Jewish objections to Christian faith
Written by: Williams, David M. Posted on: 09/21/2004
Category: Bible Studies
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The Jewish objections to Christianity are numerable. Although the
origins of Christianity are in Judaism, and even for a time Christianity
abided under the banner of Judaism as a "sect" , the two are quite
distinct and to the untrained observer the two "great religions" have
little in common.
The Christian believes that their faith is "the true logical and
spiritual development of Judaism. " The Jew believes that Christianity
is a religion which is far removed from Judaism. The harshest Jewish
critic would consider it a polytheistic anti-Semitic religion with no
basis at all in Judaism.
As one examines the Jewish faith, it becomes clear that many
objections are related. Until the Jewish person can recognise the
problem of a fallen and sinful nature it is difficult for such to
recognise the insufficiency of the law to justify and the need for the
Messiah's atoning sacrifice, and by logical extension, the existence of
Christianity. Until the Jewish person can recognise the Triunity of God
it is impossible for such to understand the divinity of Christ.
THE TRINITY AND THE UNITY OF GOD
Judaism holds with great affection to the Shema of Deuteronomy
6:4, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." Immediately
Judaism has an objection to the orthodox Christian teaching that God is
Triune, a Trinity. To the Jewish person, God is one. He is not two
parts spirit and one part Jew. He is neither man, nor a god-man.
Further, the Jewish person would consider the Ruach Ha Kodesh (the Holy
Spirit) to be the breath of God and not a being to whom personality, and
certainly not divinity, may be ascribed.
The Trinity is expressed in the New Testament with great clarity.
The Spirit descended upon the Son at His baptism, with the Father
speaking from heaven. Jesus instructed His disciples to baptise in the
name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All three were
responsible for raising the Son to life again. All the fullness of the
Godhead dwelled in Jesus bodily. Ananias and Sapphira lied to God by
lying to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may not only be lied to, but
grieved. He has a will , and all other elements of personality.
In the Old Testament, the concept of a Triune God is not as
defined. The Spirit of God would at times past come upon people, such
as with Samson, allowing him to defend himself against a lion , but no
clear identification of the Spirit of God as God Himself was given, nor
any aspects of personality ascribed to Him. Similarly, the Angel of the
Lord appeared on numerous occasions to those in the Old Testament.
Although receiving worship and even being referred to as the LORD (i.e.
Yahweh) , no clear theophanic association is made between the angel of
the Lord and the Messiah to come. The language of Genesis 1 implies a
Trinity, the Hebrew word Elohim (God) being a plural noun. None of
this, however, is substantial evidence for conceiving of God as a
Trinity. The New Testament alone makes this a clear revelation, with
support being found in the Old Testament only afterwards, and hence the
Jewish position may be understood.
THE MESSIAHSHIP OF JESUS
A significant objection of Judaism to Christianity is the
consideration of Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah of the Old
Testament. Matarasso explains,
Jews today accept the fact that Jesus existed and was born and
raised a Jew in Palestine two thousand years ago, for history has
proved this beyond doubt. To many Jews, Jesus is a respected
teacher and a moral man. Those who have studied the New Testament
almost all hold this view, but the main problems which Jews have in
believing in Jesus is not His existence, but His Messiahship, the
same problem which existed when He was with them in Jerusalem.
Matarasso, himself a Messianic Jew, proceeds to explain that over
the past few hundred years the Jewish Messianic concept has distorted
significantly. To the liberal Jew the Messiah is not a person, rather
an abstract concept or era - a "golden age" kingdom which is called
Messianic. The Reformed Jew believes that this kingdom will be ushered
in by human efforts and achievement. The Orthodox and Conservative
Jewish sects however still hold to a personal Messiah who will govern
the Messianic kingdom on behalf of God.
Noted Messianic Jewish scholar, Alfred Edersheim elaborates, "the
general conception which the Rabbis had formed of the Messiah, differed
totally from what was presented by the Prophet of Nazareth. "
In Bouquet's words, "The Christian starts from a very simple but
profound decision for Christ. " Every Christian has publicly confessed
that they believe Jesus of Nazareth to be the Christ, the Messiah
promised in the Old Testament. A Christian is called to be a disciple
of Christ. To the Jewish person, however, "the Jewish attitude to Jesus
is precisely the same as the Christian attitude toward Mohammed. . . .
