The Most Frequent Questions In Jewish Evangelism
QUESTION: I am basically a good person and I am very happy with my own religion, so why should I believe in Jesus?
ANSWER: To tell the truth, if everyone were good in God’s sight, nobody would need Jesus, and we would not need to spend our efforts in evangelism.
Long ago the Psalmist said, There is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:3). To be sure, most of us are not murderers or thieves or anything like that. We like to think of ourselves as respectable, with no need for major changes in our lives. Yet the picture the Scriptures present is that even the best of us is desperately sinful and deeply alienated from God, from each other and even from ourselves.
According to the Bible, the problem of mankind is precisely that we are “happy with our own religion,” that is, “happy with what we believe.” Usually what we believe is not what the Scriptures teach. We are happy to place our own will and desire at the center of our private universe rather than make the Creator’s will our primary goal. We are happy to think that we are good, that surely God will overlook our “little mistakes and shortcomings,” and that he is not really serious about punishing our sins. But God is serious about sin.
As Jews we usually think of sin as exclusively a matter of committing individual acts, but sin is much more than that. The Scriptures show us that sin is a condition of human existence. It does not merely pertain to a particular act, but rather to an attitude of arrogance and rebellion. Because of this innate condition, even the best of people—like Abraham, Moses and King David—all committed acts of sin. The prophet Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
That righteous prophet indicated that it is only human for every individual, himself included, to seek self-fulfillment rather than fulfillment of God’s precepts. King David said that his sin was a condition from birth (Psalm 51:5). Sin is universal. That is why the Day of Atonement is universally observed among Jewish people as the most solemn of all holidays. And that is why God provided a way of forgiveness, beginning with the Old Testament animal sacrifices and culminating in the death of the Messiah. Our responsibility is to respond in faith and to place our trust in Jesus as our atonement. We must return to a view of life centered in God’s way of looking at things rather than in our own preferences.
We are all sinful in the depths of our being, and all the education, affluence and technology in the world have not changed that. They have only enabled us to express our rebellion in a more sophisticated fashion.
Jesus really did enter human history. He really did die and he really did rise from the dead. All the objections in the world and all the ignoring of the evidence will not make that reality disappear. Perhaps your attitude is that of the fellow in an old joke who said, “I’ve made up my mind. Don’t confuse me with facts!” But God really does hold us responsible for facing the facts about ourselves and accepting his offer of forgiveness through Jesus. You should believe in Jesus, not because it will make you happy, but because it is true.
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Question: Don’t Christians believe in three gods?
Answer: Certainly not! It’s a very common misrepresentation that while Jews believe in one God, Christians believe in three. The fact is that Christianity is as firmly monotheistic as Judaism.
Christians believe that the One God exists in a way that finite humans can never fully understand—in three persons or personalities. This belief is not based on philosophical arguments, but on the Scriptures—both Old and New Testaments.
We affirm that the Hebrew Bible teaches the oneness of God. The cardinal affirmation of the Jewish people has always been the Sh’ma: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD” (Deut. 6:4). But along with the emphasis on the oneness of God, the Hebrew Bible contains a number of hints that he is at the same time somehow more than one.
One such hint is the number of times plural forms of names and words are used in reference to God. The common Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is itself plural in form. The singular counterpart of Elohim, namely Eloah, is used 10 times less than is the plural form. Plural verbs are sometimes employed with the name Elohim, as in Genesis 20:13.1 Plural pronouns are at times used by God in referring to himself, as in Genesis 1:26.2 Other descriptions of God are sometimes found in the plural, which is not always evident in our English translations (for example, Ecclesiastes 12:1,3 or Isaiah 54:54).
Even more striking is the very word used in the Sh’ma to proclaim the oneness of God: echad. This word allows for a plurality or diversity within the unity. This can be seen clearly in several passages. In Genesis 1:5, 2:24, Ezra 2:64 and Ezekiel 37:175, the oneness is the result of combining evening and morning, man and wife, the individual members of an assembly and two sticks, respectively. There is, however, another Hebrew word to describe an indivisible unity: yachid. The scholar Maimonides6, when composing his famous Thirteen Articles of Faith, substituted yachid for echad in describing the nature of God. Ever since, the notion of an indivisible unity of God has been fostered in Judaism; nevertheless, the Bible gives ample instances to show that there is a diversity within God’s unity.
The Zohar, the foundation book of Jewish mysticism, recognized that plurality-in-unity is not a foreign idea to Jewish thinking. While the medieval mystics’ notion is different from the Christian concept of the Trinity, the basic idea of a plurality within the one Godhead still holds. The passage from the Zohar, commenting on the Sh’ma, reads as follows:
“Hear, O Israel, YHVH Elohenu YHVH is one.” These three are one. How can the three Names be one? Only through the perception of Faith; in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the beholding of the hidden eyes alone. The mystery of the audible voice is similar to this, for though it is one yet it consists of three elements fire, air, and water, which have, however, become one in the mystery of the voice. Even so it is with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by YHVH Elohenu YHVH three modes which yet form one unity.7
In fact, besides God himself, there are two other personalities in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures who are portrayed as distinct from, yet somehow the same as God. These other two are the angel of the Lord and the Spirit of God, or Holy Spirit.
The angel of the Lord is mentioned a number of times, but is also identified with God himself. For example, in Genesis 16:7 and 16:13 he is called respectively “the angel of the Lord” and then “the Lord.”8 Another example is Genesis 22:11-12. This particular individual is both distinct from and identified with God himself.9
Then there is the Spirit of God. God’s Spirit is spoken of in the Scriptures as a personality of his own, yet identified as God. Such passages include Genesis 1:2, Psalm 51:11 and Isaiah 11:2.10
In ancient times Israel was surrounded by polytheists and tended to absorb the idolatry of those nations. For this reason, it was necessary for the Scriptures to emphasize God’s oneness more than his “tri-unity.” By New Testament times, when idolatry was no longer such a problem in Israel, the idea of God’s “tri-unity” was more clearly articulated in the Scriptures. The three personalities just mentioned are portrayed in the New Testament as God the Father, God the Son (the Messiah Jesus) and God the Spirit—yet all without compromising the fundamental affirmation of the Sh’ma: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD,” an affirmation which Jesus himself termed “the most important commandment.”11
- “…when God caused me to wander from my father’s house…” The verb “caused me to wander” is plural in the Hebrew.
- “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”
- “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth…” In the Hebrew “Creator” is a plural form.
- “For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name…” Again “Maker” and “husband” are plural forms.
- Genesis 1:5: “And God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”
Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.”
Ezra 2:64: “The whole company together was forty and two thousand, three hundred and threescore,”
Ezekiel 37:15-17: “…take thee one stick…then take another stick…and join them one to another…and they shall become one in your hand.”
- Maimonides (1135-1204) is one of the greatest figures in Jewish history. Born in Spain, he was known as a rabbinic scholar, philosopher and even physician. His Thirteen Articles of Faith are accepted by Orthodox Jews as a binding statement of belief.
- Zohar, III: Exodus 43b, Soncino translation.
- Genesis 16:7a: “And the angel of the LORD found her…”
Genesis 16:13a: “And she called the name of the LORD who spoke unto her, Thou God seest me…”
- Genesis 22:11-12: “And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven and said…Lay not thine hand upon the lad…for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”
- Genesis 1:2b: “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
Psalm 51:11: “Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.”
Isaiah 11:2: “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him…”
- Mark 12:29: “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord;”
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In Jewish evangelism, people sometimes raise objections or ask questions—not because they want answers, but because they want to refute what they are being asked to consider. To one who is determined not to believe, no answer will suffice. On the other hand, if a person really wants answers that will enable him or her to comprehend our gospel message, no question is unanswerable. Granted, many spiritual concepts cannot be fully explained to the finite human mind; nevertheless, there is always a satisfactory answer for one who is willing to believe. This is the first of a series in which we will be dealing with the questions most often posed to our staff by unbelievers.
Q: How can you believe in Jesus and still call yourselves Jews? Why don’t you just call yourselves Christians for Jesus?
A: Actually, we call ourselves both Jews and Christians. The idea that these categories are mutually exclusive is a misconception born of intolerance and prejudice.
The definition of who is a Jew continues to be debated within the Jewish community. No agreement exists as to whether Jewishness is to be defined in terms of religion, culture, parentage or simple majority opinion. Yet biblically, a Jew is one who belongs to the people descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the people with whom God made the covenants through Abraham, Moses and David. God himself made us Jewish; therefore it does not depend on our particular beliefs or actions. Perhaps this explains why a Jewish baby is Jewish long before he or she has had any opportunity to formulate opinions about religion or culture. Actually, those of us who have become believers in Yeshua have found, along with our faith in God, a deepened and renewed commitment to our heritage, our culture, our traditions and our people.
Concerning the term Christian,” the word comes from the Greek “christos,” translated from the Hebrew “mashiach”—our English “messiah. “A Christian is not defined as someone who attends a church or who is a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Rather, a Christian is someone—Jewish or Gentile—who has made a decision to follow Yeshua as the Messiah. In other words, becoming a Christian is a personal matter between an individual and God; nobody can be “born a Christian.” You must have a second birth or be “born again.”1
The first Christians were Jews who came to believe that Yeshua was the Messiah. None of them renounced their Jewishness. Their faith was based on God’s age-old promises found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the very beginning, Christianity was considered just another sect within the Jewish faith. For the most part, it was not until years later that Gentiles were even offered the opportunity to become believers in Yeshua without first converting to Judaism.
It follows that if Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel, then nothing could be more Jewish than believing in him—or more honoring to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- John 3:3-7 in the New Testament and its background in the Hebrew Scriptures in Ezekiel 36:25-27. Jesus told the rabbi Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God… Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Ezekiel likewise described the process of spiritual change: “Then will I (God) sprinkle clean water on you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you… and ye shall keep mine ordinances and do them.”