Fifth Response to Gil Torres
I want to begin by thanking you for taking the time and the effort to move this discussion forward with gentleness, sincerity and humility. When I asked for your “intention” I was not questioning your motivations – I was asking for clarification as to what you meant.
I will attempt to respond to the three points you made in response to my most recent letter. In the course of responding to your second point, I will also attempt to respond to a point that you made to Annelise. I then hope to articulate some general observations about this conversation (I refer here not to our personal conversation but the 2000 year conversation that has been going on between our respective communities).
1) You say that Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection and the subsequent fulfillment of this prophecy drew you to Jesus.
Allow me to articulate how this appears to me from the perspective of a Jew – because after all; the claims of Jesus were originally presented in the social context of the Jewish people.
We stand in a covenantal relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth; this through no merit of our own but on account of God’s love for our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This relationship carries a heavy responsibility with it. The ramifications of this responsibility are multi-faceted but the center of this responsibility is our relationship with God.
Every created being owes everything to the One who created them. When any person considers the shower of love from the Creator that is inherent in their very existence then their heart will certainly turn to God.
But for the Jewish people God went further. The miracles of the exodus, the Sinai revelation and the miracles in the wilderness brought the understanding of God’s mastery of creation into Israel’s heart in an unparalleled way (Deuteronomy 4:35). These events also demonstrated God’s closeness and His love for this nation in an unparalleled way.
For a Jew to worship an idol it is a repudiation not only of the love that is inherent in the creation of every being but it is also a spurning of God’s love that was poured out upon our nation in such an open and unique way.
With this in mind you can perhaps appreciate why Deuteronomy 13:2-6 (1-5) is such a critical passage. In this passage our Divine Lover warns us not to be impressed by miracles when they are being used to justify a shift in the focus of our worship.
From the standpoint of a Jew who stands in a covenantal relationship with God – a resurrection is utterly meaningless.
There is more to discuss here such as: Is the worship that Jesus encouraged a “shift in the focus of our worship”? How do we define “another god”? If any question arises concerning the application of this scripture, who, if anyone, is authorized to arbitrate and decide on this matter? Who gets to determine if the prophet is encouraging us to “stray from the path that the Lord our God commanded us to walk upon”? And finally (actually this question is the least relevant): is there any reason to believe if the resurrection actually happened? I hope to address at least some of these after I respond to the other two points you raised.
2) You say that the authority of Scripture is to be accepted on the basis of the nature of its “matter-of-fact, unapologetic” claims.
I don’t fully understand what you are saying but I will still respond. If I understand you correctly you are saying that because Scripture stands apart from other religious works (such as the Koran or the Book of Mormon) by virtue of possession of a given quality (“matter-of-fact, unapologetic”) so we must accept it.
I never read the Koran or the Book of Mormon but I would venture to guess that Moslems and Mormons would say that these books share those same qualities. This would then render my perception concerning Scripture as something that is relative and subjective. Furthermore, who said that these qualities are the ultimate determinant as to what should be the book that guides our lives? And most importantly; is this the way God, the Author of Scripture, expected us to arrive at this conclusion? Did God expect us to read every piece of religious literature and then sit back and pass judgment as to which books are authoritative and which are not? Is there any indication from the Scriptures themselves that this is the method that God utilized in order to communicate with us about the validity of Scripture?
In your comment to Annelise you justify your decision to accept Jeremiah as an authentic prophecy on the basis of his predictions coming to pass.