[they] know he lived and have a vague idea of what he preached, but
there it ends. "
The Christian may find many reasons to believe Jesus of Nazareth
to be the Christ, the promised Old Testament Messiah. Just one of
significance is the large amount of predictive prophecy concerning the
Messiah in the Old Testament, which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Edersheim lists 456 such Messianic Prophecies. Certainly, when one
seriously begins to consider the prophetical passages in the Old
Testament in their historical context, and what the meaning would have
meant to the original hearers, comparing these to the timing and events
in the life of Jesus, there can be no other candidate for the Jewish
Messiah, nor any other explanation for the passages which is consistent
with the data presented.
THE TORAH OF MOSES
To the Jewish person, the Torah of Moses is a covenant forever
between God and Israel. The Jewish person was instructed to meditate
constantly on the Torah - the law. Ezra the Scribe composed the longest
Psalm recorded in the Scriptures in honour of God's law. Christianity
teaches clearly that Jewish people are not obligated to obey the full
Torah of Moses, as Paul goes to great efforts to express in his epistle
to the Galatians.
Paul's reasoning is brought out clearly in the early chapters of
his epistle to the Romans. He explains that all have sinned , that all
are without excuse. In fact, although the law is holy, righteous and
good, it is mankind that is at fault for man is unspiritual and sold
as a slave to sin. The law then, was but a tutor to bring mankind to
Christ. The law could not impart life, and righteousness could not
come by the law , being weakened by the sinful nature. However, Jesus
came to redeem those under law. For those now in Christ Jesus there
is no condemnation because they have been set free from the law of sin
and death. Sin shall no longer be the master of such a one, because
they now abide under grace, and not the law.
Paul makes reference to father Abraham, of whom the Old Testament
states, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as
righteousness. " This righteousness was both before he was
circumcised , and 430 years before the law was established. Abraham's
righteousness was in no way a result of the Torah of Moses.
However, some qualifications must be made in stating that
Christians are not obligated to obey the Torah of Moses. This is true,
in an overall sense, with God's requirements for His salvation being
"everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. " This has
always been the case, even through the Old Testament, with David
declaring that burnt offerings and sacrifice do not bring pleasure to
God, rather a broken and contrite heart. Yet, it must be pointed out
that God has commanded, "Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am
holy. " Although a right standing before God through justification may
be instantaneous, God calls His bride into an ongoing relationship of
progressive sanctification, implied by Paul in his metaphor of the
leaven. In this sense, the moral aspects of the Torah of Moses are an
eternal decree, but summarised by Christ into two laws - "Love the Lord
your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
mind. . . . Love your neighbour as yourself. " This was such a summary
that James was able to comment, "If you really keep the royal law found
in Scripture, 'Love your neighbour as yourself,' you are doing right. "
The social and ceremonial aspects of the Torah of Moses, however, are
not binding to the Christian, particularly since Jesus has fulfilled
them by becoming the true Passover Lamb , who has made the one
sacrifice for all time by which man may be made clean, unlike the blood
of bulls and goats which can never take away sins.
THE NEW RELIGION OF CHRISTIANITY
A contentious issue for Jewish people is the perception that
Christianity is a "new" religion. The Jewish position is that Gentiles
may not create new religions, but should either follow the Seven Laws of
Noah (outlined by Rabbi Maimondes), or, if they choose, become a full
convert to Judaism. Further, many believe that Christianity claims to
have "replaced" Judaism, as reflected in Gaer's comment about the early
Church, "In those days the Christians looked upon themselves as a new
race on earth, the true Israel, the true Chosen of God. " Although the
Jewish people were for the most part tragically persecuted during the
Crusades, they were accepted by Western Christian society, due to the
fact that Judaism was perceived to be "on a lower rung of revelation
which led to Christianity" (as opposed to Islam, which was a "perverse
mutation") - no doubt the Jew would have been grateful for their
survival, but not the condescending attitude behind it. As is well
known, most of the persecutors of the Jews were those who claimed to be
Christians anyway - a tragedy which brings shame upon Christianity and
further serves to widen the perceived gulf between the two religions.
