Annelise Responds to Answering Judaism
In a recent YouTube video, the Christian apologist ‘Answering Judaism’ respectfully responded to two videos by Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal. I would like to join both men in their desire to bring such topics into light, and offer my perspective on the dialogue.
Here is the video: http://youtu.be/67LvX1GY6Ck
Rabbi Blumenthal spoke first about how Christians portray ‘multiplicity in God’, and often compare their belief to the way the Jewish Bible describes His many attributes. His reply was that in speaking of God’s attributes, observant Jews are not describing His essence but His actions. When we look at the qualities used to describe God, it’s not that we apprehend distinctive ‘parts’ in our immeasurable Maker. Instead, these attributes describe His ways, within creation, of relating with us. There is no parallel between the two, and Jews are not hypocritical when they reject out of hand the idea of ‘multiple people’ or ‘relationship’ in God.
In his reply, ‘Answering Judaism’ agreed that the term ‘trinity’ attempts to describe God’s essence, not His actions. Moving on from this statement of agreement, he didn’t further explore the immense importance of the point at hand. Our scriptures draw a purposeful distinction between the uncreated One and His tangible revelation in the world. According to historical Jewish tradition, He interacts through His word, wisdom, glory, light, presence, face, servants, and messengers: a deliberate reminder that things we see of God in this world of many finite parts are all not ‘Him’, but rather are directly from Him. To claim apprehension, even incomplete, of a ‘relationship in God’ is to magnify the finite forms in front of our eyes to the status of ‘infinite’. The mystery is simply greater than trinitarians allow, but respecting it is an important part of loyalty to let nothing but our Maker into our worship.
This does not mean that God is vague and distant. The opposite: every facet of creation and of our lives, large and small, rests on Him for existence. That is the miracle of creation. We are not God; we are not separate from Him. We know Him at the very deepest aspect of our created being, and He knows us completely; He is the source of our entire world; the eyes of all look to Him. According to Judaism, His blessings are personal and close. We do not need an ‘incarnation’ to stand on both sides of the relationship before we know that God’s embrace of humanity is very close. An idea like that actually blurs the line between our Creator and the creatures who serve Him and praise Him for the relationship held by the ‘line’ itself. But that, in the end, is what the trinity concept is: the portrayal of ‘a relationship’ which, though it treads within the finite realm of human sight, is erroneously believed to be ‘part of’ the infinite.
Of course, our understanding is so small that it is more important to focus on commandments and revelation than on speculation. Within our commitment to that, it is for these reasons that we react strongly against the idea of multiplicity in the ‘essence’ of Israel’s God, the Creator of all things. By saying that Christianity claims to describe God’s essence rather than His actions, Rabbi Blumenthal distinguished it from rabbinic Judaism and from the entire legacy of Israel from at Sinai.
The second point from Rabbi Blumenthal is that belief in a trinity did not predate the worship given to Jesus. It does not stand on its own as a teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures. Rabbi Blumenthal claimed that this new concept and category are only an excuse to let worship of a human into the Jewish commitment to God alone.
‘Answering Judaism’ correctly pointed out that this fact can be harmonized in other ways with Christian scripture. He suggested that while people were not aware of the ‘trinity’ before the time of Jesus, it was real all the while. Asserting that Jesus actually deserves our worship and yet is in a real relationship with the Father who is ‘above’ our world, ‘Answering Judaism’ suggested that the trinity doctrine prevents people from committing idolatry: the violation of offering total love (deserved only by God) to a man whom they know to be created.
What Rabbi Blumenthal said here was not a proof, but it does render the trinity concept suspicious. It was foreign to the people who were given the role of knowing God’s true worship among all the nations. It was developed at a time when people were already worshiping this man. It also flew against the constant scriptural descriptions of the role of a human being and an Israelite, and of how all beings in the world should relate to God. Is it stronger to assume that this previously unknown theory came from Israel’s God, or from the followers of Jesus? Might they have seen him first as the revelation from or portal to God, and decided from there that “the word was God”? Because of this, and the other reasons, the “Hashem language” in the Christian scriptures remains unjustified. We call this, too, the worship of an ordinary man.
In the third and final clip from his videos, Rabbi Blumenthal describes the anointed, promised king, called to follow in the footsteps of his father David, pointing attention not at himself but towards God. This promise is contrasted with the legacy of Jesus, who drew people away from pure worship of God and towards his own personality.
‘Answering Judaism’ responded that this is only the case if one assumes beforehand that Jesus was not God, but a created man, a usurper. While this is a common and understandable Christian response to Rabbi Blumenthal’s teaching, the argument actually goes deeper. It is more than an assumption or conclusion. What he illustrated here is the confusion of roles applied to Jesus. When a man or woman prays, when a Jew serves God through the Torah, and when a king of flesh and blood serves God like David did, they are embodying the role of a servant: one who is created and, along with “everything that has breath,” points all honour to God. If Jesus did pray publicly to the Father, if he kept Torah, and if he would be the king promised in place of David, then he would have been standing in front of us in the role of creation. All the signifiers tell us to worship past God’s servant, just as we look past Israel, and specifically David our king, to see the King. The humility before God in the job description of the coming king, to be an embodiment of Israel and all creation, cannot have been exhibited by Jesus if he did attract extreme attention towards his own personality. In biblical and Jewish vocabulary, to serve God is the role of creation.
May our Creator continue to bless us as we discuss how He calls us to know Him.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal