Tag Archives: Judaism

Should Christians keep the Old Testament feasts?

We enjoy exploring the symbolism of the Old Testament feasts, but we don’t recommend that Christians observe them on a regular basis. The feasts of the Old Testament were intended to be an opportunity for the Israelite people to acknowledge the goodness of God as their provider and intercessor.

Although the Jewish religious festivals are celebrated by Jewish Messianic believers, they are not relevant to Gentile Christians. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 that Jesus is the Passover Lamb. The Lord’s Supper, therefore, has replaced the Passover. Hebrews 7:27 and other passages declare that man has been once and for all reconciled to God by the death of Christ. Other passages such as Colossians 2:16-17 and Romans 14:5-6 declare that the Old Testament feasts are no longer to be observed:

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Col. 2:16-17 nkjv).

God’s moral law proceeds from the righteousness of God and can never be abolished. The Mosaic Law, as an expression of this moral law, is “passing away” in that it has been superseded by another law, that is, the standard of grace revealed in the New Testament. The believer is now under law to Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; cp. Rom. 8:2-4). Although the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law as a rule of life, some of the Law of Moses is restated in the New Testament—nine of the Ten Commandments are included. The Mosaic Law still constitutes a revelation of the righteousness of God and remains as a part of Scripture which “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17 nkjv; cp. Rom. 15:4).

Baruch Maoz, an Israeli pastor of Jewish extraction, doesn’t believe it is wrong for Christians of Jewish cultural background to keep the feasts. At the same time, he explains why Gentile Christians shouldn’t observe the Old Testament feasts or other aspects of Old Testament ritual—they have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. They are the “shadow”; He is the reality.

The Mosaic Law in its moral aspects has lost none of its commanding authority. The moral aspects of the covenant are now the rule of life for all those who live by grace. That is one of the reasons why the English Puritans and the Scottish Covenanters identified so warmly with our forefathers. While they longed and prayed for the salvation of our people and our restoration to grace, they knew themselves to be bound to our destiny by the common duties they shared with us as promulgated in the Mosaic Law.

Messiah and the Law

Of course, the ritual aspects of the Law, its symbols, hopes and expectations, all find fulfillment in Jesus. Having been fulfilled, they no longer have the religious value they had in the past yet, for us Jewish Christians, they form part of our national culture. The shadows have passed to give room for the reality, and it is not right for us to insist upon those shadows as if they were still in force. The Mosaic religious institutions, including the sacrifices; the feasts; the specific form of the Sabbath duties; and the restrictions and requirements in terms of dress codes, beards and the such like, are no longer binding. Nor may we exercise our liberty by living as if they were binding. It is our glad and happy duty to demonstrate by our lives, our worship and our communal behaviour that Messiah has come.

The ritual aspects of the Law, particularly the sacrifices, intimated God’s method of salvation, but salvation itself was never provided by it except as it reflected the sacrifice of Messiah. It was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats could provide a sufficient sacrifice (Heb. 10:4). The promise of forgiveness made in the Torah was dependent on the sacrifice of Messiah and derived its strength from that ultimate sacrifice.

To act now as if Messiah came but did not affect our relation to the Law is—as I said before—to deny with our lives what our mouths profess. To think that the coming of Messiah did not alter the Mosaic Law’s relation to us is to ignore the biblical message, which declares that the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth were realized through Jesus the Messiah (John 1:17). Whatever else we may want to say about this passage, there is no doubt that it contrasts two periods—that of the Mosaic Law with that of Jesus, the Messiah (Judaism Is Not Jewish, pp.127-28).

If a Christian congregation occasionally reenacts aspects of an Old Testament feast day for the sake of better understanding their old covenant heritage, it would be within the bounds of Christian liberty. However, such reenactments should be done with a clear, conscious awareness that they are not required of Christians, convey no special spiritual benefits, and are strictly of educational value.

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To What Extent do Christians and Jews Share a Common Foundation in the Bible?

Christians often mistakenly conclude that the primary basis of Judaism is the “law and the prophets.” Actually, Orthodox Judaism puts surprisingly little emphasis on Scriptural authority.

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Jewish orthodoxy is not based as much on the Hebrew Bible as it is on “oral law.” It believes that when Moses wrote the law, he also inaugurated an “oral law” to be passed to each successive generation of Jewish leaders. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees considered themselves the recipients and guardians of this oral law. They believed that because they were the only people trained in the tradition of the oral law, they were the only people qualified to interpret the written law. For the Pharisees, the “oral law” had precedence over the written law.

Jesus accepted neither the “oral law” nor the Pharisees’ claim of privileged knowledge and authority. He considered the “oral law” merely the “tradition of the elders” and “commandments of men,” declaring it a man-made invention that “nullified” the Word of God (Mark 7:1-13; Matthew 15:1-20).

Jesus taught that it is the disposition of the heart not mere obedience to tradition that leads to true understanding of the law. Like Elijah (Mark 8:22-29), Jesus had supernatural power and authority (John 5:36; 14:7-11; Matthew 7:29). He knew that if the Pharisees truly honored the law and the prophets, they would see that He fulfilled them (John 5:46-47; Luke 6:6-11). Instead, the Pharisees chose to honor their traditions (John 5:43-44) while paying little heed to the great spiritual leaders and prophets of Israel’s past (Matthew 23:23-39). In spite of Jesus’ moral purity (John 8:45-47), they claimed He did His miracles through the power of Satan (Matthew 9:34; 12:24).

Although individual Pharisees were friendly to him (John 3:1-10; 7:50-52; 19:38-42), Jesus’ refusal to endorse the oral law generally resulted in their animosity both to Him (Matthew 21:23-46) and the apostolic church (Matthew 10:16-28; Acts 6:8-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).

When Titus destroyed Jerusalem in ad 70, the surviving form of Jewish religion was that practiced by the Pharisees.2 During the next four centuries, the “traditions of the elders” were systematized, codified, and amplified in the Talmud.3In some ways, this emphasis upon the oral law continues to distort and contradict the plain meaning of the “law and prophets.” Israel Shahak, a survivor of German concentration camps and an Israeli citizen, scientist, scholar, and defender of human rights, made these striking observations about the Orthodox Jewish view of the Jewish Bible:

There is yet another misconception about Judaism which is particularly common among Christians or people heavily influenced by Christian tradition and culture. This is the misleading idea that Judaism is a “biblical religion”; that the Old Testament has in Judaism the same central place and legal authority which the Bible has for Protestant or even Catholic Christianity.

Again, this is connected with the question of interpretation. We have seen that in matters of belief there is great latitude. Exactly the opposite holds with respect to the legal interpretation of sacred texts. Here the interpretation is rigidly fixed—but by the Talmud rather than by the Bible itself. Many, perhaps most, biblical verses prescribing religious acts and obligations are “understood” by classical Judaism, and by present day Orthodoxy, in a sense which is quite distinct from, or even contrary to, their literal meaning as understood by Christian or other readers of the Old Testament, who only see the plain text. The same division exists at present in Israel between those educated in Jewish religious schools and those educated in “secular” Hebrew schools, where on the whole the plain meaning of the Old Testament is taught (Jewish History, Jewish Religion, p.36).

Thoughtful Christians realize that Judaism is not unique in its emphasis on tradition. Christian leaders have also often elevated tradition to a higher level of authority than Scripture, with very destructive results. Christians have often nullified the clear meaning of Scripture on the basis of privileged interpretations by elites. In spite of human ambition that seeks to twist the meaning of Scripture to serve personal and institutional power, there have always been those, both in the Jewish and the Christian tradition, who have resisted the idolatry of tradition and institution. Like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, and his apostles, these Jews and Christians have honored not only the letter of the law but its spirit as well. Like the saints of the Old Testament, these “are sure of what [they] hope for, and certain of what [they] do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 niv).

  1. Orthodox Jews do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. They do not believe that every word in the Bible is a divine revelation. They consider only the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses, to be divinely inspired. The rest of the Bible is considered to be the product of human minds and hands (Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Original Sins, pp.142-45). Back To Article
  2. A leader of the Pharisees of the school of Hillel, Johanan Ben Zakkai, officially broke ranks with the Jews in rebellion with Rome and signed an agreement whereby he accepted Roman political authority in return for the right to continue his religious tradition. He established a center for Pharisaic teaching in Jamnia, which soon after the destruction of Jerusalem became the center of Judaism. Back To Article
  3. Modern Jewish orthodoxy interprets Scripture almost exclusively by means of the oral tradition embodied in the Talmud. In fact, when Orthodox Jews refer to “Torah,” they are referring as much to the Talmud as they are to the Old Testament. Back To Article
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Why Did Many Jewish Leaders Hate Jesus Christ and the Apostolic Church?

