How do the Gospels help interpret Jewish-Christian Dialogue?
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
The late Prof. Anthony J. Saldarini, a Christian scholar of the Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism had committed his life to bringing Jewish - Christian reconciliation. In his “Interpretation of Luke-Acts Implication for Jewish Christian Dialogue,” he addresses how Jews and Gentiles relate to one another through Yeshua by specially focusing on how Luke addressed the subject in the Gospel of Luke and Acts.
From Luke's perspective what was God's divine Plan?
As I began to ponder how we as Messianic Jews should engage Jewish-Christian dialog, Saldarini was helpful and quiet perceptive in his view of Luke’s Theology regarding this topic. He saw in Luke's Gospel narrative, that Yeshua fulfilled the promise to Israel and the nations. Luke was consistent in his view that Yeshua's ministry aligned with the Tanakh as God’s divine plan for salvation. Saldarini affirms that the Gentile church doesn’t replace Jews who rejected Yeshua but rather, the Gentiles become included within Israel, the people of God. When I say Israel the People of God, let me clarify, Yeshua’s ministry was to the Jew first. According to Luke, Yeshua’s message of repentance and salvation was first brought to the house of Israel, then through faithful Messianic Jews like Yeshua's disciples, the seventy, the one hundred twenty , Paul...etc. and further extended to the Gentiles. Therefore, God’s divine plan of salvation for Israel and the nations then becomes the framework by which we understand the Hebrew Bible. This is also true for the New Covenant material. Different scholars have various opinions on Luke’s Gospel and Acts. Some considers Luke as an anti-Jewish writer and some as a Gentile speaking from within Judaism. Unfortunately, because of nineteen hundred years of the chasm between Judaism and Christianity, most Jews and Christians seem to find the idea that a “Gentile Luke” is not probable. This conclusion is assumed because of his theological inclination that anyone who repents of their sins and receives the New Covenant in Yeshua becomes part of the family of God the Ekklesia. Although Saldarini’s definition of salvation that leads to joining historical Israel could lead to a presumption of a homogenized One New Man, I still think Luke as a traveling ministry partner of Paul, provides a clear Gospel presentation where Jew and Gentiles national distinction remains, yet both share equal covenantal status through faith in Yeshua. Equal status is in the context of how they relate to God, as Father.
Luke affirms the importance and worth of Israel. Luke’s writing in Acts also shows moments of prophetic correction between key Messianic Jewish leaders such as Peter and Paul. His intention was to communicate that the Gospel’s message was consistent, with the Gods plan of Salvation. Moreover, God’s plan for Israel to be a light to the nations would ultimately find its meaning through Yeshua who brought about Jew-Gentile unity. This unity was at view according to the Halachic decisions in Acts 15. Thus all people would be saved together by God through faith in Yeshua.
How should Jews and Christians relate to one another?
Saldarini states that the Jewish-Christian relation should be bridged carefully, respectfully, and constructively. Both traditions must subject their beliefs, practices, and communal relationships to prophetic critique. Just as the prophets sought to reform and preserve Israel from within, community members must promote growth and openness to God. God’s ultimate desire is that his International family made up of every tribe language and nation would grow. His Kingdom would be established in the midst of His people. He desires a relationship with all of His creation. As a matter of fact, all of creation is groaning and waiting for the return of the King so that all things would be restored. According to Luke, one of the things that united both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah was covenantal fidelity to God. This is why the four prohibitions in Acts 15 were far more than just things that would hinder Gentiles from table fellowship. On the other hand, they are to be understood holistically as Covenantal principles that elicit fidelity to God. Saldarini exhorts apologetics to seek to find all that is good, lovely and beautiful in all expressions of the body of Messiah. This is so that one can work through disputes that seek to bring disharmony between the two groups. I believe that Luke was also doing the same in his Gospel presentation.