Response to “Answering Judaism” – Acts 21 – Part 1
Some time ago I gave a brief presentation on the topic of Acts 21. That passage describes how the members of the Jerusalem Church warned Paul that the rumor has it that he is teaching Jews to abandon the Law of Moses. In order to put this rumor to rest the leaders of the Jerusalem Church suggest that Paul participate in the bringing of some nazirite offerings in the Temple.
This episode makes it clear that the Jewish following of Jesus were still bringing sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple, for the specific purpose of expiating sin (see Numbers 6:14), long after Jesus was dead. Not only were they bringing these offerings but they saw in these offerings the symbol and the representation of their loyalty to the Law of Moses. The fact that they chose this particular act (bringing offerings for the expiation of sin) as the one that would publicize Paul’s loyalty to the Law tells us that this act was somehow central to the difference between their teaching and that of Paul (or at least the teaching that was Paul was accused of propagating).
The anonymous author of the blog “Answering Judaism” (henceforth: AJ) attempts to respond to my presentation with this article:
The opening argument in AJ’s rebuttal is: “To claim that the New Testament writers wrote contradictory messages shows that the person is unwilling to take the time to reconcile the contradictions.” AJ goes on to compare the Christian Scriptures with the Jewish Bible and with the Talmud.
I have already addressed this matter in my “Supplement to Contra Brown.” Here is the relevant quote:
IV. 6. Objections 5:16 and 5:17
Here Brown focuses on some of the misquotations and contradictions that are to be found in the Christian Scriptures. Brown’s responds by demonstrating that the Jewish Scriptures and the Jewish Rabbinic writings also contain discrepancies and seeming contradictions. Brown argues that whatever methods that the adherents of Judaism utilize to resolve the contradictions found in their sacred texts should be allowed for the resolution of the discrepancies found in the Christian texts.
Brown has failed to grasp the vast difference between the respective faith structures of Judaism and Christianity.
Judaism affirms that God established the basic foundations of Judaism in the hearts of the Jewish people. The Exodus and the Sinai revelation which were experienced by the nation as a collective unit, served to establish the basic truths of Judaism in the hearts and minds of the nation. The sacred books were presented to the nation in order that their message be assimilated by the people who will read these books in light of the foundational experiences.
As it is with any written work, and especially one as lengthy as the Jewish Scriptures, there will be questions and confusion. Judaism maintains that the Divine intent was that the judges of the Jewish people arbitrate in all situations where the Scriptural guidance is not clear. The foundational concepts of Judaism will never be affected by the intricacies of the text because they are not dependant on the text. They were established in the hearts of the people independent of any text.
Protestant Christianity, on the other hand prides itself that it does not rely upon humans for the foundation or for the transmission of their belief system. Protestants point to the texts of Scripture and declares that they only rely upon the word of God.
Without getting into the question as to who decided that these texts are indeed the word of God and upon what authority is this decision based, there are serious problems with the Protestant position. If indeed these texts are to serve as the foundation of the religion, and these texts are not meant for any specific audience (as opposed to the texts of Judaism which are meant for a specific target audience) – then who is to arbitrate when confusion arises? These confusions are not limited to peripheral issues in the Christian faith. The texts are unclear about some of the most essential issues of Christianity. This problem is severe enough when we limit our focus to the Christian Scriptures alone. But the confusions are multiplied exponentially when we throw the Jewish Scriptures into the mix.
The sacred texts of Christianity do not give clear direction on issues such as the alleged divinity of Jesus, on the position of the Law of Moses after the advent of Jesus, on the role of the Jewish people in the Messianic age and on many such issues that have divided the ProtestantChurch since its inception.
Since Protestant Christianity does not attribute any authority to a body of human judges, there is no way that these conflicts can be effectively resolved except on a person by person basis. Each reader could resolve the confusions as he or she sees fit. This leaves Christianity with the unhappy proposition of having as many Christianity’s as there are adherents.
This is only where Christianity’s problems begin. When we consider the question of the trustworthiness or lack thereof of the sacred texts of Christianity the Protestant Christian can only point to the texts themselves. As opposed to Judaism where the testimony of the living nation augments the testimony of the texts and the testimony of the texts augments the testimony of the living people – Protestant Christianity only has a set of books upon which they could place their trust. How can we know if these texts were written by honest people? On what basis can we accept that the books of the Christian Scripture were authored by people who lived up to a high ethical and moral standard? Why should we judge the authors of the gospels in a favorable light if there is no outside evidence to support the thesis that these were honest and ethical people?
In the case of Judaism, we have the testimony of the nation concerning the moral and spiritual character of the Biblical authors. These men and women established their credentials in the hearts, minds, and memories of a nation appointed by God as His witnesses. If we find confusion in their writings, we have the testimony of the nation amongst whom these writers lived to reassure us that these authors were holy and trustworthy. The confirmation of a nation serves to counteract any questions that would arise from the body of the texts.
In the case of Christianity, on the other hand, the exact opposite is true. The Jewish people amongst whom these authors lived remember them in a negative light. Why should we trust these people? What is the justification to exert ourselves to straighten out the confusion that abounds in their writings? Where is the witness that will stand to counterbalance the contradictions found in the gospels?
If you found this article helpful please consider making a donation to Judaism Resources by clicking on the link below.
Judaism Resources is a recognized 501(c) 3 public charity and your donation is tax exempt.
Yisroel C. Blumenthal
I have always deeply appreciated this argument of yours above. It often seems as if Christians take their inerrancy axiomatically, without seriously considering the limitations of this assumption.
On that note, however, it is interesting to note that perhaps the greatest Christian apologist today (who thankfully does not really deal much with jewish evangelism), William Laine Craig, does not consider inerrancy to be an essential or foundational component to Christian belief (much as you described above for Judaism). I think he does a good job of expressing this in his article “What Price Biblical Errancy?” which is on his website and which you can google, if you are interested.
He would say that the overwhelming historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection justifies Christian belief, and that belief in New Testament inerrancy is only justified after establishing Jesus’ divinity (which was established by his resurrection), and the fact that Jesus endorsed the teachings of the New Testament.
I of course, despite this both interesting and more justifiable approach to the foundation of Christian belief, would point out some problems with this line of reasoning.
1) I think it is debatable, and indeed I don’t believe, that there is overwhelming evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
2) Even if indeed Jesus’ resurrection did occur, this does not vindicate his divinity. People can be resurrected without necessarily being divine.
3) In terms of the historical believability of the resurrection, this must be compared with the believability of the Sinai experience of the Jewish people, in which Christians generally believe anyhow. The question is, would God introduce a new foundational revelation that was smaller than the previous foundational revelation. No matter how you slice it, Jesus’ resurrection cannot be considered as great a revelation as the Sinai experience, which was witnessed by 1.5 million people.
4) Much of the New Testament cannot be considered necessarily endorsed by Jesus. In particular, consider the teachings of Paul, of which Paul claims to have learned through prophetic experience. However, this is clearly not historically verifiable, as there is no evidence that Paul proved his prophecy (according to Deut. 18:18-22). Even if one word to believe in the resurrection, and use the resurrection to justify Jesus’s teachings, Paul’s teachings cannot be similarly justified.
Some really good thoughts and I basically agree with your logic. How about these issues, in regards to each?
1. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he knew of 500 people who claimed to have seen Yeshua alive, most still living themselves, including the main disciples (minus Judas Iscariot). This in the context of a faith movement that clearly cared about many Jewish values such as holiness, humility, and honesty.
2. I definitely agree. But if he claimed to be the messiah who would bring in part of God’s plan and come back later, and if he was not promoting idolatry or the breaking of any Torah law, then a resurrection is a good reason to at least take him very seriously. That becomes more confusing, though, since he and/or others claimed that he was the only way to God, that he was God, etc., without any reason for taking those claims seriously within the direction and the caution of Torah in these matters. So it is hard to believe that he will be moshiach, since this is what became of his followers.
3. It could be explained as something God was doing in a quiet, hidden way so as to separate those who really listened to and recognised His words in the world.
4. True, that’s why it matters to the NT that Paul had the approval of the apostles, and why it is a big deal if he didn’t. But in Catholic tradition, the apostles’ successors definitely accepted Paul.
Mr Blumenthal, I read the following statement in your paper:
“This is only where Christianity’s problems begin. When we consider the question of the trustworthiness or lack thereof of the sacred texts of Christianity the Protestant Christian can only point to the texts themselves. As opposed to Judaism where the testimony of the living nation augments the testimony of the texts and the testimony of the texts augments the testimony of the living people – Protestant Christianity only has a set of books upon which they could place their trust. How can we know if these texts were written by honest people? On what basis can we accept that the books of the Christian Scripture were authored by people who lived up to a high ethical and moral standard? Why should we judge the authors of the gospels in a favorable light if there is no outside evidence to support the thesis that these were honest and ethical people?””
So I know what you are saying, Are you asking what can you judge the NT on if you rely on only the books themselves? All I need is a little clarification
Thanks for asking
What I am trying to say is this: If you have a person that is reputed to be Godly, honest, kind and trustworthy and he writes something in a book that seems to be dishonest – it is appropriate to study his/her words and try to understand them in a light that would fit with everything else that we know about this person.
But if you have someone who has a reputation for the opposite – or even if he has no reputation – and such a person writes something that seems to be dishonest – why should we exert ourselves to understand his/her words in a favorable light?
If this is not clear of if you have questions – please do not hesitate to ask again
Cool, Thanks muchly.