Here your answer is actually in line with Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:22). This still does not negate the need to rely on the testimony of the Jewish nation. If Jeremiah would have put down one prediction that did not come to fruition – we would then have to discount him as a false prophet despite the fact that some of his predictions came to pass. If Jeremiah would have encouraged the worship of another god we would also have to reject him even if all of his predictions were to be fulfilled. It is only the testimony of the Jewish people that tells us that Jeremiah fully fulfilled the Mosaic criteria that is required of a true prophet. Furthermore; without the collective testimony of the nation there is no way of knowing that Jeremiah lived, or even if he did, that this is his book, and even if he did live and that this is indeed his book, you still need someone to tell you that he proclaimed these predictions before the events actually happened – in other words you need someone to tell you that the book is an accurate record of what actually happened. Finally; you may perhaps be aware that the followers of false prophets have all kinds of answers ready when the predictions of their prophets fail to happen. How do you know that this did not happen with Jeremiah? (Just for starters; many historians would argue that the return from Babylon did not take place precisely 70 years after the exile. The criterion of “fulfilled prophecy” is not so “cut and dried” as it would appear at first glance.)
3) If I understood your point about the Scriptural narrative about Adam and Eve it could be restated as: “you cannot easily bring proof from the fact that Scripture does not mention something”.
Good and fine. It is clear that certain things are to be understood naturally, as part of the sense of justice that God breathed into all of us. Throughout Scripture we find God punishing those who violated the basic precepts of justice and morality although there were no explicit commands given to them. The worship of the Creator of heaven and earth is dictated by the sense of justice that is common to all humanity. Directing worship towards a man is the most blatant violation of that sense of justice and morality. Just because one was left unsaid doesn’t justify or compare in any way to the leaving of the other unsaid.
To add insult to injury, Christianity demands what appears to the Jews as the deepest violation of their calling as a witness nation and as a covenant nation before God – and this could be left “unsaid”?!
The burning bush, the bronze serpent and the Ark of the Covenant did not encourage any redirection of our worship. If Jesus claimed deity then he was doing just that.
I will now move to some general observations and I hope that these words add clarity to my responses and to the discussion as a whole.
Before Jesus came on to the scene, the covenantal relationship that the Jew shared with God required that the Jew not direct his or her devotion to any entity aside from the One Creator of heaven and earth.
Then Jesus came along and claimed (according to the Christian narrative) that worship ought to be directed to him, a man. By parsing various nouns and verbs Church theologians have presented abstract and convoluted arguments that this Jesus is actually “one and the same” as the God described in the Jewish Scriptures. Every one of these arguments can be used to justify the worship of a stone statue. Can the stone statue not be the “incarnation” of the divine? Is anything impossible with God? Can you limit God’s ability to do as He pleases? Not that the stone became God but that God became a stone – in order to humble Himself…
But God made a covenant with the Jewish people. A covenant that He expected them to keep and to remain loyal to. At the core of the covenant we have the Sinai revelation which taught Israel who it is that they are to worship and who it is that they are not to worship (Deuteronomy 4). According to that revelation the worship demanded by the Church is precisely the worship that God prohibited in the strongest terms.
For 2000 years (and counting) the Church has attempted to persuade the Jew to accept the claims of Jesus’ deity. What stands out to me in this conversation is the appalling lack of respect that the Church displays towards the Jew’s covenantal responsibilities before God.
The Church has exerted herself for 2000 years now to convince the Jew, millions if not billions of man-hours were spent in the attempt to argue for the deity of Jesus. Yet I know of no coherent Christian response to the teaching that God presented us at Sinai. For 2000 years the Jew has been saying, and sometimes it cost him his life to say, that the worship that the Church demands is the deepest violation of the covenant that I share with God. God Himself taught us who it is that we are to worship and according to that teaching we should not be looking at Jesus as an object of devotion. Yet the Church did not respond. Instead the Church has declared that our resistance to the message of Jesus is evidence to our lack of loyalty to God’s covenant.
Gil – this was declared BEFORE the alleged resurrection. We were already being called children of the devil and enemies of light for resisting Jesus’ claims for deity – and no one had even dreamed of a resurrection.
There is no way that the Church can reasonably expect us to take their message seriously if they can’t take our message seriously. You see, the Church acknowledges that our message was handed to us by the Maker of heaven and earth – and they can’t take the time to listen to our testimony. How then can they expect us to listen to their testimony?
I raised some questions in this letter. I addressed these issues in various articles over the years.
It is my prayer that these words bring us all closer to the God of truth
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal