Can a Christian Gentile

"Convert" to Judaism

“Become a Jew"

and Remain a Christian?    Stars graphic

By Timothy J. Huckabay/Cohen

    A major challenge within Christendom has always been the struggle for, and maintenance of Biblical orthodoxy. It is with this in mind, that the question must be raised, "Can a Christian Gentile convert to Judaism and remain a Christian?" Because a growing number of Christians are now entertaining conversion, this issue has great implications for the future of the scriptural Messianic movement. 1

    Before proceeding, let's consider what conversion to Judaism is. Is it physical, such that the converted individual is said to be of the physical descent of Jacob, whom God called Israel? Or is it spiritual, so that the person is identified with a religion. Conversion does not alter a person's genetic makeup. If a Gentile becomes circumcised physically, he becomes a circumcised Gentile. If an Israelite (i.e., a Jew) becomes uncircumcised (e.g., through an operation—something which has happened in the past to avoid persecution or exclusion), he becomes an uncircumcised Israelite. 2  Therefore, contrary to the opinions of some, when a person converts to Judaism, he is identifying with a religion, not a physical lineage.

    Though Christianity is a faith centered upon the Messiah (Christ), it is also Biblical Judaism. Unlike Rabbinic Judaism, it sees Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messianic goal and fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures. Israelites are today known by the blanket term "Jews," the root of which means "praise" (cf. Genesis 49:8; Isaiah 43:21). Yet "he is not a Judean [Jew] who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Judean who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in The Spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not from men, but from God." A Christian is one who, like the Israelites spoken of in Romans 2:28-29, gives praise to God through the circumcision of his heart, not his flesh.

    Born again Christians have the right spiritual nature. Should they, therefore, seek to take upon themselves a wrong spiritual nature, one that denies the triune Godhead, through conversion to a different, non-Biblical Judaism (i.e., a counterfeit gospel)? And if they are not seeking a spiritual conversion (which would require a renunciation of belief in Yeshua as The Messiah), how can they honestly say that they are converting at all? 3

    Different opinions are held regarding such conversions. There are those who do not see any theological problems with them (even though most are done covertly—cf. 2 Peter 2:1), and there are others who would denounce them outright as the fruit of a destructive heresy, one that sooner or later leads to a falling away, or apostasy from the simplicity and truth of Biblical Christianity. 4

    Some, if not most of those who undergo such conversions do so in an effort to emigrate to Israel as Israeli citizens, often with the expressed intent to evangelize unbelieving Israelis. Further, they do so knowing that Israel's Supreme Court has declared Christian Israelites outside of Israel ineligible for guaranteed citizenship as Israelites under its Law of Return. Unfortunately, once there, few Christian "converts" engage in open evangelization for fear of possible revocation of citizenship and subsequent expulsion. Yet Christians visiting Israel are, like Israel's indigenous believers, relatively free to share their faith. 5

    Is conversion for the sake of emigration (or any other reason), at the cost of implicitly, if not explicitly denying the Name of Yeshua before men, really commendable? Could God's will possibly be found in this kind of maneuver? Shouldn't both Israelite and non-Israelite Christians be willing to suffer exclusion from the land of Israel for the Name of their Messiah, and the latter all the more so, inasmuch as God never promised the land of Israel to them (cf. Galatians 6:12-16)? Yeshua did say that His followers would be excluded by unbelievers for His sake (see Luke 6:22-23; cf. Galatians 4:17, 4:21, 5:1).6

    According to the Hebrew scriptures, Israelite males were to be physically circumcised on the eighth day after birth as evidence of the covenant between God, Abraham, and Abraham's physical descendants. Yet that circumcision was intended not merely as a fleshly token of the faith of the parents, but as a reflection of the circumcision in the hearts of those parents who faithfully served God; for it was a "seal of the righteousness of the faith." 8 Indeed, Israelites often looked with disdain upon those who were not so-circumcised. 9  In the pre-Messianic economy, Gentiles who wanted to serve the God of Israel were generally required to enter into the Abrahamic Covenant, which was later incorporated into the Mosaic Law (for men, this involved physical circumcision; see Leviticus 12:3; cf. John 7:22-23).10 Through such entry, these Gentiles became foreign proselytes, not Israelites. 11

    Though the first-century leaders of the New Testament church used the word "apostasy" of believing Israelite parents who "forsake" (Lit., apostatize) the Mosaic Law and the physical circumcision of their sons (Acts 21:21, Gk.; cf. 1 Maccabees 1:48-50, 1:60-62a, 2:15; Romans 3:1-4),12 the Bible as a whole places far greater emphasis upon circumcision in the heart. 13 In fact, God chided unfaithful Israelites for their uncircumcised hearts. 14 Yet every born again Christian who serves God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24) has a circumcised heart in Yeshua, 15 through His death and resurrection, 16 and through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. 17 Division between Israelites and Gentiles no longer exists in this regard (see Ephesians 2:11-22).

