Virtually all Christians think Jews must convert to Christianity. Since this is so blatantly anachronistic, based on our religion’s source material (“Old & “New” Testaments) how do we arrive at this conclusion? Scripture has never been more accessible; it’s no longer illegal to have a copy, it’s not locked in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek–or the early Latin translations–Luther’s German Bible was published 479 years ago, and Wycliffe’s English Bible 629 years ago!
So, what’s the deal?
Sojourning with Jews has been a bit like peering through a magnifying glass. This post will discuss how that magnification began to reveal some hidden blemishes.
Fun Fact #1
Flip to Acts Chapter 9 in your Bible and you’re likely to see a chapter heading that says something like: Paul’s Conversion. Not all translations have chapter headings, some allow the reader to arrive at their own conclusions. Other translations make a statement of fact, such as: Paul meets the risen LORD.
But some of the most popular English versions of the Bible, such as the NIV, NKJV, ESV, RSV, NRSV, NASB, NET, and NLT, come with freebie commentaries included right in the chapter headings, where they unequivocally tell you that [Saul] the Jew “converted” to become a Christian!
Even if that isn’t in your version of the Bible, if you go to church, it’s in the air you breath; It’s in the notes, commentaries, sermons, books and so on. Entire doctrines are created from this. Oh, and his name changed too.
This is nothing but urban legend because Paul neither converted, nor had his name changed. (I already wrote about it, you can read more here.)
He was born Jewish and was named Sha’ul, but he was also a Roman citizen and therefore had a Greek name (Paulos [Paul]) long before he ever encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. He never “converted” because 1) the Messiah was promised to the Jews and therefore was contained within Judaism and 2) Christianity didn’t exist yet.
So, Christians want Jews to convert to a religion that didn’t become what we know it to be (more or less) until about the fourth century, and was definitely unheard of in the first century when Jesus and his disciples walked in Jerusalem and the Galilee.
Jews & Christians Speak Different Languages
When modern Christians (who don’t know Church history) say they want Jews to convert to Christianity, what they really mean is they want Jewish people to accept Jesus as the Messiah because he is the one God promised to send them in the “Old Testament” prophecies. Besides, Jesus is loving, kind, compassionate and merciful, brings healing to broken people and gives rest to weary souls. (Can I get an amen?) To the Christian, he is held so dear, and is offered to others out of true compassion and love.
The Christian sincerely wants the Jew (and others) to know his peace, rest, and love, and to reconcile with God. (the reasoning goes: If Jesus is the Messiah, then God sent him, if God sent him, then it would be rejecting God to reject the one He sent).
When modern Jews, (who mostly do know the ghastly Church history their modern Christian interlocutor is unaware of) are presented with entering into a relationship with Jesus, some react as if they heard something far different than an offer of “love”, “peace” and reconciliation with God.
What many Jews “hear” is something no Christian can even wrap their minds around: Death, destruction, hate, annihilation, Hitler killing another Jew, and so on.
“You Killed Jesus”
I watched a video of a Holocaust survivor who said the Germans told her everyday that they were committing atrocities against her and her mother because they “killed Jesus.”This girl had never even heard of Jesus prior to the camps. She said that she hated him because he was the cause of all her pain and all of the destruction around her. How many Jews had similar experiences? How else could she feel about him?
As a Christian, that made me sick.
To sum up: Most Jews know next to nothing about Jesus. At least, not the way we Christians know him. And Christians know next to nothing about the failures of “the Church”, or how Jesus has been used as a tool of hate and destruction against millions of his own family.
Jews, on the other hand, know all about the hate, destruction, and failures of “the Church”, and virtually nothing of the beautiful savior we’ve come to adore.
Fun Fact #2
To compound our error, we try to convince Jews to convert, by telling them about a false messiah.
I know, I know, I’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do…
Satan has tried to counterfeit and pervert everything God has done to benefit His people, so He gave clear guidelines, to protect them.
He’s an invisible God who’s made serious demands upon their behavior. So, how were they to know when some Tom, Dick, or Shlomo came along and tried to lead them astray? What “guidelines” did God give? It’s simple really: a prophet from God had to be 100% accurate, and if they weren’t, they were false and were to, umm…die.
