Was Jesus the Founder of Christianity?

Was Jesus the Founder of Christianity?

However one chooses to fit Jesus into the mosaic of first-century Judaism, faith in Jesus is Jewish at its root. We say “faith in Jesus” because while followers of Jesus were called “Christians” in the first few centuries of their belief, it is incorrect to call the faith “Christianity” — a label that did not emerge until later.

As Reform rabbi Evan Moffic puts it, “Jesus did not start Christianity. Jesus lived and died as a Jew. Christianity emerged after his death as an off-shoot of Judaism, eventually separating and becoming its own religion. The beliefs and practices of this religion differ from Judaism, but they remain rooted in it.”[1]

Jesus shared much in common with other Jewish people of his day, though he also differed from them. As a Jewish male, he had a bris; he had the first-century equivalent of a pidyon ha-ben ceremony a month after his birth; he observed Passover. He was in Jerusalem for Sukkot and was at the Temple during Hanukkah. He customarily attended synagogue, and on at least one occasion, was invited up to speak on what today would be known as the Haftarah. In his teachings, he emphasized Jewish values such as kibud av va’em (honor of parents) and tzedakah (charity).

Yet Jesus took issue with certain Jewish traditions and with some Pharisees and Sadducees. That is why some have wryly referred to Jesus as the “first Reform Jew.” He healed people on the Sabbath when others considered healing inappropriate for the day of rest. He spoke and taught with an authority no other rabbi dared to claim. All of these disputes, however, took place within first-century Judaism. Scholars and theologians debate the particular kind of Judaism Jesus represented, but it was Judaism nonetheless. There was, as yet, nothing called “Christianity.”

Was Jesus, then, the founder of a new, non-Jewish religion? No, he was not. For in one encounter, a Samaritan woman said to him, “’I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will tell us all things.’ Jesus replied, ‘I who speak to you am he’” (John 4:25–26).

[1] Rabbi Evan Moffic, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus: A New Way of Seeing the Most Influential Rabbi in History (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), xi.


Rich Robinson | San Francisco

Scholar in Residence, Missionary

Rich has been on staff since 1978. He has served at several Jews for Jesus branches and was a pianist and songwriter with their music team, the Liberated Wailing Wall. He is now at the San Francisco headquarters, where he conducts research, writes and edits as the senior researcher. He is author of the books Christ in the Sabbath and The Day Jesus Did Tikkun Olam: Jewish Values and the New Testament, and co-author of Christ in the Feast of Pentecost. Rich received his M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1978 and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and Hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

We have publications that enable you to connect with us, no matter who you are.

Have Questions?

Connect with Jews for Jesus. No matter where you are on the journey of life, whether you’re Jewish or non-Jewish, a believer in Jesus or not – we want to hear from you. Chat with someone online or connect via our contact page below.  
Live ChatContact Us