in the elements of worship, particularly baptism and communion.  The ceremonial laws were temporary by design as foreshadows of the reconciliation to come. The result of this distinction though is though the Church retains the testimony of the ceremonial typology, and the moral principles which undergird many of them, nevertheless, the administration of them ended with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus replaced the ceremony as the fulfillment of the signs which signified his coming.  

Post Missionary Messianic Judaism argues that there are Jewish distinctives, which should be practiced by Jewish Christians, particularly, circumcision. However, circumcision was a sign of the coming Christ. Collosians 2:11 says, “And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” The New Testament replaces circumcision with baptism, Rom 4:11-12. This signifies the same thing, but the flesh is no longer mutilated. The nature of the circumcision sign is that flesh needs to be killed in the circumcision of Christ in the future. Paul used the peritome of Christ to refer to the death of Christ. This is the signification of the sign. But baptism represents the accomplishment of the work and the union with Christ in death and resurrection.  This demonstrates the distinction between Old Testament and New Testament administration of the ceremonial law.

The charge of “replacement theology” is true only insofar as it means that Jesus replaced Aaron, not that the gentiles replaced Israel. Rather, the gentiles were engrafted into Israel. What changed was the law of Israel under the new covenant royal priest, Jesus Christ.

One Salvation, One Body, One Purpose

The ethnic people were not replaced but added to by the gentiles. The deciding factor of this proposition is the means of vital entrance into the Covenant of Grace, not by circumcision, nor baptism, but by faith alone. Because there is one way of entering the covenant, then the people of God are made up of those who believe, not a single ethnic group. Philippians 3:3, after calling the party of the circumcision, dogs, and workers of evil (v 2), described the “true circumcision” as those “who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (v 3). Colossians 2:11 makes a similar argument, that the qualification for being part of the vital covenant is “made without hands” by union with Jesus’ death.   

Paul strikes at the vital entrance into the Covenant of Grace. The vital/legal distinction is a helpful way to understand the Covenant of Grace. Baptized infants in the New Testament, or circumcised infants in the Old Testament are part of the legal administration of the Covenant of Grace. They must then grow up to believe in the promises of the covenant by faith. Faith alone in Jesus’ vicarious death leads to a vital/living relationship to the Covenant Lord.

Paul’s argument is if one is in the vital part of the Covenant then it is impossible to deny that he is part of the true circumcision, even if not circumcised. This is the argument which Paul consistently made against the party of the circumcision in the New Testament. Romans 4 makes the argument by stating that Abraham was justified by faith (v 3), vitally entered into the Covenant of Grace before he was given the legal (vv 10-11). Thus Paul asked the rhetorical question, “Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also?” This requires an affirmative answer. The uncircumcised also are entered into a vital relationship with God in the Abrahamic Covenant even if they have not been circumcised (vv 9-12). Thus the uncircumcised follow in the steps, along with the circumcised legal heirs, to enter the Abrahamic promise by faith (v 12). 

Ephesians 2:11-22 strikes at the vitals against this animosity from the circumcision. The gentiles are treated as the uncircumcision by those who are of the circumcision. This lead to Paul’s argument that they were strangers from the “covenants of promise,” and the “commonwealth of Israel” (v 12). However, Paul went on to argue that the because of the blood of Christ, they are no longer far away but are brought near (v 13). This results in the breaking down of the “dividing wall” (v 14) and the reconciliation of both parties into “one new man” (v 15). This one salvation by faith which leads to a vital relationship in the Covenant of Grace leads to one body, and with one purpose, namely to be the temple of God on earth (21-22). Jews and gentiles both are in the New Covenant with Jesus as the same high priest. There is one new man. This proscribes the notion that there could be two parallel religious bodies in the New Covenant, because both enter by the same faith, in the same Lord, for the same purpose.

The most striking point in this passage is that Paul said that “you,” the primarily gentile recipients of the letter (Acts 19:1-5), are now “fellow citizens with the saints.” The new citizenship of the gentiles is the same as the “saints,” Jews. The conclusion is that the Jews and gentiles are not in parallel bodies but are in one body with one ceremonial practice.

Why Did Paul Circumcise Timothy?

Acts 16:1-3, on the heels of the Jerusalem council, Paul circumcised Timothy. This at first seems to lend some strength to the view that there is a parallel body of the party of the circumcision. And, if Paul circumcised Timothy then the rite was acceptable to do, and by extension is still acceptable. This however does not hold when one considers the nature of the argument from the party of the circumcision compared to what is being argued now. They argued for circumcision in order to be able to believe and be saved (Act 15:3). However, Post Missionary Messianic Judaism argues that they are the revived party of the circumcision. Simply, this is a move that they should not make if they want to hold to justification by faith alone.

