Copyright © Dale Heslin 1991
What is the true relationship between Judaism and Christianity? This issue is one which has perplexed scholars and theologians down through the centuries. In this book I attempt to analyse this question from a biblical perspective.
Jesus of course has been universally seen as the Messiah of the Jews, if not the fulfilment of Jewish Messianic aspirations, but few people, even professing Christians, have ever understood that Christianity began simply as a Jewish sect. Accordingly, the notion has prevailed that Judaism and Christianity are two fundamentally different religions. The Jewish dimension of Christianity has never been fully recognised or appreciated.
This attitude has resulted from a combination of two factors. Firstly, a general ignorance of the Bible by professing Christians, and secondly a long and glorious tradition of anti-semitism. Christian teaching has been guilty of a fundamental misreading of the Bible and in the process has theologically short-changed the Jews.
It should not be thought that I am arguing the belief that in order for a person to become a Christian it is first necessary that they become a Jew. It is simply that the Jewish underpinnings of Christianity are not properly understood in Christian teaching and have been consistently misrepresented. It is my conviction that much of the basic message of Jesus Christ has been obscured by a studied neglect of his Jewish origins by advocates of supposedly Christian doctrine. A proper understanding of the Jewish background of Christianity is necessary if anyone is to grasp the real meaning of the Bible.
The most fundamental teachings of the Christian churches have not only non-Jewish, but pagan origins. Doctrines such as the immortality of the soul, the holy trinity, eternal torment in Hell, and the veneration of Mary and the "the Saints", have no basis in scripture and would be incomprehensible to 1st century Christians. Not only are the churches wrong to propagate such teachings, but they fail abysmally to communicate the essential truths of Christianity which only an appreciation of its Jewish origins will properly convey. Modern Christianity ignores the most basic features of Christís teachings as understood by his original Jewish followers, such as the resurrection of the dead, the kingdom of God on earth, and the practice of the biblical commandments as enshrined in the Law of Moses. Consequently, we find that in large measure, traditional Christianity teaches what it should not teach, and ignores those things which it should teach.
Some years ago a T.V. program purported to reveal the "true Jesus". In it the presenter argued that the gospels give a contradictory account of the chronology of the crucifixion. In the synoptic gospels the crucifixion occurs after the Jewish Passover, in the Gospel of John the crucifixion occurs before the Passover. Much in the vein of 'Where were you when Kennedy was shot?' as a testament to the veracity of the gospel accounts, the commentator concluded that the Bible was not a reliable historical record of the life of Christ, and consequently could not be considered free of error.
This example of a so-called error of Bible chronology is a classic illustration of the case which I am putting forward.
The fact is that all four gospels agree that the crucifixion occurred on the day before the first holy day of the Jewish feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread. John, who is supposed to be the odd man out in this controversy, himself identifies this day quite precisely as the High Holy Day of the Passover festival. The problem of identifying the meal eaten by Christ and his followers as the actual Passover meal presents other difficulties of Bible scholarship, but the point is that the actual chronology of these events is completely consistent throughout each account. A Jewish (or non-Jewish) Christian who observes the feast days of the Old Testament will immediately understand certain aspects of this problem which appear to escape many of our foremost Bible scholars.
Firstly, the High Holy Day of the Passover feast (called a sabbath in the New Testament, and by those who observe this feast in the modern day) is not necessarily a Saturday. It is a sabbath/holy day which can, and usually does, fall on some other day of the week. Hence, the traditional idea of the Friday crucifixion is quite tenuous if not wholly erroneous. Secondly, events which occurred during the previous twenty four hour period (from sunset to sunset) may be considered as having occurred either before the Passover or after the Passover depending upon how one defines the term "Passover", not upon the ambiguities of the Bible record. "Passover" could be a reference either to the meal eaten by Jesus prior to the crucifixion, or the commencement of the festival called "Passover" beginning with the first High Holy Day.
