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?
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal