Book Reviews

Introduction to Messianic Judaism

Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations

David Rudolph and Joel Willits Grand Rapids 2013-02-03

Introduction to Messianic Judaism represents a milemarker for Messianic Jewish scholarship. Messianic Judaism gained momentum in the 1970s as a significant number of Jewish believers in Jesus, or Yeshua, established Christian communities in which they also maintained their distinct Jewish heritage. Prior to that point, with few exceptions, Jewish mission agencies encouraged Jewish Christians simply to join a Protestant church void of any Jewish heritage. Over the last four decades the movement has grown to the point that Messianic Judaism is making a significant contribution to biblical scholarship, which this volume represents.

After a short introduction, the book is divided into two parts. The first part explores realities that face the Messianic Jewish community. Each essay, written by members of the community, focuses on either describing the community itself or defining how it relates to other communities. David Rudolph provides an excellent history of Messianic Judaism from early Jewish mission agencies to current mission organizations. It provides a context for understanding the other essays in the first section. These articles show that balancing fidelity to Christ with Jewish heritage creates tension within Messianic Jewish communities.

The second part of the book, written mainly by Gentile Christians, describes the earliest Jewish expression of Christianity found in the New Testament. The bulk of the second part deals with Jewish issues in Paul’s letters, but readers will find articles on Matthew, Luke, Acts, and Revelation, as well as broader biblical theological essays that address Jewish mission in the first century, Christology, and supercessionism—the idea that the church has replaced Israel. These essays show that the New Testament carefully emphasizes a continuing role for Israel in God’s plan in the past, the present, and the future. Two articles that stand out are Richard Bauckham’s article addressing the Jerusalem Council decision in Acts 15 and Todd Wilson’s article on Paul’s treatment of the law in Galatians. These articles suggest that the Jerusalem Council and Paul both understood the continuing value of the law for Jewish believers, even though they did not require Gentile believers to follow it. Gentile readers can easily miss this emphasis. Joel Willits ends the book with a helpful summary of each article and with concluding remarks about the impact that Messianic Judaism can make on the larger church.

This book will be helpful for different readers—those interested in Messianic Judaism today or those interested in the Jewish roots of the church in the New Testament. Many will mostly gravitate to individual sections, not reading the entire book. By packaging the essays together, the editors give wider exposure to an array of issues that confront Messianic Judaism. There are a number of fruitful prospects for this volume. First, this work represents a significant point of growth for the Messianic Jewish movement. Even though this movement has recently been renewed, it is represented by a diverse group of well-known scholars who are represented in this volume. Second, the work exemplifies a mature conversation between Jewish and Gentile Christians. By creating a wider discussion with both Jewish and Gentile Christian scholars the effect can be much more significant for the church as a whole. Jewish Christianity helps the church acknowledge and appreciate the Jewish roots of the church—a fact that in the past the church has forgotten to its detriment.

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Benjamin I. Simpson
Dr. Simpson joined the faculty in 2006 as the registrar. In 2011, he moved to Houston to work with the Houston campus. In 2016, he and his family moved to Washington DC where he continues helping external students complete their degrees while positively influencing their ministries. His research interests include Jesus, the Gospels, and hermeneutics. He is married to Amber and they have two children: Madison and Eli.
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