Answers

While there are many Jewish objections to Jesus-Yeshua, I've spent several years writing five volumes dedicated to answering these objections. Find out how believers in Jesus-Yeshua respond to objections such as, "Where was God during the Holocaust?" and "Didn't the authors of the New Testament change the Hebrew Scriptures to suit their own purposes?" Come see for yourself the Messianic Jewish response to hundreds of strong objections to Jesus-Yeshua.

General Objections

   
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Jews don't believe in Jesus.

There have always been Jews who have believed in Jesus. The first believers—all Jewish—found it hard to imagine that Gentiles might be called to join them (see Acts 15). Since then, in every generation there has been a faithful remnant of Jews following Jesus the Messiah. Right now, there are nearly 200,000 Jewish believers in Jesus throughout the world in various nations, many of whom are highly educated, and their numbers continue to grow.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, p. 3.

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I was born a Jew and I will die a Jew!

I won't argue with you there - if you were born a Jew, you will always be a Jew; however, you might need to rethink what it means to be a Jew, at least in the fullest sense of the term. Is it really enough to define it simply in terms of ethnicity, religion, ethics, or even a particular relationship to the State of Israel? What do you think constitutes true Jewishness from God's perspective? As you formulate your own answer to these questions, you'll need to determine on what basis you feel capable of judging whether others are Jews or not; no double standards are allowed!

When I try to determine if someone is a Jew, I look for signs of faithfulness to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to his Word; I consider a person's worship, prayer, study, and lifestyle. Does your life reflect a determination to love the Lord with all your heart and soul? Can you simply dismiss others as non-Jews, or even "apostate Jews," when they are striving to make the God of Israel known to the nations?

It's far more important to determine whether Jesus is indeed the Messiah promised by Moses and the prophets than it is to worry about whether those who follow Jesus are Jews. How could someone who rejects (or ignores) the Jewish Messiah still be Jewish? Our purpose as a people is to serve as a nation of priests (kohanim) by introducing the God of Israel to the world. Both Exodus 19:4-6 and Psalm 96:1-4 remind us that our calling as Jews is to glorify God and to help all people come to know and honor him.

What is our purpose, our mission as a people? Could it be that Jesus is the key to our people's priestly vocation to bring the light of God to the nations? Could it be that true Jewishness is directly linked to knowing and following him?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 3-6.

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One is either Jewish or Christian. I'm Jewish.

It actually doesn't matter whether you're born into a Jewish or a Gentile household, since your true identity is determined not by ethnicity or religion, but by whether you have placed your faith in Jesus as Messiah and are committed to following him. In other words, what is most important is whether you have been "born anew" and are "of the Messiah." Christianity (or Messianic Judaism) is not based on ethnicity, but on the living relationship between God and his people, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 6-7.

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Doesn't belief in Jesus mean that you're no longer Jewish? As I understand it, belief in Jesus and Jewishness in any form are incompatible.

Ironically, you've accepted one of the lies of the Inquisition, i.e. that Jews had to renounce their Jewishness to become Christians; however, belief in Jesus and Jewishness are wholly compatible. In fact, it doesn't get any more Jewish than to place your faith in the Jewish Messiah!

The first thing you need to do is to stop thinking about Christianity as a religion for Gentiles and focus instead on Jesus himself. He is the one promised in the Hebrew Bible.When he entered the world in order to save it and restore all people to right relationship with God, he came first to his own Jewish people. When we rejected him as a nation, his message was taken to the Gentiles, and belief in Jesus spread among them so rapidly that they quickly outnumbered the initial group of Jewish believers and many forgot the Jewish roots from which their faith had sprung. The Rabbinic community distanced itself from this rapidly growing movement, and those Jews who had placed their faith in Jesus found themselves without a place to call home. The traditional Jews welcomed them only if they renounced their ties to Jesus, and the Gentile Christians expected them to renounce their Jewishness in order to join the church. Even though it had been Jewish apostles who introduced the Jewish Messiah to the Gentiles, the Gentiles insisted that any Jews who wanted to join their ranks had to stop being Jewish. What a terrible, tragic twisting of the truth!

Messianic Jews have not fared much better at the hands of traditional Jews. There is a custom in some circles of religious Jews of cursing believers in Yeshua three times daily, a practice that can be traced to the end of the first century. This is not surprising since Jesus himself warned us that this would happen, yet in spite of all these challenges, there have always been Jews who have known that their belief in Jesus was wholly compatible with true (though not necessarily traditional) Jewishness. It is sad that these Jews have often felt the need to go underground, either with their Jewishness or their faith in Jesus.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 7-9.

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This whole Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Christianity thing is just one big deception, designed to lure unsuspecting Jews into Christianity. Half of the people involved aren't even Jewish. Those that are Jewish were mostly Christian ministers who changed their names to sound more authentic.

Maybe you're simply repeating what you've heard elsewhere and forming judgments before checking your facts, or perhaps you've had some troubling encounters with people who are actually exceptions to the rule. Whatever the case, I want to reassure you that the last thing Messianic Jews want to do is participate in dishonest activities or deceive people, especially our own people. When we refer to ourselves as Messianic Jews (or Hebrew Jews, or Jewish Christians, or Jews for Jesus) we're not trying to trick unsuspecting Jews into becoming Christians, rather we're simply reiterating that faith in Jesus and Jewishness are wholly compatible (see 1.4). In fact, our belief in Yeshua has made us even more deeply aware of our Jewishness, and we want to celebrate that. If you too came to discover that Jesus was the Messiah, you wouldn't dream of discarding your Jewishness, because that would be a complete contradiction of your experience and new-found knowledge. In fact, you would believe that you have really come to your Jewish roots by believing in the Messiah.

Perhaps your objection is not to the movement generally, but is related to specific "Messianic Jewish" practices. If this is the case, I want to address those as openly and honestly as I can. First, let me tell you that it is because we are Jews attempting to be loyal to God (and not as part of some strategy to "lure" Jews to our side) that topics such as Sabbath observation, dietary laws (kashrut), using rabbinic liturgies in worship, etc. are constantly being discussed within the Messianic Jewish community itself.

  • When we use the terms "Messiah" or "Yeshua," instead of "Christ" or "Jesus," this is because we know the latter often have negative connotations for Jews. It's because of our attempt to clarify things, to help Jews think about the real Jesus, that we use the Hebrew terminology. After all, Jesus was a Jew, and he fulfilled the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • Hebrew songs and prayers taken directly from the Bible are often used in Messianic Jewish services because they help us remember that our faith is a continuation of that of our ancestors; we enjoy singing them in Hebrew just as Christians enjoy singing them in their own languages.
  • Some Messianic Jews use some Rabbinic prayers in their worship since they agree with their content. They believe that it is important to continue the traditions of their ancestors which are compatible with faith in Yeshua. Some also continue to wear tefillin (phylacteries), the tallit (prayer shawl), and yarmulke (kipa, or skull cap) for the same reason.
  • Messianic Jews continue to follow the Jewish calendar, just as Jews all over the world do, and some follow the same Torah reading schedule as do traditional Jews; they simply add a reading from the New Covenant Scriptures.
  • Messianic Jews are aware that misconceptions could arise when using the title "Rabbi" and so those who use this title preface it with "Messianic" so that people know that the leader is from a congregation that believes Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Many Messianic Jews use the term synagogue (meaning "place of assembly") to denote their meeting place since the New Testament uses this term.
  • Some Messianic Jewish Bible colleges or seminaries refer to themselves as yeshivas to indicate their connection to Jewish studies; however,since many acknowledge that this might lead to confusion with those of Orthodox Jews, they often intentionally use another name.
  • Yes, some Messianic Jews change their names, but this is not with the hope of deceiving others. Through their faith in Yeshua the Messiah, they have renewed the connection they have with their Jewish roots, and it is precisely this they wish to convey by changing their names.

The things that we do, or wear, or call ourselves are not as important as what we believe.

It's easy to judge a whole group by the bad examples of a few. I certainly have met some strange, and even dishonest Orthodox or even ultra-Orthodox Jews, but I won't judge all of them accordingly. I hope you'll return the favor and not judge the rest of us by a bad encounter with a Messianic Jew or Gentile Christian posing as a Messianic Jew.

There are some who believe that even in the earliest days of the church, there were some Christians who advocated deceitful missionary practices. These people often cite 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 as an example of such practices; however, if you read carefully, it's not difficult to see that what is being advocated is a culturally sensitive approach to introducing others to the God of Israel and to Jesus the Jewish Messiah. We try to adopt these principles too in our conversations with others.

One thing I want to make absolutely clear (and will clarify even more below, see 2.4-2.8) in responding to this objection: We Messianic Jews seek to completely distance ourselves from and renounce any form of "Christian" anti-Semitism; we want to reclaim our Jewishness. It is not deceptive for us to declare that we are still Jews and that we are not part of that church, and to emphasize solidarity with our people.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 9-15.

