We thought you might find the following letter from Moishe helpful in your witness to Jewish people. It is his reply to a letter from a Jewish woman who attended one of our branches’ weekly meetings.
I’m sorry that I didn’t have an opportunity to meet you last Friday. I think it takes courage to come to a meeting like ours. Some come because they are curious, some are seekers, but I’m delighted for any reason that you found to come.
You talk about your discomfort with the idea that Jews can be Christians. I think this unease stems from many things, but perhaps most of all, as Jews we learn that we must always remain Jews. Then we are indoctrinated that being Jewish and believing in Jesus are mutually exclusive. From this we deduce, I can never believe in Jesus if I am to remain Jewish.”
People wrongly assume that being Jewish is inimical to believing in Jesus. If you think it through, being Jewish is more than following the Jewish religion. Many Jews, like you, are not very involved in the Jewish religion. Yet, you (and most of them) are very Jewish. Jewishness has to do with culture, with community and with the way we relate to each other. When I talk about being a Jew, I’m talking about something that is different from the religion of the rabbis. I’ll be quick to tell you that I do not follow the Jewish religion.
You might be surprised that the Jewish Bible, the T’nach, does not mention rabbis. According to Scripture, the priesthood was to be in charge. What is now considered “traditional Judaism” began at the Council of Yavneh, when a group of rabbis met and made certain decisions in light of the destruction of the Temple and the growth of Christianity. What decisions they made, we can only surmise. But after Yavneh, rabbis were in control of the religion.
The rabbis had no scriptural warrant to change the religion. They claimed authority, saying that what they were presenting had been taught as an oral law to Moses by God, and they were just conveying the oral law. But the oral law was often in contradiction to the Scriptures.
Jesus lived and taught and died (and I believe rose from the dead) prior to the Council of Yavneh. He was a threat to rabbinical authority, even at that time. The truth is, as His followers we are dissenters to the conventional Jewish religion. We see the source of our authority not as the rabbis, but like original Judaism our authority is in the Scriptures. If the rabbis are right then they are justified to make us outcasts and to deny we are Jews. But what if they are wrong?
If Jesus was the One, the promised Messiah who fulfilled the prophecies, then isn’t it right for Jews to believe in him? Who else should have believed in Him, Norwegians? If what the New Testament teaches is true, Jesus is the only one who ever chose where, when and how He would be born. He chose to be a Jew, to come to Israel, not Oslo.
In its origins, Christianity is Jewish. At first, in order to be a Christian, you had to be a Jew. And one of the big surprises was that Gentiles were to be admitted to this new revelation of the Jewish religion called Christianity.
If it’s right for Jews to believe in Jesus, then there is such a thing as Jewish Christian. If it’s not right, it’s pretentious of us to say there is such a thing. The problem is that Jewishness has been affected and is often expressed in terms of the denials (what we don’t believe) rather than by the affirmations of what we do believe.
I remember trying to answer a boy I met when I was eight or nine years old. He asked about the difference between Jews and Christians. Even though I had been attending Hebrew school, the only answer that I could give was, “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.” It’s a matter of being owned by what you don’t believe rather than what you do. Maybe what I wanted to say was that we love and serve the real God—except I couldn’t say that, because I didn’t know anything about God, and I certainly didn’t serve Him.
I wasn’t looking for a different religion when I came to believe in Jesus. I didn’t believe that Christianity was nicer than Judaism, or that somehow, Christians were better people than my family. I was struggling to understand what was true. I understand your discomfort, because truth is not always comfortable. In fact, sometimes truth hurts.
I’m going to have to close this rather lengthy letter. Please don’t forget the question that I raised: “If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, then isn’t believing in Him the most normal thing a Jew can do?”