What are our theological differences? To put it simply, we can narrow it down to four major differences. There are the issues of idolatry, the Law of Moses, atonement, and Messiah. I think it is important that we define these differences before we go on. Our opposing perspectives gives each of us a different way of looking at each of these issues.
The Jewish people identify Christianity’s devotion to a certain person, as idolatrous. This assertion is harsh on Christian ears. Christians consider themselves monotheists and they see their devotion as worship of the One God of Israel. Because of their preconceived notions it is difficult for Christians to appreciate the serious nature of this matter. In order to help you see things in a different light, I will ask you to consider the following question; – If the devotion that Christians apply to their savior were to be directed at another man – would that be idolatry? Do you not realize that if the Christian savior is not what his devotees claim him to be then he is “another man”?
With an appreciation for the seriousness of the issue, we can define the question. Do the Jewish scriptures advocate devotion to a man? Does it allow this devotion? Or does it prohibit this devotion in the strongest terms?
The Law of Moses.
This one is tricky, because of the divergence of opinion amongst Jewish Christians on this subject. Many Jewish Christians consider themselves “free” from the Law of Moses, they believe that it no longer applies on a practical level. Others accept the binding nature of the Law of Moses, but accept only those laws explicitly written in the Five Books. Others yet accept the full body of the Law of Moses as defined by the living legacy of the Jewish nation. The basis for this position is the recognition that the Christian savior himself believed this way and that he lead his life accordingly.
The Jewish contention with each of these positions can be stated in the following terms. To the first group – We believe that the law of Moses is eternal in nature and is binding upon all of the Jewish people in all generations. To the second group – We believe that the living legacy of the Jewish people is the only context from within which to approach observance of the Law. As for the third group, at first glance it would seem that we are in total agreement, but this is not so. Although the third group accepts that the living legacy of the Jewish nation is the only true context for the Law, they differ with us over some key issues. They do not accept the Jewish definition of the law of idolatry.
We will have to examine the Jewish scripture as it relates to each of these issues. Does the Jewish scripture acknowledge that the living legacy of the nation is the repository for the law – specifically the law of idolatry? Is the law of Moses binding upon every generation of Jews? What do the Jewish scriptures teach us in these areas?
Here too, Christians differ in their approach. All Christians agree that no atonement can be achieved without devotion to their savior. The divergence relates to the role of repentance in the atonement process. Some are of the opinion that no action on man’s part can play a role in the atonement process, thus repentance is believed to be a result of atonement and not a cause for atonement. Others accept that repentance is a necessary prerequisite for atonement, but that devotion to the Christian savior is necessary to complete the process. The Jewish position is that repentance is the key component in the atonement process. When man repents, God forgives. We will search the Jewish scriptures for guidance on this matter.
Christians view the Jewish rejection of the Christian Messiah as the most significant issue dividing the Christian and the Jew. The fact is though that the difference runs much deeper. Our respective understandings of the very concept of Messiah stand poles apart from each other. Aside from the technical issues, such as the difference of opinion about the virgin birth (Christians believe that the Messiah must be born from a virgin while the Jews believe that the Messiah must have a human father from the line of David,) there are some deep theological issues such as the questions of divinity and atonement. Christians believe that the Messiah must be divine, while the Jews believe that he is human. Christians believe that there is no atonement without devotion to the Messiah, while Jews believe that devotion to the Messiah has no bearing on the atonement process. (These two issues – divinity and atonement – are subsumed in the previous categories.)
Still, the list of differences does not end here. The entire thrust of the Christian concept of Messiah runs counter to the Jewish understanding of this same matter. Christians believe that a new election is achieved through devotion to the Messiah. This means that just as the Jews were elected by God on account of their fathers, Christians are elected by God on account of faith in their Messiah. Some Christians believe that this election supersedes the election of the Jewish people – in other words the Jewish people are no longer God’s elect. Others believe that these elections are parallel to each other and that there are two elect people, the Jews, and those devoted to the Christian Messiah.
The Jewish people accept no such election. They see this claim to election as the antithesis of the entire thrust of God’s Messianic promise. The hope and yearning for the Messianic age is very different in the heart of the Jew than the hope that goes by the same name in the heart of the Christian. One yearns for the ingathering of the scattered of the Jewish people, a rebuilt temple, observance of the Law of Moses, and worldwide worship of the God of Israel, while the Christian looks forward to the vindication of the devotees of his Messiah to the shame of the Jewish people, he looks forward to a world in which the only recognized method of atonement is devotion to the same man. Many Christians are also looking forward to the ultimate nullification of the Law of Moses.
Finally, we have the issue of unfulfilled Messianic prophecy. So much of the prophecies concerning the Messiah have not been fulfilled. Can we accept the Christian explanation of the second coming of the Messiah? Is there scriptural justification for this doctrine? Can one claim the title “Messiah” and demand the honor contained in that title without having fulfilled all of the Messianic prophecies? We must examine the Jewish scriptures with each of these positions in mind. We must ask ourselves, on which side of this debate would the prophets of scripture have found themselves?
With the opposing views relating to these issues in mind we can begin our search of the Jewish scriptures. Which position does the Jewish scripture support, is it the Christian position or the Jewish one?
Before we begin, I would like to make an important point. If our search turns out inconclusive (- I don’t expect this to happen, but just in case -), then I will consider it a modest victory for the Jewish position. Firstly, at least the myth of the supernatural Jewish blindness will have been successfully debunked. If the Jewish scriptures are inconclusive, then no supernatural explanations are necessary to explain the Jewish non-acceptance of Christianity. Of far greater magnitude though, is the issue of idolatry. If one is has the slightest doubt about the theology of the divinity of the Christian Messiah, then there is no moral justification to commit oneself in worship. The risk is far too great. If you are mistaken, then your worship is the greatest rebellion against God imaginable!