The historical existence of this party in the New Testament does not set up a precedent for the existence of parallel body because it was decisively denounced by the council, the council was inscripturated for the sake of the church on this subject, and the teachings of party contradict the teachings of contemporary Post Missionary Messianic Judaism regarding justification.

The way to interpret Paul’s action in chapter 16 then is in light of the immediate context where he circumcised Timothy as a cultural concession for the sake of preaching in the synagogues (v 3). Paul also was carrying the Apostolic Documents with him for the sake of admonishing the churches on that very point (v 4). Matthew Henry, in an eloquent way, argued that Paul did so for different reason than did the party of the circumcision, cultural acceptance, not justification.[10] One could argue that the circumcision of Timothy is the same reason one would do so today in Post Missionary Messianic Judaism. But this is not this contradicts the fact that they are a parallel body (because they cite Paul’s opponents as their forerunners), and their reason is not that they would become all things to all men but that they would be able to remain culturally Jews. If any principle is taught in this passage it is that Christians ought to disregard their comfortable cultural preferences for the sake of sharing the Gospel with others. This is flatly contradicted by the total unwillingness of Post Missionary Messianic Judaism to unify in worship and ceremony with the broader Christian church.

There is a difference between culturally easing the Jews into the new way of administration of ceremony and saying that people are free to submit themselves to the law if they so wish. Post Missionary Messianic Judaism argues that these ceremonies are not only cultural but are indeed the law of God. If they are the law of God then they signify religious ideals. Circumcision signifies union with Christ’s death (Phil 3:3, Col 2:11). However the rite of circumcision has been superseded by Baptism in the New Testament administration (Rom 4). Circumcision was a ceremonial rite which pointed forward to Jesus. If Paul circumcised Timothy for the sake o the Gospel, then the act circumcision in itself is not a sinful thing. It is the ceremonial signification of the future coming Christ, which implicitly denies that Christ has come, that is wrong.


  This paper contended that the nature of the change between Old Testament and New Testament as foreshadow and fulfillment requires a change of the administration of the ceremonial system because it foreshadowed Christ. The result is that the Church Jesus Christ is more simple in its administration and both transferable and applicable to many nations and cultures. It is the aim of this paper to lay the ethical foundation in the word of God for the right administration of Jewish Christian lives according to the New Testament.   

The point of this project is not to degrade Jewish national heritage, but rather to demonstrate the single body, salvation, and purpose of the Jewish and gentile nations within the one Church of Christ. The charge of “replacement theology” does not help this task because it is a mischaracterization of the facts. Aaron and the ceremonial law were replaced by the reality of what they signified. The Church did not replace Israel, but rather the church involves both Jews and gentiles in one body of believers.

Works Cited

Fruchtenbaum, Arnold, Hebrew Christianity: Its Theology, History & Philosophy (San Antonio, TX, Ariel Ministries, 1974)

All Scripture quoted from the New American Standard Bible Updated, (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995)

Kinzer, Mark Post Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005)

___________ “Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, Three Years Later: Reflections on a Conversation Just Begun” 2008 Lindsy Lectures, lecture manuscript available in PDF from

Rudolph, David J. “Messianic Jews and Christian Theology: Restoring an Historical Voice to the Contemporary Discussion” in Pro Ecclesia , Vol. 14, no. 1, (2005) 58-84

  Venema, Cornelis, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and the New Perspective on Paul ( Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2006)

Henry, Matthew, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000)

Westminster Confession of Faith, (Willow Grove, PA: Great Commission Publications, 2005)

[1] Fruchtenbaum, Arnold, Hebrew Christianity: Its Theology, History & Philosophy ( San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 1974)  

[2] Rudolph, David J. “Messianic Jews and Christian Theology: Restoring an Historical Voice to the Contemporary Discussion” in Pro Ecclesia Vol 14. No. 1, (2005), 58-84. Kinzer, Mark  “Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Three Years Later, reflections on a Discussion Just Begun” Lindsey Lectures Manuscript, Jerusalem, (2008), on page 5 uses “bilateral” ecclesiastical structure to ground Jewish use of Old Testament rites even when converted to Christianity.

[3] Kinzer, Mark, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005) 95

[4] Ibid, 97

[5] Ibid, 152

[6] Westminster Confession of Faith, (Willow Grove, PA: Great Commission Publications, 2005) 19:4

[7] Westminster Confession of Faith, 19

[8] Venema, Cornelis, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ, However controversial this debate may be, Cornelis Venema demonstrates that Sander’s findings are not in violation of the old perspective on Paul, but rather are a helpful way to clarify it. Venema credits the misconstruction of Paul to a poor understanding of Paul and the Reformation view of justification.

[9] Rudolph, David J. “Messianic Jews and Christian Theology: Restoring an Historical Voice to the Contemporary Discussion” in Pro Ecclesia Vol 14. No. 1, (2005), 58-84.

[10] Henry, Matthew, Commentary on the Whole Bible  (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000) Acts 16:1-3