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You have your religion and I have mine. Jesus is for the Gentiles, and if he helps them, great. In fact, Judaism teaches that the righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come. But for us, the Jewish people, we have the Torah. That is our portion.

If Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah, then he is of no real use to the Gentiles either. It's not only spiritually, but also historically inaccurate to relegate Jesus to the Gentiles. In the first decade after Jesus was resurrected from the dead, his followers were Jewish and only told other Jews about their discovery that the promised Messiah had come. The big surprise for them was that their Messiah didn't come only for Jews, but wanted to save Gentiles too. Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah who came to save the whole world, Jews and Gentiles alike.

You argue that there is a place for the Gentile righteous in the world to come. You're right that the Bible, from which the seven laws of Noah are derived (see Genesis 9:1-6), suggests a standard against which the righteousness of the Gentiles will be judged. It is pretty clear, however, that very few human beings manage to uphold even these basic standards. Claiming that the righteous Gentiles will have a place in the world to come is of no consequence when hardly anyone keeps all of these laws. In fact, it is because all of us fall short of God's standard that we are in need of the Messiah; he is the only hope for both Jews and Gentiles to become righteous in the eyes of God.

Yes, the Torah remains our portion, but it is only through the Messiah that the fullness of the Torah is realized; the Messiah therefore also belongs to us. As Jews, we have a unique relationship to the Torah and the Messiah, but not an exclusive relationship, since God has opened the doors to the Gentiles. Though each of us sinners needs the redemption Jesus brings, Jew and Gentile alike, we have our own special callings and gifts. In the end, there will be one God, one Messiah, one family. Who could object to that?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 15-18.

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You don't seem to get the point. The fundamental problem with Christianity is that it is not Judaism. Therefore all your so-called 'proofs' from the Hebrew Scriptures are meaningless. They are simply your interpretation, not ours.

You seem to assume that Judaism has no need of questioning whether it is actually the true, biblical faith, whether it is right in the sight of God. Of course, there have been a lot of people and movements through the centuries that have been called "Christian" without being worthy of the name; however, there is also an authentic, biblical expression of "Christianity," which is amazingly "Jewish." It's much more helpful to think of how much Judaism and Christianity have in common than it is to think in terms of two separate religions; in fact, it's more accurate to think in terms of two different expressions of the same Jewish faith. Rather than choosing between two religions, you're trying to determine which have found the correct path: the Jewish followers of the Messiah or the Jewish followers of the traditional rabbis?

What you need to decide is whether the rabbinic (traditional Judaism) interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures has remained faithful to its biblical roots. If it has then you need to follow it, but if it has made a mistake in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah then you need to turn away from those traditions and turn toward the Word of God, the God of the Word, and the Messiah sent by God and foretold in the Word.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 18-20.

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If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, why don't more Jews believe in him?

There have been tens of thousands of Jews who have believed in Jesus, from the earliest of days to the present. The problem is that many Jews do not really bother to find out about the real Jesus. Now, let me put the question directly to you: Why don't you believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah? Have you really done enough rigorous investigating to warrant dismissing him?

Consider the following:

  • Many Jews who decide to find out more about Jesus are surprised by what they learn—their honest investigations have a way of changing their world.
  • Usually what is taught to religious Jews about Jesus is biased, inaccurate and negative, and this typically keeps them from wanting to learn more about him.
  • The fact that many so-called Christians have committed some horrendous atrocities in the name of Jesus has ended up driving Jews away from their own Messiah. (See 2.7 for more on this, and my book Our Hands are Stained with Blood.)
  • These same Christians have helped create a picture of Jesus that is hard to reconcile with the "real" Jesus.
  • Some religious Jews who come to believe in Jesus cannot handle the pressure and loneliness that they would face as a result of proclaiming him openly, so they deny what they know to be true.
  • Traditional Jewish teaching paints a different picture of what the Messiah should be and do, with the result that many Jews overlook or dismiss Jesus.
  • Jewish scholars can ruin their reputation and their careers if they profess their belief in Jesus. Because of revisionist history, it's almost as if Jewish believers in Jesus cease to exist altogether.
  • Hard as this may be to hear, our people have been judged by God for rejecting Jesus as Messiah and so our hearts have been hardened to him. However, the hardening of our hearts is only partial, only temporary, and one day our people will flock to Jesus on a national scale.

Let me ask you one more question: If more Jews, including your own rabbi, believed in Jesus, would you? Just because more people believe doesn't change the truth one way or the other, but it does help build confidence in others and encourages them to go public with their own beliefs. You might be surprised at the number of Jews who already believe, but are afraid to tell anyone.

Often as we grow up and mature, we discover that beliefs and opinions we've been taught need to be changed when we acquire new information and experience. What you have been taught about Jesus needs to be investigated further since almost everything you've been taught about him is a lie. You need to find out for yourself who he is. Are you up to the challenge?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 21-24.

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I won't betray my ancestors! I won't forsake the faith of my fathers!

You are to be commended for wanting to honor the memory of your ancestors and God appreciates your desire to do this; however, honoring your family must never replace your primary devotion to God. It is, after all, to God that we will give account for the choices we make.

The Hebrew Bible has plenty of stories about people who deviated from the patterns of their ancestors in order to live out their faithfulness to God. Jeremiah (12:6), Moses and the Levites (Exod. 32 and Deut. 13), Josiah (2 Chron. 34:2), and Joshua (24:2, 14-15) provide biblical examples of those who stood firm even though they were being pressured to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, and they are the ones we honor today. There are also biblical stories that condemn certain characters such as King Ahaziah (1 Kings 22:52) for following the same path as their fathers when those paths led them away from the Lord.

History also shows us that sometimes the faithfulness of certain people is not immediately recognized as such. The Baal Shem Tov's new expression of Judaism known as Hasidism provides a prime example of this. Once deeply scorned, his followers now number in the hundreds of thousands, and he is respected as a great Jewish leader. Other examples include Theodor Herzl and Eliezer Ben Yehudah.

Perhaps it's not difficult for you to comprehend that if your ancestors did not follow God's ways—maybe they were atheists or criminals or involved in some kind of strange religion—then God expects you to take a different path. However, let's say your parents or grandparents were good, law-abiding, deeply devoted people—maybe even religious, practicing Jews—how can you think about breaking from their beliefs? Well, consider the possibility that you have different insights than they did—maybe a better understanding of Jesus, or a better vision of the church. It could be that if they had had the same insights, they might have changed their ways. Don't you think your ancestors would want you to deviate from their path if you believed you were being faithful to God?

Okay, you say, but what about those ancestors that died in the Holocaust? How can I even contemplate dishonoring their memory? Well, I ask you: Should those horrible, tragic days of darkness stop you from embracing the light? Should yesterday's sorrows and pains hold you back from walking in today's blessings? Is it right to carry on rejecting the Messiah today, simply because your ancestors died without knowing him?

It is you who will one day have to stand before God, defending your loyalties. Do you have the courage to step out and embrace a new expression of Judaism? Are you willing to be faithful to God no matter the cost? When you find yourself saying, "I can't forsake the faith of my fathers," remember that Abraham did.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 24-28.

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What happens to Jews who do not believe in Jesus—especially those who never heard about him? What happened to my wonderful Jewish grandmother who never hurt anyone in her entire life? Is she in hell?

Well, I don't know your grandmother, and I'm certainly not qualified to be her judge, but know that anything I say in response to your question pertains to my grandmother as well. This is not a matter to take lightly and it wouldn't be fair if I didn't tell you the truth and warn you in advance to consider your own standing before God. God has high standards for human beings, and most of us, whether Jew or Gentile, have not lived up to those standards. God is compassionate and merciful, but God is also righteous and cannot simply dismiss our failure to keep his commandments. God has given us a means of atoning and if we reject this gift, we are lost.

The Torah tells us that Jews are blessed or cursed during this lifetime according to whether they've kept the commandments or not, which might leave some thinking that suffering for sins is only for this world and not the next. There's no biblical warrant for that stance however, and it's risky to assume that the suffering we experience here is all there is. If you take a look back, you can see that God followed through on those warnings found in the Torah and the prophets to punish us for our sins. Scripture tells us clearly that there will be a future judgment and punishment (see Lam. 2:21, Deut. 28:54-61, Dan. 12:2).

By God's standards, most people—even our grandmothers—are unrighteous. All of us, no matter how kindly or devout, fall short of God's expectations for us and we shouldn't try to sentimentalize or deny that. It is God who will be our judge, and when we stand before him, he will either declare us righteous or not. Based on his judgment, we will either be resurrected to life or resurrected to damnation. I want to drive home the point that things don't look all that rosy for our people in the world to come when you consider our track record in this world.