Read Deut 18:20-22
Christians understand that Messiah is promised all the way back in Genesis 3:15, and lots more places besides. However, we forget a few critical things, for example, Deuteronomy 12:32 [13:1 in Jewish Bibles]:
“Everything I am commanding you, you are to take care to do. Do not add to it or subtract from it”
Immediately after saying the Word/Torah of God cannot be added to or subtracted from, it says that if a prophet or dreamer gets a message, even if he gives a sign or wonder that comes to pass as predicted, if he then says:
‘Let’s follow other gods, which you have not known; and let us serve them, you are not to listen to what that prophet or dreamer says. For ADONAI your God is testing you, in order to find out whether you really do love ADONAI your God with all your heart and being. You are to follow ADONAI your God, fear him, obey his mitzvot, listen to what he says, serve him and cling to him; and that prophet or dreamer is to be put to death; because he urged rebellion against ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from a life of slavery; in order to seduce you away from the path ADONAI your God ordered you to follow. This is how you are to rid your community of this wickedness.
So how could the the Promised One, Son of God, Messiah, and Redeemer, who is Righteous, not fulfill God’s requirements, or lead Israel to disobey what God told them to do?
Couple this with the fact that the Sinai Covenant and commandments are forever, and we’ve been way off in our message. (Exod 12:14, 31:13, 12:42, Lev 3:17, 22:3, 23:41 to list a few)
We Don’t Know What We Are Saying
I was in a meeting once with a group of Christian caregivers. One member, a University professor who’d served our country in high levels of the defense department for over 30 years, shared a love of C. S. Lewis with me, so we were chatting away. At one point he (I’ll call him Fred) got on a roll about Jesus supposedly rightfully breaking and abolishing the law [Torah], and then scoffed at how the “legalistic Pharisees and Sadducees” didn’t comprehend that grace was now the “new kid on the block.”
“Well Fred, you do realize that you just disqualified Jesus from being the Messiah then, right? According to scripture, the Messiah will uphold God’s Torah, and anyone teaching Israel to abandon it is a false teacher.”
His ego kicked in here. He’s older than me, far more educated, and male. So naturally, he’s right, and I was a heretic. :-)
To be fair, if there were no more Jews on the planet, if they’d gone the way of the Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, or Amorites for example, then the errors contained in the Christian understanding of the Torah, the Jewish people, Paul and Jesus, wouldn’t matter much.
But Jews do still exist, and they aren’t going away. Therefore, it matters a great deal.
Where The Rubber Meets The Road
Many Christians have been in this conundrum:
“Why don’t you [Jew] believe in Jesus as the Messiah? It’s all right there, it’s plain as day, and so obvious, look at the prophecies.”
To which a Jew may reply:
“Because I’m Jewish, Jews don’t believe in Jesus.”
At which point [most] Christians will say:
“But…Jesus, and his disciples were Jewish.”
Now, this is a very strange thing to say since we have been stripping Jesus and his disciples of his/their Jewishness for almost 2k years now. (may I remind you of Fun Fact’s 1 & 2 for starters?)
As a little girl in the 60’s, I loved Jesus’ long blond hair and blue eyes. In fact, I didn’t know why my dad said he hated “long-haired hippies” so much, and that they looked like “bleepity bleep girls”, because Jesus had long hair!
For the record, I do not believe Jesus is a false teacher or false Messiah (or that he had blonde hair). I believe he’s is The Holy One sent by God who fulfilled the Messiah ben Joseph prophecies, and at some point in the future will fulfill the Messiah ben David prophecies–and that he’s swarthy.
My prayer is that Christians will stop presenting a false version of Jesus to the Jewish people, and stop expecting them to convert to our religion. They have a task, as we do, and as we begin to humble ourselves, and avail ourselves of the astounding insights afforded to us by Jewish scholars who are interacting with the New Testament, coupled with the Dead Sea Scroll findings, we’ll begin to see a picture emerge that has been obscured for very long time. (Praise God!)
The Jews who followed Jesus were not Christians, they were fully observant Jews.And, the Gentiles who followed him later weren’t.
We have distinction, and that’s okay! We need to figure this thing out. Finally…