It’s a struggle for some people to understand how “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.
Friends in my college 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. 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 know that “Yeshua Ha’Moshiach” is still “Jesus the Messiah.” They know Judaism teaches that the messiah will be fully man, and not divine. Therefore, it’s logically inconsistent to tell a Jewish person that they can retain a spiritual Jewish identity when they place their faith in Jesus, because this is a Jewish heresy. It’s akin to a Christian denying the Trinity- when you deny a critical doctrine, the faith can’t help but fall apart.
Now, a Jewish convert will always retain an Jewish ethnic and cultural identity, because Judaism is more than just a religion. Perhaps this is what some Messianic Jews mean when they use that label. But I choose not to.
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 different 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.
What’s more, you may be surprised to learn that not all Messianic Jews are ethnically Jewish. Many self-described MJs are actually gentile, which likely explains why Messianic Judaism as a denomination resembles mainstream evangelicalism more than traditional Judaism, in both belief and politics.
I jokingly describe myself as “Jew-ish” among friends. My family is not religious but we are quite steeped in Jewish culture. I still feel a sense of camaraderie when I meet other Jews because of many shared experiences (Bar/Bat Mitzvahs…Purim parties…having to convince a teacher or college professor 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 believe that their messiah hasn’t come yet.