Of course, God will judge people according to the knowledge they have of him. Jesus told a parable to the effect that those who are aware of what their master wants but don't do it will face greater punishment than those who have no clue and disobey him.

And that's where Jesus fits into the picture. That's why it's so important that you acknowledge him as the Jewish Messiah. All of us are sinners, guilty of breaking God's laws. We need help if our relationship with God is to be restored. We need a savior, and Yeshua is the savior we need. He can clear us of guilt and enable us to live rightly before God again. It's not just a matter of repeating a magic formula, but of finding a way to change our lives through repentance and faith in Jesus, who is the only means of escape from hell (Hebrew gêhinom) since he has paid for our sins.

What about those (Jews and Gentiles) who have never heard about the Messiah? Though there may be a few exceptions, we should think of them as in a fallen, lost state in need of salvation. We can trust that God will be fair—of course he will! He has been fair in the past (his judgments were a proper response to the disobedience) and he will be fair in the future. But it is better to be safe than sorry and go with what we know for sure—that God expects us to live in obedience to his commandments and that Jesus has been sent to save us from our failure to do so.

Denying hell won't change the reality of its existence. I certainly hope that our parents and grandparents somehow lived and died in good standing with the Lord, and that they managed to receive mercy and atonement from him. However, that is out of our hands. The best thing for you to do is to keep asking yourself: How do I measure up? Am I ready to meet the Lord and give account for my life? You can't do anything about your grandmother, but you can change the course of your own life. And really, don't you think that if your grandmother could speak to you from beyond death, she would try to warn you away from damnation and keep you from rejecting the only way to salvation? Yeshua is the way, and belief in him really is a matter of life and death.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp.28-35.

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What would happen to a Nazi murderer who believed in Jesus before he died? Would he go to heaven, while the Jewish men, women and children he killed, many of whom were God-fearing people, would go to hell?

Questions regarding the Holocaust can get highly emotional, so let's proceed as carefully and rationally as possible. The first part of your question leads us to consider whether a wicked person can truly repent and whether God will accept that repentance. The stories of Ahab, king of Israel, and Manasseh, king of Judah, both of whom committed horrendous acts of evil, and both of whom eventually repented of their sins and turned back to God (see 1 Kings 21:25-29, 2 Chron. 33:6, 9-13), are highly instructive. We are told that God showed mercy on these sinners and accepted their repentance even though they committed horrible acts. Ezekiel says very plainly that God will forgive a wicked man if he truly turns from his wicked ways (33:11-16). The Hebrew Bible tells us that the Lord can accept and forgive even the worst of sinners, so it is possible that even a Nazi murderer could be forgiven by God.

Now, maybe you can accept that possibility based on your Jewish spirituality, but you find it difficult to make the connection between repentance and belief in Jesus, since it seems that faith is all that matters to Christians. It is no surprise that you have come to believe this, but if you examine the New Testament, you'll see that repentance is actually the first thing mentioned when the gospel is proclaimed. Both John the Immerser and Jesus himself commanded those around them to repent, and when Jesus sent out his followers to share the good news, he emphasized that a call to repentance and forgiveness of sins formed the core of his message (see Matt. 3:2, 4:17; Mark 6:12; Luke 24:47). Paul also emphasized the need for repentance, to turn back to God and his ways,when he summoned others to faith in Jesus.

Paul maintained that Jesus had given himself as atonement for the sins of all (Jews and Gentiles). This concept of representative sacrifice for sins should not be foreign to you; the Torah sets forth the sacrificial system for atonement, and the prophets emphasize repentance. Faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin, just as belief and obedience cannot be separated. This is as true for the New Testament teaching on faith, as it is for that of the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, salvation is not achieved merely by repeating any particular prayer or formula, but by acknowledging and repenting of sin and trusting that in Jesus atonement for sin is made available. Being freed from the burden of that sin allows a person to start off on a new way of life marked by obedience to God.

In light of the above, if the hypothetical Nazi murderer of your objection simply repeated some formula about believing in Jesus instead of sincerely repenting, then he would still be condemned to hell. But if he was truly repentant of his wickedness and trusted that Jesus could cleanse him from guilt and sin, if he was asking for mercy and pardon from God, turning from evil with the full intention of doing good, then he would be forgiven. He might not have time before his death to demonstrate the fruits of his repentance and forgiveness, but God would know what was in his heart and would judge and reward him accordingly. Death-bed repentance can happen and it may be helpful to know that this possibility does exist. However, I would heartily recommend preparing yourself to face the Lord before you get to that point!

What about the Jews killed by that Nazi? There are a few things to remember at this point. First of all, God alone is our judge; we cannot determine the final destiny of any person. Secondly, the Nazis didn't care whether our people were religious or atheists—they exterminated them indiscriminately because of their ethnic background. The fact that Jews suffered terribly in the Holocaust does not automatically make them saints. In fact, many actually lost their faith or became even more hostile to God as a result of the Holocaust. I ask you, does simply dying because one is a Jew—especially when that one would have gladly ceased to be Jewish—atone for one's godless life up to that moment? And if so, do traditional Jews believe that the Jewish Christians who died in the Holocaust are guaranteed a place in heaven—in spite of their so-called idolatry?

Some Jews (both traditional and Messianic) believe that the Holocaust had at least some elements of divine judgment in it. In other words, our terrible corporate suffering was partly due to corporate sin (similar to the destruction of Jerusalem in the years 586 BCE and 70 CE). Just as the people who suffered those tragedies were not automatically martyred, but were called to repentance, we should at least consider the same for those who were caught up by the Holocaust. And we should keep in mind that a similar fate could befall us again if we as a people do not repent of our apostasy!

As for those faithful Jews who died in the Holocaust, I would refer you to objection 1.10 above. We cannot sit in judgment of those who have gone before; we can only trust that God will accept those who come to him according to his terms—and we might be surprised to see some of those whom he accepts and some of those whom he rejects.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 35-42.

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No religious or educated Jew would ever believe in Jesus.

This objection is simply false. There are plenty of examples of Jews, both from religious households and secular, highly-educated backgrounds, who have believed in Jesus.

Daniel Zion was the chief rabbi of Bulgaria who, because of a vision attributed to Jesus, persuaded King Boris not to give in to Nazi demands to hand over the Jews, thereby saving hundreds of them from the Holocaust. After the war, Zion settled in Israel and was so respected that he was asked in 1954 to serve as judge in Jerusalem's Rabbinic court. He refused to hide his faith in Yeshua, however, and presented the evidence for his belief to the leading rabbis of the day. As a result, his title of "rabbi" was taken away (even though he was still considered a rabbi by the Bulgarian Jews in the Yeffet Street Synagogue in Jaffa until October 6, 1973). He was a firm believer in Jesus until his dying day (at the age of 96), though he never considered himself a "Christian," and maintained a traditional Jewish lifestyle for his whole life.

Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky was a highly educated Orthodox Jew who became Christian. What? You've never heard of him, you say? Well, there's good reason for that. During his study of the New Testament, this excellent Talmudic scholar, raised in an Orthodox home in Lithuania, became convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. He kept this belief a secret until he had graduated from Breslau University. He ended up going to China so that he could translate the Bible into Mandarin and Wenli. Schereschewskycould have become a famous rabbi, but because he dedicated his life to introducing Gentiles to the God of Israel, serving as a light to the nations (as we Jews are all meant to do), his name has slipped into oblivion in Jewish circles.

The background of Auguste Neander (born David Mendel) was less observant than Zion's and Schereschewsky's. His parents hoped that he would become a lawyer with the secular education he received. Neander became a believer in Jesus as a teenager under the influence of two of his friends. After his secular education, Neander continued his studies and became a very distinguished scholar, lecturer, and author,serving as professor of early Christian history at the universities of Berlin and Halle during the nineteenth century. In this capacity, he fought against theological rationalism. He was respected not just for his wisdom and insight, but also for his sacrificial lifestyle. In addition to his erudition, he was known for giving away most of his income to those in need.

There are many religious and highly educated Jews who have believed in Jesus. It's not education and learning that stop people from believing in Jesus, but rather ignorance as to who he really is and what our Scriptures really say about him.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 42-45.

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Those educated or religious Jews in the past who did convert to Christianity did so for monetary gain or because of social pressure. It had nothing whatsoever to do with intellectual arguments or honest theological convictions.

