Oneness is not Sameness

It seems fitting that for one of my first posts, I should start with a subject that best defines the position I hold with regard to the position I hold.  You do not have to re-read that.  I repeated myself intentionally.  I am going to try and explain the position I hold in regards to what I believe about the position I hold, which is the place I occupy within God’s kingdom.

I spent some time in my first post giving some background on how I arrived at this point in my life.  I’m still very new on the journey of labeling my religious identity, which sounds awkward when written that way.  I read terms like Hebrew Roots, One Law, Two House, Messianic Judaism, Messianic Gentile, and can’t help but wonder where I’ve  been for so long that I thought the only denomination wars were about Baptist, Assembly of God, Lutheran, Methodists, etc.

What seems to me as the basic, fundamental explanation for my understanding is that oneness is not sameness.  I am confident I did not coin this phrase, however, I do not remember where I first heard it.  After an internet search, I did not find any sites that I had visited that used the term, however, there were plenty of findings from the search engine to choose from.

The original inspiration for this study actually came from a sermon I heard at the church I attend.  The pastor was teaching from 1 Peter and identifying the audience as predominately Gentile Christians, spread throughout Asia.  A blogger I follow regularly, MyMorningMeditations, recently posted about a similar sermon.  In an email conversation with the author, he encouraged me to post my findings in a blog.  I was humbled by his suggestion, but already contemplating the decision so start blogging, I decided it was a good nudge.

The overwhelming agreement among Christian writers is that Peter was writing to Christian believers that were scattered in Asia.  I agree.  However, the piece that I firmly disagree with is that he wrote to all Christian believers.  I believe he wrote specifically to Jewish Christian believers.  This is where many get confused.  Most Gentile Christians consider all believers as one in the same.  Contrary, I believe there are far too many scriptural references that Jewish and Gentile believers have different roles and responsibilities.  Oneness is not sameness.

Peter spends almost all of the first two chapters of this letter describing his intended readers.  It appears that he is reminding them of the tremendous people that they are, and of the promises God has given them.  It feels almost like a coach talking to his team in the locker room after they are feeling like the other team is winning and the coach is reminding them of all the adversity they have overcome and that they can endure the second half to claim victory.

 To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, (1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)

 The term elect exiles of the Dispersion was a term used to describe Jewish people that had left Jerusalem to live in the Diaspora.

 Strong’s definition of dispersion: scattering abroad of seed by the sower, hence: dispersion, used especially of the Jews who had migrated and were scattered over the ancient world.

At the end of verse 2, Peter used the phrase, according to the foreknowledge of God.  If Peter is referring to the foreknowledge (prophecy) of God, it is impossible to continue reading his letter with any accuracy unless we identify what foreknowledge Peter referred to.

And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. (Leviticus 26:33 ESV)

And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. (Deuteronomy 28:64 ESV)

  I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. (Ezekiel 36:19 ESV)

 Though I scattered them among the nations, yet in far countries they shall remember me, and with their children they shall live and return. (Zechariah 10:9 ESV)

 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples, of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.  In that day the Lord will extend his hand  yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.  (Isaiah 11:10-12 ESV)

It should be noted that this theme is consistent throughout prophecy. There are other verses throughout the Tanach (Old Testament) that prophesied Israel would be scattered, but I’ve only chosen a few as examples.

 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:14-19 ESV)

Peter continues to relate to his intended audience by using Tanach references that reference their identity.  There is a lot to unpack in the passage above.

First, Peter quotes the quotes the Torah in verse 16, You shall be holy, for I am holy.

 You shall be holy to me for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (Leviticus 20:26 ESV)

God, speaking to the people of Israel, is giving them instruction on how to be a nation, distinguished from other people, by keeping themselves holy.  My bible footnote claims that Peter was quoting a different passage in Leviticus 11:44. That reference doesn’t make sense because, in Leviticus 11, God is giving instruction about staying holy in reference to clean and unclean food, which is not relevant to the topic Peter is discussing.  Leviticus 20:22-26 is a paragraph identifying Israel as a separated people among all the people of the earth, which better fits the theme of Peter’s letter, which is staying faithful to God while dispersed in exile among non-believers.

Peter put a time limit, all be it unknown, on the exile, throughout the time of your exile, which supports the prophetic writings that that there will be a time of exile and in God’s timing call Jews home again to Israel.  Many would argue that we are seeing prophecy fulfilled now, with Jews from around the world are making aliyah and returning home.

The next phrase, ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers,  has to be a reference to Jewish forefathers.  That is only a term used, up to the point which Peter wrote this letter, by Jews when referencing their lineage.  I am not aware of any verse in which the term is used in reference to Gentile forefathers, whom had no relationship with God as a people group.

And finally, for this particular passage, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, Peter is contrasting the original context of the idea that a ransom was an atonement.  In Exodus 30:12, God told Moses that they

each shall give a ransom (atonement) for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them.  (Exodus 30:12 ESV)

The Stone Edition Tanach translates the word ransom as atonement.  The basis of a ransom or an atonement was part of Jewish culture and history.

All flesh is like grass and all it’s glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. (1 Peter 1:24-25 ESV)

The entire quote in context:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  A voice cries; “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  And the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all the Flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”  All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:1-8 ESV)

Peter may have only quoted Isaiah 40:6-8, but like today when someone quotes a passage, the intent is to understand the context of the entire passage.  First, it is important to know that Isaiah 40 starts the prophecy of a messianic redemption and an end to Israel’s exile.  Peter knew this and knew his readers would have known this.  Second, Peter is reminding his readers that the word of our God will stand forever, in other words, God’s promises and covenant with Israel will not be forgotten.

