The New Testament–which simply means New Covenant–needs to be accepted for what it is, a Jewish book written almost entirely by Jewish people. Most of the concepts in the New Testament cannot be understood apart from their background in the Hebrew Bible. It was fashionable a few years ago to claim that the New Testament contained a large proportion of ideas which were not Jewish but Greek. More recently, though, archaeology has vindicated the Jewish origins of practically everything within the New Testament.
A glance at even a few verses from the New Testament shows the Jewish background involved:
A record of the genealogy of Messiah Jesus the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
“On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child…”
“Then came Hanukkah at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.”
“Then Paul said, ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.'”
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus the Messiah, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.”
That the New Testament is a Jewish book which stands alongside the Hebrew Scriptures is becoming increasingly recognized, even in Israel. The Israeli scholar Pinchas Lapide has reported an analysis of ten textbooks used in primary and secondary schools in Israel. He says that “six of the books quote a total of eighteen New Testament passages….Three books give detailed explanations of the historical, literary, and religious meaning of the four Gospels….In two books quotations from the Old Testament are juxtaposed with quotations from the New so as to point out similarities and affinities.”1
As far as allegations of anti-Semitism go, remember that in the early days of Christianity, there were no Gentile believers. The whole question of whether Jesus was the Messiah was a family affair to be settled by the family of Jewish people. It is in this context that the tone of many passages depicting criticism of this or that segment of the Jewish people must be seen. The “harsh” passages in the New Testament resemble far more the moral exhortations of the prophets than they do the intolerant rhetoric of medieval sermons. Take this passage, for instance, referring to the Jewish people:
“Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption. They have forsaken the Lord, they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.”
Did you think this passage came from the New Testament? Perhaps you didn’t recognize it as a quotation from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.2 These kinds of words, recalling our people from sin, have always been a part of the prophetic tradition. The New Testament continues this tradition, alongside the tradition of elaborating on the positive side of Israel’s relationship with God.
The real question to be dealt with is not, “Is the New Testament Jewish?” but rather, “Is it true?” When the same tests of historicity and validity are applied to the New Testament as to the Hebrew Scriptures, both will be seen to be equally true.
- Lapide, Pinchas. Israelis, Jews and Jesus (Doubleday & Co., 1979,p. 49.)
- Isaiah 1:4