This statement smacks of anti-Semitism since it implies that Jews will do anything for money! Okay, I won't deny that throughout the centuries (especially during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) there have been some Jews who had ulterior motives such as monetary gain or social status when they "converted" to Christianity, but the same thing could be said about certain secular Jews becoming Orthodox. To admit that there have been some false conversions along the way is not to deny that there have been plenty of others who not only didn't gain anything by believing in Jesus, but actually suffered for it, and sometimes horrifically. And still they refused to deny their Messiah. Let me prove the falsity of your objection by offering you a couple of examples:

Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina, Romanian Jews, refused to give up their faith in Jesus even when they were subject to imprisonment and extreme torture at the hands of communists. Despite the brutality Wurmbrand experienced at the hands of his torturers, he never took the easy way out by renouncing his faith in Jesus. His reward for declaring his faith in Jesus? Years in prison, four broken vertebrae, eighteen holes burned and cut into his body, and the experiences of being nearly frozen to death, burned with red-hot irons, and placed in an upright casket with spikes. After his release from prison, Pastor Wurmbrand and Sabina served the Lord without a break; they didn't even have a day of vacation. They did not own their own home, and even though Wurmbrand was a prolific author, he never took a dime from the sales of his books so that the money could be spent to help the families of martyrs around the world. Does that sound mercenary to you? You should be honored to know that Richard Wurmbrand is "one of us."

And then there's Haham Ephraim, the son of a Tiberias rabbi, who seemed to have everything going for him, spiritually, socially, and economically. Although he initially had a strong aversion to Christianity, his study of the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible (in conversation with the local Church of Scotland minister, and after much soul searching and spending hours asking questions of his fellow rabbis) led him to believe that Jesus is our Messiah. What did he gain from this discovery? Well, he did gain a deep and lasting peace in his new relationship with God, but he also suffered greatly at the hands of his own people, being beaten, falsely accused, imprisoned, flogged, starved, and finally relocated to a Jewish colony on Lake Huleh where he worked long hours doing manual labor in the fields. When he finally returned to Tiberias, his wife and children were taken from him. Does that sound like he's only in it for the money or status? Hardly!

I was once asked by an Orthodox man: "Why believe in Jesus? It's hard enough just being a Jew in this world with all the problems we have. Why ask for more trouble by believing in Jesus too?" But I can do no other. I know that Yeshua is our Messiah and I must follow him and be loyal to our God regardless of the consequences.

What about you? Are you willing to wrestle with the fact of the Messiahship of Jesus—even if it costs you everything?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 45-50.

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Those religious Jews who did become followers of Jesus always had the tendency to stray. If you'll study it out, you'll see that most of them threw out their traditional values and beliefs before they ever considered nonsense like Christianity.

That's a pretty sweeping generalization, and I think if you spoke to some of those people you're so quickly dismissing, you'll find that your claim just isn't true. Many religious Jews were happily living their traditional lives and were caught off guard when they discovered for themselves that Jesus is the Messiah.

However, even if some of those were already questioning their traditions, what's wrong with that? Not every tradition is true. It is necessary to ask questions about what you believe and to get to the bottom of the truth. Are you afraid that traditional Jewish faith might not stand up to scrutiny? Is the Talmud so weak and the New Testament so strong?

There is a difference between educating children with the goal of protecting them from sinful, polluting influences, and keeping them so wrapped up and hidden away that they aren't allowed to read the New Testament lest they receive no inheritance in the afterlife. Many traditional Jews who have come to believe in Jesus simply followed up on questions that were inadequately answered by their teachers. They sought the answers for themselves by inquiring into the original sources (i.e. the New Testament) rather than accepting hearsay.

Our ministry isn't afraid of a good debate with others. We publish those debates unedited, so that people can hear both sides and make up their own minds. We have no doubt that if Jews honestly question and search for the truth about God they will not be disappointed.

What do you think? Shouldn't people be allowed to pursue truth wherever it may be found?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 50-52.

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Missionaries like you target the sick, the elderly, the ignorant, and the young and uninformed.

This is a very prevalent rumor that gets spread by anti-missionaries about Jews who believe in Jesus, so let me address these untruths, point by point:

 
  • We do not target specific groups. Believers in Jesus come from a variety of backgrounds. We do not all belong to one particular, organized group and we do not have any single systematized program of evangelization.
  • We are excited about what we believe, so we tend to share it with others. The primary way we do that is with those we most naturally come into contact with—students with students, businessmen with businessmen, etc.
  • Yes, we can be found on college campuses, but we take our place next to a number of other religious groups, including the traditional Hillel organization and representatives from the Lubavitcher Hasidim. Students are asking questions and thinking through major issues at this time in their lives, and we have just as much a right to be there as the other groups.
  • As for the elderly, I challenge you to try to change their minds, if they don't want to be changed! But those who are nearing the end tend to think more deeply and earnestly about the purpose of life and the meaning of death. And what kind of children would we be if we allowed our parents to die without trying to help them find their way out of darkness and damnation by encouraging them not to reject Jesus as Messiah? If Catholic priests and Orthodox rabbis can visit elderly people, why can't our ministers?
  • Do we specifically target the young and uninformed? This accusation is ironic, given the tendency of traditional Jewish groups to target this particular population—especially those who have been raised in non-observant households.

One might argue that traditional Jewish groups target uneducated young people (students) and vulnerable women, since those are the populations most likely to return to Judaism, but this is exaggerated stereotyping. People are more malleable and pliable in their younger years, so it is natural that the largest group of converts to traditional Judaism and Messianic Judaism would be the young, and there are good sociological reasons that explain why there is a higher percentage of women converts. We simply do not target specific populations.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 52-55.

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I'm not a very religious person, but I'm certainly not a bad person. I'm basically a normal, middle of the road, good person.

Are you aware that the Hebrew Bible doesn't ever mention your category of "normal, middle of the road, good person?" There are wicked people and there are righteous people, but there are none in between. There are those raised to everlasting life and those raised to everlasting shame (heaven or hell). All of those who don't take God's Word seriously (i.e. "non-religious" people), are referred to as sinners. We get used to the standard of comparing ourselves to someone "worse" than us, so that we end up looking basically good, but the standard by which we will be judged by God is his own. It is God—not you—who will act as your judge. How do you think you would fare if God were doing the appraising? I encourage you to find out where forgiveness of sin is to be found and how to live the life God expects.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 55-56.

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If Jesus really is the Messiah, why are there so many objections?

The number of objections has little to do with the truth of the matter, and there are good answers to every one of those objections. There are so many arguments in favor of the Messiahship of Jesus that it would take hundreds of books to explain them all! However, I don't think it's just Jesus that is a stumbling block for contemporary Jews; many Jews also have difficulty taking the Ten Commandments seriously, accepting the divine origin of the Torah, and believing that the Hebrew Scriptures are the literal Word of God.The main problem for most Jews is not that they do not believe in Jesus, but that they do not believe in the Word of God.

Our people have a tendency to stray from God's path. The Bible is full of stories about this perpetual problem. Read again the accounts of what happened to the generation taken out of Egypt—how many actually made it to the Promised Land? Also consider 2 Kings 17:13-20, which rather starkly describes the subsequent centuries of disobedience and rebellion. Given this track record, does it really surprise you that we rejected the Messiah when he came and that we continue to do so to this day? The prophets (e.g. Ezek. 3:4-7) rightly anticipated that the Gentiles would more readily embrace the Jewish Messiah than the Jews themselves, which in itself is another argument in favor of Jesus being Israel's Messiah.

No matter who you are, you need to ask yourself if you take God's Word seriously. If you are a religious Jew, you should consider whether sometimes God's Word in the Scriptures is obstructed by the Rabbinic, oral traditions, beautiful as they may be. Do the objections against Jesus with which you were raised make it difficult for you to take a good look at the evidence and weigh it honestly?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 56-59.

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Christianity simply doesn't work. It doesn't produce what it promises. Deep down, you know what I'm saying is true.

The new life I have found in Jesus has been an indescribable blessing. Christianity does "work"; faith in Jesus brings a deep and lasting peace, assurance of forgiveness of sins, joy and comfort. It enables an intimacy with God, a delightful fellowship with him that is missing in other forms of religious life. It makes us zealous to follow Jesus, to please God, and to obey his commandments out of love, rather than a sense of duty.

To back up these statements, I'll give you just a few examples of faithful, traditional Jews I've spoken with who either knew something was lacking in their relationship with God, or couldn't get what I was trying to describe to them when I explained how my faith in Jesus transformed my life with the Lord.

Aaron, a yeshiva student, was a ba'alteshuva (a Jew who had become religious later in life). He became observant because he wanted to be assured of a place in the world to come, and because he wanted to have a relationship with God. Years had gone by and he'd diligently studied the Talmud, but he hadn't quite found the assurance he'd hoped to find. According to his studies, one either had to be super-righteous, like Moses, to be assured of a place in the world to come, or one had to depend so utterly on God's mercy that it didn't seem to matter what one does with one's life. Prayer seemed totally arbitrary to Aaron, since answers seemed to be given to the observant and non-observant alike. What saddened me most about Aaron was that this highly diligent student didn't have a living, joyful fellowship with God.

