Sunday, April 06, 2008

Judaism and the foundation of Christianity

From the recent Trinity Blogging Summit, one thing that has drawn comment both here and elsewhere on my submission was the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. It is a highly charged topic, to say the least. So I did want to mention a few things in places more visible than comments sections:
  1. Jewish thought in Jesus' day was deeply steeped in the word of God. The Jewish nation had what was then a unique revelation and a unique insight into the mind and character of God.
  2. On this basis I see the Judaism of Jesus' day as the seed of the true religion which would ultimately be for all nations, as it is now since Jesus came.
  3. When I refer to Jewish thought, I include the early centuries of Christian Jews and especially the New Testament Jewish authors. To consider Matthew, Mark, John, Peter, James, Jude, or Paul as "un-Jewish" is an anachronism.
  4. I am not interested in "using" Judaism to "validate" Christianity: after someone rises from the dead, I cannot comprehend anyone still looking over their shoulder to check a human opinion.
  5. When the Jewish community divided into those for Jesus and those against, I do not see any reason to privilege the views of those Jews who deny Jesus as the Messiah as having a unique claim to Jewish identity. I do not see how it can be legitimate to deny or marginalize Jesus' Jewishness or that of his disciples and apostles. They have full right to have us acknowledge their historic Jewish identity.
  6. So when I say that Jesus is to be understood in a Jewish framework, I do not intend to define that Jewish framework as the modern Jewish context of anti-Christian polemics.
  7. I am, however, insisting that the New Testament writings be read in the original context. The New Testament makes frequent references to previous Jewish thought, both by quotation and by allusions. The intended meaning can be lost without that context.
  8. My call, then, is to recognize that the early Christian writings are written in a Jewish context and so demand a Jewish framework in order to be understood properly.
  9. This Jewish framework then includes Christ and his apostles. This inclusion has far-reaching implications in that Judaism is also transformed from within by Jesus' teachings, life, death, and resurrection.
  10. In this way Christianity -- including Christianity's Jewish origins -- should not be limited to what had been anticipated by those centuries of faithful Jews before Jesus came; it would deny the Jewish context of his incarnation and revelation.
None of this is intended to deny or belittle the other cultures that made significant contributions to the early development of Christian thought beyond the confines of Judea. It is simply to acknowledge that when Jesus calls himself "Messiah", or says "My yoke is easy", or calls himself "the bridegroom", these things make allusions to Jewish thought and culture. To take a parallel example about the allusions and the cultural context: if someone were to go through life in English-speaking lands with no familiarity with Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens or Tolkien, they would miss a huge number of references. It would be easy to miss the full meaning of what was said by not understanding the reference.