That Jesus was crucified on the fourteenth day of Nisan, before the first High Holy Day of the Passover festival, is clear from all four accounts. If Christians were familiar with these facts this oft-quoted attack on the credibility of the Bible would be given the treatment it deserves, and Christians who believe in the reliability of the whole Bible would not have to feel intimidated by the assertions of Bible sceptics.
Basic to the whole issue of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is a widespread ignorance of just what a Jew is, as well as the basic tenets of biblical Judaism. So many people ask the question "Just who was this man Jesus anyway?" without coming to grips with the single most important characteristic he possessed as a human being - which is, that he was Jewish.
Jesus has been appropriated by just about every shade of philosophical and political opinion known to man. Amongst the many fanciful notions of who and what Jesus was, are that he was a capitalist (an inspiration for the "Protestant work ethic"), a Marxist revolutionary (Liberation Theology), a militarist (the Crusades), a pacifist, a gay liberationist, and even, by champions of the drug culture, an hallucinogenic trip! (as argued by John Allegro in The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross). Yet the only system of belief we can unequivocally ascribe to Jesus was Bible-based Judaism.
The Jews have been placed before us as a demonstration of the will of God in action, and have been fulfilling this role throughout history because they are indeed the chosen people. They have played a central role in the greatest events of human history, and they are destined to play a key role in events yet to unfold. If you want to understand the meaning of history, the will of God in human affairs and gain insight into the future of mankind, there is one simple rule - watch the Jews and watch them closely!
Chapter One of this book is entitled Jesus, the forgotten man of Christianity. By this I mean that Christianity has developed largely according to the teachings of the Apostle Paul. This is not surprising, since he authored most of the New Testament's theological writings. However, Paul's style of writing is complex and his arguments often difficult to follow. Unfortunately, many of his sayings, taken at no more than face value, have given rise to both anti-semitic and antinomian (ie. anti-law ) interpretations.
It is sobering to note that after two thousand years of Christian scholarship the exact meaning of much of what Paul wrote is still in dispute. Accordingly, I seek to show that Paul was as faithful to Judaism as was Jesus, and that a radical revision of "Pauline" theology is in order.
I hope this book will be read by Jews who recognise Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, and who are suffering under the delusion that in order to become a Christian they must first renounce their Jewishness.
I hope it will also be read by Christians, be they Jewish Christians or otherwise, who will come to see in the national destiny of the Jews, as well as the Jewish foundations of their religion, the true meaning and purpose of their calling.
JESUS, THE FORGOTTEN MAN OF CHRISTIANITY
Jesus Christ was a Jew. What do these words mean?
Jesus was born a Jew, lived a Jew, and died - a Jew!
Jesus` parents were Jewish, both descended from the royal house of King David (Mat.1; Lk.3). Jesus was circumcised at birth according to the law of Moses (Lk.2:21). Close relatives of Jesus, the mother and father of John the Baptist, are described in the Bible as people who were "righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (Luke 1:6), which is to say, the Jewish law. This statement was made by a gentile Christian - not a Jewish unbeliever! - long after Christianity had become established (60-80 A.D.), and endorses the essentially Jewish culture out of which Jesus emerged.
Jesus Christ "had a religion", as that expression is normally understood. That religion was Judaism! Furthermore, Jesus never renounced his Jewish beliefs.
What was the content of Jesusí religion?
Jesus attended synagogue services on a Saturday in conformity with the law of the sabbath. In addition to sabbath observance, he attended the religious festivals of the Hebrew calendar as laid down in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). The Last Supper was held to celebrate the Jewish Passover. Even on such a relatively inconsequential matter as the tithing of agricultural produce, Jesus affirmed the validity of this Old Testament practice (Mat.23:23-24) though being critical of Pharisaic excesses in the process. One of the miracles of Jesus concerns a certain woman who touched the fringe ("hem") of his garment (Mat.9:20). This is not a mere detail concerning Jesusí style of clothing or adherence to the dress conventions of his day. Jesus wore fringes on his clothes in accordance with the law recorded in Num.15:37-39 ("... it shall be to you a tassel to look upon and remember all the commandments of the LORD"). In Mat.23:5 Jesus is critical of those who wear their fringes excessively long and thus demonstrates a clear awareness, as well as a positive acceptance, of their religious significance. In modern times such careful observance of Old Testament law is regarded as a sign of extreme orthodoxy by religious Jews.