I've had conversations with Lubavitch Jews who communicated a similar lack of intimacy with God and an inability to understand what I meant when I described my own spiritual life and faith in Jesus. Although they were sincere, they did not seem to experience the love relationship of a bride with her groom, even though this is how the ancient rabbis described Israel's relationship with her God; they did not have the intimate knowledge of the Lord as described by the prophet Jeremiah (9:23-24).

I've had similar conversations with Hasidic Jews, all very pleasant and learned men. With one I discussed the issue of atonement and asked whether he experienced a sense of assurance of forgiveness after Yom Kippur each year. He honestly admitted that he couldn't be sure he had been forgiven, or that he had fully repented and was completely sincere about not wanting to commit the same sins again—there were always a few lingering doubts. I found it very sad that the fellow didn't know the blessing of assurance of which the psalmist spoke (see Ps. 32:1-2).

Then there was the encounter with an ultra-Orthodox Jew, who was a Gentile convert to Judaism. He had become convinced of the truth of Judaism and had devoted much time to yeshiva study, but he still felt there was something missing in his spiritual life. His wife had been raised in a Jewish Christian family, but had turned away from her Christian roots after experiencing the peace of a traditional Sabbath. Nonetheless, she, too, admitted that there had been something brighter and more vibrant about her experience with God before she had become a traditional Jew; she too felt there was something missing. I tried to reassure her that it wasn't an either-or, she could have both—a traditional Sabbath celebration and Yeshua, who is Lord of the Sabbath.

Granted, you will be able to find exceptional traditional Jews who have wonderful relationships with God, just as you'll be able to find some disgruntled Messianic Jews. But I tell you without any exaggeration or hype: Knowing Jesus the Messiah and having God as my Father is the most wonderful thing I could ever imagine—in this world, or in the world to come.

But don't just take my word for it; find a few Jews who have become believers in Jesus and ask them about their experiences and how their lives have been transformed by knowing him; you'll have trouble restraining their enthusiasm!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 59-65.

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You missionaries always use the same old arguments and proofs. Your faith can't be very deep!

Well, I'm bored with the typical tactics of the anti-missionaries. The arguments used in setting out our beliefs for why Yeshua is the Messiah don't need to be novel; they just need to be true.

I think you've been given some real food for thought here and I encourage you to examine the evidence for yourself. Jesus said: "If you continue in my word, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). I hope you will experience that freedom for yourself.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, p. 65.

Historical Objections

  • If Jesus is really the Messiah, why isn't there peace on earth?

    Read Answer…

  • Why have wars and human suffering only increased since Jesus came?

    Read Answer…

  • First century Jews did not expect the Messiah to be a miracle worker.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus isn't the Messiah since Jewish blood has been shed in his name.

    Read Answer…

  • Christianity is a religion of hate, not love.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus came to bring a sword; since then, we Jews haven't known peace.

    Read Answer…

  • Christians have always hated and persecuted the Jewish people.

    Read Answer…

  • The origins of anti-Semitism can be traced to the New Testament.

    Read Answer…

  • Without Christian anti-Semitism, the Holocaust would never have occurred.

    Read Answer…

  • Why did God allow six million Jews to die in the Holocaust?

    Read Answer…

  • Christians want to convert Jews to their beliefs to legitimize their faith.

    Read Answer…

  • Jews have won every public debate with Christians..

    Read Answer…

  • Jews who follow Jesus soon lose all connection to Judaism.

    Read Answer…

  • The church is so divided that Christians cannot agree among themselves.

    Read Answer…

  • Christianity is just another world religion, not the only way to God.

    Read Answer…

  • The great Jewish leaders alive in Jesus' day rejected him.

    Read Answer…

   
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If Jesus is really the Messiah, why isn't there peace on earth?

This is one of the most frequent questions raised by those who do not accept Jesus as Messiah. At first glance, it seems logical: "If the Messiah was supposed to bring peace on earth, and Jesus did not do that, then Jesus cannot be the Messiah."

This argument arises from a limited understanding of what the Hebrew Scriptures have to say about the role of the Messiah. While the Scriptures promise that the Messiah would bring about a universal and lasting peace on earth, it makes clear that before this could happen, there would need to be peace between God and humankind. Biblical prophecies speak not only of the Messiah's glorious victory over evil, but also of the Messiah's sufferings and atoning death on our behalf. In other words, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Messiah is described asassuming not only the royal, but also the priestly role of his ancestor, David. Ultimately, the results of his first coming will lead to his return, when he will establish complete peace on earth forever.

Before we consider in more detail particular verses from the Hebrew Bible, let us first take a brief look at the Talmudic tradition, especially its interpretation in the writings of the Vilna Gaon, the greatest rabbinic scholar of the eighteenth century. The Talmud divides the existence of the world into three, two thousand year periods: the era of desolation (Adam to Abraham); the era of Torah (Abraham to around the beginning of the Common Era); and the Messianic era. According to the Talmud, the Messiah should have come about two thousand years ago, but this did not happen because "our iniquities were many" (Sanhedrin 97a-b).

The Vilna Gaon based his timeline for world events on that of the medieval scholar Rashi, and maintained that a time of increasing darkness and universal apostasy would precede the arrival of the Messiah. In his view, even though the Jews had not deserved the Messiah's arrival, God had, nonetheless, initiated the process that would ensure the Messiah's ultimate arrival. The Gaon believed that this time of transition they were living in now was characterized by humankind moving from spiritual darkness and sin to the realization that in order to become truly human again, people must accept God's dominion; only then will the Messiah arrive.

The Gaon was convinced that the last third of history had begun more than eighteen hundred years earlier, and believed that the Messianic era was right on schedule even though it was not happening in the way that most were expecting. Clearly, the Gaon did not believe in Jesus, and probably did not have an accurate picture of who Yeshua was and what he did. In fact, he believed that the Messianic era had begun without the coming of the Messiah. Nonetheless, when it is understood that the Gaon based his calculations on those of Rashi, and when adjustments to that timetable are made to compensate for an historical error of about 180 years, we see that, in effect, the Vilna Gaon placed the arrival of the Messiah in the same century as Jesus!

Which seems more reasonable to you: to adopt the Gaon's perspective that the Messianic era began without the coming of the Messiah, or to believe that it began with his coming? Are you willing to accept the possibility that the Messiah actually arrived two thousand years ago, but "because our iniquities were many" we did not recognize him?

Many well-respected scholars believe that when Jesus went around announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand, he was expressing a generally held belief at the time that the appointed hour for the Messiah had come. While this was the general sentiment in the early first century, things changed in the second half of the century. Following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and after the failure of Simeon Bar Kochba's revolt in 135 CE, many Talmudic rabbis found they could only hold onto their Messianic expectations by revising their chronology of events. They did this by assuming that the Messianic era had begun on time (with the destruction of the Temple), but that a further four hundred years would pass before the Messianic era would be fulfilled.

There are Talmudic traditions which imply that it was our unworthiness that kept our people from recognizing Yeshua as the Messiah when he arrived. There are also traditions acknowledging that in the forty-year period before the destruction of the Temple, the annual atonement sacrifices were no longer accepted. These traditions indicate that although the Messiah had been expected to come before the destruction of the Temple, something terrible happened which led to the postponement his arrival.

As a Messianic Jew, I must admit that I find certain rabbinic expectations and assumptions to be lacking; the destruction of the Temple should be received as a sign that our people failed to acknowledge the arrival of the Messiah. When you think about it, doesn't it make you wonder why the Temple was destroyed forty years after the death of Yeshua? This destruction left our people without a central place for sacrifices, without any other means for national atonement. Shouldn't you be asking whether the fact that thousands of years have passed without our people welcoming the arrival of the Messiah might actually be an indication that we have been waiting for the wrong Messiah? Is it possible that twenty centuries ago, the real Messiah did appear, and we missed him? The Talmud raises questions and leaves hints that we should not ignore.

It may be that you prefer to rest your assumptions and expectations not on what the tradition says, but on the testimony of the Hebrew Scriptures themselves. If that's the case, let's see what the Word of God has to say about the timing of the arrival of the Messiah, especially in relation to the Second Temple.

Haggai 2:6-9 indicates that both the glory and the peace of the Second Temple would be greater than those of the First. As the rabbis noted, this announcement seems to contradict the fact that so many elements were missing from the Second Temple that were present in the First Temple, including the ark and mercy seat, the divine fire, the Shekhinah, the Holy Spirit, and the Urim and Thummim. The most common Rabbinic explanations for ascribing a superior glory to the Second Temple have to do with the length of time it existed or the physical beauty of the building, but these explanations do not account for the presence of the glory of God that marked the dedication of the First Temple but seemed absent in the Second Temple. They also do not explain how the period of the Second Temple, which saw plenty of war and turmoil, deserves the description of being especially "peaceful."

