Terms of Offense?
A Polite Response To The, Comments In Charisma Magazine By Brother Eitan Shishkoff
(J. Jacob Prasch, Moriel Ministries)
My own family are Israeli-Jewish believers. My wife is the daughter of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel as a child and our children were both born in Galilee. My wife divides her time between Great Britain and Israel (from where she has just returned) due to family reasons, and our son, a law graduate, completed IDF military service last year and now divides his time between Tel Aviv and my native New York due to his legal services business. In my youth I attended both the Jewish Community Center (at the behest of my father) and a Roman Catholic school (at the behest of my Gentile mother) before becoming a believer and I perceive matters from both a Messianic Jewish and Gentile Christian perspective, from both an Israeli and a diasporic perspective, and a Hebrew-speaking as well as English-speaking perspective. Our ministry operates, branches in several countries including Israel where we financially support evangelistic ministry, local congregations, and assist needy believers. It is with this background that I respectfully take some issue with Eitan Shishkoff’s comments to an article published in Charisma magazine concerning Israeli-Jewish believers not wanting to be identified as “Christian” and not having “become” Christians.
He was correct in highlighting those identification issues which the Jewish Body of Messiah in Israel faces in terms of public perception and misrepresentation of Jewish believers (by groups such as Yad L’achim). I additionally affirm much of what he writes regarding the prophetic significance eschatologically of 1967 with reference to the reunification of Jerusalem and the simultaneous growth in the number of Jewish believers in the Jesus Movement in the Diaspora. Here, in fairness, I must applaud his remarks. His other comments however, were misplaced, imbalanced, and inaccurate scripturally, historically, theologically, and sociologically. I just finished answering an assertion accusing him of being an Ebionite (an ancient heresy accepting the messiahship of Yeshua, but not His deity) that someone sent us after reading his comments in which I defended Eitan as not being an Ebionite, but the accusation did arise from a misunderstanding of what he wrote.
Scripturally, according to The Book of Acts the term “Christian” was first used in Antioch of Jewish believers and not of non-Jews. Etymologically the term has the exact meaning as “messianic” from ‚ The Septuagint where Daniel 9 used the term “kristos” (Anointed One) for the Hebrew “Moshioch” long prior to The New Testament even having been written. The term “Christian”/”Christ” was used by Jewish believers before it was used by or for any believing non-Jews.
The believing Jews who were the founders of modern Messianic theology in the 19th and early 20th centuries including Alfred Edersheim, David Barren, Rabbi Leopold Cohen, Rabbi Issac Lichenstein, Franz Delitzche, and Carl Caspari all identified themselves as Jewish Christians as did Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Composer Felix Mendelsohn, and Harvard Law School founder Simon Greenleaf.
We are not simply speaking of ‚ a distant past century or of the Diaspora but also, contrary to Eitan’s mistaken assertions, the present time and modern Israel. In scholarly circles the two leading Messianic Jewish academic theologians today – Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum (author of Hebrew Christianity: Its Theology. History & Theology) and Professor Darrell Boch (Dallas Seminary) ‚ both identify themselves in their published material as Christian.
The primary founders of the modern Jewish Body of Messiah in Israel such as Bishop Michael Solomon Alexander, AEBM founder Leon Rosenthal, and the Baptist scholar and preacher Leo Eddleman all called themselves Jewish Christians, but so did the founders of the modern Messianic Movement in both the Diaspora and in Israel. Joseph Rabbinovitch, who planted the first Messianic Fellowships, called himself a Christian and in Israel Moshe Ben Meir who coined the phrase “Messianic Jew” founded what he called the Hebrew Christian Fellowship of Palestine (as it was called then) ‚ in 1933, only using the term “Messianic” (meshiche) in the Hebrew translation for lingual reasons.
Indeed in modern Israel the term “ma’amin” (or “believer”) is used in contrast to “notzri” or (“Christian”) to differentiate a born-again believer from a nominal Christian either Jewish or Gentile without any particular reference to ethnicity or culture; it is not to distinguish believing Jews from non-Jews. There are congregations of Jewish believers in Israel (e.g., Hesed V’Amet) who call themselves “Christian”. In the last 20 years the influx of Jewish believers from the former Soviet Union has transformed the Body of Messiah in Israel and these are known in Russian as “Evre Kristianski” or “Hebrew Christian”.
In the “Galut” (Diaspora) likewise, there are large churches in New York and California with dozens of Jewish believers in attendance and in Great Britain it is not uncommon for Jewish believers to attend both a church on Sunday and a Messianic Fellowship on Shabbat (as our daughter does). Just as in Israel there are those plainly happy to be known as either “Messianic Jews” or “Hebrew Christians”. The terms are interchangeable and once again etymologically mean the precise same thing.
Moreover, due to the global success of the Jews For Jesus ministry since the 1970’s in propagating the fact that there are growing numbers of Jews who believe Yeshua to be the promised Messiah, it is popular for the Jewish community to colloquially refer to all believing Jews as “Jews For Jesus”, not as either “Jewish Christians” or “Messianic Jews”.
Eitan Shishkoff is without doubt a sincere brother in faith with noble motives who has also stated things which are true and valid, and he is absolutely correct in maintaining that Jews accepting Yeshua do not convert to another faith. He is additionally right in focusing on the problematic issue of the way the term “Christian” can be misunderstood in reaching Israeli Jews for their Messiah. There are in fact some who would agree with his views. The solid facts however, reveal that others would not. His treatment of the issue is frankly devoid of scriptural, historical, and linguistic substance diminishing its credibility and it is a distorted misrepresentation of the actual realities of the Body of Messiah in Israel. With respect, he is moreover not the spokesman for all Jewish believers in Israel as he appears to put himself forward as such. There is no shortage of others who are quite content to be known concurrently as “Messianic Jews” or “Jewish Christians”, both inside ‚ and outside of Israel.