The Church insists that the belief system of Christianity stands on the words of the Jewish scriptures. The prophets of the Jewish scripture foretold the advent of the Messiah. According to the Christian interpretation of the Jewish scriptures, the career of Jesus fulfilled some of these messianic predictions. It is on the basis of this understanding that the missionaries promote devotion to Jesus.
The Jewish people consider the missionary argument to be untenable for several reasons. First, the Jew will point out that the scriptural passages quoted by the missionary do not refer to Jesus. A contextual reading of the text in question will quickly invalidate most of the missionary interpretations. Second, the Jew will demonstrate that there are many passages in the Jewish scriptures which directly preclude the doctrines of Christianity. Thirdly, the Jewish people maintain that the context within which God placed the Jewish scriptures invalidates the claims of the missionary. In this brief article I hope to give articulation to this third Jewish objection.
Let us summarize the Christian claim from a legal perspective. The Jewish people have a contract with God. This contract is the Jewish Bible. This contract contains a clause about the advent of the Messiah. Christianity claims that Jesus rightfully fulfilled this clause in the contract. On the basis of the claim that Jesus fulfilled the messianic clause, Christianity advocates devotion to Jesus.
From a legal perspective we can see that the first two Jewish objections to Christianity focus on the contract (scripture). The basic thrust of the first objection is that a proper reading of the contract will reveal that Jesus did not fulfill the messianic clause in the contract. The second Jewish objection contends that the contract as a whole does not allow for the devotion to Jesus that Christianity is demanding.
The third objection stands outside of the contract. We understand that a contract is only meaningful within a certain legal framework. Every contract describes an interaction between two parties. These two parties must share certain principles before the contract can have any meaning. In order for the contract to be effective the two parties must be able to identify each other by means of the names that the contract uses. The two parties must also share an understanding of the legal language of the contract. And finally, the two parties must agree on a system that they can use to validate the contract. The process of identification, the legal language, and the system of validation stand outside of the contract. These must all be determined before we begin reading the contract. These factors serve as the context for the contract.
If, for example, we take a contract that was written in the legal culture of fifth century China, and transpose the same contract to twenty-first century USA, we can be sure that the contract will not be readily understood. We will have difficulty identifying the parties that the contract is referring to. It will also be necessary to reconstruct the legal mentality of fifth century China in order to appreciate the legal ramifications of the contract. And without a familiarity with the legal system in which the contract was written we cannot evaluate the trustworthiness of the document.
Each of these three factors is relevant to the contract between God and the people of Israel. And when this contract, namely the Jewish Bible, is placed in its proper context, the arguments of the missionary disappear.
God made sure to clearly and positively identify Himself to the Jewish people before He presented them with the first words of scripture. The miracles of the exodus and the Sinai revelation gave the Jewish people to understand that when God uses the term “God”, He is referring to the supreme Master of all nature, and to Him alone (Deuteronomy 4:35). God is not talking of a trinity, He is not talking about an incarnation and He is not referring to any subject of nature when He uses the term “God”.
The scriptural terms: holiness, law, temple, Sabbath, priest, and prophecy, all have varying connotations for members of different religious cultures. Before we begin reading the Jewish Bible, we must determine the religious culture in which God meant this book to be read. The Bible itself tells us that God presented the book to the people of Israel, to the exclusion of every other national entity (Deuteronomy 33:4, Psalm 78:5, 147:19, 20). In order to arrive at the true understanding of scripture, the book must be read in the specific religious culture within which it was meant to be read.
Both of these points (the issues of identification, and legal language) deserve a comprehensive analysis. It is my intention however to focus on the third of the three relevant factors, the validation process.
In most legal systems the truth of a contract is confirmed by the signature of witnesses, through the seal of a government official (such as a notary), or by the sign of the court. (Some legal systems use a combination of these.) We can look at the contract to see which validation method was used, but the contract itself can tell us nothing about the reliability of the validation process. In order to ascertain that the contract is true we must find some method that stands outside of the contract to ensure that the validation process has not failed us. Most legal systems use a validation method that is readily recognized and accepted by all in order to validate their documents.
For the purpose of illustration let us imagine the following scenario. A person enters a claim in court to the effect that a given piece of real estate belongs to him. He presents a document of sale to support his claim. The defendant argues that the document is a forgery and that the property was never sold. The claimant responds by pointing to a clause in the document that tells us that the witnesses who signed at the bottom of the document are reliable and upstanding people. Would this argument stand in court? Of-course not! In order to establish the document’s validity, the claimant will have to prove the reliability of the witnesses from sources outside of the document in question.
The same concept applies to the Jewish scriptures. It is very important to God that the Jewish people know that His Torah is true. What was the validation method that God utilized to authenticate the truth of His Law?
Just as we would examine a document to discover the validation method used to ratify the document (be it signatures, a government sanctioned seal etc.), so should we examine the scriptures to discover the validation method that God utilized to ratify His scriptures.
We must realize that the scriptures require a method of validation that is more extensive than the average legal document. The average legal document generally needs to work for a limited amount of time and in a limited geopolitical location. The Jewish scriptures, on the other hand, must endure for many thousands of years and in many different locations. A signature or a government seal will not serve the purpose.
Instead of signatures and seals, God used a unique series of events to establish the authenticity of His word. The unparalleled miracles of the exodus, and the unrivaled Sinai revelation were used by God to establish the authenticity of Moses’ prophecy (Exodus 14:31, 19:9, Deuteronomy 34:10-12). The fact that no claimant to prophecy ever performed miracles that even remotely approach the magnitude and scope of the miracles that God preformed through Moses confirm the truth of Moses’ prophecy.
