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Luke was Jewish, speaker tells Messianic fellowship

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–The Book of Hebrews was likely written by Luke who was Jewish — not gentile as is widely believed, David L. Allen, professor of preaching at Criswell College, told members of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship.

“I believe the Book of Hebrews was written by none other than Luke,” said Allen, who spoke to approximately 50 conferees at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown prior to the June 15-16 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in the same city.

Regarding Luke’s ethnic identity, Allen made the assessment that “nowhere in the New Testament is Luke given an ethnic background. Nowhere are we told that Luke is a gentile. It is an assumption that New Testament scholars have been making for several hundred years,” he said.

“We are not even told during the early church, during the patristic period … that Luke was a gentile. That is an assumption we make,” said Allen, who Aug. 1 will become dean of the school of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.

Allen acknowledged many Bible scholars have concluded Luke is a gentile because of a reference in Colossians 4:10 to “they of the circumcision” followed by a separate reference to Luke a few verses later.

“This is not a supposition, it is an inference,” Allen observed. “‘They of the circumcision’ could be three men who, although Jews, stood with him in a particular situation. … He is simply mentioning Luke last because he is especially dear to the apostle.

“There are a number of reasons for not taking that one statement and pronouncing that Luke is clearly a Gentile. … It is at best an inference that is drawn from that text. … We cannot make the case on that text alone,” said Allen, who also serves as director of the Jerry Vines Institute of Preaching at Criswell College.

Allen cited a variety of other biblical, linguistic and historical scholarship and evidence to support his belief in Luke’s authorship of Hebrews and Luke’s Jewishness. While many believe the Apostle Paul is the book’s author, Allen noted there are many dissimilarities between the writing styles of Paul and the author of Hebrews.

As one example, Allen cited more than 150 uses in Paul’s 13 epistles of “in Christ” and “in Christ Jesus” whereas the Book of Hebrews doesn’t use these phrases at all.

“I am suggesting to you that the entire New Testament was written by Jewish believers; there’s not a Gentile in the bunch,” said Allen, who is currently seeking a publisher for a book manuscript defending the Lukan authorship of Hebrews.

Steve Barack, president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship from 2002-04, encouraged the group to study and teach the Bible.

“There is no answer to the future that our scriptural education cannot teach us,” Barack said. “We have an answer for every situation that stands before us but only if we position ourselves to receive what the Lord has for us.”

Barack urged the fellowship to remember its reason for existence. “The Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship exists for the purpose of not having one more Jewish life go to the grave without the recognition of the Jewish Messiah,” said Barack, the congregational leader of B’nai Ohr Beth Tefilah in Wheeling, Ill.

Jay Isbell, an elder at Beth El Shaddai Messianic Congregation in Bessemer, Ala., gave an address titled, “Messianic Believers Speaking in Churches.”

“There is something unique about the Messianic perspective of Christianity,” Isbell said, speaking as a non-Jew. “So much of what we learn as Messianic believers flies in the face of what we learned as gentile Christians — even though it’s all in the Bible.”

Numerous speakers and conferees, including Isbell, noted that Messianic Jews often are invited to share about their perspectives in larger gentile congregations.

“The whole trick to all of this is to be able to tell them what they want in such a way that they don’t run screaming out the door and they don’t throw you out the window,” Isbell said, causing many in the room to chuckle.

Messianic congregations should be selective about which of their members are sent as speakers to larger congregations.

“Don’t send somebody with a bad attitude toward the church to speak to a church,” Isbell cautioned. “If you’ve got a bad attitude, you don’t go either. … Many people who came into the Messianic movement came out of churches and, as they began to see what God was showing them about the old covenant of Scripture, … they began to get some flack from folks around them. Sometimes they’ll come into a Messianic congregation with a lot of baggage.”

Isbell said a primary purpose of Messianic believers should be helping Christians understand how to witness to Jewish acquaintances.

“Our primary mission in Messianic fellowship is in Jewish evangelism,” Isbell said.

“How should we witness to our Jewish neighbors and coworkers?” Answering the question, Isbell advised, “You develop a relationship. … You don’t send them a tract. You pray a lot. You don’t send them a little brochure. You don’t send them a Bible.”

He suggested Christians should ask Jews about their feasts and celebrations, because such conversations can lead to Jews reciprocating with questions about Christianity.

When Christians inquire about observation of feasts such as Hanukkah and Purim, they can mention to their Jewish acquaintances — who will likely be surprised — the fact that Jesus participated in these celebrations, Isbell pointed out.

Christians should feel freedom to learn about and participate in such Jewish observances, Isbell said. “There is nothing in Christianity or Christian doctrine that says you cannot do these things — nothing.”

Robin Rose, congregational leader of Adat Shalom Messianic Congregation in Dallas, spoke on “Reflecting on the First Church.” He said the first church, described in Acts 2:41-47, was Jewish and can help today’s believers understand the essential traits of a church anywhere and any time.

“A close look at the functions of the first church at Jerusalem provides us with somewhat of a blueprint of what should characterize a local assembly of believers in any age,” said Rose whose congregation is a mission of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Among the basic characteristics Rose listed are: commitment to God’s Word, fellowship, prayer, meeting needs, practicing the ordinances, sensing God’s presence, worship, praise and evangelism — both personal and corporate.

“The amazing thing about God’s principles and the church itself and Jesus and Christianity is that you can take principles of Christianity and it will flourish,” Rose said. “The Jerusalem church is a classic example of how a functioning body of believers can be a dynamic corporate evangelistic ministry within a community.”

Jorge Sedaca, language ministry leader for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan, gave an address on “What Makes a Witness?”

“I believe that with all my heart that today there is an urgent need to share our faith with both Jews and gentiles,” Sedaca said. “From what I read in the Scripture, it is not an option. … It’s a mandate.”

Being a witness doesn’t require a special gift of the Holy Spirit, Sedaca said. “Every believer is expected to be a witness. It comes with the job. It comes when you accept the Lord Yeshua as your Savior, as your Master, as your Messiah.”

Jim Sibley, coordinator of Jewish ministries for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, said all Christians should be committed to the evangelization of Jewish people.

“Every believer must be burdened for the salvation of the Jewish people,” Sibley said. “[This concern] is not just for Messianic Jews. The Jewish people are the unique chosen people. … Our love for Israel is based upon the fact that God uniquely loves Israel and has chosen the Jewish people.”

During a business meeting, the group elected the following officers: president, David Hecht of Panama City, Fla., who is a master of divinity student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.; vice president, Jim Sibley; secretary, Diana Owen, a worker in the children’s ministry of Adat Shalom, a graduate student at Criswell College and a Mission Service Corps volunteer at NAMB working as Sibley’s administrative assistant; and Penny Isbell, a member of Beth El Shaddai Messianic Congregation in Bessemer, Ala.
(BP) photo to be posted at the SBC annual meeting website, www.sbcannualmeeting.org/sbc04.

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  • Keith Hinson