An Inconvenient Truth: A Right Understanding of the One New Man

January 12, 2018

In a day when Jews and Gentiles who believe in Yeshua are thinking new thoughts about their relationship to one another, one of the concepts often mentioned is the “One New Man” of Ephesians, chapter two.  However this concept is often misunderstood and the label misapplied.

By way of definition then, the One New Man of Ephesians, chapter two, names a unity of two distinct communal realities living together not in uniformity, but rather in peace and mutual blessing. These two distinct realities are Yeshua believing Jews, living as Yeshua’s people in Torah-based Jewish piety, and the Church from among the nations, serving Him in their own contexts, apart from the requirements of Jewish piety.

When we speak of a unity, we do not mean a unanimity or a uniformity. While unanimity means every one in agreement, and uniformity means everyone being the same, unity connotes diverse viewpoints and different styles living together in respect, harmony and diversity. The miracle of the One New Man is that those who are and who remain distinct are enabled to live together in reconciliation, love and mutual blessing.

This was of course something new in the purposes of God. Formerly, if one wanted to become part of the people of God, one had become a Jew and accommodate to Jewish life. There was one people of God, even one nation of God.  With the coming of Messiah, that is no longer necessary: Gentiles become part of the people of God through the Messah who loved them and gave Himself for them just as he came for the people of Israel.  It is God’s will that the people of God be diverse.

New Testament scholar Mark Nanos traces this to the Shema, “Hear Israel, the LORD our God is One Lord.”  The same God is Lord over all nations, not just the Jewish nation.  If one had to become a Jew to become part of the people of God, then God would in effect be the Lord of only one nation—but this detracts from His glory.  He is the Lord of all nations, and it is crucial that those of his people from other nations besides Israel, honor Him within the context of their own respective heritages and cultures, rather than imagining that the Jewish nation and culture is the only one He is prepare to bless.

Paul insisted that Gentile Yeshua believers should not become circumcised and seek to keep the Law: not because the Law has been abolished, or because it is bad in some way, but because obedience to God’s Torah is not God’s call and will for Gentiles, who nevertheless become part of the people of God through faith in Christ alone.  As Paul writes in his First Letter to the Thessalonians,  "you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, Yeshua, who delivers us from the wrath to come." This is also why James expected Paul to model Jewish piety, but said he required no such thing of the Gentiles who have believed (Acts 21:24-25), and this is why the Jerusalem Council disputed long (“much debate,” Acts 15:6) before deciding that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised, and be required to keep the Torah. The dispute would never have happened if the Jewish Yeshua believers had themselves given up Torah observance, or if they viewed it merely as one option among many.  No!  The question motivating the dispute at the Jerusalem Council was this:  “Do the Gentiles need to keep Torah the same way we do?” (see Acts 15:1-21).

Rather than superseding the Jewish people, the Church from among the nations joins with them as part of the Commonwealth of Israel. Only in this way can the “dividing wall of hostility” – which supersessionism maintains – be removed.  Gentiles are no longer categorically outsiders to the community of God’s people. But if they were required to obey Torah and live as Jews, we would be perpetuating their categorical exclusion as Gentiles.   That categorical exclusion is over and done with through the work of Messiah! THAT is the middle wall of partition!

The balance of unity and diversity in the One New Man is further highlighted in Ephesians 3:6, where Paul says “Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The terms “fellow heirs, fellow members, and fellow partakers” require another communal reality with whom the Gentiles are joined, and that other partner is Israel.

Together, the Messianic Jewish Remnant, living in the context of Jewish community and covenant faithfulness, and the Church from among the nations, constitute the “One New Man.” But this One New Man is created not through abolishing differences, but rather transcending them, bringing unity (not uniformity) between two communities that yet remain, and must remain, essentially distinct.

Although many translations have trouble expressing this nuance, the Weymouth New Testament gets it right: “His design was to unite the two sections of humanity in Himself so as to form one new man, thus effecting peace, and to reconcile Jews and Gentiles in one body to God, by means of His cross--slaying by it their mutual enmity. So He came and proclaimed good news of peace to you who were so far away, and peace to those who were near; because it is through Him that Jews and Gentiles alike have access through one Spirit to the Father.”  Commentator Markus Barth helps us understand the flow of Paul’s argument:

The new man is “one . . . out of the two.” . . . The new creation is not an annihilation or replacement of the first creation but the glorification of God’s work. . . .  Ephesians alone calls God’s covenant partner “one new man” and emphasizes that this man consists of two, that is, of Jews and Gentiles. . . . The incorporation of the Gentiles into Israel and the formation of one people consisting of Jews and Gentiles certainly does not mean that the Gentiles must become Jews, or the Jews  Gentiles!

We might add, and Barth goes on to explain, that Paul is not arguing for some sort of third race, as the second century Epistle of Diognetus suggested, whereby in the One New Man Jews are no longer Jews nor Gentiles, Gentiles. Precisely the opposite!  The glory of God is that he enables those who are and who remain essentially distinct to live together as the people of God, reconciled not only to Him but to each other, without either entity sacrificing their intrinsic distinctiveness.

Why then is a right understanding of the One New Manan an Inconvenient Truth?

