Professor Anthony J. Saldarini, a respected Christian scholar of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, dedicated his life to fostering reconciliation between Jews and Christians. In his work titled "Interpretation of Luke-Acts Implication for Jewish Christian Dialogue," he delves into the relationship between Jews and Gentiles through the lens of Yeshua, with a specific focus on Luke's treatment of the subject in the Gospel of Luke and Acts.
One of the central questions addressed by Luke is the divine plan of God. As I reflect on how we, as Messianic Jews, should engage in Jewish-Christian dialogue, Saldarini's insights on Luke's theology prove invaluable. In Luke's Gospel narrative, Yeshua is depicted as the fulfillment of God's promise to Israel and the nations. Luke consistently presents Yeshua's ministry as aligning with the Tanakh, representing God's divine plan for salvation. Saldarini emphasizes that the inclusion of Gentile believers within the Church does not replace Jews who rejected Yeshua. Instead, it signifies the Gentiles becoming part of Israel, the people of God. However, it is essential to clarify that Yeshua's ministry primarily targeted the Jewish community. According to Luke, Yeshua's message of repentance and salvation was initially directed towards the house of Israel, and it was through faithful Messianic Jews like the disciples, the seventy, the one hundred twenty, and Paul that the message extended to the Gentiles. Thus, God's divine plan of salvation for both Israel and the nations becomes the framework through which we understand the Hebrew Bible and the New Covenant material.
Different scholars hold varying opinions regarding Luke's Gospel and Acts. Some view Luke as an anti-Jewish writer, while others see him as a Gentile writing from within Judaism. Unfortunately, due to the historical divide between Judaism and Christianity over the past nineteen centuries, the idea of a "Gentile Luke" seems improbable to many Jews and Christians. This assumption arises from Luke's theological inclination that anyone who repents of their sins and embraces the New Covenant in Yeshua becomes part of the family of God, the Ekklesia. While Saldarini's definition of salvation leading to inclusion within historical Israel may suggest a homogenized notion of the One New Man, I believe that Luke, as a traveling ministry partner of Paul, presents a clear Gospel message where the distinct national identities of Jews and Gentiles remain while sharing equal covenantal status through faith in Yeshua. This equality pertains to their relationship with God as Father.
Luke affirms the significance and value of Israel in his writings. Acts also depicts moments of prophetic correction between key Messianic Jewish leaders, such as Peter and Paul, to communicate the consistency of the Gospel message with God's plan of salvation. Furthermore, God's plan for Israel to be a light to the nations finds its ultimate meaning through Yeshua, who brings about unity between Jews and Gentiles. This unity is reflected in the Halachic decisions outlined in Acts 15, which emphasize that all people are saved by God through faith in Yeshua.
So, how should Jews and Christians relate to one another? Saldarini asserts that the Jewish-Christian relationship should be approached with care, respect, and constructive dialogue. Both traditions should 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 foster growth and openness to God, as His ultimate desire is for His international family, comprised of every tribe, language, and nation, to thrive. He longs for His Kingdom to be established among His people and desires a relationship with all of His creation. In fact, all of creation eagerly awaits the return of the King, anticipating the restoration of all things. According to Luke, one of the commonalities uniting Jews and Gentiles in Messiah is their faithfulness to the covenant with God. This understanding sheds light on the four prohibitions in Acts 15, which extend beyond mere hindrances to table fellowship for Gentiles. Rather, they are holistic principles of the covenant that inspire fidelity to God. Saldarini encourages apologists to seek out the good, lovely, and beautiful aspects in all expressions of the body of Messiah, enabling them to address disputes that may disrupt harmony between the two groups. I believe that Luke, in his presentation of the Gospel, also demonstrates this approach.