The stereotypical debate between the Jew and the Christian missionary centers on scripture. The confrontation will generally open with the missionary quoting a scriptural passage in an attempt to validate Christian doctrine. The debate will usually end with the Jew pointing out how the missionary has wrenched the passage out of its scriptural context.
Let us examine this debate at the very root. What is really going on in this struggle between the missionary and the Jew? What is each of the protagonists trying to achieve in this conflict, and by what means do they hope to reach their goals?
The Jew and the Missionary represent two very different belief systems. The adherents of each of these belief systems have their own way of looking at the world. The faith structures of these two world religions are each a complex arrangement of beliefs that affects the total mind-set of their respective followers. Throughout history, millions of Jews and Christians have lived and died by the convictions of their respective doctrines.
When the missionary engages the Jew in a scriptural debate, he is attempting to persuade this individual Jew to change camps. The missionary expects the Jew to abandon the complete belief system for which his ancestors have lived and died in favor of Christianity. The missionary hopes that his arguments will influence the Jew to recognize the supposed validity of the Christian belief system.
This is a weighty undertaking. Belief systems are not transitory possessions that people exchange easily. Faith structures are fixed in the hearts and minds of nations, and people find meaning and purpose for life in the teachings of religion. On what basis does the missionary propose to induce the Jew to exchange one belief system in favor of another? How does the missionary anticipate that this monumental transfer will take place?
The missionary believes that the Jew will be moved by the words of the prophets. The missionary trusts that the words of the Jewish scriptures carry enough weight to affect the monumental resolution that he hopes to achieve. According to the missionary, the complete faith structure of Judaism ought to be discarded on the basis of a line in scripture.
The missionary would readily justify his method. The scriptures are the words of the living God. Judaism acknowledges this truth. There can be no higher authority than the explicit words of God. If God’s word disproves the faith structure of Judaism, then certainly Judaism must be false.
We can appreciate Judaism’s effort to discredit every missionary application of scripture. It is important to set the record straight and to demonstrate how Judaism is in line with God’s word and it is Christianity that is refuted by the prophetic revelation. Indeed, it is not difficult for the Jew to accomplish this task. Most of the missionary interpretations are quickly invalidated by a contextual reading of the text in question. More importantly, the total message of the Jewish scriptures supports the doctrines of Judaism and negates the theology of Christianity.
However, a complete refutation of the missionary’s scriptural arguments does not do full justice to the Jewish criticism of the missionary’s position. The failure of the missionary’s mission does not begin at the level of the scriptural argument. The frustration of the missionary’s purpose begins at the very root of the general strategy employed by the missionary. The very act of quoting scripture to discredit the faith structure of Judaism is an exercise in absurdity.
The Christian missionary regards the Jewish scriptures as an entity that stand independent of any particular belief system. This belief is fallacious. God did not put down the scriptures in a spiritual vacuum. There were several teachings that God imparted to His people before He gave them the first page of scripture. These teachings that preceded scripture set down the basic structure of the Jewish belief system. The scriptures were not given to Israel to teach them a new faith. The scriptures were granted to provide guidance within the existing faith structure that God had already established in the heart of His chosen nation.
What were these precepts that God taught His people before He gave them the scriptures? What was the purpose of these foundational teachings? And how did God ensure the preservation of these pre-scriptural teachings?
The first set of truths that God established in the hearts of His people consists of three basic elements. These are a coherent understanding of God, the conviction that Moses is truly His prophet and the assurance that Israel is the eternal repository for these truths. God taught these basic principles to His people though the miracles of the exodus and the Sinai revelation. (Exodus 19:9, 20:19, Deuteronomy 4:9-12, 15-20, 30-39, 34:10-12)
The purpose that these foundational teachings accomplish is that they serve as the basis for the entire belief system of Judaism. Since these teachings were presented to the nation by God Himself, they are empowered to provide context and background for all subsequent teachings that were delivered through the agency of prophecy. We read the scriptures in light of the understanding of God that we learned at Sinai. In appreciation of the supremacy of Moses’ prophecy, we recognize that every authentic prophet only came to uphold the Law of Moses. And in recognition of the eternal choice of Israel as God’s witness, we read every prophecy as an affirmation of God’s election.
