V. 62. Objection 6.12
Brown presents one of the fundamental Jewish Objections to Christianity: “Judaism is a unique religion. Of all the religions of the world, only Judaism began with a public revelation witnesses by the entire nation. No one and nothing can alter that fact or change the substance of that revelation.”
Brown responds on behalf of Christianity with three arguments: “1) Followers of Jesus also accept the revelation of God at Sinai, recognizing it as the foundation of everything else that follows…” Further on (Page 236) Brown elaborates: “…the revelation at Sinai is NOT the exclusive property of traditional Judaism. Rather, it is the heritage of all who embrace the Tanakh, and that includes hundreds of millions of Christians as well.”
Brown’s second argument: “2) In and of itself, the revelation of Sinai argues against a binding oral tradition – which is the foundation of traditional Judaism – rather than for it.”
Brown presents his third argument: “3) God did not stop speaking at Sinai, and therefore I embrace the words of the prophets and the words of the Messiah, which build on the foundation of Sinai. I should also point out that many liberal Jewish scholars do not even believe that this revelation at Sinai ever occurred…”
Before refuting Brown’s arguments, a question is begging to be asked. Why bring up the liberal scholars? What is the point of reminding his audience that there are people who do not believe in the Sinai revelation? Could there be any other motivation other than to minimize the power of Sinai in the eyes of his audience? If this conclusion is correct (and I do not insist that it is, it simply the only logical answer I can see for my question) than another question presents itself. Why? Why is it important for someone – who claims to believe in Sinai, and who claims a share in the heritage of Sinai – to attempt to minimize the impact of Sinai? The fact that Brown found the need to include the opinion of these liberal scholars in his response to the Jewish argument based on Sinai, leaves me with a strong impression, that Sinai does not sit all that well with Brown. For all of his declarations to the effect that he affirms the revelation of Sinai, something is seriously wrong.
Since Sinai is so foundational to Judaism, and since the Scriptures put Sinai and the exodus at the very center of the faith-structure of Scripture, I will beg the reader’s indulgence, and I will take the time to elaborate.
Before I begin, I will quote some Scripture.
“When you are in distress and all these things have befallen you, at the end of days, you will return to the Lord your God, and hearken to His voice. For the Lord your God is a merciful God, He will not abandon you nor destroy you, and He will not forget the covenant of your forefathers that He swore to them. For inquire now regarding the early days that preceded you, from the day that God created man on the earth, and from on end of the heaven to the other end of the heaven: Has there ever been anything like this great thing or has anything like it been heard? Has a people heard the voice of God speaking to them from the midst of the fire as you have, and survived? Or has any god ever miraculously come to take for himself a nation from the midst of a nation, with challenges, with signs, and with wonders, and with war, and with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with greatly awesome deeds, such as everything that the Lord your God, did for you in Egypt before your eyes? You have been shown in order to know that the Lord, He is the God, there is none beside Him. From heaven He caused you to hear His voice in order to teach you, and on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.” (Deuteronomy 4:30-36).
The point of this passage is: That the fact that Israel is the only nation that claims to have heard God’s voice from the midst of the fire, and the fact that Israel is the only nation that claims to have experienced anything like the exodus from Egypt, is supposed to encourage the Jew at the end of time that God will not forget the covenant that He made with our forefathers.
Why? How do the unique claims of Judaism reassure us that God’s covenant with us still stands? What is the covenant that we share with God?
The thrust of the covenant that Israel shares with God is that we are called to be His nation and He declares Himself to be our God (Exodus 6:7, Deuteronomy 29:12, 1Chronicles 17:22). This means that God tied up His own identity with that of Israel. The covenant that Israel shares with God denotes that God will be called: “The God of Israel”, and that Israel will be called: “The people of God”. In other words; a covenant is like a marriage. No longer can we look at the two parties of the covenant as separate entities; the destiny of these two parties is bound up with one another and the very identity of these two parties is bound up with one another. The exodus and Sinai sealed the connection between God and Israel. From that point onward, Israel is God’s bride, and God is Israel’s husband and lover.
Israel’s intimacy with God that was displayed by the exodus and the familiarity with God that Israel gained through the Sinai revelation remains unmatched by any other national entity.
In these verses in Deuteronomy, God is reassuring Israel that no nation will ever match Israel’s claim of being married to God.
The perception of God that Israel acquired at the Sinai revelation is not a peripheral aspect of our covenant with God. Neither is this perception something that fades away with the passage of time. God points to this knowledge of God that we acquired at Sinai as the very heart of our relationship with Him, and God speaks to the last generation and points to this knowledge as a unique possession that sets us apart from every other national entity. This knowledge was not acquired through the handing over of a book, nor was it accomplished through the recital of words. God points to a fiery encounter, collectively experienced as the means through which He imparted this knowledge to us (Deuteronomy 4:35). God also tells us how it is that this knowledge will be preserved throughout the generations. Again, it is not through the recital of words or through the reading of a book; but through the channel of love and trust that exists between children and their parents (Deuteronomy 4:9, Psalm 78:5).
Sinai and exodus were fiery experiences that seared the perception of God into the minds and the hearts of the people who experienced it. They were commanded by God to keep this awareness and intimacy with God alive and to pass it on to their children. Each generation of Jews is enjoined by God to absorb the testimony of exodus and Sinai from their parents, to come to know and love the God of their ancestors and to stand together with their parents in a covenantal relationship with God (Deuteronomy 29:13). The power, the reality and the truth of God embodied in the testimony of exodus and Sinai is so weighty that the last generation of Jews can put their full trust in the God of Sinai on the basis of this testimony (Psalm 78:7). A trust in God that will encourage them to give their lives for Him (Psalm 44:17-23). A trust in God and a love for Him that will carry them through the darkest times (Isaiah 26:13, Micha 7:7,8). A trust and a yearning for God so that when God arises to judge the earth, the children of the exodus and Sinai will cry out with joy: “Behold! This is our God! The God that we hoped for! (Isaiah 25:9). And the connection between God and Israel that was forged at exodus and Sinai runs so deep and is so steadfast, that when God alone is exalted on that day (Isaiah 2:17), His bride, Israel, will be vindicated to the eyes of all the nations (Isaiah 49:23, 62:2. Micha 7:10, Psalm 98:2,3).
Now here we have Brown, declaring that hundreds of millions of Christians share in the heritage of Sinai! Brown seems to be under the impression that Sinai is completely restricted to a book, it has nothing to do with living people, so that according to Brown, anyone who grabs hold of the book can claim a share in the inheritance of Sinai.
Brown has missed the point of Sinai, which is actually the central point of the entire Scripture. Its not about a book, it is about a covenant between two living parties; between the living God, and between His bride, Israel. Just because you are holding a copy of a description of the wedding ceremony doesn’t make you the bride. And if you make it your life’s mission to declare to one and all that the witnesses that God commissioned at Sinai are liars, then how can you turn around and claim the heritage of Sinai for yourself? (Just to remind the readers; in Volume 2, Brown contended that Israel’s rejection of the trinity is not based on what they learned at Sinai, as Israel claims, but is rather: “a gut-level negative reaction to anything Christian” (Page 7).)
Brown’s argument that: “the Sinai revelation does not give a hint of the Oral law. Not a hint!” – is equally fallacious. The whole point of the exodus and Sinai is that words alone, neither written or spoken can effectively communicate a perception of God; it can only be done through a living experience. The whole point of exodus and Sinai is that through a series of living experiences, God forged a nation for Himself that will walk through the corridors of history with His truth in their hearts (Isaiah 51:7) – a living nation, not a series of books.
V. 63. Page 235
“3) God did not stop speaking at Sinai, and therefore I embrace the words of the prophets and the words of the Messiah, which build on the foundation of Sinai.”
There is another foundational aspect of Sinai that Brown has missed and together with Sinai he has missed the mainstay of the faith structure of the Jewish Scriptures.
Through the exodus and Sinai, God established a perception of Himself in the minds and in the hearts of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39). At Sinai God also established the authenticity of Moses’ claim to prophecy (Exodus 19:9). The truth of these two concepts (Israel’s perception of God, and the validity of Moses’ prophecy) were so firmly established, that every subsequent generation of Jews is enjoined to evaluate prophetic claims in light of these two perceptions. No matter how many miracles and no matter how spectacular those miracles are; if the claimant to prophecy contradicts Israel’s perception of God or if he contradicts Moses; he should be put to death (Deuteronomy 13:6).