Some people have the impression that Jewish hostility for Christianity began only after Jews experienced persecution by Christians. Actually, Jewish hostility toward Jesus Christ and His church began long before Jews experienced persecution by Christians. Biblical scholar N. T. Wright summarized the reason for Jewish rejection of Jesus and the church:

What evokes persecution is precisely that which challenges a worldview, that which up-ends a symbolic universe. (N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Fortress Press, p. 451) 1

Jesus taught that Jewish nationalism and commitment to the “oral law” (“traditions of men”) distorted the purpose of the written law (Torah) (Mark 7:1-20). He declared that Israel’s dominant religious leaders were not in the tradition of Moses, David, and the prophets, but were servants of Satan (John 8:37-44). Their “Judaism” depended on legal righteousness based in “oral law” (the “traditions of men”; see Mark 7:1-23) and “works” that artificially distinguished them from the Gentiles whom they regarded as ritualistically unclean. Adherents of this perspective believed that their legal righteousness would assure them of the future Messiah’s approval when he appeared on the scene to cast off the Roman yoke and institute worldwide Jewish rule.

John the Baptist proclaimed the worthlessness of legalistic righteousness (Matthew 3:1-12), and Jesus declared that the legalistic righteousness of the Pharisees was pitted against the genuine law of God He had come to uphold.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20 NIV).

Instead of leading them toward fulfillment of the promises God had given Israel, their legalistically based self-righteousness motivated them to reject and kill the Messiah and His followers (Matthew 21:23-46; John 8:42-59; Acts 4-5; 7-9; 12:1f; 13:42-51; 14:2-5; 14:19; 17-18; 24:5; 26:9-11; Galatians 1:11-16; 4:29; Philippians 3:5-7; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).

Jesus called into question the meaning of the primary Jewish symbols—Sabbath, food taboos, ethnic identity, ancestral lands, and ultimately the Temple itself.2

The quotation below is by a modern Jewish man who, like the religious leaders of the first century, misunderstands what Jesus came to offer His people. It vividly illustrates the radical effect Jesus’ teaching must have had on His contemporaries.

John’s Gospel abolishes what is sacred for Judaism and replaces it with “Christ”. Everything that was held to be important by “the Jews” is dismissed in John as insignificant. Christ replaces or supersedes Judaism. The Church expresses this idea today by claiming to be the “New Israel.” According to John, Christ replaces the Temple (John 2:18-22); the Law (John 5:39-40) and Israel itself (John 15:1-17)—the “vine” being a symbol of Israel (Psalm 80:8; Ezekiel 15:1-6 and Hosea 10:1). There is no room left for Judaism as an expression of God’s will. This has led to what one author has called “a theological vendetta” against the Jews. Too often in history those who have concluded that Judaism is obsolete, have also concluded that the Jews are equally obsolete, with tragic results. Christology is the study of the nature of “Christ.” In Johannine Christology, Christ is portrayed as a divine man who fulfills prophecy and reveals God in his own flesh. This was and still remains, pure anathema to Jews. From a Jewish perspective the Johannine god-man vision of Christ is a repulsive paganism. By virtue of their innate inability to accept such a vision of the Messiah, Jews are automatically condemned by Johannine Christology. It is inherently antisemitic (“Anti-Semitism and John’s Gospel,” by Tom Macabi from Web site “Holocaust Understanding and Prevention”).