This was a good validation method for the first generation of Jews who witnessed and participated in these extraordinary events. But God wants His Torah to be verified even to the last generation of Jews (Psalm 78:5, 6). God needed witnesses who will live on through history, and testify to the verity of His Torah. It is for this purpose that God chose the Jewish people as His nation of witnesses (Isaiah 43:10, 12, 44:8). This people will live on through history and testify on behalf of God.
But perhaps the witnesses are liars? How can we know that our parents and elders are telling us the truth when they tell us that God preformed these miracles through Moses? How does God confirm the trustworthiness of His witnesses?
The same events that God utilized to identify Himself to the Jewish people, and to establish the credibility of Moses as a prophet were used by God to establish the credibility of His nation of witnesses. The miracles of the exodus, the Sinai revelation and Israel’s wandering through the wilderness, set the Jewish people apart from every other national entity on earth.
We know that God’s kindness encompasses everyone, and that God has compassion upon all of His creations (Psalm 145:9). Yet God demonstrated His closeness to the Jewish people in a manner that He has done for no other nation. The miracles of the exodus, the Sinai revelation, and Israel’s journey through the wilderness are unparalleled in human history. The Creator of all intervened directly and openly on behalf of this particular people. No nation can lay claim to anything remotely similar. It is the uniqueness of Israel’s claim that establishes her credibility as God’s witnesses for the future generations (Deuteronomy 4:32-37, 33:29, 2Samuel 7:23, 24, 1Chronicles 17:21, 22).
As it is with any validation method, the system must be verifiable outside of the document that is being validated. The miracles of the exodus, the Sinai revelation and Israel’s journey through the desert must be accessible to future generation outside of the Jewish scriptures. Indeed, God established various national observances through which future generations of Jews can learn of these foundational events (Exodus 12:14,17,26,27, 13:8,9,14,15,16, 31:13, Leviticus 23:43, Deuteronomy 5:15, 6:20-23, 16:3). These observances were designed by God so that the impact of the exodus, the Sinai revelation and Israel’s journey through the wilderness can be experienced by every new generation of Jews. The hammer-blows that God used to establish His truth and testimony in Israel reverberate onward through the hearts of His witness people as they live out these memorial observances.
With all of this information in front of us, we can now draw a map of the faith structure that God established in the minds and in the hearts of the Jewish people. The bedrock foundation of the faith structure is the living observances of the Jewish people. When a Jew participates in these testimonial observances, he or she joins a contiguous pool of minds and hearts that stretches back to the exodus. The power, the effect and the impact of the exodus are passed on through this pool of hearts to touch every new generation. Through active involvement in the testimonial observances, the Jew comes into contact with the foundational events of Judaism. The exodus, the Sinai revelation and the wandering in the wilderness are brought to life in his or her mind. This is the first step in the faith structure of Judaism.
The second step in the faith structure is the realization that these events set the nation of Israel apart from any and every other national entity. When the Jew meditates upon these events, he or she comes to realize that there is an underlying message that God is proclaiming through these events.
When the Jew appreciates the power of the exodus, the Sinai revelation, and his or her ancestor’s journey through the wilderness, the Jew is brought to the next level of the faith structure. Through an appreciation of these miraculous events the Jew learns to identify God as the Supreme Master of all, the Jew learns the unique position that Israel occupies in God’s plan, and the supremacy of Moses as God’s prophet.
Once these concepts (the identity of God as Master of all, the position Israel holds as God’s witnesses and the supremacy of Moses’ prophecy) have taken hold in the mind and the heart of the Jew, the Jew can now accept the Five Books of Moses as an authentic representation of God’s word. The power of these foundational events guarantees that the witness nation who delivered this book was indeed chosen by God to represent His truth. And through the power of these same events the Jew can be confident that Moses was truly entrusted by God to deliver His holy law.
This then is the validation method that God utilized to authenticate the contract between Himself and the people of Israel. The witnesses are the people of Israel, and the system that God used to establish the credibility of the witnesses are the events of the exodus, Sinai, and the journey in the desert. The method God used to perpetuate the power of these events is the living observance of the Jewish people.
When we approach the Jewish Bible from this perspective, we readily see the pivotal role that the testimonial observances play in God’s plan. We recognize that Israel’s preservation of the foundational events (exodus, Sinai, desert journey) is the pillar upon which God establishes the validity of His scriptures for future generations. We understand that the supreme authority of Moses’ prophecy is the lens through which we must read the scriptures.
How strange then are the claims of the Church! On the basis of the Jewish scriptures the Church would have us dismiss the testimonial observances as outmoded, dead religion. The missionary would have us believe that Israel’s understanding of the exodus and Sinai is erroneous and irrelevant. And the same Church would have us believe that the unverifiable miracles of Jesus eclipse the credible and trustworthy miracles of Moses.
From a legal perspective we could compare the Christian position to one who holds a legal document with no appreciation for the signatures that validate the document. From this person’s perspective the signatures are superfluous and only spoil the design of the document. This person then takes a pair of scissors and removes the signatures from the bottom of the document. Would you still entertain the possibility that this person has a deeper and more precise understanding of the document than do the witnesses themselves? Is this the type of person you would turn to for advice in order to help you understand the fine points of the document?
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal