1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars
Fascinating, provocative and infuriating, 22 Aug 2012
If you're a theologically minded evangelical, this book will probably delight and irritate in equal measure. It's fascinating, provocative and infuriating all at once.
Gruber's basic thesis is that God's intention was always to have a single covenant people for himself: the Jews. And to allow repentant Gentiles to share in Israel's blessing. But Gentile believers, rather than taking their place of subservience to their believing Jewish brothers, invented a bunch of man-made theology to justify kicking the Jews out into the cold for the next 1900 years.
First, the positive:
1. Gruber writes engagingly and is never boring. Often "heavy" theological subjects are as dry as kindling in the desert. But not Gruber. He's bolshie, provocative, colourful, sometimes irritating ... but never boring.
2. He obviously knows his stuff. This is the writing of someone who has done his research, and appears to be well versed in Hebrew. There are some wonderful insights into how the practise of our faith has so clearly been born in Jewish thought. For example, he ties baptism with the cleansing of leprosy in Leviticus (p331). There are plenty of footnotes too, so you can check up on what he says.
3. Gruber's first big idea is helpful and timely. His ample research shows that many of the words we commonly use in church circles originate in the traditions of men, not in the word of God. For example, he argues that English words like "Christ" (p29), "Christian" (p136-148), "Church" (p52-73), "New Testament" (p38-51) and "gospel" (p174) rather that pointing modern people back to their Jewish roots, suggest a new religion that tends to write out the Jewish people entirely.
For example, the English word "repentance" (Greek word "metanoia") is often defined as "a change of mind". He makes the point that this is a very limited definition because to the original (Jewish) readers, they would have understood "metanoia" as a translation of the Hebrew word "t'shuva", which means a change of action. The two are very different.
That, of course, may not be new to anyone who has done a bit of serious Bible study already, and understanding context is a pretty basic part of Biblical exegesis, but his point is important. Probably all the original authors of the Bible, and the majority of the readers were Jewish. The Old Testament is the story of the Jewish people. The New Testament is the story of the Jewish Messiah, and of his Jewish apostles, all of whom were steeped in Jewish teaching and tradition. The all-pervasive influence of Judaism and the Hebrew language in our faith is one that preachers and teachers all-to-easily forget, and we should take seriously the present-tense of Romans 9:4-5, where Paul refers to the Jewish people: "Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, for ever praised!"
It is certainly a challenge to ask how many people in our churches would identify any link at all between themselves and the Jewish faith. It is also sobering to reflect that none of the great creeds or confessions make any reference to the Jews - either as the root of our faith, or as an ongoing people.
4. Gruber's second big point is to undermine belief in supercessionism or "replacement theology". That is, the idea that God has rejected the Jewish people because collectively they rejected Jesus, and that "the church" has now inherited the blessings and promises to Israel - that the church is now God's chosen people, replacing the favoured position of the Jewish nation. This is the historic position of many churches since the Reformation. He argues that God's covenant with the Jews was unbreakable - God does not break his promises, and so "the Jews" (whoever they are - more on that later) - are still as much God's people as they ever were.
There is certainly much to be said for his position and I go a long way with him. I cannot see that the church has "replaced" Israel, so much as been added to believing Israel. Many (but not all) of the promises now belong equally to the Gentile church as to believing Israel.
Now, the negative:
1. Gruber often makes a good point, but vastly over-states his case, making small things seem like ultimate realities. Everything is black or white - there is no subtlety, no gray areas. For example, he believes that "New Testament" and "Old Testament" are unhelpful terms to describe the two halves of the Bible because those terms mask the covenantal nature of God's relationship with Israel. Now, I actually think he has a good point there - if we had our time again, calling them "Testaments" probably isn't the best term to use. But listen to how Gruber puts it: "Almost every current translation adopts the Latin distortion...it creates the false image of the "new" scriptures superseding the "old" scriptures...they have retained this (sic) grossly incorrect designations for the two parts of the Bible" (p40-42) And the effect of all this "distortion"? "The mistranslation enables virtually all Christian theologians to ignore both the actual new covenant and the faithfulness of God." (p41) So there you have it: your Bible is fundamentally flawed, distorted, mistranslated and has caused us to miss the meaning of God's new covenant, and to ignore his faithfulness. Apparently. The pudding would have tasted better with less egg.
Similarly, he implies a link between covenant theology and the holocaust (p316) that is simply unjustified either theologically or historically!
