It’s a struggle for some people to believe that “Christian with Jewish heritage” and “Messianic Jew” are not the same thing. I completely understand why; it wasn’t that long ago that I myself would have failed to see the difference.
I wish I could say I grew up with dual allegiances from having one Christian parent and one Jewish one, but that is not the case. No, I was nineteen years old when I converted, after years of quietly admiring Jesus and reading books about saints. More details about the “why” of conversion can be read about in my memoir.
Through my involvement with Campus Crusade for Christ, I was trained to view the Old Testament as nothing more than a precursor to the New. There, I was taught that the OT was an incomplete story filled with clues that pointed to the coming of a Savior, and to chop it short just before the start of Matthew was akin to driving a car with only three tires.
Friends in my bible study group would ask me for the “insider’s scoop” on how to evangelize to Jews. Little did they know I was not the ideal person to ask, since I wasn’t converted by any “Did you know it’s Jewish to believe in Jesus?” rhetoric.
In fact, I didn’t start reading the Bible much at all until after conversion. My fascination with Jesus began not just with the saints, but with the whole doctrine of Incarnation, which I’d then ask my Catholic friends about. A messiah who is simultaneously God and human is absolutely not a Jewish concept. Jews don’t unanimously agree on a lot of things, but they will affirm that much.
While it’s true that Jewish spiritual education is lacking as assimilation increases, Jews aren’t stupid. “Yeshua Ha’Moshiach” is still “Jesus the Messiah.” It’s factually wrong to tell a Jewish person that they can retain a spiritual Jewish identity when they place their faith in Jesus.
Now, they will always retain their Jewish ethnic and cultural identity, because Judaism is more than just a religion. Perhaps this is what Messianic Jews mean when they use that label. But I choose not to, because it implies an “add Jesus and stir” approach that isn’t logically possible — I’ll explain why in a moment.
My Christian friends seemed to pity the Jews for missing their own Messiah the way many of us can’t find the glasses that are sitting right on our noses, and I was “lucky” to realize the truth. There’s a disdainful attitude all too common in churches that Jews don’t know anything about their own Scriptures, and must be taught it by Christians: “Goy-splaining,” for lack of a better term.
What many Christians don’t realize is that it simply isn’t enough to convince a Jewish person that Jesus is God. The theological teachings of Christianity and Judaism have evolved in opposite directions over the last 2,000 years. Christians are quick to point out that Jesus intended to “fulfill” the Jewish law, so the two religions are theologically compatible as one, but that’s not what happened.
Jesus’ intentions aside, today we have two distinctly different religions that share origins in Abraham, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s intellectually dishonest to claim otherwise, and those that do indirectly tell me that they don’t know as much about Judaism as they think they do.
I started using the expression “Jew-ish” to describe myself, first as a joke, but now somewhat more seriously. My family is not religious but is steeped in Jewish culture. I still feel a sense of camaraderie when I meet other Jews because of a shared history (besides Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, sleepaway camps, and Purim parties, not many Christians can relate to having to convince their 5th grade teacher to excuse an absence to observe the New Year– in October). I’ve been able to continue making Jewish friendships by being honest about the fact that I converted. This would be a lot less likely if I identified as a Messianic Jew, because traditional Jews know that their messiah hasn’t come yet.
For more information on why I did not end up within Messianic Judaism, and why MJ theology is more compatible with evangelicalism than Judaism, please see these posts.