Thursday, March 15, 2007

Meshichim and Nozrim

The Israeli believers in this news clip stress that they are lo nozrim – which I had to translate somewhat imprecisely as "not Christians." The concern might arise with some Bible believers, and indeed has, that they are trying to hide or mask their true identity in Yeshua. In biblical terms, are they denying of themselves the New Covenant concept christianous (also translated in English as "Christians” or in the singluar, “Christian,” found in Acts 11:26 and 1 Pet. 4:16)? The concern is understandable, and so I must clarify that they are not denying that. Why do I say that?

It might help to understand that in contemporary Hebrew translations of Acts 11:26 and 1 Pet. 4:16 (for example, in Delitzch (DHNT) and the Modern Hebrew New Testament (MHNT)), the greek word christianous is translated as meshichim, i.e. "Messianics." It is not translated nozrim. So from the Hebrew it could read like this, "and the disciples were first called Messianics in Antioch," and "if one suffers as a Messianic." And really, “Meshichi” gets closer to what Bible believers mean by "Christian" than nozrim does, even though the word “nozrim” is used more often in Israel. By using the better as opposed to the more easily recognized Hebrew term, the Israeli believers are embracing the biblical terminology and concepts, so as to boldly testify about Yeshua in an authentically biblical way.

I was surprised when I looked in my pocket Hebrew-English dictionary under the word "Gentile," where the second Hebrew word for it, just after "goy," is "nozri" (singular of nozrim, pronounce the 'z' like the 'z' in 'pizza'). In other words, to a modern Hebrew speaker, saying “nozri” can basically be another way of saying "Gentile." Now, we should drop any prejudices we might have about the word "Gentile"; the fact is that God loves the Gentiles (the nations) and has blessed them through the Jewish Messiah (Gen 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; Luke 2:32; Acts 11:18; 13:46; Rom. 11:13). Moreover, the Gentiles, together with the Jewish people, are essential to the body of Christ from a biblical perspective, as part of the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:11-22). But the point that this shows is that the word nozri stands for a foreign religion, which faith in Yeshua was never meant to be for a Jewish perspective (Luke 1:54-55, John 4:22). Indeed, one cannot even have the commonwealth of Israel (to be including the Gentiles), if you were to take Israel out of the picture. So the believers there choose to explicitly express that they are a part of the biblically Jewish, Israeli-born faith in the Messiah of Israel. (This is something that all believers, Jew and Gentile, should see as an imperative to express - Rom 1:16; 11:11).

The Hebrew phrase yehudim meshichim - Messianic Jews - has been around in the land as long as Israel, and even before the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. But the term was unknown to most Israelis until recently, only because Jewish believers in Jesus have been few in number there. Naturally, all these terminology issues (just like the symbolism of putting up the mezuza, and not a crucifix) fascinate the media in Israel, because it shows that this group simply cannot fit into a preconceived box. Thus, the media focused on that aspect of the interviews and footage.

So, to summarize:

--The term for believers in Yeshua found in Israeli Bibles is usually Meshichim.

--Believers usually reject the term Nozrim, because, while it may be the most common term for "Christian," it also evokes a non-Jewish religious institution that has nothing to do with the Messiah or people of Israel.

--Deriving from the biblical terminology, in general they call themselves Yehudim Meshichim, in parallel to Jewish believers worldwide who call themselves 'Messianic Jews'.

Now, I don't mean to imply that semantics is or should be a 'really big deal' for believers in Israel. However, it was a 'big deal' for the media there, because the different terms/symbols was intriguing in itself, and likewise it can be for Gentile believers outside Israel, because of the attachment to the label "Christian."


sultanmcdoom said...

"There isn't any connection to the Christian establishment (memsad hanozrim). We are Jews in every sense. We are Israelis."

This is not a case of being mislabeled this is a categorical denial of any connection between Christianity and the Messianics. How do you reconcile this with Yeshua's statements about one flock and one shepherd? Or Paul's statements about Yeshua having broken down every wall of division?

Matt said...