A second purpose accomplished through the foundational teachings is that they provide a standard through which we can evaluate subsequent claims to prophecy. A prophetic book can only be accepted into Israel’s corpus of scripture if it conforms to the understanding of God that was imparted to Israel by God Himself. The prophet must satisfy the requirements set down by the Law of Moses before his words can be accepted by Israel. And since God chose Israel to be the repository for these truths, the prophetic book must correspond to Israel’s unique understanding of these truths.
Finally, the pre-scriptural teachings serve to authenticate and provide legitimacy to all subsequent teachings. Since these teachings were imparted to the nation by God Himself, the nation has no room to doubt the truth of these teachings. The teachings of Moses are accepted, because it was God Himself who attested to the truth of Moses’ mission. The words of the prophets are accepted because the Law of Moses enjoins us to accept them. Subsequent generations of Jews accept the books of the prophets because the witnesses that God chose, namely the Jewish people, testify that these prophets satisfied the requirements dictated by the Law of Moses.
In order to ensure the preservation of the pre-scriptural teachings, God commanded the Jewish people to observe various testimonial commandments. These include the observance of circumcision (Genesis 17:11), the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:15), Passover (Exodus 12:26, 27), Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:43), and the redemption of the firstborn (Exodus 13:14,15). God commanded the Jewish people to pass on to their children the awe and the power of the Sinai experience (Deuteronomy 4:9). The pre-scriptural teachings are preserved through the actions and the words of the Jewish people.
We can now draw an image of the faith structure of the Jewish scriptures. The very foundations of the faith are the events of the exodus and the Sinai experience as they live on in the observances of the Jewish people. On the basis of these events we accept the Law of Moses as it is understood by those to whom it was entrusted. On the basis of the Law of Moses, as applied by the Jewish people, we accept the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and the books of Esther, Daniel and Ezra.
The missionary wields the Jewish scriptures in an effort to discredit Israel’s understanding of the events of the exodus and the Sinai experience. God utilized the events of the exodus and Sinai to teach us that everything that exists in heaven and earth are but His creations. All are subordinate to Him and to Him alone. The missionary points to one specific entity that existed within the arena that God created and demands that mankind direct reverence and devotion to that entity. This is a repudiation of God’s sovereignty over every detail of creation, and it is a denial of the principle that all creation is subordinate to God and to God alone. (Jeremiah 10:11)
The events of the exodus and the Sinai revelation taught us that Moses was truly the trustworthy one of God’s household. The missionary attempts to discredit this truth as well. Moses taught us that circumcision stands as a sign for all generations between God and His people (Genesis 17:13). Christianity denigrates this commandment (Galatians 6:15). Moses taught us that the Sabbath will stand as an eternal sign between God and His people (Exodus 32:13). Christianity disregards the observance of this commandment as well (Colossians 2:16).
Through the events of the exodus and the Sinai experience, we learned that we are God’s elect. God’s immutable election of Israelis reduced to nothing by the theology of the missionary (Galatians 3:28). The Church preaches that the elect of God are those who put their faith in the founder of their religion. The traditional view of the Church has always been that the Jews are no longer the chosen people of God. But even those who recognize that Israel’s election is immutable, have eviscerated the concept of all meaning. God chose Israel to be His witness (Isaiah 43:10 Psalm 78:5), yet every denomination of trinitarian Christianity rejects the testimony of the Jew.
The missionary’s manipulation of the Jewish scriptures in his effort to repudiate the teachings of exodus and Sinai, is an exercise in self-contradiction. The scriptures themselves point to Israel’s understanding of these events as the foundational level of the faith structure that supports scripture. The missionary’s strategy can be compared to one who blows up the first two stories of a building and expects the third floor to remain exactly where it is.
We invite the missionary to respect the order designed by God. Put the Jewish scriptures back where they belong. Learn the lessons of the exodus and Sinai through the medium that God ordained for their preservation (Psalm 78:5,6). Then, and only then will you read the scriptures in the context designed for them by God.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal