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Do Gentiles Need To Convert To Messianic Judaism?

Ellen Kavanaugh

Many Gentiles within the Messianic community are beginning to feel the need to convert to Messianic Judaism. Conversion implies a change in belief -- from one belief system to a different belief system. And therein lies the problem: To convert to Messianic Judaism would be to 'convert' to a community in which one was already member; to convert to traditional Judaism would be to deny one's faith in Yeshua (or at least, deny the sufficiency of Yeshua alone). In discussions on Gentile conversion, it seems the issue is less about belief systems anyway and more an attempt to become a Jew. Can a Gentile really become a Jew through conversion? Or is there a Gentile inclusion within Israel without becoming Jewish and converting? Let's see what Scripture says, beginning with Romans 11:

"And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." Romans 11:17-25

Sha'ul is explaining here that because of mainstream Israel's rejection of Messiah, non-Israelites (wild olive branches) who accept Yeshua have been given a place in Israel's cultivated olive tree. But note these wild olive branches remain wild. Gentiles do not become Israelites here, they merely share the tree with believing Israel. Gentiles are further warned not to boast about G-d placing them in the tree, because they too can be removed. In fact, G-d reminds them that the natural branches would graft back in well since its their own tree and their own nature to be included in it; but it is contrary to the very nature of the wild branches that they too are included! So yes, Gentiles can be placed in the tree of Israel, but at no point do they become cultivated -- they always remain wild branches grafted into a tree not their own. When a Gentile becomes a part of Israel, they still remain a Gentile (albeit a Gentile counted among Israelites). Now note: The One grafting these wild branches in is G-d, not man. No conversion ritual is needed -- this is a purely supernatural event!

"Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Messiah Yeshua ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Messiah. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." Ephesians 2:11-16

This is a crucial passage to understand G-d's Plan for mankind. Sha'ul is explaining that previously Gentiles had no hope because they didn't have a covenant with G-d. They had no Messiah, no membership in Israel, no covenant, no hope, and no G-d. But G-d's plan was to use Yeshua to bring the believing Gentiles into the commonwealth of Israel -- to share their covenant, their G-d, and their hope. Yeshua abolished the enmity that had been between the covenant people and non-covenant people by bringing them together and forming one new man. This 'new man' is the commonwealth of Israel consisting of believing Jew *and* believing Gentile. Note that this is something accomplished through Yeshua, not man. Gentiles who had been so far away from G-d's covenant and people are now brought in with the blood of Yeshua. Again, no conversion ritual needed -- this is a purely supernatural event!

"Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Messiah by the gospel." Ephesians 3:5,6

Again, Gentiles share the same body of faith with the Jewish believers. We're seeing a theme of unity -- that Jewish and Gentile believers are one. No ritual is described, no conversion process is mandated. G-d is bringing the Gentiles into His people simply for their belief in Yeshua HaMashiach.

G-d's way here is so simple! Your inclusion with G-d's people is based on your relationship with Yeshua. It is not through birth *or* conversion.

"But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Messiah's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

Believers are adopted in the state in which they were found! Converting would be seeking to change one's state. Let's read in Galatians:

"For ye are all the children of God by faith in Messiah Yeshua. For as many of you as have been baptized into Messiah have put on Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Messiah Yeshua. And if ye be Messiah's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:26-29

All are children of G-d through faith no matter the state in which they were found. You realize that Jews here didn't stop being Jews when they believed, slaves were not automatically granted freedom (though if freedom could be secured, one would certainly seek it), men didn't start wear dresses or women growing beards! Far from declaring "all become the same" as some misinterpret this verse, the verse is really only declaring our equality in Yeshua. There is no advantage in coming to the faith as a male, or a freedman, or a Jew. This is because we all attain equality in the eyes of G-d through our faith, not our station in life. So let's ask the original question this article is addressing again: Do Gentiles need to convert to Messianic Judaism? No. Can a Gentile become a Jew? No. Kefa summed it up perfectly: "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." Acts 10:34,35

Many Gentile believers today, in their search for "the Jewish roots of the faith" are adopting traditional Jewish ways not mandated by Scripture. Traditional Judaism's oral law contains conversion rituals and too many Messianics are attempting to 'graft' those beliefs into Messianic Judaism. This is wrong. Remember the Bereans: "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Acts 17:11 The practices of other religious groups matters little, Scripture alone is our guide.

Nowhere in Scripture does G-d ever command the making of proselytes. Those who joined with Israel never became Israelites. Like Ruth (who remained and was always referred to as the Moabitess -- even after marrying Boaz), Gentiles may believe in the true G-d of Israel, but they remain Gentiles.

Sha'ul's letter to the Galatians deals with the very issue of those attempting to make proselytes out of the Gentile believers. Galatians is probably the most misinterpreted letter Sha'ul wrote. Mainstream Christianity attempts to read Galatians as 'anti-Torah, instead of recognizing it as 'anti-oral tradition' -- especially anti-conversion through traditions. For context, understand that the Pharisaic conversion ritual is accomplished through circumcision and that the new believers in Galatia were being targeted for this conversion. Sha'ul was justifiably angered that the new believers in Galatia were being tempted to 'join Judaism' through these rituals, thereby denying the adoption they had already received through Yeshua, supernaturally, by Spirit! The problem here wasn't the new believers obeying Torah -- it's a given that all believers are commanded to obey G-d. The problem here was Pharisaic additions to Torah. The most glaring addition was the concept of making proselytes in the first place. Again, Torah never commands any ritualized conversion of Gentiles! But Pharisaic Judaism does. Pharisaic Judaism interpreted G-d's Torah through legalism. Its members are placed under bondage. But Yeshua frees us from legalism and the bondage of the 'works of law' (read: oral traditions of man). So Sha'ul is completely mystified why anyone free would seek to reject that freedom and convert to a manmade religious system so clearly opposed to Yeshua who freed them!

I have to wonder this same thing myself today. We are commanded to go 'to the Jew first' and share the gospel of Yeshua. What I fear is that believers are taking more out of traditional Judaism than they are taking into it. Let me explain. Believers should be sharing the gospel of Yeshua with Israel. But many, after spending time within the traditional Jewish community are returning to the Messianic community with strange ideas about the need for conversion, Talmudic teachings, and a fascination for the secrets of Jewish mysticism hidden within the Kabbalah. This very much mirrors the Galatian problem. The fact that an article is even needed to say 'conversion isn't necessary' is appalling, imo. I humbly suggest those who have delved into traditional Judaism and are incorporating its practices into their supposed Messianic lifestyle should return to their Biblical roots. Any practice that cannot be Scripturally defended (like 'formal' conversion rituals) needs to be examined! I urge all Messianics who are battling with the issue of conversion to re-read Scripture and reconsider. Let's hold the scribes and rabbis of the Talmud and Kabbalah to the same standard we hold others who attempt to teach G-d's children: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Yeshua the Messiah is come in the flesh is of God." 1 Yochanan 4:2 Question the wisdom of millennia of scribes and rabbis, if for all their deep understanding, they fail to know that Yeshua is Messiah. This doctrine is a biggie, and every single Messianic believer should know this well. Yeshua commissioned us believers to teach His gospel and commandments to the world, and not for us believers to be the students of those who failed to recognize the time of His visitation.

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