2. Straw-men line the pages. For example, part of his argument is that the ordinary Jewish people loved Jesus and did not reject him. He argues that Matthew 27:25 ("let his blood be on us and our children") refers just to the individuals who were there at the time. It was the "chief priests and our rulers...they crucified him" (Luke 24:20). "That is the simple Biblical view" (p99) in Gruber's black-and-white world.
He announces this great truth over the course of three chapters (p80-119), essentially making the same point over and over again as if it's something the Christian world has been unaware of all these long years. But anyone who has studied John's gospel in any depth knows full well that John doesn't (usually) mean the ordinary people when he refers to "the Jews". It's just not news, it's a straw man. My concern is that those in Christian leadership will spot this straw man immediately. But those in the Messianic community may not, and it will give them the impression that these "Christians" are just ignorant.
It's also just not as simple as Gruber makes out, which brings me to my next criticism:
3. He is sometimes somewhat selective in his use of scripture. Acts 2:23,36 and 4:10 have Peter clearly holding the ordinary Jewish people accountable for the death of Messiah. Were the crowds in Acts really all the same individuals who stood before Pilate, baying for the blood of Jesus? I think not. And of course, Jesus denounces the Jewish towns of Bethsaida, Korazin and Capurnaum for their rejection of him. (Matthew 11:21-24) Is Gruber really unaware of these verses? Or are they just inconvenient to his argument? In general, Gruber does not interact well (or at all) with scriptures and arguments that he disagrees with.
4. He vastly underplays the good the Church has done. There is a single paragraph (p190) reflecting on the good things the Christian Church has done throughout history, but literally pages and pages of almost venomous dislike toward the church that Christ died for. "Christianity never contained God. It was never his habitation. It was never his creation. It did not add anything, at least not anything positive, to what God had already given to the world through the Jewish people" (p191) Disagreement is fine and robust argument is to be encouraged. But reading Gruber leaves you with the notion that he doesn't like you much, which is a shame when Jewish believer and Gentile believer serve the same King Jesus together. (Romans 10:12)
5. Gruber demands too much of Gentile believers. For example, he argues that seeing Jesus as the Jewish Messiah is vital to our salvation: "The designation and calling of Messiah as the King of the Jews cannot be separated from the good news itself...the "Christ" of most of Christianity is not the Messiah." (p221) Now, I am not going to argue that it is unimportant to see Jesus as the Jewish Messiah - I think it is very important, and vitally so to those with a Jewish background. Peter's sermons in Acts (to a Jewish audience) make that abundantly clear. But Paul, speaking to Gentiles in Acts 17, makes no reference at all to the Jewish faith. His call to repentance and faith is clear, but it does not include a presentation of Jesus as Messiah.
6. He often comes across as sarcastic and angry. For example, commenting on 1Cor 11:26 (p231), he says, "The King of the Jews dies for the sins of the world...When he comes, he comes as the Son of David, bringing deliverance to Israel... he restores the throne of David in Jerusalem... Proclaim that in your Lord's supper." "Come on Humpty, think about it" (p192) "The God of the Bible does not have a "Church". No replacement takes place. What is it about "irrevocable" that you don't understand?" (p298) It's not a big deal, but those who agree with him will cheer, and those who don't will turn off. That, I'm sure, is not his aim.
7. Gruber is very vague on any distinction between "ethnic Israel" and "believing Israel". This is crucially important. Sometimes Gruber reads like an apology for the Jewish race, whether or not they accept Jesus as Messiah. Yet Paul makes a clear distinction between the two in Romans 9:6-7 and spends the rest of the chapter and all of the next in developing the argument. He says, "not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children". In other words, there is a distinction between ethnic Israel and believing Israel. Just being a genetic descendant of Abraham, does not make someone a recipient of God's salvific favour. Salvation is by faith, not heritage (Romans 10).
For example, at the end of the book he says, "How bizarre it is to think that one can embrace the King of the Jews while shunning his people." (p331) I'm still confused as to what Gruber wants my attitude to be. Accept the Jewish roots of my faith? Sure. Embrace my Messianic Jewish brethren? No problem. (I don't know any Christians who wouldn't.) But to embrace the secular state of ethnic Israel? They are not my brethren because we do not bow to the same King.
I appreciate a lot of what Gruber has written, but I fear he goes so far in defending Israel, that he diminishes the role and glory of the Gentile church. Maligning the people that Jesus died for cannot bring glory to God. Read this with an open mind and a discerning spirit.