Tag Archives: New Testament

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 Old Testament “Less Inspired” Than the New?

Early in church history a powerful movement called Gnosticism denied that the Old Testament was authoritative or even relevant to Christians. (See the ATQ article, What Was Gnosticism?) This movement taught that the Old Testament was the product of an inferior deity, and refused to accept the Old Testament as part of the canon of Scripture. One of the most influential early second-century Gnostic leaders, Marcion, accepted only the gospel of Luke and the writings of Paul in his canon.

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There are remarkable differences between the New Testament and the Old Testament, but these differences don’t imply that the Old Testament is not inspired and authoritative. In fact, the New Testament clearly affirms the inspiration of the Old (Matthew 5:18; 26:56; Mark 12:24; Luke 16:17; Acts 13:14-48; 2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:25).

Rather than describing the Old Testament as “less inspired” than the New Testament, it would be better to describe the relationship of the two Testaments in terms of progressive revelation. Just as human parents don’t reveal the same things to their toddlers that they reveal to teenagers, God taught basic truths to the ancients, and when the “fullness of time” had come (Galatians 4:4) He taught things that only later generations were prepared to receive. God’s revelation to the human race wasn’t given all at once in its fullest form to the earliest people who received it. Rather, it was revealed gradually through the course of history, with later truths completing and fulfilling earlier revelations without contradicting them (Hebrews 1:1-2; Romans 15:4). Humanity has been given as much truth as it has been able to understand within a timetable determined by the Creator (John 16:12; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2). The revelation of God in the Old Testament, including the establishment of a theocracy under the law, was necessary to prepare our race to see its need for redemption (Romans 3:19-20) and its inability to achieve it on its own (Hebrews 9-10).

The patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament did not have a full understanding of the redemption that the Lord Jesus Christ would provide. They didn’t have a clear understanding of individual survival after death or the manner in which the faith of Abraham would bring blessing to all the peoples of the world (Genesis 12:1-3; 28:14). Truths only implied by the earliest chapters of the Old Testament were defined much more clearly by the prophets (Psalm 110; Isaiah 11:10; 49:6) and brought to clarity in the New Testament (Matthew 8:10-12; 22:42-45; Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8-16; Hebrews 1:13 ).

  1. Gnosticism was an immense peril for the church. It cut out the historic foundations of Christianity. Its God is not the God of the Old Testament, which is the work of an inferior or even evil being. Its Christ had no real incarnation, death, or resurrection. Its salvation is for the few capable of spiritual enlightenment. The peril was the greater because Gnosticism was represented by some of the keenest minds in the church of the second century. The age was syncretistic, and in some respects Gnosticism was but the fullest accomplishment of that amalgamation of Hellenic and Oriental philosophical speculation with primitive Christian beliefs, which was in greater or less degree in process in all Christian thinking. (Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church, Scribners, p. 53.) Back To Article
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Who Selected the Documents That Are Included in the Bible?

The 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament are the only writings Christians consider fully inspired. The books that are in our present Old Testament were universally accepted at the time of Christ and endorsed by Him. In fact, there are nearly 300 quotations from the Old Testament books in the New Testament.

A number of books that are considered valuable but not inspired are found in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Bibles. These books are called the Apocrypha (which means “hidden,” “secret,” or “profound”). The Apocrypha was accepted by the council of Carthage, but was not accepted by many important church leaders, including Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and Jerome. 1

Although the New Testament Canon was officially confirmed in its present and final form by the third council of Carthage in 397, the 27 documents it contains were accepted as authoritative from the very beginning.

The New Testament is solidly rooted in history. It revolves around the death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not even the rationalist critics of the 19th century could find reason to question Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians, and it has been acknowledged as the earliest written testimony of Christ’s resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul declared:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been rasied, your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hope in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied (vv. 16-19).

First-century Christians circulated documents—either written or approved by the apostles—which contained an authoritative explanation of the accounts concerning Jesus’ life and teaching. These documents often quoted from each other and presented the same gospel message from different perspectives and in different styles. Hundreds of other documents were written and circulated, but the church quickly rejected spurious documents and established the authority of those that were genuine.

