Monday, January 21, 2008

How Jewish is Christianity?

Many have referred to Judaism as one of the world’s oldest religions that is still in practice today. This line of thought stems from the idea that the Judaism practiced over the previous twenty centuries is the same as that which was practiced in the Biblical Old Testament times. However, upon closer examination, we can see that what is commonly referred to today as “Judaism” finds its beginnings around 200 B.C.(1) Distinctly different from Christianity by virtue of the respective positions on original sin, salvation, and most specifically the deity of Jesus Christ, modern Judaism may be classified in three major branches known as Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform but the basic philosophy is shared by all three.

AW Tozer has written that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us”(2) and indeed this statement proves true when examining the basic philosophy of Judaism. For the Biblical Christian, God is presented as an infinitely holy(3) and personal God(4) whose justified wrath(5) falls on condemned sinners who are lost in their state of sinfulness(6) unless drawn out of such state by the gracious act of God to reveal Himself to them(7) so that they might enjoy eternal fellowship(8) with Him by way of the atoning sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ,(9) to redeem them from their state of sinfulness and restore them to a right relationship with God the Father(10). However, the basic philosophy of Judaism does not present God or man in this same light.

“Judaism rejects the doctrine of original sin, saying that sin is an act, not a state. Thus, man has the ability to live according to the Law. If he fails, he only needs to come to God in repentance. With this view of sin, Judaism has eliminated the need for a Saviour.”(11)
Thus, although Judaism may have a reverence for the God of their making, He is not the infinitely holy God of the Bible whose wrath must be satisfied. For the Jewish people, it is not so much a requirement that the wrath of God be satisfied, but rather and adherence to the 613 commands found within the Torah that will fit them for a healthy lifestyle. “Jewish believers are able to sanctify their lives and draw closer to God by keeping the mitzvoth (divine commandments).”(12) This belief, however, is not mere legalism, but is in fact the basic philosophy of Judaism: that the whole of life must be holy and the way to do so is by observing the commands.

The Jewish people also observe a cycle of holidays that they observe each year that help to define their “Jewishness.” Many of these holidays are derived from the Old Testament Scriptures such as the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Feast of Tabernacles (sukkos), and Passover.(13) It will depend upon the individual’s adherence to the particular branch of Judaism as to what extent these holidays are observed. Unfortunately, too many adherents to Judaism miss the great significance of the holidays which, in the Old Testament, pointed to the future coming Messiah and that all things would be filled in Him. Many Jewish people will object to becoming a Christian not so much out of a doctrinal conviction but because they feel as though “they will cease to be Jewish if they believe in Jesus and that becoming a Christian means turning one’s back on one’s people, history, and heritage.”(14) This is the essence of the basic Jewish philosophy. Being Jewish has little to do with an understanding of doctrinal principles, a confession, or a statement of faith, but for most it is an ethic, simply a way of life.

(1) Richard Robinson, The Compact Guide to World Religions, ed Dean C. Halverson (Bloomington, IN: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), p 122. The author adds, “It is best, however, to use the term “Judaism” to refer to the religion of the rabbis that developed from about 200 B.C. onward and crystallized following the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. In this way Christianity is not described as a daughter religion of Judaism, but more correctly as a sister: both branched out from the Old Testament faith.
(2) AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1961), p. 1
(3) Lev 19:2
(4) God is seen as clearly personal through His active involvement in the Creation process in Genesis 1 (not through an impersonal, hands-off approach proffered by the evolutionist), and a myriad of times throughout the Bible where God is shown to speak directly with His people and to offer aid through sovereign intervention in their time of need (see for reference Gen 3:21, 22:8, 12-14, 50:20; Ex 19:4, 20:1-2; 1 Chron 29:10-19; Dan 3:8-30, etc).
(5) God’s wrath is justified because of His infinite Holiness. Since sin is anything that is contrary to the character of God, our sin is in direct opposition to Him as the Scriptures assert “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds…” (Col 1:21).
(6) The Bible is consistent in its declaration that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23, see also Gen 6:5-6, 8:21; 1 Kin 8:46; Psa 51:5; Is 53:6; Eph 2:1-3; Col 1:21-22, 2:13-14; 1 Joh 1:8, 10. The doctrine of original sin is specifically opposed in the basic philosophy of Judaism.
(7) John 6:44 is one of the clearest representations of this idea: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
(8) John 17:3 defines “eternal life” for us: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Thus, the emphasis for eternal life is that we might know the “one and only true God” and to enjoy Him forever. The Westminster Confession declares that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
(9) Many passages throughout the Scriptures refer to Messiah as the ultimate sacrifice to pay the due penalty for sin. See for reference specifically Isa 53; and the testimony of John the Baptist who declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Joh 1:29).
(10) Especially in the Pauline epistles, man is represented as at enmity with God, hostile towards Him, but the joyous truth prevails that “He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him…” (Col 1:22) and later, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:13-14). This reconciliation made possible through Jesus Christ is what translates to the “peace of Christ” as dictated in Col 3:15.
(11) Kenneth Boa, Cults, World Religions and the Occult: What They Teach. How to Respond to Them (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 1990), p. 79.
(12) Mark Waters, ed Encyclopedia of World Religions, Cults, and the Occult (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2006), p. 337.
(13) See chart of Jewish Holidays in Richard Robinson, The Compact Guide to World Religions, ed Dean C. Halverson (Bloomington, IN: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), pp 128-129.
(14) Richard Robinson, The Compact Guide to World Religions, ed Dean C. Halverson (Bloomington, IN: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), p 131

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