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Q209 : Judaism and Christianity

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Q209 : Judaism and Christianity

I am a mother who has home educated our children, who have graduated. I have no degree, etc. I teach a high school, home school class each week. It is a Biblical worldview class, including many topics. Yesterday, in class one of my students had the following questions and comments. “Is it accurate to say that Christianity came from Judaism? Once the gospel was preached to the Jews, isn't it correct to say that they still practiced Judaism? Is there any place in Scripture that says they were not to practice Judaism?”

The Scriptures say that Jesus did not come to abolish the law (Mat. 5:17-18)... So, I took us to Galatians and we read part of chapter 1 and 3. However, when I discussed the issue later on that day with another Christian man, he said it was accurate to say Christianity came from Judaism. My thinking is that historically, geographically and Biblically there is a tie but that they are two very separate religions. I thought the Scriptures teach that Jewish believers were free from the law. Is the law the same as Judaism? The Bible does say Jesus came not to abolish the law but is it not teaching that the Jews should practice both?

As you can see, I am confused. I do not want to give wrong information to my students. I feel like I am over my head. I will be asking my pastor, but I have such respect for this organization and I know you are very knowledgeable about the Word of God, history and all it teaches. I would just like clarity from someone who is qualified to answer these questions and comments. I will greatly appreciate any help you can be! Thank you so much!

A209 : by Tony Garland

The Relationship of Judaism and Christianity

The relationship between Judaism and Christianity, especially given the different flavors of Judaism, is a topic which many people find confusing.

Part of the problem in answering your question is that the term “Judaism” means different things in different contexts. When I use the term “Judaism” below, I’ll be referring to Orthodox Biblical Judaism as revealed in the Old Testament and related comments by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. (Other uses of “Judaism” include Jewish religious views of a more liberal nature which deny the authority of the Old Testament or reinterpret its teaching and Rabbinic Judaism which adds tradition to scripture.1)

The simplest way to think about it, from a Christian perspective, is that Judaism and Christianity “overlap.” The areas they have in common concern the vast majority of the teachings found in the Old Testament. Where they differ is over whether the New Testament is from God (Christianity says, “yes” whereas Judaism says, emphatically “no!”) as well as how certain passages in the Old Testament are to be interpreted. Progressive revelation from God in the New Testament concerning aspects of the work of Jesus and the relationship of people of faith today to the law set forth in the Old Testament is rejected by Judaism. So Judaism and Christianity overlap in many aspects, but divide on the following key issues:

  • The identity of the predicted Jewish Messiah: Christianity says the Messiah has already come in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Judaism still awaits the coming of Messiah.
  • The nature of the Jewish Messiah: Christianity says He is divine, the God-man Jesus—a member of the Trinity. Judaism says he is merely a divinely-favored man.
  • Our relationship to the law of Moses: Christianity says that the law of Moses was fulfilled in Christ and is no longer required to maintain right-relationship with God (Gal. 3:25; 5:18). Judaism views the law as still in effect and a required way of life to the degree it is possible to be practiced. (However, from a practical point of view, many aspects of the Old Testament law of Moses cannot be kept since there is no Jewish Temple required for certain practices such as on the Day of Atonement, Lev. 16:29-34.)
  • Attaining eternal life: Christianity says that the only way to gain eternal life is by grace through faith in the shed blood of the divine Messiah Jesus Christ upon the cross (Php. 3:9). Judaism bypasses Jesus and the cross and holds that individuals can live in such a way that their meritorious works—good deeds, sacrifices, and participation in atoning ceremonies—are acceptable to God apart from a divine redeemer (Mat. 5:20; Luke 18:9; Rom. 10:3). (Rabbinic Judaism also holds that resurrection to eternal life is attained by the merit or diligence of the religious practitioner in atoning for his own sins by way of sacrifices, death, and the Day of Atonement.2
It would be an oversimplification to say that since Christianity and Judaism share the same Old Testament they only differ in relation to whether the New Testament is God’s Word. Not only does Judaism reject the New Testament as God’s revelation, it also refuses to take Old Testament passages at face value where they favor a Christian interpretation such as the divinity of the Messiah (e.g., Isa. 9:6-7) or the fulfillment of Messiah’s atoning death in Jesus of Nazareth (e.g., Isa. 7:14; 53:1-12).

