Everyone is familiar with the Christian origin story. The Ancient Jewish religion births the fledgling Christian child, and the two diverge upon separate paths. Now, depending on your religious bias, this divergence can be perceived a few ways. To a Jewish audience, the Christian child goes rogue, abandoning its cultural traditions and embracing a wholly other religious form. To a Christian audience, the Christian child surpasses its flawed mother and fulfills divine will in the glorious establishment of the Church.
However, Daniel Boyarin, esteemed scholar of Early Jewish and Christian origins, insists this is an artificially constructed myth. At the time of Jesus, “normative” rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity were hundreds of years in the coming. He explains, “In other words, in order to imagine a single mother religion that could give birth to a daughter religion, we have to find some way of reducing the diversity of Jewish religious life in the pre-Christian era to a single object that we can then designate as Judaism.”
Some scholars have sought to modify the genealogical relationship, instead suggesting the image of two twin brothers struggling for dominance. However, Boyarin notes that this metaphor is problematic…
“The Myth of Judeo-Christian Origins”
Guest blogging for Tony Jones’ “Theoblogy”
I’ve been continuing to ponder and struggle with my conversation with my Pastor about Galatians, Judaism, and the role of Torah, both in the late Second Temple period and today. A number of good and wise people have provided their input which has been helpful, but it wasn’t until I read Krista Dalton‘s “guest blog” for Tony Jones that I remembered something important.
It was impossible to put down every single detail of my conversation with Pastor Randy into my previous blog post, and one of the items I omitted was Pastor’s opinion that virtually all Jews turned against Paul and against the message of Messiah fairly quickly, and that the vast majority of the Jewish people rejected their own Messiah out of hand during the first hundred years or so of apostolic history.
But that’s not how I see it.
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.
-Acts 18:5-8 (ESV)
This is just one example of the dynamic impact Paul and the “good news” had on the Jewish and Greek populations of the communities he visited. Some Jews rejected Paul’s teaching while others embraced it. It was the same for the Gentile God-fearers and pagans. In the above-quoted passage, the membership of the synagogue in Corinth split between the original Jewish community and the Corinthian “synagogue of the Messiah.” Crispus, the head of the original synagogue, along with his entire (presumably Jewish) household, were among those who became disciples of the Messiah and followed Paul, literally next door, to form a separate synagogue community.
What can we learn from this?
As Dalton points out, the relationship between the Jewish movement following Messiah and the other Jewish movements was complex and in fact, “the Way” was one of a multitude of Jewish sects that existed in the world of the First Century CE. It wasn’t a simple matter of Judaism vs. Christianity from that perspective. A variety of different “Judaisms” debated, struggled, and disagreed with each other on matters of theology, the resurrection, and yes, the identity of Messiah.
But let’s take a really, really big step backward.
Pastor suggests that Christianity was meant to be a religious entity wholly divorced from the other Judaisms and to become something else entirely. True, Christianity is not a Judaism in the faintest manner in today’s world, but does that make sense in its First Century form and will it make sense in the Messianic Age?
Some broad strokes of the brush.
God had a plan.
Before our Sun burned hot in space, before the first blade of grass took root in our planet’s soil, and before the first man took his first breath of fresh air into newly formed lungs, God had a plan. Actually, God probably experienced all of the results of His plan from the beginning of what we think of as “time” to the end of it before (if words like “before,” “during,” or “after” have any meaning in such a description) He ever uttered “Let there be light.” Hence God doesn’t “see into the future,” like some cheap fortune-teller. He experiences our reality and the totality of His Creation by definition and because He’s God.
Broad brush strokes.
God creates the world, creates the garden, creates man and woman and resides with them for the tiny fraction of a second it takes them to break the one and only rule that existed in the world at that time.
Since then, God has been working with humanity (with a slight detour into flooding the earth and exterminating the vast majority of life on our world) to restore His relationship with us. He used a man, Abram and his wife Sarai to begin the plan, and the plan was vast. Through that couple and their son Isaac, and through his son Jacob, and through Jacob’s twelve children, and through all of their children, and their children, and their children, promises were made and gifts were given.
The Children of Jacob, who became millions, were given a prophet, a promise of an inherited land that would be forever theirs, and a lifestyle, national constitution, identity, calendar, and mechanism for connectedness to each other and to God (known as the Torah) that would always, always set them apart from all of the other nations and people groups of humanity, and that even though these Israelites would fail time and time again, enough of them kept faith alive, kept the promises (a small remnant to be sure, sometimes), and kept who and what they were as a “light to the world,” and anything that anyone else knew about the One God was through their knowledge of the Children of Israel.