A Jewish scholar and Bar-Ilan University academic makes it clear that in some Jewish minds today, orthodox Christianity is “the root cause of 1500 years of the Christian idolatrous anti-Semitism which led to the holocaust.” He declared that Christians have a choice:

Either retain their present belief system and be anti-Semitic or form a partnership with the Jewish people. . . . As long as Christians keep Jesus as God, they will be anti-Semitic because that belief must lead them to believe that those who reject Jesus reject God. (Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Hayman, Australian Jewish News, Melbourne Edition, Vol. 62, no. 43, p. 9)

Obviously most Christians wouldn’t agree with this rabbi’s conclusion that faith in Christ is anti-Semitic. However, the fact that he sees the issue in these terms demonstrates that some Jews today still have the mindset of Jesus’ enemies in the first century, and to those with this mindset the challenge of Jesus Christ and the gospel remain a call to war (Matthew 10:32-42).

  1. Jesus was claiming to be speaking for Israel’s god, her scriptures, and her true vocation. Israel was trusting in her ancestral religious symbols; Jesus was claiming to speak for the reality to which those symbols pointed, and to show that, by her concentration on them, Israel had turned inwards upon herself and was being not only disobedient, but dangerously disobedient, to her god’s vision for her, his vocation that she should be the light of the world. Jesus’ contemporaries, however, could not but regard someone doing and saying these things as a deceiver. His agenda clashed at every point with theirs. In symbol, as in praxis and story, his way of being Israel, his way of loyalty to Israel’s god, was radically different from theirs. (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Fortress Press, p. 442) Back To Article
  2. The clash between Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries, especially the Pharisees, must be seen in terms of alternative political agendas generated by alternative eschatological beliefs and expectations. Jesus was announcing the kingdom in a way which did not reinforce but rather called into question, the agenda of revolutionary zeal which dominated the horizon of, especially, the dominant group within Pharisaism. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that he called into question the great emphases on those symbols which had become the focal points of that zeal: Sabbath, food taboos, ethnic identity, ancestral lands, and ultimately the Temple itself. The symbols had become enacted codes for the aspirations of his contemporaries. Jesus, in challenging them, was not ‘speaking against the Torah’ per se. He was certainly not ‘speaking against’ the idea of Israel as the chosen people of the one true god. Rather, he was offering an alternative construal of Israel’s destiny and god-given vocation, an alternative way of telling Israel’s true story, and alternative to the piety which expressed itself in nationalistic symbols. He was affirming Israel’s election even as he redefined it. (N.T. Wright,  Jesus and the Victory of God, Fortress Press, p. 390) Back To Article
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Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?

Recent opposition to The Passion of the Christ, a movie based on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death, has given rise to criticism of the New Testament as anti-Semitic. Given the wide range of meanings the term anti-Semitism carries for different people, it is important to begin this discussion with its accepted definition. Here is the primary meaning of anti-Semitism in the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary:

anti-semitism, n. usu cap S, 1: hostility toward Jews as a religious or racial minority group often accompanied by social, economic, and political discrimination.

A generalized hatred of all Jews for whatever reason—whether that of religious, ethnic, or economic rivalry—is undeniably wrong, and can reasonably be called anti-Semitism. However, it is extremely important for the sake of honesty and clarity in communication that the term not be applied so broadly that any criticism of any Jew or group of Jews is considered to be anti-Semitism, a hatred of all Jews.

Even though the Old and New Testaments confront the errors of Jewish people, both are written out of love for Jew and gentile alike. Like the Old Testament, the New Testament isn’t anti-Semitic. It was written almost entirely by Jews, endorses Jewish tradition, and highlights the significance of the Jewish people (John 4:22; Acts 13:46; Romans 3:1-2; 11:1-2, 11-12, 14-36 ).

The Jewish-born authors of the New Testament do have some serious issues with some of their countrymen. It condemns the militant Jewish nationalism that was determined to drive the Romans from the land regardless of the consequences, legalistic adherence to the letter of the law in violation of its intention and spirit (Matthew 15:1-9; Matthew 23), and Sadducean denial of the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33 ).

These New Testament criticisms, however, are no more anti-Semitic than was similar criticism leveled against unfaithful Jews by earlier Jewish prophets (Deuteronomy 31:16-18; 32:18; Amos 2:4-7; Isaiah 29:13 ).

The New Testament contains an internal Jewish critique of aberrant Jewish practice and doctrine, but it also records how Jews of all backgrounds—Pharisees and Sadducees, rich and poor—responded to the Messiah. It never portrays Judaism or Jews as evil in themselves, but—like many orthodox Jews today—assumes that Judaism apart from the Messiah is incomplete.

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