  1. “Augustine alone of ancient authors, and the councils of Africa which he dominated, present a different picture. Augustine specifically accepted the apocryphal books and gives the total number as forty-four. He is the only ancient author who gives a number different from the twenty-two or twenty-four book reckoning. The list includes Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras (the book composed of part of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah), Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus. The Local councils of Carthage and Hippo, dominated by Augustine, included the same books. This listing prob. agreed with the ideas of Pope Damasus who dominated the local council of Rome at 382. It will be remembered that it was Damasus who urged Jerome to translate also the apocryphal books for his Vulgate. Jerome did so with the explicit declaration that they were not canonical.
    “Green (op. cit. 168-174) discusses the witness of Augustine and points out that Augustine seems to vacillate. Green quotes Augustine; ‘What is written in the book of Judith the Jews are truly said not to have received into the canon of Scripture’ (Augustine, City of God xviii, 260). ‘After Malachi, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra, they had no prophets until the advent of the Savior’ (id. xvii, last ch.). He was well aware that Maccabees were after the cessation of prophecy. Green concludes that Augustine was using ‘canonical’ in the sense of books which may be read in the churches without putting them all on an equal plane.” Excerpted from an article by R.L. Harris (“Canon of the Old Testament”) in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Back To Article
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Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Law?

The Mosaic law was not given to the Gentiles (Romans 2:1-16) but to the people of Israel (Exodus 20:1-17). It was intended to reveal the goodness and wisdom of God, bring awareness of sin and guilt, and show the need for divine redemption (Leviticus 17:11; Romans 3:19-20; 7:7-13; 1 Timothy 1:7-11). The law, however, was not given as a performance-based means of salvation. Abraham was saved by faith long before the law was given through Moses (Hebrews 11 ).

Because Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law (Romans 5:5-8; 8:1-4), we are no longer under the external law of Moses. When we are obedient to the Holy Spirit, we manifest God’s love and exhibit righteousness, which fulfills the law (Romans 13:8-10). The New Testament contains numerous passages that clarify the Christian believer’s distinctly altered relationship to the Mosaic law (Galatians 3-5; Philippians 3; Colossians 2).

The Lord’s declaration in Matthew 5:17 that He had come not “to abolish the law but to fulfill it” should be understood in its context. He said this just before explaining the spiritual meaning of the system of laws given to Israel by Moses. By contrast, the Pharisees of His day missed the spirit and intent of the law while overemphasizing conformity to external legal and ritual elements. Jesus emphasized the thoughts, motives, and attitudes behind the deeds. The contrast He set forth in verses Matthew 21-47 is not between the law and His own teaching but between the ideas of the Pharisees and the real meaning of the law. Christ had so much respect for the law that He would not cancel even one small demand until after He had fulfilled it.

However, Jesus Christ did fulfill the law both in His life and in His death. He obeyed it perfectly. He never broke even one of its commands. Of the entire human race, only He never sinned (see 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22). He also laid down His life to pay the penalty for sin demanded by the law (see John 3:16; 10:11-l8; 11:50-52; Romans 5:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In all of this He became the reality of whom all the Old Testament sacrifices and rituals were only symbols.

When the life of God’s perfect Lamb was given as the ultimate sacrifice for sinners, the Mosaic law, as a national, legally binding system came to an end. Second Corinthians 3:2-18 makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments were part of a “dispensation/ministry” that has passed away. If we read the law with the mindset of the old covenant between God and Israel, a veil covers our hearts (v. 18).

“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).

The part of the Bible that contains all these rules and regulations still instructs us. But it is no longer binding on us because Jesus Christ fulfilled it.

While Christians are not bound to follow the ceremonial laws and regulations of the old covenant with Israel, they are obligated to live by the great moral principles it contains. The Old Testament law was itself based on unwritten moral principles that God had revealed to the human race throughout the ages (Romans 2:14-15). The works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul (Galatians 5:13-26) illustrate the impossibility of living a Spirit-filled life while violating the moral principles contained in the law given at Sinai. Rather than being governed by a law whose letter brought rebellion, awareness of sin, and death, those in Christ are governed by the living Spirit of God who instructs them in how to live in freedom and gratitude.

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