Malachi 3:1-5 declares that the Second Temple would receive a visitation from the Lord, preceded by his messenger, who would purify some of his people and bring judgment on others. The medieval Jewish commentators Radak (David Kimchi) and Metsudat David assumed that "the Lord" referred to none other than "King Messiah," though they paid little attention to the fact that it was the Temple of Malachi's day that the Messiah was to visit. Was Malachi's prophecy fulfilled? Did this special visitation actually happen? If so, then it must have taken place before the destruction of that Temple in 70 CE; if not, then God's Word is false.

What about the idea that the Second Temple would serve as the location for the granting of an extraordinary peace? In asking this question, we return to the objection that sparked our conversation in the first place, i.e.the role of the Messiah as the bringer of peace. Although the primary role of the Messiah during his initial arrival was not to establish a universal peace on earth, he is still rightly called the Prince of Peace in the Scriptures for the following three reasons: (1) he offers peace to all who will embrace him and turn from sin, (2) he makes peace between hostile sinners and a holy God, and (3) he brings peace to his people who follow him. Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross will ultimately lead to worldwide peace when he returns to establish the kingdom of God on earth.

While there is no scholarly consensus on when the book of Daniel was composed, we know that the author situates the historical context of the narrative at the end of the Babylonian exile in the 530s BCE. Daniel 9:24-27 plainly indicates that during the 490 year period. It mentions sin would be atoned for and righteousness would be ushered in. It is clear that this would have had to have taken place before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.

Malachi prophesied that the Lord would visit his Temple and Daniel prophesied that there would be atonement before the destruction of the Temple. Who brought the glory of God to the Temple before its destruction if it was not the Messiah? Who else could have atoned for sins other than the Messiah? If this visitation is not explained by the arrival of the Messiah, these prophetic promises are empty. Can you explain how the Lord can be said to have visited the Second Temple in a "personal" way if it was not by means of his Messiah?

The simplest solution to these problems is that the Messiah came almost two thousand years ago; otherwise, the biblical prophets were lying. The good news is that it is not necessary to leave the Scriptures behind. If you accept that the Messiah arrived right on time in keeping with the biblical prophecies, doing all he was intended to do during his first visit to earth, you do not have to lose faith in the Word of God.

Hosea prophesied that our people would live without God and the Davidic Messiah and without king, prince or sacrifice (3:4-5)—in other words, our people would experience the "silence" of God. The Scriptures show us that our people have known other silences or "gaps" in God's dealing with us. The calendar given to us by God provides a prime example of this. There is a gap of four months between the cluster of holy days at the beginning of the year (Passover, Firstfruits, and Shavu'ot, the Feast of Weeks) and the next intense cluster of religious activity (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles). These holy days are filled with prophetic meaning and significance which are only able to be unlocked by an understanding of the Messiah.

Passover reminds us that it was the blood of the lamb that saved the lives of the Israelites from death; it was at the time of the Passover that the Messiah laid down his life as a sacrificial Lamb to save us from death and ultimate destruction. The celebration of First Fruits was fulfilled when, three days after his death, the Messiah was raised to new life, a token of the resurrection of the righteous at the end of the age. Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (during the Feast of Weeks when our people celebrate the reception of the Law on Mount Sinai), the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of the Messiah. This event fulfilled the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32.

What is the meaning of the second cluster of holy days, which takes place after a significant period of silence? Several New Testament authors maintained that Jesus' return would be announced with a rousing trumpet blast, like that of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Zechariah 12:10-14 can be interpreted in relation to Yom Kippur, offering a description of the Messiah's return, when our people will recognize him for who he really is and repent of having rejected him for so long. This passage announces that after repenting, our people will experience atonement. The fourteenth chapter of Zechariah refers to the day when Yahweh arrives in Jerusalem to avenge his people by destroying those nations that have proven hostile to them. Those who survive the attack will go up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord and participate in the Feast of Tabernacles – this will be the sign that the prophecy regarding this holy day has been fulfilled (Zech. 14:1-5, 16).

The gap between the first coming of the Messiah and his return reflects the gap between the holy days of our calendar. After almost two thousand years, we are about to experience the consummation of history, which is signified by Rosh Hashanah. The return of the Messiah will be announced with the blast of the shofar, and our people will recognize him, repent and receive atonement. We are about to witness the day when all people will stream into Jerusalem to worship the Lord. What an amazing time that will be! Our waiting for that day to come is like the time of waiting in our calendar, which revolves around the cycle of the harvest; this "gap" before the Messiah's return is moving toward the time of the ingathering (the harvest) of souls, both Jewish and Gentile, into the kingdom of God.

One of the biggest problems that has kept our people from recognizing Yeshua as the Messiah is that the scriptural description of the priestly role of the Messiah has been virtually eliminated from traditional Judaism's laws, lore, and liturgy. Psalm 110:4 declares that the Davidic king "would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." There are passages providing examples of the priestly activities carried out by David himself, which indicate that he is a prototype of the Messiah (see 2 Sam. 24:25). Not only was David said to be a priest, but Scripture also calls David's sons priests (2 Sam. 8:17). Zechariah 3:8; 6:11-13 speaks of the Messiah ("the Branch") — who we all know is the son of David — as a crowned high priest ruling on his throne as king.

Even though traditional Judaism has overlooked the fact that the Hebrew Bible describes the Messiah as having a priestly role, there are some Jews who have paid attention: Those who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls captured this dual role in their anticipation of two Messianic figures (the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel), and those who wrote the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs spoke in highly exalted terms about a priestly Messiah.

Though it may seem like a trivial matter, this idea that the Messiah would be a priestly king is paramount. Before peace could be established on earth, there had to be peace between God and humanity. The Messiah first had to deal with our sins and establish God's rule in our hearts before he could establish God's rule over the whole world. How can there be lasting peace on earth without a way for people to repent and receive forgiveness from God?

Our Scriptures lead us to believe that the Messiah was supposed to come almost two thousand years ago. Let me assure you, Yeshua, the Messiah, arrived right on schedule and fulfilled those prophecies that described him as both priest and king by offering himself as sacrifice for our sins, making a down payment for our souls, and establishing the Lord's rule in the hearts of many. Because he has done this, we are confident in the promise of his return to complete his work, which will establish lasting peace on earth.

It is a tragedy that for the past twenty centuries, most Jews have believed that the Messiah has not yet come. From time to time, hopes have gathered around particular figures such as Bar Kochba, Shabbetai Zvi or the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but these hopes have not resulted in anything enduring. It is time we realized as a people that Yeshua is the Messiah. It is time we received him with reverence and joy, for the good of our people and the glory of our God.

There is not much time left — the return of the Messiah is drawing nearer every day. Let's be sure we're waiting for Yeshua when he comes back to usher in the age of universal and everlasting peace!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 69-88.

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Why have wars, famines, and human suffering only increased since Jesus came?

We are living in a time of transition. Though many Jews believe that the day of universal peace will be ushered in immediately after the Messiah arrives, this day will only come when the Messiah returns. Four thousand years ago, God initiated a process that will culminate in the return of Jesus, and in the time between his first and second comings, things will be anything but peaceful. You are right in observing that wars, famines and human suffering have increased since Jesus came, but far from being an argument against the Messiahship of Jesus, it actually reinforces the position that the Jewish Messiah has already come and that his return is imminent.

Ever since God called Abraham four thousand years ago to be a blessing to all peoples on earth (see Gen. 12:2, 3b), he has been calling humanity back to him. He never gives up on us though we continually sin against him. God wants people to know him, to live in his light, and to enjoy his goodness. It was God's plan to bless all the peoples of the earth through the descendants of Abraham, and among his descendants, the preeminent one was to be the Messiah, who was to come through the line of Israel, Judah, and David. There were about a thousand years between Abraham and David, and another thousand between David and the arrival of Yeshua the Messiah. That may strike you as a very slow way to operate, especially because during those two thousand years, very few people had the chance to know and serve the God of Israel. Not even the majority of Israel obeyed the Lord during this time.

It may seem to you that very little has changed in the last two thousand years since the arrival of the Messiah; however, there are some very important happenings in connection with the God of Israel. While the kingdom of God advances one person at a time, in recent decades the numbers have been increasing more rapidly. During the twentieth century alone, more than one billion people placed their faith in the God of Israel through Jesus the Messiah! In the time it has taken you to read this paragraph, several dozen people have stepped into the light, been freed from their sins, and with joyful hearts, have begun to serve their Creator out of love.

If you're like me, you've probably wondered why God hasn't chosen to work even more quickly. Granted, we don't know everything about God's plans, but it is clear that God has decided to work through us to unfold his plan of redemption, and our participation (or lack thereof) affects the progress of his Word spreading to all parts of the world. There is something significant about the end of another millennium. During the twentieth century, world events started happening very quickly. The century was full of wars and atrocities perpetrated by notorious mass murderers who refused to submit to the God of Israel and let their hearts be changed by Jesus. Granted, the church also lent a hand to the spread of violence, hatred and persecution of Jews (and non-Jews too) insofar as it strayed from its biblical foundations, deviated from the Messiah's teachings of love, compassion, and sacrifice, and clung to human traditions; however, you can't hold Jesus responsible for the suffering that was caused either by those who rejected him outright or those who wrongly claimed to be his followers.

Our focus should be on what God is doing through Jesus the Messiah, who promised that the end would come only when his message had been spread throughout the whole world. The end must be getting closer because the Word of God has spread with remarkable speed. The Bible has been translated into at least 2000 different languages, a number which has increased over 5700% since 1500 CE! It's also amazing to think that at least one-third of the entire expansion of the kingdom of God on earth has taken place in just the last thirty-five years. Currently, about one-third of the world's population believes in Jesus as Messiah. There is an average of 125,000 new followers each day and 16,000 new congregations each week. It's spiritual harvest time!

Two thousand years ago, Jesus warned his followers that an increase in persecution would precede his return (see Matt. 24:6-8). This prophecy has come true: tens of thousands of Christians are killed each year because of their belief in Jesus. Our planet is beginning to react to generations of moral and spiritual pollution (not to mention ecological pollution). This widespread upheaval is a sign that God is beginning to judge the sinfulness of humankind. Satan knows that his time is growing short, so he is beginning to pour out his destructive fury against humanity. The prophet Hosea predicted that after the destruction of the Second Temple, before final redemption could take place, there would be a long period of spiritual darkness (see 2.1). This conflict between good and evil will increase to a climax, intensifying until Jesus returns (see Rev. 12:12 and Isa. 60:1-3). At that time, Jesus will definitively establish the kingdom of his Father.

In traditional Judaism there is a belief that each generation produces a potential Messiah; the fact that the Messiah has not yet been revealed indicates that there has not yet been a generation worthy of him (or able to recognize him). The Lubavitcher Grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (d. 1994) was hailed as the Messiah by his followers. They believed his death atoned for sins, and are awaiting his resurrection and return. You tell me whether it makes more sense to believe in Schneerson, who is a virtual unknown outside of Lubavitch circles, or to believe that Yeshua, who fulfilled the Scriptures, is the one and only Messiah promised in the Scriptures? Some day there will be a generation of Jews and Gentiles who will recognize him as the Messiah in a significant enough way that he will return. Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, came two thousand years ago and his return is imminent—thereis no need to look for any other Messiah.

Let me assure you, things are right on schedule as predicted in our Scriptures. Knowledge of God is spreading and people are flocking to Jesus the Messiah. At the same time, those who reject God continue to wreak havoc on the planet. The good news is that this time of transition is nearly over. Are you ready for that the Messiah's return?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 88-98.

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There was no Jewish expectation in the first century that the Messiah would be some great miracle worker, so all of Jesus' alleged miracles were of no interest to the first century Jewish leaders, and they are of no interest to me.

Somewhere along the line you've got your facts wrong. It was because first-century Jews had this expectation that the people who saw or heard about Jesus' miracles began to wonder whether he might be the one promised in the Torah and prophets (see Matt. 12:22-23, Luke 7:20-23). Jesus described his mission using the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:16-17, quoting portions of Isa. 61:1-3a). The expectations for a miracle-working Messiah were nurtured through reading the Hebrew Scriptures (see Isa. 35:5-6), and these same expectations can be found in Talmudic literature (see Sukkah 52a). The reported miracles of the Talmudic sages (i.e.,Honi the Circle Drawer and Hanina Ben Dosa) were understood as signs of divine favor, and the Lubavitcher Hasidim pointed to alleged miracles as a sign that their Rebbe was the Messiah. The first-century expectation continues to this day because performing miracles is part of the Messiah's job description.

You claim to have no interest in miracles yourself, but imagine you were faced with the suffering of a loved one who had a serious illness; the gracious healing power of Jesus the Messiah would seem more relevant to you then. Followers of Jesus are certainly not exempt from the frailties and suffering that come with being human, however, they do experience the Messiah's healing touch in a variety of wonderful ways. Many Jews have actually turned toward God in repentance and put their faith in Yeshua the Messiah after being healed from a serious physical or mental disorder.

The Messiah has performed many wonderful miracles and continues to work them today, and when he comes again to fully establish God's kingdom on earth, he will perform even greater works than these.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 98-101.

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Jesus cannot be the Messiah, because more Jewish blood has been shed in his name than in any other name or for any other cause.

You are right that much Jewish blood has been shed by those who claim to be followers of Jesus. As deplorable and inexcusable as this is, you must take into account that more Jews have been killed by those who have no connection to Jesus (e.g. Stalinists, Islamic terrorists, etc.) than by Christians. Furthermore, from a biblical perspective, the most common reason for the shedding of Jewish blood is that we as a nation have been unfaithful to God by disobeying his commandments, ignoring his prophets and rejecting his Messiah, thereby earning us curses instead of blessings.

Your objection raises the thorny issue of Christian anti-Semitism, which I will address as openly and honestly as I can in the next few answers. I want to start by drawing attention to Jesus' own agony over the sufferings of his people. He was aware that his Messiahship would be rejected and that there would be difficult consequences for the nation as a result (see Luke 19:41-44, Matt. 23:37-39, Luke 23:27-32). This rejection was part of a larger pattern of our nation's rejection of the Torah and the prophets as described in the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g., 2 Kings17:13-20). Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 explain that as a reward for national obedience, our people could expect to be blessed in this world; however, disobedience would result in judgment and curses being brought upon the nation.

Our suffering as a people is primarily the result of our own sins. It's not just others who are to blame, but we as a people are partly responsible for our own suffering. If you don't like this idea, it's the Torah you'll have to argue with, not me.

Although we bear some responsibility for our suffering, those who persecute us do not do so with impunity or without receiving God's judgment on their sins. First of all, those who claim to be "Christians," but persecute, torture, or kill other human beings in Jesus' name, cannot really know Jesus and are falsely claiming to follow him. Not only does the Torah forbid murder, but Jesus himself pronounced a blessing upon the meek and those who seek peace, and he commanded his followers to love their enemies, to pray for those who persecute them, and to do good to those who hate them (see Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:35). There are many examples in the New Testament that show that the true followers of Jesus are not those who do the persecuting, but those who are persecuted for their faith in him. Jesus warned that there would be disingenuous people who would be his followers in name only since their actions would betray their hardened hearts and evil deeds (see Matt. 7:21-23). God is very aware of the utter hypocrisy of these false followers of his Messiah and will judge them accordingly.

Secondly, even though the Bible informs us that God's punishment on the disobedient people of Israel is often meted out through the actions of other nations (see Isa. 10:5-7, 12), this does not mean that those nations are given free reign over us. When they punish us too severely, they become the recipient of God's wrath on behalf of his people (see Zech. 1:15) so that the punishers are punished by God.

Until we return to God in repentance and acknowledge the Messiah, we remain vulnerable to the malicious attacks of those who hate the Jewish people, and these Jew-haters, who by their very actions prove that they too do not know the Messiah, will be judged by God as well.

The fact that we as a nation suffer at the hands of those who claim to be followers of Jesus cannot be used as an excuse for rejecting Jesus himself since part of this suffering is a consequence of our rejection of him. The only way to reverse this pattern of judgment is for our people to come to him in faith. I tell you with complete confidence: Jesus is the cure of our every problem, individually and nationally, not the cause of our every problem.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 101-108.

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Christianity is actually a religion of hate, not love. Its bad fruit proves that it is a bad tree, even according to Jesus' own criteria (see Matt. 7:15-20; Luke 6:43-45).

If you really want to know what "Christianity" teaches and advocates, you need to consider the words of Jesus and his followers as found in the New Testament; only then will you have any real standpoint for determining whether someone is a hypocrite or true believer.

When adherents of a religion don't live up to its standards,this only proves their hypocrisy, not that this particular religion is false. If a religion such as Islam advocates violenceand its adherents practice violence, they are acting faithfully, but if the religion condemns violence (e.g., "Christianity") and its adherents disregard this, then they are denying their faith. Just as you would point to the Talmud if you felt someone had grossly misinterpreted Judaism, so it is necessary to consult the New Testament to determine whether Christianity really is a "religion of hate" or not.True faith in Jesus does not result in hate.