Brown’s acceptance of Jesus’ claims for deity, is a direct contradiction to Sinai. Brown’s acceptance of the claim that Jesus is somehow greater than Moses is likewise contradicted by Sinai. It is only because Brown rejects Sinai, that he is able to accept the claims of Christianity.
V. 64. Pages 237-238
Brown goes back to the Jewish objection (6.12) and reiterates it in different words: “You might say, “but God DID give the Ten Commandments and much of the Written Torah to Israel, in a public, definite way, before the whole nation, whereas you claim that Jesus just showed up on the scene and drew a few disciples about him and then changed everything. Why should we believe this?’”
Before we approach Brown’s response to the Jewish objection, it is important to point out that his presentation of the objection is misleading. First and foremost, a key concept that is missing, is the concept of credibility. The claims of Judaism are more credible then are the claims of Christianity. And second, it was not “much of the Written Torah” that we received in a public definite way, but rather it was a perception of God (Deuteronomy 4:35), and the knowledge that Moses is His prophet (Exodus 19:9) that we received at Sinai. To approach these concepts from a different angle; if I were to ask a Christian: How do you know your god? On what basis do accept the claim that Jesus was god incarnate? Did anyone SEE that he is god incarnate? – If we turn to volume 2, we find a series of arguments (incidentally; no mention of Sinai) arguing for the alleged divinity of Jesus. That is still not seeing. The Jew on the other hand can say: “We encountered God face to face” (Deuteronomy 5:4). If you ask the Christian: How do you know that Jesus was a prophet? – Brown will point to signs and wonders that Jesus performed before those who already believed in him – but that is still not KNOWING that God spoke to him. If we ask a Jew, how it is that he knows that Moses is a prophet – he could respond – “we heard God talking to him” (Exodus 19:9).
Now for Brown’s response to the Jewish objection. Brown points to various phenomena that accompanied the career of Jesus. He points to the prophetic prediction which, according to Brown, predict that the Messiah must come before the destruction of the Second Temple (- we addressed these in Contra Brown), he points to signs in the heaven and an angelic announcement that preceded the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2 and Luke 2), the preaching of John the Baptist that preceded Jesus’ ministry, the faith healings of Jesus that Brown refers to as “unprecedented signs, wonders and miracles”, the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on donkey-back, the supernatural events that coincided with Jesus’ death; namely an eclipse, and earthquake and the rending of the Temple veil, Jesus’ resurrection, the “outpouring of the spirit” that took place on the Pentecost, the miracles the Peter performed, and Jesus’ prediction of the destruction.
Brown appeals to his readers: “When you think of it, with Israel scattered throughout the world, what could have been more public than the Messiah’s triumphal entry and death at the time of the Passover – with Jerusalem thronged with Jews from around the world – and then Jews from every nation hearing and seeing the events at Shavuot?”
(As an aside, before we respond to Brown’s argument – I find it noteworthy that Brown did not mention the many dead saints that Matthew claims were resurrected at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. I would have thought that this most incredible miracle should be at the forefront of the list of miracles that are supposed to confirm Jesus’ claims.)
To respond to Brown’s question: “what could have been more public?” – I say; God could have spoken to Jesus from the thick of the cloud like He spoke to Moses, that would at least place him on an equal footing with Moses. God could have turned the Jordan river into blood for seven days, He could have stopped the sun in the sky as He did for Joshua, He could have done any number of miracles that would impact the nation on a practical level – but He didn’t. Brown has failed to understand the unique nature of the exodus miracles. The exodus impacted Israel and Egypt on a practical level. To put things in a modern American perspective; could you compare the Mississippi turning to blood for a full week, to a faith healing that may take place in front of those who already have faith in the healer? (Note: Matthew and Mark inform us that Jesus could not perform mighty miracles in places where people did not have faith in him – Mark 6:5, Matthew 13:58). Would you compare the impact of the bulk of America’s military forces drowning in the sea to a dead person reappearing to a select few devotees, who had already committed themselves in devotion to this person?