In addition to being an observant Jew, Jesus possessed a religious outlook which was uncompromisingly Israel-centred. In Matthew 15:24 Jesus declares that he was sent only to the "lost sheep of the House of Israel". In Mat.15:22-28 Jesus agrees to heal a gentile only with reluctance since the Jews always came first in his thinking. (In the course of this episode, he labels members of the Syro-Phoenician race as "dogs" - which in these days of political correctness would earn him a gaol term for racial vilification!) In John 4:22 he states that "salvation is from the Jews", which is to say (as Paul expressed it in Romans 3:2) "the Jews are entrusted with the oracles [the revelation] of God". When Jesus wishes to compliment the Roman centurion who believed in him he states that "not even in Israel have I found such faith" (Mat.8:10). This suggests an expectation that it is among the people of Israel that he would find the true people of faith.
In John 16:2 Jesus warns his followers that they will face persecution for their belief in him and that they will be put out of the synagogues. (I can just hear the average church-goer snort "What would a good Christian be doing inside a synagogue in the first place?!"). By saying this Jesus is plainly portraying eviction from the synagogue as an undesirable evil which will follow acceptance of himself as Messiah. He therefore contemplates the continuation of synagogue worship by converted Jews as the norm for his followers and can hardly be said to be abrogating traditional Jewish practice on this point.
What is the significance of these observations?
Why bother to restate the basic proposition that Jesus was Jewish?
To begin with, it must be recognised that whilst it is commonly known that Jesus was a Jew there is a corresponding lack of knowledge concerning the nature of the Jewish religion, and this widespread ignorance is compounded by an officially endorsed presumption that Jesus started up a "new religion".
The point I wish to make in the following pages is that Christianity is basically merely a development of, or outgrowth of the religion of the Old Testament (which has come to be described as "Judaism"). This is a point not merely of academic significance. For in this book I seek to show that unless this "Jewish" dimension of Christianity is fully grasped the essential nature of Christianity itself will be misconceived.
Jesus Christ himself is viewed in Christian theology as God incarnate. In John 1:1-3 he is pictured as one with God, and in Heb.1:3 as being present at the creation. If this is the case, why isn't this idea ever taken to its logical conclusion and Christ simply equated with the God of the Old Testament - the Jewish God? The God who gave Israel her laws, and the Jewish people its promises of ultimate redemption? Christians do not generally think of Jesus in these terms. If they did it might alter their perception of the underlying Jewish character of Christianity. Everything Jesus said and did is consistent with these observations, and this is greatly at variance with traditional Christian assumptions. Of course it will be argued that Christ himself never actually claimed to be God, that he prayed to God, and so on. It may be somewhat beyond the human mind to actually grasp the sense in which Christ was God (there is no reason why mortal human beings should be experts regarding the spiritual realm!) but nevertheless we must accept that this is indeed the case on the authority of scripture.
Corresponding with this view of Christ's deity is the evident fact that there were Christians in the world before Jesus! Abraham was a great "Christian", as were the other patriarchs and such Old Testament personalities as Moses, David, Elijah and Daniel. They must have been eligible for Christian salvation because the Bible teaches that they will be in the kingdom of God when Christ returns to redeem his elect. Some Christian churches have devised elaborate systems of doctrine in order to explain how it is that Old Testament figures can attain a New Testament salvation. This suggests a curious fixation with the idea that there was something significant about the actual time when Christ appeared among us. The thinking seems to be that salvation, since it is only obtainable through Christ, is also only available to those who were contemporaneous with him or born after his advent. In fact, since Christ was, as argued above, already in the world in Old Testament times, he was obviously working for his servants' salvation at that time as well as in the future. The significance of Christ's earthly ministry was that it was in this manner, at this time, that he became the sacrifice for sin which makes salvation possible for all people, whether they lived before or after his time. Any other view renders Christian salvation not only somewhat arbitrary, but also puts it at odds with the Bible itself!