Further, whereas Judaism was founded by no single man, the
religion of Christianity is named after Jesus of Nazareth, although
there exists today some who suggest that Jesus was but a mere Jewish
carpenter's son, perhaps even with Buddhist inclinations. It is thought
that His life was greatly embellished by the over-zealous Paul, seeking
to create his own religion, a theory with little supporting evidence
other than subjective interpretations of the gnostic Gospel of Thomas
and the Q theory.
The Christian perceives the relationship between Judaism and
Christianity in a different manner. McDowell and Stewart state that
"Christianity does not supplant Old Testament Judaism, it is the
fruition of Old Testament Judaism. " Furthermore, Christianity
"claimed to be the complete and legitimate heir of Jewish monotheism,
and insisted that what had hitherto been the property of one small
nation was now to be the common world-religion for all time. " Indeed,
for a period after Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension, the Church
remained entirely Jewish. Christianity has in no way replaced Judaism
with allegedly far-removed teachings. It is the culmination of the old
covenant. It is the natural following of the Jewish Messiah promised
throughout the pages of the Old Testament. Christianity has not
replaced Judaism or made it obsolete in any way.
Paul elaborates on this matter in Romans, "Did God reject his
people? By no means! " Continuing, Paul explains the metaphor of the
ingrafted branches - the Gentiles are but branches, ingrafted into the
tree of Judaism. Although the natural branches, the Jews, may need to
be broken off to allow this ingrafting (due to unbelief), how much more
readily may the natural branches be ingrafted back into their own olive
tree than the wild olive shoots of the Gentiles. Paul is able to
confidently state in conclusion of the matter, "I do not want you to be
ignorant of this mystery. . . . all Israel will be saved " Further,
dispensational eschatology teaches that God will again turn His
attention to the Jewish people during the seven-year tribulation period
at the end of this age, after the rapture of the Church. This is based
primarily on passages such as Daniel 9:24, where seventy "weeks of
years" are declared for Daniel's people, namely the Jews.
Christianity is, then, the natural progression of Judaism. It is
not a new anti-semitic religion, it is rather the logical continuation -
and has more to do with Judaism than any Gentile religion. Although one
may say "We have Abraham as our father", God is able to raise up out of
stones children for Abraham. As Paul explains,
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision
merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one
inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the
Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from
men, but from God.
MAN AND SIN
As stated above, to the Christian, all have sinned and fallen
short of the glory of God , akin to an arrow falling short of its mark.
However, the Christian conception of "original sin" is completely
foreign to Judaism. In fact, the late Ellison wrote, "It is easy to
understand why Paul, with his doctrine of the addition of the law to
bring out the sinfulness of sin, has always been obnoxious to the
orthodox Jew. " McDowell and Stewart comment, "Although Judaism
acknowledges that man does commit acts of sin, there is not a sense of
man being totally depraved and unworthy as is found in Christian
theology. " Ellison elaborates further,
It is true that man was conceived of as born with an evil
inclination (yeser hara), but this was balanced by an equally innate
good inclination (yeser hatob), which if reinforced by the study of
Torah would gain the ascendancy. This over-optimistic view of sin
and human nature is found throughout Judaism.
the orthodox Jew. . . . is not greatly conscious of sin or
shortcoming, and really believes that it is possible to keep the law
correctly from one's youth up. In the place of sacrifice he has
erected a system of merit. . . .
The logical conclusion of this is a gulf between Judaism and
Christianity, "there is no understanding that Israel needs to be
reconciled to God ", whereas the fundamental message of Christianity is
"be ye reconciled to God. "
The New Testament makes a plain statement that mankind must
wrestle with the problem of indwelling sin. Paul goes to great pains to
express the conflict he finds inside himself, even after becoming a
Christian. In the Old Testament, David observed that he had a been a
sinner from birth - since the time of his very conception , but no
clear identification of the problem of sin is expressed. The Old
Testament relates sin as an external issue - wrongdoings performed by
people, whereas the New Testament identifies the internal nature of sin
- an aspect of the very character and nature of man. Bouquet identifies
the ideal human of Judaism as "the righteous man (as in Psalm i and
Tobit)", but the ideal human of Christianity as "The saint (who,
penetrated by the spirit of Jesus, seeks to transform the world, and is
yet at home in it). "
Many of the Jewish objections to Christianity could be callously
dismissed as a misunderstanding by the Jewish people of their own Torah
and Rabbinical commentary. However, in practical reality the issue is
not so simply resolved. A considerable cause of the Jewish objections
is that the New Testament provides a greater revelation about God, "who
at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the
fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his
Son ". Paul refers to the revelations that he received from God, and
expounded to the early Church, as mysteries - the mystery that the
Church would be the bride of Christ - the mystery of the Gospel and
so on. Even the angels long to look into the things of salvation , so
how more complicated the task is made for unregenerate mankind. The Jew
who seeks for God in plain sincerity and obedience to Him will find
Him as the Holy Spirit draws him.
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by David Green. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.
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Lutterworth Press, 1970.
Bouquet, Alan Coates. Comparative Religion. 5th ed. Middlesex: Penguin
Books, Ltd., 1956.
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Greenwood Press, 1976.
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H. L. Ellison. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980.
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Dunne, John. The Way of all the Earth. London: Sheldon Press, 1972.
Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah.
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Gaer, Joseph. How the Great Religions Began. Rev. ed. New York: Signet
Key Books, 1961.
Gruber, Elmar and Kersten, Holger. The Original Jesus: The Buddhist
Sources of Christianity. Dorset: Element Books Limited, 1995.
Loewe, H., ed. Judaism and Christianity. Vol. 2, The Contact of
Pharisaism with Other Cultures. New York: Ktav Publishing House,
Matarasso, Antoine. Israel. Townsville: Rhema Bible College, 1984.
McDowell, Josh, and Don Stewart. Handbook of Today's Religions.
California: Here's Life Publishers, Inc., 1983.
McManners, John, ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
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Neusner, Jacob. The Mishnah: A New Translation. New Haven: Yale
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ed. London: S.P.C.K., 1966.
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Transition. New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1969.
Ringgren, Helmer. The Messiah in the Old Testament. London: SCM Press
________. Israelite Religion. Translated by David Green. 2d ed. London:
Rosenthal, Erwin I. J., ed. Judaism and Christianity. Vol. 3, Law and
Religion. New York:: Ktav Publishing House, Inc. 1969.
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and Unwin, Ltd., 1971.
Smith, James. The Promised Messiah. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers,
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AMG Publishers, 1994.
Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Centuries Rev ed.
(Michigan: Acadamie Press, 1981), 22.
Alan Bouquet, Comparative Religion 5th ed. (Middlexsex:
Penguin Books, Ltd., 1956), 217.
John 2:19-22; Acts 4:10; Romans 8:11.
I Corinthians 12:11.
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, s.v. 430.
Antoine Matarasso, Israel (Townsville: Rhema Bible College,
1984), No. 8, 1.
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah
(Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 113.
Alan Bouquet, The Christian Faith and Non-Christian Religions
(Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1976), 11.
Matarasso, op. cit., No. 8, 1.
Edersheim, op. cit., 980-1010.
Genesis 15:6, 22; Romans 4:3.
I Corinthians 5:6-8.
I Corinthians 5:7.
Miryam Nathan, Acts, Jews and the Torah (By the author, 1995), 1.
Joseph Gaer, How the Great Religions Began, rev. ed. (New
York: Signet Key Books, 1961), 186.
John McManners, ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of
Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 181.
Elmar Gruber and Holger Kersten, The Original Jesus: The
Buddhist Sources of Christianity (Dorset: Element Books Limited, 1995),
Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Handbook of Today's Religions
(California: Here's Life Publishers, Inc., 1983), 374.
Bouquet, 1956, op. cit., 245.
McDowell and Stewart, op. cit., 374.
The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1980 ed., s.v. "Judaism"
McDowell and Stewart, op. cit., 374.
The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1980 ed., s.v. "Judaism".
Bouquet, 1956, op. cit., 230.
The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1980 ed., s.v. "Judaism".
II Corinthians 5:20.
Bouquet, 1956, op. cit., 301-2.
I Peter 1:12.
Matthew 7:7; John 6:45.
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