Sultan, you raise an interesting point and thank you for bringing that forward. Yes, there is one flock and one shepherd. However it is not a priori connected by necessity to any so-called "Christian establishment," in the sense that most protestants believe about the Vatican establishment. When believers assert that what they believe has no real connection to the religious "establishment" and/or "institution" (both are possible translations of "memsad") which has brought us indulgences and pope/anti-pope controversy and so on, would you claim that they too are splitting up the flock? I can understand criticizing their use of terms, since there is another sense in which they are indeed connected to that very establishment, even the one denominated as the very group they broke off from. That is, the faithful believers in Messiah who are called Catholics are one in Messiah with the faithful believers who are in the group that historically has denominated itself on different terms, as Protestants. Indeed, the usual attitudes of evangelical believers may confuse sincere followers of Jesus who happen to be called Catholics, as if disunity was the goal.

The term which entails this unity that these Israeli believers very much want to communicate, as I have shown quite clearly, is precisely Meshichim, "Messianics," if you please. Meshichim does include Gentiles and Jews. Those called Meshichim at Antioch were simply believers in Messiah, not called that on account of being Jewish, but upon being identified with the Messiah, or Christ. Thus, Mr. Ronen followed up his wife's comment that you quoted with the following:

"Nozri" ("Christian") puts you at once in a religious box that I don't belong in. I belong to a faith in Yeshua the Messiah ("Yeshua haMashiach").

And, as should be added, he belongs to all others who belong to biblical faith in Yeshua, Jesus, that is, Meshichim.

sultanmcdoom said...

You are correct that there is no a priori and necessary connection between the one flock and the Christian establishment but there is an actual and practical connection between them. If the Meshichim truly believe that all faithful followers of Yeshua are one, why would they disavow any connection to the establishment that encompasses the highest concentration of fellow believers?

To illustrate my point I submit this hypothetical statement:

“As American-Christians there is no connection between the Messianic establishment and us. We are Christians in every sense. We are Americans.”

Matt said...

You seem to have missed her point. Before we go too far note that it is one person, one quote, without much context given. I am not committed to defend her point of view, especially because I can only surmise so much from the snippet. That said, there are two religious institutions she brings up in her short comment - the second is that of the Rabbinic religious establishment, which has influence and power in Israel, and which is featured quite clearly in the segment. They have no connection with that religious establishment. The "Christian Establishment" does not refer to the body of worldwide believers, but to a religious and political structure (comparable in concept to "the rabbinic establishment) that could be seen in Israel and around the world. She is basically saying that she is not connected to the Vatican or Greek Orthodox church, or for that matter any other institution that could be a normal referent for memsad hanozrim. (it makes it sound as if there is but one institution, when there are many, but the same criticism could be made for implying but one rabbinic institution.) Again, she is not denying "actual or practical connection" to other believers in Messiah. Also, to ask about "highest concentration of believers" presumes that she was denying connection to any fellow believers, instead of mere religious institutions. She was doing the latter.

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

Sultan, I accidentally deleted your comment. Here it is:

Now i get what you/she was saying.


I was also wondering about the term nozrim/notzrim. I have found at least one source that makes it a reference to groups within Messianic Judaism.

I can see why you'd find connections. It is the most common Hebrew word for "Christians" in modern Hebrew.
I don't really know how it passed into usage. Let me know what you find.

I do know it derives from the name of Yeshua's birthplace, Nazrat, and he being a "Nazarene," Nazri (also, the Arabic term for Christians has a similar origin)

Thus, a similar (though not the same!) word is used in by Franz Delitzch in his Hebrew translation of Acts 26:28.

Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Natzri" (Christian). A Modern Hebrew (MHNT) translation provides "Meshichi," which more closely follows the Greek, Christianos.

And all this is definitely is something other than Netzarim, the early sect that we know mainly through the polemics of Epiphanius and Jerome.

Anders Branderud said...

Quote: “And all this is definitely is something other than Netzarim, the early sect that we know mainly through the polemics of Epiphanius and Jerome.”

A logical analysis (found here: (that is the only legitimate Netzarim)) of all extant source documents and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

To find accurate information about the Netzarim, see the “History Museum”-pages in the above website.