Old Testament people obtained salvation in precisely the same way as those since the time of Christ - through the action of God's spirit. The atoning death of Jesus on the cross is the crucial element, but there is no reason why this sacrifice could not follow the receipt of the life-giving spirit (2 Cor.5:1-5) as is alluded to in the Old Testament (Num.11:17,25; 27:18 and 2 Ki.2:9) and which is one and the same as the New Testament experience.
Christianity is rather like a house built on Jewish foundations. If Judaism constitutes the floor and walls, Christianity is the roof which provides the crowning completion of the structure. Any attempt at building a picture of Christianity without these Jewish foundations is like trying to construct a roof in mid-air!
Misunderstanding of these factors has resulted in profound deviations from the original character of Christianity with the result that this religion has steadily become more and more confused doctrinally. In fact Jesus himself might be somewhat mystified by the form and observances of many of the variants of"Christianity" so-called that exist in the world today. It being conceded that these mutations are more or less sincere attempts to distil the true essence of his teachings.
The strength of this argument can be seen if one considers the religious conduct ascribed to Jesus at the beginning of this chapter. If a modern Christian were to observe these practices he would be branded a heretic.
It is my argument that there is only one true mode of religious life laid down in the Bible. The Bible is an instruction book on how to live life. It contains laws regulating every aspect of human existence and constitutes the divine standard of conduct for man.
The only people who have adopted these principles of living have been the Jews.
The Bible indicates that Jesus affirmed this view of what constitutes a truly "religious" way of life. The many strange modes of belief and forms of worship adopted down through the ages, and in the present time, in the name of Christianity are a deviation from what I contend is the basic thrust of the Christian religion. This fact has served to bring discredit on the Bible, and sow division and discord within the ranks of those who consider themselves the followers of Christ.
A proper understanding of the Jewish religion would, I submit, promote a superior understanding of what God really requires of his "Christian" people, by way of divine law and conduct, and this shall be dealt with at a later stage.
There exists another aspect of biblical truth which has been just as surely misunderstood as the above and that issue relates to the role of the Jews as the chosen people of God.
What does it really mean for God to have chosen a people to be his representatives in the world?
Why did God choose a people? What purpose were they to serve?
Why have the Jews as God's chosen people undergone the historical experiences they have?
What is the ultimate destiny of this people and what relevance does any of this have to a person trying to uncover the real meaning of Christianity?
An understanding of the biblical concept of choseness is fundamental to a correct understanding of Christianity. The events of Jewish history are given to us as a sign by which we may understand how God works in the world. They are given as a warning of what will happen when we resist the will of God, and as an inspiration to those who live lives of faith in God and obedience to his demands.
The ideas I am putting forward form a comprehensive overview of the Bible seen in its entirety. It will of course be objected that my view is merely one more interpretation of the Bible over which arguments have raged for centuries. Why should this point of view be considered superior to any other?
To begin with, consider the fact that Christianity has largely rejected much of what is written in the Bible by virtue of its rejection of the Old Testament, and if not in theory then certainly in practice. What this means in effect is that Christianity refuses to accept 85% of the whole Bible, as this is approximately the proportion of the Bible constituted by the Old Testament. Why is it that Christianity has based its teachings on a body of scripture made up of both Old Testament and New Testament if, for practical purposes, only the latter is accepted? Just what place does the Old Testament occupy in Christian theology?
When a Christian walks into a bookstore to buy a Bible he is sold an Old Testament as well as a New Testament. The Bible believing Christian might well ask himself why this is so given the fact that he is then promptly encouraged to ignore most of what is written in the former. The argument that the Old Testament merely provides inspiring tales, mythical or otherwise seems an inadequate explanation for the general attitude of reverence in which it is held.
I lay claim to a belief in the whole of scripture, Old Testament as well as New Testament, and I feel that few Christians can in good faith argue likewise. There are those who would equate Bible-based belief with the veneration of rosary beads ("bibliolatry"). This is an entirely false analogy. The Bible is a divinely authored revelation to man, and of course it should form the centre-piece of Christian belief. Christ said "scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). If someone asks you how to get from Sydney to Melbourne you will not direct him via Brisbane, Adelaide and Alice Springs! The person may get there by this route, but just as likely he wonít. There are too many side-tracks, deviations and pitfalls. Trying to obtain Christian salvation without the Bible is equally wrong-headed.
Controversies concerning the Bible are generally put down to differences of interpretation, but it is my contention that these problems are greatly exaggerated and are largely avoidable if a person is simply willing to believe what the Bible plainly says. It is a truly ironic that despite being such a well-known book, few people ever take the trouble to read the Bible or obey its commandments.
Consider the question of sabbath keeping. Christianity on the whole rejects the idea of observing the Old Testament Sabbath of the fourth commandment. Although there appears to be some confusion among Christians on this matter, the general consensus of opinion is that Christians should observe Sunday as a memorial of the resurrection. (It is by no means clear that Sunday was in fact the day of the resurrection.) Whatever the merits of traditional Christian practice on this point, there is no pretence that Sunday observance amounts to a cessation of work or worldly activities for a day long period according to Old Testament observance. I am unaware of any Christian teaching that the so-called "Lord's Day" is to begin at sundown on Saturday evening or Sunday at sunrise, and then continue for a twenty-four hour period, and yet the fourth commandment clearly enjoins cessation from worldly pursuits for a "day"! To argue that a day in this context means only the duration of daylight hours is quite untenable given the example of God himself at Creation (Gen.2:2) and the clear-cut definition of a "day" in Genesis as evening and morning (Gen.1:5). Failure by Christians to literally apply the words of the fourth commandment on this point simply amounts to contravention of scripture. It also provides a classic illustration of just how profoundly confused Christian teaching is. Some will say that Sunday is the Christian sabbath which has replaced the Old Testament sabbath and should be observed as such. Others will insist that Saturday is indeed the true sabbath but that sabbath observance has no place in the Christian religion. If you were to conduct a questionnaire of the various Christian denominations on this issue, you would probably find differences of opinion among ministers of the very same church!
A person who rejects the Old Testament as well as those portions of the New Testament which stand in contradiction to traditional Christianity simply cannot claim to believe in the Bible! In the sabbath example mentioned above, even Bible-based Christians would have to concede that they ascribe no real meaning to the words recorded in the fourth commandment. They might just as well take to this passage with a razor blade, for all the value this scripture possesses for them!
The Bible read as a whole provides the answers to two basic questions of human existence. The kind of life God wants us to lead as individuals and as a society, and the plan and purpose of God in history. Christianity has substantially rejected the message of the Bible on both counts.
In its defence, it must however be said that Christian fundamentalism has accepted many of the points which I put forward. For example there are many who find inspiration for daily living in the acceptance of biblical laws and practices through an intuitive appreciation that the decrees of God must have an eternal validity.
But Christianity stops short of total acceptance of God's commandments as revealed in the Bible, and it is a failure to perceive the law-keeping component of the covenantal relationship between God and the people of Israel which has largely contributed to this.
Similarly there are many Christians who accept that Christ will return and institute a millennial age of peace and prosperity in accordance with Old Testament prophecy. These people look forward to a renewed earth in which the lion will lay down with the lamb, and all evils such as war, famine, sickness and death will be either eliminated or greatly reduced. In this scheme of things also Christians fail to perceive the centrality of the Jews. The redemption of Israel is in fact the setting for the Messianic Age, and it is the inability of people to discern and properly understand the condition of the Jews in today's world which only helps to obscure the reality of the age to come.