But there was one more promise and it was tied to the new/renewed (“the Hebrew word ” ‘hadash” can mean either new or renewed, depending on its context”) covenant that refreshed, amplified, and added to all of the previous covenants and made promises for the return of the King, who would rule with justice and mercy over not only Israel but over all those from the nations who, through faith in the King, would come to the Father.
By the time the King was born, that plan was a “Jewish” plan. It was and is inexorably tied, not just to the people who were physically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but to the nation of Israel, the land, the lifestyle, the Torah, the culture, the ethnicity, the traditions. It’s as if this wave, this cosmic tsunami, which started out as a tiny ripple, an echo of the “Big Bang” of God’s first spoken, creative Word, has been rushing across time, getting bigger, gaining strength, reaching a potential, until the moment when the King first entered the world, took his first breath, made his first cry, said his first word, took his first step, talked with the sages in the Temple after one fateful Pesach festival, stepped into the Jordan with John, taught his first disciples, felt the agony of the first lash, felt his final breath leave his broken body on the cross. Breathed again in the tomb, and rising into the air, promised his people that he would return and finish the journey of restoration, redemption, and glory that he had begun as part of the Father’s plan, as part of the plan of the people of Israel, the Jewish people, and the Jewish nation.
What I’m trying to say in all this is that the coming of the Messiah is the culmination of the Jewish dream and his return will be the crescendo of Jewish peoplehood and national existence and it will be as the head of all the other nations and other peoples of the entire world, that Israel will lead with Messiah as their King and and the King of the world.
It would seem strange and even bizarre if the Jewish people, Jewishness, Judaism, and Israel were somehow required to be permanently disassembled in order for the Jewish Messiah King to lead Israel into leading the rest of the world, with the Gentiles who are called by his name (i.e. “Christians”), as his disciples and followers.
Jesus said that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24) and Paul said “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” (Romans 11:25) so I think part of the plan was a temporary “parting of the ways” for the sake of the Gentiles, the Christians…us. Otherwise, the Jewish Messianic Way would likely have remained completely or mostly Jewish and ultimately not attracted a worldwide Gentile population of faithful believers.
This is also why the Gentile disciples were never, ever required to become circumcised, convert to Judaism, and take on board the full yoke of Torah. The schism, split, and “offense of the cross” for the Jews who rejected Paul wasn’t the knowledge of the Messiah, it was the apparent unfiltered and unguarded admission of lots and lots of Gentile God-fearers and pagans into Jewish religious space without so much as a “by your leave.”
But that whole situation and split is temporary and I don’t believe that Jews and Judaism have been left permanently by the wayside of the Messianic dream. Quite the opposite, they are at the center of the dream of redemption with Messiah. Paul also said in Romans 11:26 that “and in this way all Israel will be saved.” Further, in vv26-7, he relates:
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
No, I can’t accept that God would build up, nurture, consecrate, sanctify, and make set apart and holy His people Israel only to jettison them and their way of life as Jewish people for the sake of His plan, when Jews and Judaism were and are all intricately woven into His majestic and expansive tapestry all along. It would be like planning to compete in the Kentucky Derby and having your jockey ride nine-tenths of the race on your prize thoroughbred stallion, only to have the rider hop off and mount a Texas jack rabbit in the final few yards. The shift is not only startling and jarring, it’s illogical and chaotic.
You’ll notice that I quoted from virtually no scripture to support any of this, Like I said, I’m painting in broad strokes. I’ve already been much closer to the canvas with my palette, my colors, and my more finely bristled implements, filling in the details. But sometimes it helps to take a step back away from the painting to see the entire landscape. Unless God is creating a universe and a plan for human redemption that looks like a work by Salvador Dalí, then wild surrealism isn’t what He’s going for or what He’s in fact created.
It makes the most sense that if God started with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and continued with Joseph, and Moses, and Joshua, and then David, and Solomon, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezra, and Hillel, and Shammai, and Peter, and Paul, as links in a chain of Jewish prophets and kings all enacting a part of God’s plan for Israel and for the nations, and with Jesus is the final King, the one who will sit on David’s Throne, that God would not do away with the Jewish people, the Jewish nation, the lived experience of Judaism, and the unique place of all of that in the stream of human history. They aren’t replaced or displaced by the people or the religions of the rest of the world. In the end, Israel and the Jewish Messiah King will be leading the rest of the world.
Continued in Four Questions, Part 1.