Furthermore, the alleged miracles of Jesus can only be found in the pages of a book written and edited by a limited group of individuals that have dedicated themselves to promulgate the glory of Jesus. There is no one on earth today who claims that he or she is a direct descendant of one who experienced one of Jesus’ miracles. Contrast this with the exodus, where you have an entire nation of living people testifying to the truth of the exodus – telling their children that they heard from their parents that they were personally impacted by the miracles of the exodus. In fact, the descendants of the people amongst whom Jesus lived namely the Jewish people, remember Jesus and his followers in a negative way.
The bottom line is and remains; Both Judaism and Christianity make claims about the realm of the unseen and unknown: Judaism claims that all of our devotion belongs to our Creator and to no one else, while Christianity claims that our devotion ought to be directed towards a man who lived and walked this earth. The assertions of these two belief systems cannot be verified through the five senses; each of these belief systems claims to have received their respective beliefs through a revelation from that realm of the unknown. In the case of Judaism, that revelation came to the entirety of the nation – all of them encountered the living God at Sinai; in the case of Christianity, the Christian points to Jesus as the channel through whom this information came from the realm of the unknown to this world. In the case of Judaism, we believe the testimony of a nation, in the case of Christianity, it all stands on the words of an individual.
V. 65. Page 238
Here Brown devotes one paragraph to one of the major Jewish objections against Christianity (- note: one paragraph out of a five volume series that spans almost 1500 pages! And this paragraph is not even placed in the section that purportedly deals with the Jewish objections of this category (- theological objections; idolatry)).
“I am aware, of-course, that traditional Jews point to God’s revelation at Sinai, as recounted by Moses in Deuteronomy 4:14-34, emphasizing that the people of Israel saw no form on Sinai – including that of a man or woman – and that they should not make an idol in any shape or form. Therefore, it is argued, we are violating the Sinai covenant by worshiping Yeshua as god, as if we were making a man into a god (or vice versa).”
Again, before getting to Brown’s response; a question is in order: Why when quoting Deuteronomy 4 does Brown stop at verse 34? Does he not realize the critical nature of verse 35 and its central place in this discussion? Verse 35 reads: “Unto you it was SHOWN in order that you know, that the Lord is God, THERE IS NONE ELSE BESIDE HIM.” In other words: whatever it si that we are to worship was shown to us at Sinai, and we are to worship NOTHING ELSE.
Now to Brown’s response. “But that is a crass misunderstanding of our faith. We do not worship a human form. The New Testament plainly states that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18a) describing Him as the One “who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (I Tim. 6:16). In Yeshua, however, we recognize the fullness of God revealed, not in physical form or shape – how absurd! – but in spiritual reality, clothed in human flesh.”
A crass misunderstanding of Sinai and a mockery too. As if a nifty word-game can get around the prohibition against idolatry. This is actually the third lesson of Sinai that seems to have completely escaped Brown. Brown missed the idea that Sinai sealed a covenant between two living parties, Brown missed the idea theme that Sinai is the yardstick against which subsequent claims for prophecy are judged, and here Brown misses the idea that Sinai serves as the definitive teaching on the subject of idolatry (Exodus 20:19, Deuteronomy 4:15). Brown also has completely missed the concept of the Oral Law because it is here that the Scripture most explicitly testifies to the concept of the Oral Law.
Allow me to reiterate what we mean when we say Oral Law. When we say that we believe in the Oral Law we are saying that there is more to the commandments than what is written in the Five Books of Moses. The concept of the Oral Law maintains that the full scope of the commandment can only be grasped through the living testimony of Israel. Those, such as Brown, who dispute the authenticity of the Oral Law contend that everything that Israel needs to know about the Law is completely contained in the Five books of Moses.
When it comes to the Law that prohibits idolatry, the Torah clearly and unequivocally authenticates the position of the believers in the Oral Law. God chose to teach the prohibition against idolatry to the nation of Israel in a direct fashion. As opposed to the other commandments, where God taught them to Moses who then went and taught them to Israel, God Himself taught the nation of Israel the injunction against worshiping idols.