    The New Covenant expressly forbids the requirement of physical circumcision for Gentiles as a sign of faithfulness to God (e.g., see Acts 15:1-29), and strongly discourages its encouragement by Israelites (e.g., see Titus 1:9-11) or false Israelite brethren (cf. Galatians 2:2-5), though circumcision of the heart is required. All believers have liberty to either observe or not observe those aspects of the Mosaic Law that do not concern themselves with God's righteous standards. 18 Christians are "not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14); for "if righteousness is through the Law, then Messiah died in vain" (Galatians 2:21).

    But what if a Christian Gentile wants to "convert"?  Should someone who spiritually fulfills the physical token seek to have the token itself or the calling that it implies? Can a believer attain a closer, or more "complete" walk with Yeshua, as some claim, through conversion? No, but "let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called" (see 1 Corinthians 7:17-20), being "straightforward with the Gospel," not building again those things which have been "crucified with Messiah" (see Galatians 2:11 to 3:5). In the opinion of most scholars and theologians, a literal reading of the scriptures would seem to indicate that when a Christian converts (e.g., through physical circumcision or bloodletting for men, or ritual immersion for women), he nullifies his liberty in Messiah, such that the keeping of the Mosaic Law is no longer an option, but a Biblical mandate. Indeed, belief in Yeshua will profit that person "nothing" (see Galatians 5:1-3), his having "become estranged from Messiah," having "fallen from grace" (see Galatians 5:4-12). Even when desired, such circumcision, which Paul called mutilation, 19 leads to estrangement from Yeshua. 20 If that's not a destructive heresy secretly brought in by false teachers, what is (see 2 Peter 2:1-3; cf. Galatians 5:13-26; 2 Timothy 4:1-5)?

    What about the inherent deception involved in the feigned "conversion" of a Christian Gentile to Judaism for purposes such as emigration to Israel, or more effective witnessing to Israelites? 21 God's Word everywhere encourages and admonishes those who faithfully serve Him to do so "in truth" (cf. Revelation 14:5). Deception and truthfulness do not usually mix. 22 In the very context of Israelite circumcision (Romans 3:1-4), Paul addressed the use of deception to achieve good aims, stating, "And why not say, 'Let us do evil that good may come'?—as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say; their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:8; cf. 3:5-7). Therefore, we cannot Biblically justify false circumcisions (mutilations) or conversions, which can only serve to discredit and obscure the Gospel before unbelievers, especially when they are discovered. 23 

Footnotes:

  1 If, after reading this article, you feel that it has not satisfactorily addressed the issues at hand, please specify your concerns, ideas, etc., in writing to: MENORAH -Menorah Ministries- ; P.O. Box 460024, Denver, CO 80246-0024 U.S.A.  Fax: 303-339-0365   303-355-2009  menorah@menorah.org . We will happily consider anything that you have to say. Keep in mind that we are primarily addressing issues related to the conversion of Christian Gentiles to Judaism while still professing to be Christians. We are not concerned with circumcision for peripheral, non-spiritual reasons (e.g., physical health). (written for and by request of MENORAH -Menorah Ministries- Copyright 1993 by Timothy J. Huckabay. All Rights reserved for MENORAH -Menorah Ministries-.)

  2 Gordon Lewis, Professor of Systematic Theology at Denver Seminary, comments, "If the questions have to do with ethnic Israelites, it is impossible for a Gentile to become a Jew. The oneness of Jew and Gentile in Christ does not rule out ethnic differences any more than male or female distinctions. In spite of our gender and ethnic differences, however, we are one in Christ spiritually. No, Gentiles cannot become ethnic Jews or vice versa." Rich Robinson, Jews for Jesus' Research Librarian, adds, "Jewishness is dependent not only on identifying as a Jew [religiously] but on descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.... A Gentile who converts to Judaism is still a Gentile biblically."

  3 Robinson remarks, "converting to Judaism makes a statement that a Christian should not want to make. That statement is, 'By converting I agree with the tenets of Reform Judaism, or Orthodox Judaism, or whatever.' However, a Christian cannot in good conscience subscribe to those tenets. In other words, a Gentile Christian who converts is claiming to accept a set of beliefs and attitudes that he or she shouldn't be holding.... [How] are converts going to remain honest about their faith in Jesus?... Even though Jewishness and faith in Christ are not mutually exclusive, the religion of Judaism and faith in Christ are. And it would be unethical to hide the fact that one is a follower of Yeshua."

  4 Sam Nadler, President of Chosen People Ministries, Inc., remarks, "I consider it deceptive and dishonest, and/or theologically foolish.... Indeed, it confounds the testimony of Messiah by negating the diversity and unity we have in Him, who has made the two into one new man." Dave Hunt, a well-known Christian author, comments, "Since the cross, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but a new creature in Christ. Therefore, it is utter folly for a Christian—indeed, impossible—to go back to the OLD COVENANT relationship (which they would have to do) in order to 'become Jewish.'" Robinson states, "Though some others on our Jews for Jesus staff might have other observations to make, I don't know of any who would differ from my basic point. That point is that it's both wrong and counter-productive for Gentile Christians to convert to Judaism."

  5 Robinson adds, "some might seek conversion out of a desire to identify with the Jewish people and be a better witness. In reality, most Jewish people would be confused by such a move.... And as for being a witness, it is much better for a Gentile to show love for the Jewish people by friendship and practical actions rather than by converting."

  6 Christians should note that the 144,000 Israelites who are to be sealed during the Tribulation Period (Revelation 7:1-8, 14:1-3) are not only martially chaste, following The Lamb "wherever He goes" (Revelation 14:4), but they also have "no guile" (i.e., deceit) "in their mouth," being "without fault before the throne of God" Revelation 14:5.

  7 See Genesis 17:10-14, 17:23-27, 21:4.

  8 See Romans 4:11; cf. Joshua 5:2-8; 2 Timothy 2:19-23.

  9 E.g., see Genesis 34:13-27; Judges 14:3, 15:18; 1 Samuel 14:6, 17:26, 17:36, 31:4; 2 Samuel 1:20; 1 Chronicles 10:4; cf. Leviticus 19:23; Isaiah 52:1; Jeremiah 9:25-26; Ezekiel 28:10, 31:18 to 32:32, 44:6- 9; Habakkuk 2:15-16; Acts 11:2-3; Ephesians 2:11-12.

  10 Prophecies concerning the Millennial Temple seem to indicate that Gentiles will not be permitted to enter God's sanctuary on Mount Zion, when the Mosaic ordinances will be reinstated (with the exception of those pertaining to guilt and sin offerings), unless they are circumcised both in the heart and in the flesh (e.g., by their parents; see Ezekiel 44:6-9).

  11 E.g., to keep the Passover; see Exodus 12:43-45, 12:48-50; cf. Genesis 17:23, 17:27. Rachel, Leah, Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were proselytes (see Ruth 4:10-12; cf. Genesis 38:11-29; 1 Chronicles 2:3-4), not Israelites, who married Israelite men. Their sons (e.g., the sons of Jacob, Perez, Boaz, and Obadiah), however, were Israelites inasmuch as their fathers were Israelites. Therefore, these women, and others like them, cannot rightly be used as examples of Gentiles who "became" Israelites; rather, they adopted the faith and religion of Israel, and dwelt among the Israelites as proselytes (cf. Ezek 47:21-23). Indeed, Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum notes, "The Jew is the nationality; Judaism is the religion. Acceptance of Judaism by a Gentile does not make him a Jew, but a proselyte. For that reason, the New Testament makes a distinction between Jews and proselytes in four passages [(see Matthew 23:15; Acts 2:10, 6:5, 13:43)].... Gentile converts to Judaism are never given the title of Jew.... Many Gentiles have tried to claim Jewishness on the principle of conversion based on Ruth's story. However, Ruth is consistently called a Moabitess both before and after her acceptance of the God of Israel [(see Ruth 1:22, 2:2, 2:6, 2:21, 4:5, 4:10; cf. Ruth 1:16-17, 4:11-12; Revelation 2:9)]" (Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology {California: Ariel Ministries Press, 1993}, pp. 751-752). What about the men of Shechem? After Jacob's daughter Dinah was raped by Shechem, Shechem sought to marry her (see Genesis 34:1-6). But Dinah's Israelite brothers were incensed and bent on revenge and justice. When Shechem's father proposed that marriage and other marriages between the two peoples (see Genesis 34:7-12), which he saw as an opportunity for commerce and wealth (see Genesis 34:10, 34:23), Jacob's sons decided to trick them into being circumcised so that they could more easily attack and kill them, not so that they could become proselytes (see Genesis 34:13-31). Consequently, we see that despite appearances, this incident had nothing to do with spiritual conversion, and nothing in it, when it is understood in context, even remotely suggests that a Gentile can become part of physical Israel through circumcision.

  12 Timothy, a believing Israelite with a Gentile father, was physically circumcised by Paul for the sake of his (i.e., Timothy's) witness to other Israelites as an Israelite (see Acts 16:1-3), not for "conversion" to Judaism. Historically, the sons of Israelite mothers and Gentile fathers were generally not circumcised by their fathers in accordance with the Abrahamic Covenant. Consequently, there was a legitimate question of ethnic identification. Were these sons to be considered Israelites or Gentiles? So long as they remained uncircumcised, in violation of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, they could not properly be called Israelites, though their lineage as such was never in question (cf. Leviticus 24:10-15). Yet these sons had the right to choose for themselves to identify with Israel through physical circumcision. Under Paul's guidance, Timothy did so. Fruchtenbaum remarks, "Timothy had Jewish roots and so, for him, circumcision was a valid option" (Israelology, p. 750). Timothy, therefore, cannot be used as a New Covenant example of ethnic affirmation (when just one parent is an Israelite) or conversion, which it everywhere mitigates against or condemns (irrespective of ethnicity). He can, however, be used as an example of ethnic identification by uncircumcised sons who have an Israelite parent.

  13 E.g., see Deuteronomy 10:12-18, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:23-29; cf. Exodus 6:12, 6:30; Deuteronomy 30:2, 30:8,30:14; Jeremiah 31:31-34, 32:37-40; Ezekiel 11:19-21, 44:6-9; Romans 4:7-12.

  14 E.g., see Genesis 17:14; Leviticus 26:41; cf. Exodus 4:24-26; Jeremiah 6:10, 9:25.

  15 E.g., see Colossians 2:10-11; cf. Romans 8:3; Colossians 3:9-17.

  16 E.g., see Romans 6:1-15; Colossians 2:12-15.

  17 E.g., see 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Philippians 3:3.

  18 E.g., God's sabbaths and feasts (which Israelites were to observe), the dietary commandments, etc. (see Romans 14:5-8, 14:21-22; Colossians 2:16-17; cf. Hebrews 8:5, 10:1).

  19 See Philippians 3:2-3, NKJV or NIV. The NASB calls this mutilation false circumcision.

  20 None of the passages just referenced (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:17-20, Galatians 5, Philippians 3:2-3, etc.) are set in a Judaizing context. They are, therefore, applicable not only to those who would require such circumcision (i.e., Judaizers), but also to those who merely recommend or encourage it.

  21 Some individuals have actually attended synagogues of unbelievers for months in order to obtain "conversions" without openly admitting their Christian faith. Israeli authorities, and all but the most liberal rabbis, consider conversions of the nature we have been discussing to be deceptive and dishonest, and, if they are discovered, null and void. In fact, most Israelites, including many of those who are believers, are agreed on these points.

  22 Not even Abram (Abraham), who for a noble purpose (i.e., staying alive for his wife's sake) implored Sarai (Sarah) to identify herself as his sister before Pharaoh, can be said to have lied; for she was his half- sister (Gen 20:12). True, Abram conspired with his wife to deceive Pharaoh, but he did so out of desperation to save both their lives (see Genesis 12:11-20; cf. 20:1-14). Yet the scriptures do not leave room for such tactics where the Gospel is concerned.

  23 See Matthew 18:15-20;  1 Timothy 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; cf. Leviticus 19:17; Deuteronomy 19:15; Romans 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 5:11 to 6:3; 2 Corinthians 13:1-2;  2 Thessalonians 3:6, 3:14-15; Hebrews 10:28; James 5:20. 

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