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.