Now, according to Brown and his fellow deniers of the validity of the Oral Law, God should have recited some words or handed Israel a book – and nothing more. After all, if there is no Oral Law then everything must be contained in written words. But that is not what God did. He certainly did recite words and He also gave Israel a written record of those words in the form of the two tablets, but He did not stop there. In order to teach Israel who it is that they are to worship and who it is that they are not to worship God put Israel through a fiery experience which goes far beyond words. And the written words itself point to this fiery experience as the touchstone for the prohibition against idolatry (Exodus 20:19, Deuteronomy 4:15). Subsequent passages identify idols with the simple term: “that which I have not commanded” (Deuteronomy 17:3), or: “that which your fathers did not know” (Deuteronomy 13:7); implying that if we did not hear about it from our ancestors from Sinai, then it is an idol that is not deserving of our worship. If there is anywhere in scripture that we are taught that words alone do not adequately convey the underlying message of a commandment; it is here. And it is precisely here, in the realm of idolatry, that Christianity most emphatically rejects the living testimony of Israel.
How does the living testimony of Israel negate the claims of Christianity concerning the alleged divinity of Jesus? Simple! At Sinai we were shown towards whom it is that we are to direct our devotion. Anyone or anything that was not revealed to our ancestors at Sinai, is not deserving of our worship. No one ever claimed that our ancestors saw Jesus at Sinai. If God wanted us to direct our devotion to Jesus, He would have shown Jesus to us at Sinai. Since Jesus was not there at Sinai, worship of him is idolatry.
But what about those nifty word-games? What about the claim that Jesus is somehow one and the same as the God we encountered at Sinai?
The basic response is that if “a” is not equal to “b” then “b” cannot be equal to “a”. In other words, if worship of the God who revealed Himself to our ancestors at Sinai is not worship of Jesus, then worship of Jesus is not worship of the God who revealed Himself at Sinai. Its as simple as that.
To illuminate the matter from a different angle let us focus on the sin of idolatry. The sin of idolatry is not a philosophical abstract, it is a sin of the heart. The sin of idolatry is not committed when you use the wrong phrase – for example, according to Brown; the phrase: “the fullness of God revealed in physical form” would be “absurd” and presumably idolatrous, while the phrase: “the fullness of God revealed in spiritual reality clothed in human flesh” is perfectly fine. These word games have nothing to do with the sin of idolatry.
The sin of idolatry is perpetrated when one’s heart is committed in devotion to an entity other than the God of Israel. In order for one to commit their heart in devotion to someone or to something, there has to be a basis for that devotion, a motivation and a stimulus for that devotion. In the case of the God of Israel, the stimulus for the devotion is the awe one feels in the presence of the Master of all creation, who holds the existence of every being in His hand. Devotion to God is rooted in the understanding that every fiber of our existence belongs to Him because it was He who brought us into existence to begin with. Worship of God is inspired by the sense of gratitude that we feel for all of the kindness that He is constantly pouring upon us with love and mercy. Israel’s devotion to her God is rooted in the very fact that God is God. It is impossible to separate between Israel’s devotion and the concept of Creator, Master, and Sustainer of all existence – because Israel’s devotion is rooted in those very truths.
The Christian’s devotion to Jesus on the other hand is rooted in the admiration of a human character portrayed in the pages of the Gospels. It is rooted in an awe for his alleged righteousness, in a reverence towards his teachings, and in an appreciation for his sacrifice and suffering – all of which took place in a human body. All of this devotion has nothing to do with the claim that he is somehow divine. All of the feelings that a Christian bears in his or her heart towards Jesus are entirely possible without believing that Jesus is divine. The argument that Jesus is somehow one and the same as the God of Israel is not the root or the stimulus for the Christian’s devotion – rather it is the result of the Christian’s devotion. The words: “Jesus is the same as the God of Israel”, are simply a set of words that is appended to the Christian’s devotion to Jesus as a justification for the devotion, but in no way is this set of words an intrinsic and inseparable part of the devotion itself.
The awe that one experiences when contemplating the reality of the Master of all existence, the gratitude that one feels for the kindness of existence, and the submission that we feel towards the One who created us out of nothing – has nothing to do with the admiration that Christians feel towards the human character portrayed in the four Gospels. These are two different devotions rooted in two different sets of human emotions. One is the service of God and the other is idolatry.
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