The Jewishness of the Christian Faith
by Tuvia Pollack
About one hundred years after the death and resurrection of Christ, a rich man named Marcion arrived to Rome. He donated a large sum to the Christian congregation there, and started teaching a total separation between Christianity and Judaism. He taught that the God of the Old Testament was an “evil and vengeful God.” He created his own bible, comprised only of a heavily edited version of the gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s letters.
The congregation returned his donation and expelled him from Rome in 144 AD. He moved to the area of modern Turkey where he continued to teach his false doctrine. It became a separate religion, Marcionism, which disappeared within a few hundred years.
This event illustrates for us the absurdity that occurs when we try to understand Christianity without its Jewish roots. Everything Jesus did and taught was based on Judaism. He was the promised Messiah that the Old Testament points to through numerous prophecies. He fulfilled them one after another. Descriptions like “he fulfilled this and that prophecy” occur all over the New Testament.
In Matthew 1:21, the angel tells Joseph: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” We can discuss what “his people” meant here, but for the original audience there was no question. It’s the Jewish people. The prophecy about the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31 describes “a new covenant with the people of Israel and the people of Judah.” We can also see that Jesus himself said to the Samaritan woman at the well that “salvation is from the Jews.”
God has opened up this salvation to be available for all people, which is an amazing grace. Paul said that the gospel brings salvation “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” in Romans 1:16, which is in line with the prophecy of Isaiah, that the Messiah will be “a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6). Moses said “Rejoice you nations, with his people.” (Deut 32:43).
Replacement theologians want to change the last mentioned verse to be “Rejoice you nations, instead of his people.” Even though Marcionism disappeared, the replacement theology still managed to get a foothold in the historic church, and similar false doctrines are still prevalent. It’s not limited to the idea that God replaced his people – some replacement theologians even create an unnecessary separation which doesn’t exist between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. How often have you heard a preacher make a difference between the “God of vengeance” in the Old Testament and the “God of love” in the New Testament? “An eye for an eye” in the Old Testament vrs “Love thy neighbor” in the New Testament. Maybe they didn’t notice that both of those verses are from the Torah… Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 19:18.
The only way to teach in that manner is to read the Bible in an extremely selective way. You need to disregard the many expressions for love and compassion in the Old Testament, and ignore the many warnings in the New Testament about the Last Days, and vengeance against sinners. Most of those who teach in this way are probably doing it out of good will, and not because of antisemitism, but it’s the exact type of teaching which has been used by anti-Semites throughout the centuries.
However, the Jews are not without fault either. There are Rabbis who also wish to see a total separation between Christianity and Judaism. They claim that Christianity has its roots in Greek Gnosticism, and that some Judaism was added later to give the new religion an ancient legitimacy. It gives them an excuse to look at Christianity as a type of idol worship, illegitimate us Messianic Jews, and work against us. It’s of course a direct result of how the church has treated them throughout the centuries.
So the attempts to this artificial separation comes from both sides – anti-Jewish Christians and anti-Christian Jews. But no matter how much they want, and no matter how much the historic churches have “grown apart” from the synagogue culturally, it’s still not biblically possible to make a case for this separation – and that’s what we at the Bible Society try to show in the material that we produce.
Faith in Jesus is Jewish. Christianity is faith in the God of Israel. God is the same in the Old and New Testament. The prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New Testament. Salvation comes from the Jews. The New Testament is a Jewish book. We ask people to disregard what the church has done throughout the centuries, disregard what replacement theologians say, and instead read the New Testament with Jewish eyes, without biases and preconditions. When they do that, they see what a Jewish book it is. We know a number of Jews who came to faith in Jesus in that way.
I would encourage all Christians to read the Bible in the same way. Paul wrote in Romans 11 that Gentile Christians are grafted in, but the root is Jewish. That’s how God created it, and that’s the way he wants it, no matter our opinion.
“If the root is holy, so are the branches” (Romans 11:16)