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Friday, May 4, 2012

The latent antisemitism of "Hebrew Roots"

The term "Hebrew Roots" is used by various Messianic groups and Christian "Hebrew Roots" churches.  It can mean a variety of things and each group does not define the term the same way. Some "Hebrew Roots" congregations, while seemingly well meaning, have within them latent antisemitism.  I use the word latent because I do not think the antisemitism is intentional but nonetheless between the lines it is there.
For years now the main stream Messianic Jewish Movement has been fighting against "replacement theology" in Christianity.  Replacement theology broadly defined is the idea that the Gentile Church has replaced Israel and the Jewish people as the people of God.  This is a destructive theology because it misrepresents the intentions of God to save the world through our Messiah Yeshua and the responsibility of His Jewish followers to share the Jewish message of the Jewish Messiah with Israel and the nations.
In many cases, not all, "Hebrew Roots" proponents replace Israel in a different way.  That is to say not that the Church replaces Israel but that all Gentiles are Jews through the tribe of Ephraim.  It takes away the distinctiveness of the Jewish people which was given to us by God.  God called Abraham out of the nations to make a new nation that would lead the way in understanding and following the Creator of the universe.  All through the book of the prophet Isaiah, he calls the Jewish people to be a light to the nations -- not to convert them to Judaism but to show them the God of Israel.  In attempting to take away Israel's distinctiveness, some Hebrew Roots teachers are leading people into latent antisemitism and teaching Gentiles to cleanse themselves from being a Gentile. 
The Apostle Paul directly speaks to this in his first letter to the Corinthians : "Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him (1 Corinthians 7:17-20).
In my experience in ministry many Jews and Gentiles misunderstand the word Gentile.  It is not a curse word or something bad.  It simply means "nations" and God's desire is to bring all people back to himself (what we call the "model of return").  In Revelation John writes concerning Yeshua, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth" (Revelation 5:9-10, italics mine).  Wow! Every tribe, language, people and nation. How could John recognize all of these different peoples and nations if they all looked the same and all came from one nation. Being from the nations (a Gentile) should be celebrated and honored not treated as a curse word or something to run away from.  Yes, often the scriptures tell the Jewish people to not be like the Gentiles around them.  But, what if those Gentiles turned to the God of Israel? This is not about Gentiles becoming Jews it is about the nations (Gentiles) turning to the one true God.
For me, the issue is identity.  No one should be telling Jews to become Gentiles or Gentiles to become Jews.  God didn't make a mistake when He birthed you in your particular family and with your particular background.  When we mess with identity we mess with God’s design.  All of us, Jews and Gentiles, were made in the image of God and our stories and the families we come from are a part of His plan and design. 
In teaching the New Testament we should not use the term Hebrew roots because the whole message is Jewish. Not just the roots. The idea that the world needs a savior, a sacrifice for sin, and an anointed one (Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek) is Jewish.  When a Jewish person believes in Yeshua we remain Jewish.  When Gentiles believe in Yeshua they remain Gentile.  Together we form the body of Messiah, one olive tree (Romans 9-11) held together by the Messiah Himself.  The tree is Jewish with both natural Jewish and grafted-in Gentile branches.  Gentiles who believe that Yeshua is the Messiah are grafted into the commonwealth of Israel but do not become Jews.  Jews who believe in Yeshua remain in Israel and maintain their Jewishness (for an amazing discussion on this see David H. Stern's book "Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel").
The latent antisemitism is signaled when a Hebrew Roots group uses language like "uniting the two houses of Israel" and makes statements like "for two thousand years we have been taught that Israel is the Jewish people and that the Jewish people are Israel. This misunderstanding has crippled our ability to glean the scriptures." Friends, there is no misunderstanding. Israel is the Jewish people. The Jewish people are Israel.  Gentiles are grafted into the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-16) without becoming Jews. They remain Gentiles.
According to the decision made by the original disciples of Yeshua at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), Gentile observance of the Torah is different than that of their Jewish counterparts.  In God’s eyes there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles. Both are only saved by faith in Yeshua.  After salvation, the moment of accepting Yeshua, our lives look slightly different in terms of how we observe scripture.  Yet, our stories are similar because we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and we all need Yeshua to gain eternal life.  Then, together, we fight for the whole world, all Jews and all Gentiles, to see the awesomeness of God and what He has accomplished for us in the death and resurrection of His son, Yeshua.
If you are a Jewish believer in Yeshua, don't give up your Jewishness.  If you a Gentile believer in Yeshua, don't give up being a Gentile.  Don't be fooled by the destructive teaching of some of these "Hebrew Roots" groups that want to confuse your identity and claim it is in search of the truth. Don't buy into the teachings of some "Hebrew Roots" groups because their production is beautiful and the presentation is pretty.  Dig in. Search it out.  Make sure the teachings are not trying to turn you into something God didn't create you to be. Don't buy into any theology that tries to take away the distinctiveness of the Jewish people or any people.
The truth is that God made you with an awesome plan for you.  If you don't know who you are and you accept ideas that make you think you are something you are not, then you will accomplish nothing.  Find your value in who you are! Your family background and your family heritage ought to be celebrated when you come face to face with the God of Israel.  He doesn't make mistakes and He didn't make one with you!


