One New Man has become another brand in the religious marketplace, but what does it mean, exactly?
One website says, “The message of The One New Man is a message of unity between Jews and Gentiles—our heritage past, and our inheritance present and future. It is a message that empowers Believers to understand the roots of their faith by providing the teaching necessary to help bring activation of this covenant revelation” (http://www.houseofdavid.com/onenewman.html). Another states, “It’s not Judaism and Christianity, two streams of God, but the convergence of Jew and Gentile into one stream called the ‘One New Man’” (http://sidroth.org/articles/sid-roth-investigates-one-new-man).
The One New Man brand usually combines a vision of unity with an emphasis on “Jewish roots,” such as the biblical festivals, and support for the state of Israel.
The phrase itself comes from Ephesians 2:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph. 2:14–16 ESV, emphasis added)
The “conventional reading” of Ephesians, as Mark Kinzer calls it in his remarkable new book, Searching Her Own Mystery: Nostra Aetate, the Jewish People, and the Identity of the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015) doesn’t see “one new man” as describing Jewish-Gentile unity, but a whole new category of humankind. One advocate of a conventional reading writes, “Ephesians 2:11-22 states that the ethnic boundaries that segregated gentiles and nongentiles have been destroyed by Christ.” Now, in Christ, gentiles have been “given a new ethnicity that replaces the old one, and this new identity is the same identity for both Jews and gentiles” (Thomas Slater, cited in Searching, 66 fn. 7).
Mark provides an exegesis of Ephesians 1-3 that yields a whole different understanding: “As the corporate expression of Israel’s crucified and risen Messiah, the ‘one new human being’ is Israel itself, reconfigured in a new eschatological form.” Gentiles don’t become proselytes, but “are incorporated as gentiles into an expanded and transformed commonwealth of Israel. . . . Reconciled to God ‘in one body’—the crucified body of Israel’s Messiah—the ‘two’ [Jews and gentiles] bear witness together that God’s shalom has the power to conquer entrenched human enmity.” (Searching, 77, emphases in the original.)
I’ll take the rest of this blog to highlight some points in Mark’s exegesis of Ephesians 1 and 2 that support his portrayal of one new man.
According to Ephesians 2:12–13, before coming to Messiah, gentiles were “without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah” (this and following references are NRSV, with some terms changed for Jewish emphasis). Notice that being without Messiah is linked here with being outside the commonwealth of Israel. This linkage has two huge implications.
First, as Mark says, “God does not draw these gentiles near apart from Israel.” (Searching, 75). Faith in Messiah brings a gentile not just into personal salvation, but into the commonwealth of Israel, into relationship with Israel, however much Christendom may have sought to deny this relationship through most of its history.
A second, perhaps even more radical, implication of linking Messiah with the commonwealth of Israel is that Israel somehow inherently incorporates the presence of Messiah. Romans 1, as Dr. Kinzer notes, suggests that Jewish life in Paul’s day was at a higher moral and spiritual level than life among the nations. Ephesians 2 goes beyond this to point to “a covenantal bond with God and the hidden but real presence of the pre-incarnate Messiah” within Israel (75). Paul has already pointed in this direction in Romans (although again not going as far as he does in Ephesians):
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. (Rom. 3:1–2)
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Messiah for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Rom. 9:3–5)
From this description of Israel in Romans to linking Messiah directly with the commonwealth of Israel in Ephesians is not such a great distance. In claiming an unrecognized presence of Messiah within Israel, however, Mark makes it clear that this is a corporate, not a personal, issue. This presence doesn’t mean that individual Jews are somehow automatically “Messianic,” automatically “saved.” Each individual, Jew and gentile, must still give an account to God. That’s why Paul wishes he could be cut off for the sake of his kindred—because he is concerned for the spiritual destiny of Jewish individuals, just as he’s assured of God’s irrevocable calling upon the Jewish people corporately (Rom. 11:29). The unrecognized presence of Messiah serves as a sign of this irrevocable calling, and the guarantee of its final fulfillment.
Ephesians opens with a berachah or blessing, which we might understand in a new way after our quick look at Ephesians 2.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who has blessed us in Messiah with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Messiah before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Yeshua the Messiah, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. (Eph. 1:3–8a)
Mark suggests that the “us” here is what he calls “genealogical Israel”, or the corporate Jewish people. They were “chosen to be holy” (v. 4), according to the Torah (e.g. Ex. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:6), and destined for adoption (v. 5), as stated in Romans 9:4. This family relationship implies priesthood—a holy vocation—because the eldest son is the family priest. Dr. Kinzer says, “This is all standard Jewish thinking, as traditional as the berachah form in which it is couched [in Ephesians 1].” He adds that the emphasis in Ephesians 2 on the commonwealth of Israel, and not just on Yeshua-believing Jews within Israel, suggests that all Israel is in view in this opening prayer as well. He also shows how the language of the prayer lines up with descriptions of all Israel elsewhere in Scripture.
As Ephesians 1 continues, however, the “us” narrows to refer, not to corporate Israel, but to those within corporate Israel who are now in Messiah.
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Messiah, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Messiah we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Messiah, might live for the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:8b–12)
Contra Dr. Kinzer, it’s plausible to interpret the “us” throughout Ephesians 1 as Israelites who are in Messiah. “We who were the first to set our hope in Messiah” could be those within Israel who have set their hope on Messiah ahead of the rest of Israel, and they would be the focus of the entire prayer.
Regardless of the identity of the third person plural, however, we encounter a sudden shift of pronouns that is significant: “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13). As Mark notes, “In this context, ‘you also’ means ‘you gentiles, in addition to us Jews’” (emphasis in the original). Through the priestly services of the Jewish apostles, alluded to in the berachah, the gentiles have received salvation and share in Israel’s calling to “live for the praise of his glory.” “Just as the Holy Spirit is the ‘pledge’ of the full inheritance that they will receive, the two-fold community itself is the ‘pledge’ of the full inheritance that God will receive when ‘all things’ are summed up in the Messiah” (72).
To bring this back to our One New Man discussion, I’ll end with a comment on each of those three words, informed by Dr. Kinzer’s profound discussion:
- One. The oneness is neither a “third race”—Christians alongside, and superseding, Jews and gentiles—nor a new fused humanity where all distinctives are obliterated. Instead it’s a oneness brought about in and by the person of Messiah Yeshua. He is the unifier, which doesn’t require an end to the culture, identity, and richness to be found in both Israel and the nations. They remain distinct, but in Messiah the enmity, strife, and misunderstanding which have characterized the relationship between the two are healed.
- New. This newness doesn’t mean discontinuity with God’s eternal purposes for genealogical Israel. What’s new is the gentile inclusion as gentiles, through Messiah, into the commonwealth of Israel. It’s a new arrangement, a new reality within the one people of God—not a new people.
- Man. “Man” can be translated as “humanity,” and either way it reflect the common bond of all humankind as bearers of the divine image, and Messiah himself as the ultimate image bearer. Beyond that, “man” in this phrase points to a shared destiny of all humankind, to God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10). This vision for humankind as one new man is far more inspiring than a new religious brand or movement will ever be.
For more on Searching Her Own Mystery, see my August 15 post, “Two Chosen Peoples?”