  1. A right understanding of the One New Man is an Inconvenient Truth because it reminds us that God intends that Jewish Yeshua believers live in the context of Jewish life and community, integrated with the Jewish world rather than assimilated into the gentile or Church worlds.  Although in some cases due to factors like marriage to a non-Jew, this priority cannot and even should not be honored, nevertheless this is an exception to the rule, and that rule is that those who call themselves Jews should be living Jewish, Torah observant lives.  This is most inconvenient for many people happy with other arrangements.
  2. A right understanding of the One New Man is an Inconvenient Truth because it states that God intends that Gentile Yeshua believers should live in the context of non-Jewish cultures which become sanctified by the Spirit as they are employed for the honor of God in and through Messiah Yeshua. This is inconvenient to those who for whatever reasons wish to flee from their own background and identity and become “Jews of a certain kind” through bonding with whatever form of Messianic practice their crowd favors. This is common.
  3. A right understanding of the One New Man is an Inconvenient Truth because it exposes how inappropriate is our imagining that the Church from among the nations is somehow inferior to the Messianic Jewish Movement or Jewish life.  Yet this is what so many bonded to our movement feel and even say.  On the contrary, both communal entities are essential aspects of the One New Man, and neither the Messiah nor the Father are properly honored apart from this One New Man comprised both of Messianic Jews honoring Yeshua within Jewish life amidst other Jews, and Gentiles glorifying God by redeeming their own culture patterns for the glory of God.
  4. A right understanding of the One New Man is an Inconvenient Truth because it challenges both the Messianic Jewish component and the Church component to confront their attitudes and behavior toward one another.  Much work remains to be done!
  5. A right understanding of the One New Man is an Inconvenient Truth because it calls us to examine whether our congregations are maintaining and advancing proper distinctives or rather ignoring an obscuring them. This is a most Inconvenient Truth for the Messianic Jewish Movement to contemplate.
  6. A right understanding of the One New Man is an Inconvenient Truth because it pulls the covers off of a widespread abandonment of outreach to the Jewish people in the Messianic Jewish movement and self-aware assessment of success or failure in this regard. Commitment to this priority is waning as congregations grow through Gentiles being incorporated int them, but here I mean Gentiles of a certain kind, and not all Gentiles categorically!
  7. The Messianic Jewish movement was raised up by God to be a sign, demonstration, and catalyst of God’s consummating purposes for the Jewish people. However, in how many corners of the Messianic Jewish world are the agendas of congregations driven by this concern. And what of those congregations that believe and act is if the purpose of the Messianic Jewish movement is to teach Judaism lite to Gentiles?

Does this mean there is no place for Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement? That depends. The question is, are they running away from their own identities as non-Jews? Are they operating under the naive assumption that all the churches are apostate because "they do not celebrate the Feasts?" Are they there to learn Judaism lite? Are they there because they view Messianic Judaism to be an elite religion for the whole world?

If they are there for any of those reasons, they are in the wrong place and their presence is a hindrance, because none of those reasons have anything to do with God's calling upon the Messianic Jewish movement, to be a sign, demonstration, and catalyst of God's consummating purposes for the Jewish people.

But if they are genuinely there to advance THAT calling, then this is something else entirely.

Inconveniently I continue to ask THIS question of the Messianic Jewish movement: “What about the Jews?” it’s a good one. When it comes to how money is spent and plans are made in your congregations, is this priority a driving force? Or is that question an inconvenient truth?

4 comments on “An Inconvenient Truth: A Right Understanding of the One New Man”

    1. Paul's point: Peter was acting hypocritically. The gospel taught that gentile Yeshua believers were fully the people of God and no longer categorically unclean. Therefore Peter should have been eating with them. But when some of the hardliners from Jerusalem came down to Antioch, who had not worked through or accepted this implication of the gospel, Peter separated from the gentiles, and by doing so, required them to play by a certain set of Jewish "rules" (about gentile exclusion) that were no longer applicable.

      The account says this:
      [11] But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. [12] For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. [13] And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

      What was their hypocrisy? They knew better than to treat gentiles like unclean outsiders, but for reasons of social convenience and social acceptance they fudged on the gospel. Continuing . . .

      [14] But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

      For Paul, being a Jew involved keeping Torah according to the revelation of God. In the next chapter of Galatians he makes this clear--"3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law." But he also stresses that this is NOT true of Gentiles. That is part of his whole argument here in Galatians, it is what is taught in Acts 21:17 ff. and it is what he teaches in 1 Cor 7 and elsewhere. That is his assumption everywhere. Here he is saying "If you, though a Jew (and therefore part of a privileged people gifted with a holy tradition, covenants, etc.) are living like a pagan (by being a hypocrite in this case) and not like a Jew, how can you force Gentiles here in Antioch to live by the kind of Jewish rules we realize have been modified with the coming of Messiah? For him, being a gentile (apart from Christ) was being a benighted pagan; being a Jew was a privileged and holy status. But here, through his hypocrisy (which Paul believes is more appropriate to pagans than to Jews) Peter is requiring these poor Yeshua-believing former pagans to play by a defunct Jewish set or rules.

      He reinforces this interpretation in his next statement:

      [15] We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;

      There are the categories--privileged Jews versus Gentile (pagan) "sinners"

      [16] yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (ESV)

  1. Thank you Rabbi Stuart. This is exellent and so right on point. Have no words> I being battling this issue and chursh attitude to "one new man" for so long. However you are very right.

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