When Opposites Go Bad
It is said that opposites attract, which seems to be a good thing in marriage. It’s certainly good for magnetism, which may have been the origin of the metaphor in the context of personal relationships.
But not all opposites are created equal.
In recent days, a certain presidential candidate has pledged to “do the opposite” of what a certain incumbent administration is doing as regards Israel. This has led some pundits to perplexity — and has led me to a few thoughts on the subject of opposites:
God never pledges to do the opposite of what he has already done for Israel. He’s consistent—and can afford to be, since He is not elected to His position. The prophet Jeremiah (31:35-37) has this to say about God’s consistency to Israel:
When God punished Israel—for example, by bringing on the Babylonian Captivity due to the sins of the nation—He was also being consistent, since the Torah explicitly promised blessing for obedience but the “opposite” for disobedience. That was in the original covenant; that is a far cry from a candidate’s pledge to “do the opposite” for Israel. What politicians call consistency, God calls faithfulness. And be it noted, whether blessing or Babylon, God in Jeremiah speaks of His faithfulness to the preservation of Israel.
More opposites: the God of the Old Testament is not the opposite of the God of the New Testament. There is not God A who is wrathful and God B who is loving and merciful, though it seems some Christians tend to think this way. At least they have a harder time with God’s character in the Old than in the New Testament. (For a good book on the subject, see David Lamb’s God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? available at amazon.com.) Judaism always correctly captured the biblical image of a God who judges when needed but is ready and desirous of extending mercy. A heretic in the early church, Marcion, decided that there were indeed two gods and ended up putting the Bible through a serious edit to remove what he didn’t like. The director’s cut, needless to say, did not make it into the theaters.
And then there is the supposed opposite of “Christian stuff” and “Jewish stuff.” Some scholars, looking at the New Testament, have only accepted as historically true those statements of Jesus that bear no similarity to Jewish thought of his time. This actually gets a name in some scholarly circles, “the criterion of dissimilarity,” the idea being that if Jesus said something that other Jews were saying, who knows but that the disciples could have put it into his mouth. But if he said something no other Jew had said, it had to be original. Of course other scholars have correctly situated Jesus within his Jewish context, a case in point being the recent book The Jewish Gospels by Daniel Boyarin. Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic Culture at U.C. Berkeley, insists that the ideas that the Messiah/Son of Man was both human and divine is an ancient Jewish notion seen (among other places) in Daniel chapter 7. At the same time he devotes a chapter to explaining that Jesus, as a Jew, kept the Torah including kashrut, or the kosher food laws. “Christian stuff,” in the beginning certainly, was “Jewish stuff.”
So not all opposites are created equal. Comments? (Please however note this is not a political article. As many readers will know, the Jews for Jesus blog never comments on politics or religion. 🙂 But thoughts on God, Jesus, and Jews are welcome.
Scholar in Residence, Missionary
Rich Robinson is a veteran missionary and senior researcher at the San Francisco headquarters of Jews for Jesus. Rich has written several books on Jewishness and Jesus, and he received his Ph.D. in biblical studies and hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.