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?
Ignorance of other interpretations
In The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel interviewed a Jew who disconnected from his Jewish religion before later converting to Christianity and becoming a pastor. To him, the main reason was ignorance:
Strobel: If the prophecies were so obvious to you and pointed so unquestionably toward Jesus, why don’t more Jews accept him as their Messiah?
Lapides: In my case, I took the time to read them. Oddly enough, even though the Jewish people are known for having high intellects, in this area there is a lot of ignorance.
I suspect this is true: both observant Jews and cultural Jews are very likely to have been brought up with Judaism. They may not come across many of the claims of Christianity, and may interpret Jewish prophecies differently from how Christians do. In addition, they probably know that questioning it could cause problems with family and friends.
However, this doesn’t make Christian claims true. In fact, it is exactly the same reason why many Christians remain in the same denomination they were brought up in. Upbringing and familiarity can be a strong influence, but say nothing about objective truth.
Jews with family and community connections have good reason to be concerned. Could becoming Christian break those ties? Would accepting Christianity mean selling out the tradition of your ancestors and betraying your family?
After all, remember some of Jesus’ words:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.Luke 14:26 (ESV)
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.Matthew 10:34-36 (ESV)
Christianity has a long history of persecuting Jews. Why would Jews want to join the club? Would it lead to them having to turn on their own families? Jesus talks of “counting the cost” - but would that cost be higher for Jews?
From Strobel’s interview with Lapides:
Strobel: Did you believe Christians were at the root of anti-Semitism?
Lapides: Gentiles were looked upon as synonymous with Christians, and we were taught to be cautious because there could be anti-Semitism among the Gentiles.
Strobel: Would you say you developed some negative attitudes toward Christians?
Lapides: Yes, actually I did. In fact, later when the New Testament was first presented to me, I sincerely thought it was going to basically be a handbook on anti-Semitism: how to hate Jews, how to kill Jews, how to massacre them. I thought the American Nazi Party would have been very comfortable using it as a guidebook.
(Strobel) I shook my head, saddened at the thought of how many other Jewish children have grown up thinking of Christians as their enemies.
Remember that it doesn’t matter whether you think anti-semitism is part of True Christianity or not (like Strobel, I didn’t). All that matters is whether Jews who consider Christianity think it is part of True Christianity. They have no obligation to fairly investigate a religion that history shows has an abusive streak.
The distinctives of Judaism lost
Judaism has a rich tradition, culture, and community. While Christians theoretically share this heritage through the Old Testament, in practice much of it has been lost. Consider Maimonides’ ninth Principle of Faith (recited in many Jewish services):
I believe with complete faith that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will be no other Torah given by the Creator, blessed be His name.
Christianity does accept the Torah as part of the Old Testament, but it also relies on new revelation to override the old. Consider some of the things from the Torah that Christianity has suppressed or significantly reinterpreted:
- The Sabbath.
- The Jewish calendar of feasts and fasts.
- The Law.
- Animal sacrifice.
- The Levitical priesthood.
Some of these are called “everlasting covenants”, like circumcision (Genesis 17:9 - 14), the sabbath (Exodus 31:13 - 17), and the Levitical priesthood (Jeremiah 33:20 - 22). If Christianity will not uphold those everlasting covenants, why should Jews accept it? How can it truly be Judaism Plus?
This isn’t a new objection: Trypho the Jew asked about the sabbath, circumcision, and other Jewish customs in dialogue with Justin Martyr back in the second century. For example:
Why do you select and quote whatever you wish from the prophetic writings, but do not refer to those which expressly command the Sabbath to be observed?
The Shema and the Trinity
To Jews, one of the most important prayers is the Shema:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV)
This is also quoted approvingly by Gospel Jesus. However, most Jews would consider this inconsistent with the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity (coming from a non-Trinitarian denomination, I can sympathise). Take for example Maimonides’ second Principle of Faith:
I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is One and Alone; that there is no oneness in any way like Him; and that He alone is our God – was, is and will be.
Difficult to reconcile with the Trinity. Of course, the majority of Christians think that the Trinity and the Shema are consistent. But the same applies here as with anti-semitism: If Jews don’t think the Trinity is consistent with the Shema, they won’t adopt it. And telling them “It really is consistent. Honest!” is unlikely to change that.
Misuse of the Old Testament prophecies
Christians rely heavily on the Old Testament prophecies to demonstrate that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. However, many Jews believe that these prophecies have been misused, and so provide no reason to accept Christianity. Take for example this quote from a Jew on why they cannot accept the New Testament:
The New Testament was written after the creation of the Old and, in fact, uses the Old to prove its validity. In other words, when the New Testament contradicts the divinely inspirited Old Testament it bases itself upon, it cannot maintain its own claim of being divinely inspired and infallible.
If you don’t like this style of argument, just be aware that I’ve seen Christians make similar arguments about the Qu’ran.
Those are a few of the reasons why Jews don’t accept Christianity. There are probably others I’m not aware of.
I’ll go into more detail on the Old Testament prophecies in my next post. For now, suffice it to say that I don’t think they point forward to Jesus.
To me now, Christianity looks less like the logical conclusion of Judaism and more like an attempted hostile takeover. So I don’t think Jews need to abandon their rich cultural heritage and adopt Christianity.