Each of these historical references are meaningless to Gentiles.  Gentiles would know these only as stories, at best, but not as their own forefathers or from a historical basis for which an entire nation was born.  Why would Peter use such references to Gentiles when the meaning had nothing to do with their history or ancestry?  That logic simply doesn’t have a trail to follow.

Understanding that Peter, and Israel, hold to the promise that God’s word and covenant is forever, we as Gentiles, must recognize that this is the hope that they, as a chosen people, based their lives on.  This is what drives Israel to never give up on their land.  This is what drives them to stay true to their Torah roots after over 5,000 years.  This promise is just as instinctive to them as breathing.

 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men put in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 ESV)

After this passage, Peter goes on to quote Psalm 118:22.  I would encourage you to read all of Psalm 118 to understand the context of what we are reading here.  Like us today, that search for context within passages written, the writers of the New Testament (or Old Testament for that matter) would quote from older scripture based on the context of the entire passage.  Psalm 118 is a beautiful poem about God’s love for Israel lasting forever and the future messianic redemption.  Again, though, remember the context that this was written by David to and about Israelites, further establishing that Peter is identifying to the readers through Tanach scriptures.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

 Because Peter has repeatedly referenced the Torah in his letter, it only makes sense to reflect upon the Torah again to determine where Peter would have come up with such a spectacular description of the people he is writing to.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV)

 Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests – Aason and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. {omission from chapter 28 regarding the priestly garments}…This shall be a statue forever for him and for his offspring after him. (Exodus 28:1 & the last half of Exodus 28:43 ESV)

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.  The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. (Deuteronomy 7:6-9 ESV)

 It could not be more clear that Peter is reminding his readers of multiple references within the Torah of God’s original covenant with Israel.  These references were specific to Jews.

In chapter 2, verse 12 Peter wrote, Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable.  If he were writing to Gentiles, why would he use that wording?  He would only have needed to write, “Keep your conduct honorable.”

I titled this post Oneness is not Sameness for a reason.  It is perfectly reasonable to accept that within a church body, not all have the same purpose.  One very well known passage is the 1 Corinthians 12 passage in which Paul is using the human body as a metaphor for the body of believers.  It seems easy to read that passage and understand that some are called to teach, some to preach, some to heal, some to be prophets, etc.  However, for some reason, I have found that it is very difficult for traditional Christians to accept that Jews and Gentiles are different within the kingdom.  We have different roles and responsibilities, which is perfectly acceptable in a church, but for some reason causes confusion or irritation when in context with Jews and Gentiles.  Even within Israel as a nation, each tribe had different roles.  For example, the Levites were set apart as priests, and the Benjamites were specialized as warriors.  That did not mean the other tribes had a lesser role or were in some way second class citizens.  Each tribe had a role.

Consider the scenario that you’re attending a church when the pastor stands up to read a letter from whatever conference that church belongs.  The letter is addressed to the elders and leadership of the church to address some overall concerns within the parent conference regarding how elders and leaders have been conducting themselves.  Within that letter is a series of encouraging statements, and positions of how to conduct oneself as an elder or leader with scriptural references.  The pastor chooses to read the letter to the whole congregation as a matter of transparency and to encourage the whole congregation to understand the role of the elders and leaders.  Just because the letter is read to the whole congregation, does that mean all of the congregation is now an elder or leader within that church?  That is an absurd thought.  The letter was written to the elders and leaders with a specific topic in mind, and only read to the whole congregation in the spirit of love, encouragement, and transparency.  Peter wrote a letter to the Jewish believers in a synagogue, encouraging them to stay strong in their commitment to God and to remember the promises God has given them.  That letter is just now being read, out of context, by non-Jews, attempting to hijack these promises as their own.

Up to this point, I have been fairly neutral in my position only working to prove that Peter was writing to Jews and not Gentiles, which seems harmless and not that big of a deal.  Here’s where the rubber meets the road for me.  The finer point I am making, is that Peter did not refer to all believers as a chosen people or royal priesthood.  He gave this honor and responsibility to Israel.  He did not replace the promise from God to Israel as a chosen and holy nation, with a promise from God to all believers as a “spiritual Israel.”  I firmly believe that if we choose to seek and honor God through faith, love, and obedience, whether Jew or Gentile, we will be welcomed in his kingdom.  However, I do not believe that the covenant with Israel was replaced by a covenant with all believers as one spiritual assembly.

Israel is and was always the chosen nation and people.  Fortunately Gentiles were and are given an opportunity to belong to the kingdom, but not through a covenant relationship.  I already anticipate that some will read this and be outraged.  Some will read this and realize it is incomplete.  I already sense future posts regarding Paul’s message about being grafted in and adopted citizens.

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One thought on “Oneness is not Sameness

  1. Excellent post, Terry. Your points are re-enforced by the fact that, while Paul is considered the apostle to the Gentiles, Peter (apart from Acts 10) was the apostle to the Jews, so it makes a lot of sense that he’d be writing to Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus). Given my recent studies on the Epistle to the Hebrews, I think it’s reasonable to consider that Peter’s motivation in writing his letter was the potential for apostasy among some of the Jewish believers in the diaspora. On the one side, they were faced with possible opposition from non-believing (in Messiah) Jews who would be against their liberal “admission policy” in regards to Gentiles, and on the other side, the strong pagan component existing in the diaspora nations may have been pressuring them to keep a low profile. Some scholars even think that the Messiah-believing Jews were more stringent in their Torah observance than other branches of Judaism, which would possibly provoke the pagan Gentiles in their community, especially if the Messianic Jews were encouraging any Gentiles in their midst to elevate their holiness by abstaining from the local cultic practices.

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