On Christmas Eve, 1968 - fifty years ago today - the Apollo 8 went into orbit around the moon. The three astronauts inside it were the first humans to leave the direct gravitational influence of the Earth, the first to orbit the moon, and the first to look back on the entire Earth. Understandably, it has since been overshadowed by the first moon landing seven months later - but it’s still an incredibly impressive achievement.
The conflict between Christianity and Judaism didn’t just stop with the New Testament. They remained rival religions, and as Christianity gained more power it built on that New Testament foundation with terrible results. When I look in the writings of church fathers, kings, popes, and leaders of the reformation, time and again I see the same verses and concepts I highlighted in the previous two posts popping up - and the results aren’t good.
The gospels and Acts tell a story of how Christianity spread from Jews to the Gentiles. The epistles spend more time nailing down the theology of the takeover, plus taking opportunities for not-so-subtle digs at Jews who hadn’t accepted the new message.
In this post, I discuss three key epistles:
- Romans (where Paul sidelines the law in favour of grace and faith).
- Galatians (where Paul particularly attacks the Jewish idea that circumcision is required for salvation, and in passing appropriates many elements of Jewish religion).
- Hebrews (where the author presents Jesus as the answer to everything in the law and the prophets).
I also include some of the most relevant verses from other epistles.
In the gospels, Jesus is presented as the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the Jewish prophecies and bringing a new covenant with God. Though he is very popular with the common people (mostly Jews), and though he selected Jewish disciples to carry on his message, there are also many disputes with the Jewish authorities, culminating in his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. And the Jewish people are explicitly made to take responsibility for this death.
Then in Acts, the conflict escalates as the message is spread across the Roman empire and preached to the Gentiles. Again, this preaching work is mostly done by Jews, often preaching to Jews, but there is also a lot of conflict with Jews who don’t accept the new message. Both Jesus and his disciples appropriate Jewish scriptures to condemn Jews, displaying a hostility to Christianity’s roots that is best explained by the perceived threat of Judaism as a rival religion.
As a believer, I came to the conclusion that replacement theology was the best interpretation of the relevant New Testament texts (discussed here). However, now after re-reading a lot of the relevant texts I see this as an attempted hostile takeover of Judaism. Not only did the New Testament authors appropriate important parts of the Jewish religion, but they also displayed contempt for those Jews who would not follow them. And I was shocked by how frequent and virulent the criticism was, because I just never saw it reading those texts as a believer.
The New Testament claims that Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies, which apologists are quick to use as proof that he is the Jewish Messiah sent by God. However, as I pointed out in my previous post, many Jews don’t accept these prophecies. I have my doubts about them too. So how do they stack up?
Many Christians consider Christianity the logical conclusion of Judaism (a kind of Judaism Plus). They share the same God, and the Jewish scriptures are said to point forward to Christianity and Jesus Christ as God’s final revelation. So why do many observant Jews reject Christianity?
As discussed in my previous post, the role of Israel today was one area where I came to different conclusions from many Christadelphians. This led me to accept the much-vilified “replacement theology”.
To many Christadelphians, the return of Israel to their land is considered the go-to argument in support of the Bible. The Christadelphian even has as its tag-line ‘A magazine dedicated wholly to the hope of Israel’. But how does this relate to Israel today?
Seventy years ago today, the British Mandate over Palestine ended and the state of Israel was declared. Christadelphians were delighted, seeing in this the fulfilment of promises made thousands of years ago that one day Israel would return from exile. It was expected that Jesus would soon return, an expectation that was heightened 19 years later by Israel’s victory in the Six Day War.
However, while much has changed about Israel since then, there has been no return of Jesus and no establishment of world government from Jerusalem with compulsory religious teaching. While Israel has religious elements, it is a secular state which has made major contributions to the technology of the world. And one of the consequences of that new technological world is that many former believers, including me, have found it easier to discover the problems with our religion.