Defining Messianic Judaism has been a historically difficult task, and many people have trouble coming up with one solid definition for the movement. Disagreements exist between certain Messianic congregations, and there is no one central body of authority with which to consult.
Widely held concepts, however, identify Messianic Judaism as a sect that has its roots in traditional Jewish customs, but followers place their faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity.
Marji Hughes, a ministry director at Foundations Ministries, an organization focused on helping Christians understand Jewish traditions, wrote a study on her website that delves into the differences and similarities between Christianity and Messianic Judaism.
She began by explaining that defining the Messianic movement was “a lot like trying to nail Jello to a wall.” The main similarities, she noted, lie in the doctrine – in the belief in the importance of Jesus as Savior and the sanctity of the Holy Trinity. The main differences, on the other hand, are found in the way Messianic followers express their faith – through observing traditional Jewish ceremonies that do not contradict Jesus’ teachings.
The director argues that although the Messianic sect is often described as Jewish, it is not limited only to ethnic Jews – and she cites God’s provision that all people are welcomed into His Covenant.
She also describes that it is very important to affirm that the Messianic movement, like most denominations of Christianity, believes that all 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God, and have been kept pure from human error by the providence of God. She writes that faith in Jesus and the Holy Trinity are crucial for salvation, which aligns it with central Christian teachings.
In terms of differences, Hughes points to the Messianics’ observance of the Torah (the Law), which Christians generally do not follow. She points out, however, that the Law alone is not a means for salvation, and that the Holy Spirit is necessary for that.
Messianic believers also maintain on using the traditional Torah name “Yeshua” for Jesus, and observe the Sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday. Furthermore, they do not celebrate Christmas, Easter, or other traditional Christian holidays. The director explains that they follow a more “biblical lifestyle,” which acknowledges strictly the historical dates of the birth and death of the Savior as observed by the Feasts of Israel. She concluded that although many Messianics do not embrace the Easter and Christmas holidays, there are some who still choose to celebrate them.
The Statement of Faith on the “Jews for Jesus” website, one of the largest organizations geared toward Messianic Judaism, affirms these beliefs, and ends with a testimony to the prophecy in the Book of Revelation:
“We believe that Jesus the Messiah will return personally in order to consummate the prophesied purposes concerning His kingdom.
We believe in the bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust, the everlasting blessedness of the saved and the everlasting conscious punishment of the lost.”
Marcia Corbett, who along with her husband Rabbi Ron Corbett is a congregational leader at Shaarei HaShamayim in Bellmore, N.Y., shared with The Christian Post that there are different attitudes among Messianics when it comes to Christmas. Among their congregation, most members commemorate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, in which Yeshua is celebrated as the main light that shines upon the world.
Corbett shared that no one really knows the exact date when the Savior was born, but they glorify Him and His sacrifice to the world every single day. She also said that the 9th candle on the Hanukkah Menorah, called the Shamash, is also seen to represent Yeshua, because He Lights all the other candles and the rest of the world.
The Shaarei HaShamayim leader concluded that although there are some members who still choose to celebrate Christmas, she says their ways are welcome, just as long as they keep the focus not on the Christmas tree and the presents, but on Yeshua.