Regarding the specific questions:

Q: Is it accurate to say that Christianity came from Judaism?

In my view, yes—because Christianity, with Judaism, receives the Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God. Moreover, the New Testament is seen as a continuation of Old Testament Judaism—when rightly understood (Rom. 9:3-5). Without Judaism, there would be no Christianity—because Christ came to fulfill much which Judaism predicted and required. If the Jews at the time of Jesus had overwhelmingly accepted the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, then Christianity would have probably been called something like “completed Judaism.” But because most Jews rejected the claim of Jesus as “the Christ,” what could have been “completed Judaism” became CHRISTianity and was thereafter considered an heretical off-shoot from Judaism. In one sense, Jews who came to faith in Jesus could be considered as practicing “true Judaism” from the perspective of the Bible (Rom. 4:12; Php. 3:3). But historically, the term “Judaism” came to be associated with those Jews who rejected God’s progressive revelation found in the person of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament. So, in that sense, one wouldn’t really refer to Jews who came to faith in the New Testament times as still practicing Judaism—because the majority within Judaism in Jesus’ day rejected Jesus, His atoning work, and clung to a belief in the continuance necessity of keeping the law of Moses.

Q: I thought the Scriptures teach that Jewish believers were free from the law. Is the law the same as Judaism? The Bible does say Jesus came not to abolish the law but is it not teaching that the Jews should practice both?

The Scriptures teach that Jewish believers (and Gentiles—all those who trust in the completed work of Jesus) are free from the necessity of keeping the law (Gal. 3:25; 5:18). Although the law is not the same as Judaism, because Judaism emphasizes the law as a required way of life, there is a sense in which the term “Judaism” is often used one-dimensionally to denote a belief that the law must still be kept. In regard to the law, the divide between Judaism and Christianity is over the necessity of keeping the law (required vs. optional) and the relationship of the law to one’s right-standing before God. Christianity recognizes that Jews who come to faith in Jesus and want to practice aspects of the law are free to do so. However, such practice has no contribution to make toward personal merit or right-standing before God—only the blood of Jesus reconciles a person to God (1Ti. 2:5). Within the Judaism of Paul’s day, keeping the law and being a descendant of Abraham were seen as the means of attaining eternal life rather than faith in the atonement provided by the Messiah (Mat. 3:9; Luke 3:8; Rom. 4:14; 10:2-4; Gal. 5:4).

Summary

You did the right thing in looking to Galatians in answering many of the questions which arise concerning the law of Moses and its relation to believers today. Especially Galatians 3:25; 5:4; 5:18.

In summary, Christianity arose “out of” first century Judaism only because Judaism “balked” at God’s progressive revelation in the works of Jesus and the giving of the New Testament. The central “bone of contention” between Judaism and Christianity remains: the identity and nature of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

In one sense, Judaism and Christianity share much in common: the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, moral principles, validation of Israel’s history, and more. In another sense, they are worlds apart. In its ongoing rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah of the Old Testament and belief that individuals can be justified before God apart from faith in the shed blood of Messiah, Judaism now finds itself unambiguously within the mix of antichrist religious systems (Rev. 2:9; 3:9).


Endnotes:

1.“Rabbinic Judaism is the Judaic religious system defined by the belief that at Sinai God revealed the Torah to Moses in two media, writing and memory. Thus it is the Judaism of the dual Torah, written and oral.” Ref-1334, p. 6.
2.“Three distinct media of atonement for sin are sacrifice, death, and the advent of the Day of Atonement. . . . Because one has atoned through sin (accompanied at the hour of death by a statement of repentance, ‘May my death be atonement for all my sins,’ in the liturgy), when he is raised from the dead, his atonement for all his sins is complete.” Ref-1334, p. 140.


Sources:

Ref-1334Jacob Neusner, Questions and Answers: Intellectual Foundations of Judaism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005). ISBN:1-56563-865-4a.


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