  1. Hey Matt,
    I like what you said here, "Israel is the Jewish people. The Jewish people are Israel. Gentiles are grafted into the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-16) without becoming Jews. They remain Gentiles."

    Is it possible to be Jewish and not be Israel?

    1. Thanks Phil! Yes it is possible for a Jewish person to not be apart of Israel. This is what Paul talks about in Romans 9:6 "not all Israel is Israel" but the also, Romans 11:26 "all Israel will be saved."

    2. You can also be "Israelite" and grafted in through Messiah, yet not be Jewish. :/

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  3. Matt,
    Even though by blood, I am a Gentile, by the Spirit of Christ I am a Jew, right? I'm not sure I understand what Phillip means by "without becoming Jews." If we are grafted in aren't we then supposed to be adopted as children and then we are to live as though we were born Jewish? I'm still learning and would love some clarification.

    1. Melissa,

      one does not become a Jew through Messiah. You become apart of the commonwealth and heir to the promises that God has made (Eph 2:11-13). This does not mean you become Jewish. Gentiles are free to follow Shabbat, keep the biblical feasts but these observances do not make you Jewish. Together, Jews and Gentiles, bring glory to God when we live out who we have been called to be!

      I recently preached on this if you would like to listen use this link:

      This is the 7th message in a series called "Torah 101". you can also download my sermons on iTunes.

  4. Shalom Matt!

    Great article! As a teacher of Jewish roots, a Gentile (with a little Jewish lineage thrown in for good measure) and someone who has to constantly deal with "two housers" ... It becomes so distracting from a vibrant relationship with Yeshua in addition to taking focus off of Gods Kingdom purpose in our lives.

    As believers are we:
    1. Taking the Gospel to the Jew first and then also to the Nations?
    2. Are we fulfilling our calling? If Jewish, are we being a light to the nations? If Gentile, are we provoking the Jew to jealousy in the love of Messiah?

    4 times I have had the privilege to hear an Israeli Jew say I was making then jealous... Why? Because I celebrate and observe Shabbat & the Feasts...not out of legalistic observance, but as one who has found amazing freedom and fulfillment of my relationship in our Messiah!

    Blessings to ya Matt!

  5. Rabbi, :)
    Great teaching, and you express yourself very well! Melissa, I agree with Matt. I don't think it is necessary for Gentiles to live as though they were born Jewish, unless they feel God specifically calling them to such a lifestyle. There are a lot of Jewish traditions that are currently a part of Judaism that are not Biblical, but simply, traditions. So, I don't think you need to partake in those when you become a follower of the Messiah, unless you like them and they don't take away from your relationship with the Lord. Nevertheless, there are Biblical commands and holidays which Gentile believers typically don't observe that are helpful in understanding the Bible and our Messiah. I think both Jew and Gentile, when we come to the Messiah we must decide what aspects of our heritage and traditions bring us closer to God and what bring us further from Him. What aspects reflect Biblical truths, and what aspects do not. There are plenty of pagan beliefs(reincarnation for one) and traditions that have seeped into modern day reformed, conservative, and orthodox Judaism. When a Jew becomes a believer in the Messiah, they too must look at the Bible and decide what is God's truth, and what is not. Hope I made sense in all of my rambling.
    One more thing in reference to Corinthians......all dudes should get circumcised! That was a good Jewish idea. :)

  6. Well written article Matt. Thank you.
    Dr. Michael Herts

  7. From my understanding, the "Hebrew Roots" movement does not teach you are Jewish through the tribe of Ephrayim if you're a gentile. Because of the blessings bestowed on Ephrayim, they teach you are not a gentile but a part of Israel through Ephrayim. The tribe of Judah and Benjamin were kept in Jersualem and known as "Jews". The other 10 tribes were scattered and known as "Israel"...."the lost sheep of the house of Israel". Historically a gentile was a "dirty" word attributed to pagans. As Exodus points out though "the stranger among you" also keep the Torah. And the Egyptians who came out of Egypt were not given a different law. They also had to keep the Torah and suffered the same consequence as the children of Israel. There is also the references in Ezekial about the two houses. But from what I've heard from "two housers" they do not claim to be Jewish but they do claim to be Israel. Also, in Revelation there are only 12 gates...none for the gentile.
    I enjoyed your article but regarding the last paragraph I thought once we accept Messiah and live as He lived by obeying the Torah, that we were supposed to give up our family traditions like Christmas and Easter, etc. We cannot be worshipping two Gods and those holidays are historically days other nations worshipped their pagan gods. Through the centuries, to appease the new believers in Messiah, those days were renamed and restructured to celebrate what they do now. God is very specific about not mixing the holy and the profane. We can't have two masters therefore shouldn't we sometimes walk away from our family traditions to do what is right in His eyes and not what makes us feel good just because we were raised that way?
    Anyway, just some thoughts on that. Thanks for reading.

  8. Great post Rabbi Matt. Extremely well said. -Rabbi Kevin

  9. What if you were Jewish and were to take a DNA test and find out that you had only 5% Jewish roots? Or what if you are called a Gentile and took a DNA test and found out that you are actually 80% Jewish? We are all considered Israel if we have accepted Yeshua and follow the Torah out of obedience. DNA means absolutely nothing. Yeshua himself was adopted.