Jesus himself advocated love of enemies, prayer for persecutors, and returning kindness for hatred. He commanded his followers to do to others what they would want others to do to them (see Luke 6:31-37). Before you insist that no one does what Jesus commanded, tell me, just how many followers of Jesus do you actually know? Have you spoken to any Messianic Jews that survived the Holocaust and forgave those who had tortured or killed their loved ones? Do you know Christian missionaries who have returned to those hostile places in which their families or friends had been killed, willing to give their own lives to reach those people with the Messiah's love? What justification do you have for quickly dismissing all followers of Jesus as hypocrites?

Are you aware that when you argue that Christianity must be bad because of the fruit it bears, you are actually threatening Judaism with the same description? If the Christian faith derives from Judaism, then how can you avoid the assumption that the tree (i.e., Judaism) from which this "bad fruit" derives must therefore be a "bad tree"? I can anticipate your reply that Christianity's badness is the result of Jesus and his followers breaking away from the good roots of Judaism; however, Jesus did not break away from the biblical Jewish faith. Furthermore, your argument proves that those who deviate from the true faith are the ones who give the faith a bad name.

Of course, it is necessary to acknowledge that there has been some "bad fruit"; however, it is only when a tree normally produces good fruit that the rotten fruit stands out as something unusual. This is the case with Christianity since it is only when some of Yeshua's "followers" do bad things that they stand out.

To be fair, it's also not difficult to find plenty of bad fruit along with the good in the history of the Jewish people. Some have sincerely tried to live the Torah, but others have rejected it and left a lot of suffering in their wake. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to judge the truth of the faith from their example, just as it's unfair to judge "Christianity" based on the words and deeds of those who reject the teachings of Jesus.

You might still be struggling to see, based on the church's treatment of our people, how it can be claimed that the basic pattern is good, and that the evil is a deviation from that pattern. I agree that we Jews have suffered twice—for our own sins, and for the sins of the church persecuting us for not believing its message. This question of the church and the Jews deserves special attention, and I address it in more detail elsewhere (see 2.6-2.8). In contrast to the anti-Semitism of a small group of Christians stand the many instances of philo-Semitism (special love for the Jewish people), including those "Righteous Gentiles" who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors from the Holocaust.

Belief in Jesus has brought about much good fruit. Sinners are reforming their lives, murderers are repenting, and addicts are giving up their addictions because of Jesus.He inspires unconditional love for others, a love which has led to a tremendous outpouring of humanitarian care all over the world, especially among some of the poorest and most vulnerable peoples.Find out for yourself how good the fruit is which is produced by Jesus the Messiah.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 109-116.

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Jesus himself taught that he did not come to bring peace but a sword. We Jews have felt the edge of this sword for more than 1500 years now!

When Jesus made this statement (see Matt. 10:34), he was actually quoting from the prophet Micah (7:5-6). Far from advocating the use of the sword against those who do not believe in him (which he completely renounced), he was simply acknowledging that his identity as the Jewish Messiah would cause divisions—even among family members—over loyalty to God. (This interpretation of Micah's prophecy is very similar to that of the Mishnah, which refers to this passage in relation to the expectations surrounding the advent of the Messiah.)

Jesus is also rightly referred to as the Prince of Peace, for, in addition to his role in establishing universal and complete peace when he returns, he brings the peace of God to those who believe in him here and now. Yeshua knew that his people would reject his Messiahship, and with it their chance for peace in God's presence. He was deeply distressed that this choice would bring his people much suffering (see Luke 19:41-44), and was aware that his people's rejection of him would lead to not only his own death, but also to the rejection and persecution (even to the point of death) of his followers. His predictions were right; from the beginning, Jesus' followers—Peter, Paul, Thomas, to name but a few—were put to death because of their faith.

This persecution of Jesus' followers has continued throughout the centuries to this day. In the past few decades, more than a million Sudanese Christians have been killed by Sudanese Islamic extremists, thousands of Coptic Christians have lost their lives in Egypt, entire families of Christians have been tortured and killed in Indonesia, and in communist countries such as China and Vietnam, Christians have been subjected to torture and imprisonment for sharing and publicly expressing their faith. Although today there are about two billion believers in Jesus, somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 believers are killed for their faith every year. We who follow Jesus are not the ones taking up swords against our enemies, imprisoning them and torturing our religious opponents, and forcing them to convert under penalty of death. God forbid! Rather, it is the true followers of Jesus—despite our great numbers—who are despised, rejected, beaten and martyred for their faith, just as Jesus foretold.

For hundreds of years after the Messiah's death and resurrection, there was not one instance of a Jewish person being put to death for refusing to believe the gospel. This kind of persecution only developed gradually over a thousand years, as the church began to move away from the true Messianic faith. The first "church-inspired" violent persecutions against Jews took place at the end of the fourth century (e.g. in Callinicum, Mesopotamia in 388 CE), but these actions were not regular occurrences. It was only at the outset of the Crusades at the end of the eleventh century that more sustained violent persecutions began to happen. I maintain that this was a complete aberration of what the gospel is about and is the result of the church (or perhaps more appropriately, Christendom) losing sight of its Jewish roots (I'll speak more about this in 2.7.).

Jesus the Messiah is rightly referred to as the Prince of Peace. Although complete and universal peace will not be established until he returns, he is able to create peace between human beings and God, and among human beings, when people turn to him in repentance and receive forgiveness for their sins. People who were once hostile enemies can be joined through faith in him into a single, spiritual family. In spite of the sword of separation and persecution that often comes against the Messiah's people, in him we have peace. When the Messiah returns to establish his earthly kingdom and root out the wicked and the rebellious, the whole world will be filled with peace.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 116-124.

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Christians have always hated and persecuted the Jewish people.

There have been many people falsely calling themselves Christians who have hated and persecuted the Jewish people, and this anti-Semitic spirit has affected other believers in Jesus, discrediting the faith they profess, but the relationship between Jews and Christians is more complex than many have been led to believe. There are also many Christians who hold the Jewish people in high regard and cannot imagine the world now—or the world to come—without them.

Since it's impossible to tell the story about this two-thousand-year-old relationship in just a few paragraphs, I'll highlight some of the important elements that serve as the basis for your objection and for its rebuttal.

From the second to the sixth centuries, several prominent church leaders, including John Chrysostom, promulgated the idea that the Jews were an indecent, lawless people, who, because of their rejection and murder of Jesus, were cursed and beyond redemption, having forfeited all God's promises, which now belonged to the church. Once the Christians came into power in the late fourth century, they began to implement anti-Jewish legislation, depriving Jews of certain rights to property, work, trade and travel. Towards the goal of conversion, Jews were also forced to listen to Christian sermons in their synagogues.

In the Crusades of the eleventh century, the church in Europe gave the Jewish "infidels" living among them the "choice" between baptism and death (many chose the latter). When the Crusaders reached Jerusalem, they didn't just drive out the Muslims, but also rounded up the Jews and burned them alive in the great synagogue. It was during the Middle Ages that many of the rumors began that Jews were killing Christians and using their blood to make Passover bread, or that they were desecrating the communion elements in order to get back at Jesus. Many Jews were put to death as a result of these lies. There were also attempts to force Jews to renounce all connections to the faith of their ancestors when they joined the church. During the four-hundred-year period of the Inquisition, Christians attempted to expose Jews who continued to practice Jewish customs and traditions after outwardly converting to Christianity. As a result, these Jews were mercilessly tortured and often executed. In 1492, all Jews who refused to be baptized were driven out of Spain.

In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther, one of the most famous reformers of the church, responded to Jewish refusal to accept Jesus as their Messiah by writing the treatise called Concerning the Jews and their Lies, in which he proposed several methods for solving the Jewish "problem," including burning synagogues, destroying homes, taking away prayer books and Talmuds, and threatening the rabbis with death if they continued to teach their faith. Although this work was largely refuted or ignored at the time, it was reintroduced when the Nazis were looking for support for their ideology. During the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, inflammatory Easter sermons instigated pogroms against the "Christ killers"—destruction and injury, even murder, were carried out in the name of Christianity. In the twentieth century some Christian theologians tried to prove that Jesus wasn't really Jewish and suggested ways of dealing with the Jewish problem by depriving them of particular rights and designating them as having an inferior status. Even after all that had happened in the Holocaust, Polish Christians persecuted and even killed returning Jewish survivors. Some church leaders in our day have consistently sided with the PLO and against the Jewish people in virtually every land and security-related issue in the State of Israel.

These are just some of the so-called "Christian" persecutions of the Jewish people, yet this is only one side of the story. Before we consider other elements, let me pause a moment to explain that the church strayed so far from its Jewish roots that it ended up persecuting and killing not only Jews, but also many true Christians who dared to challenge or try to address its corruption. John Hus, John Wycliffe and William Tyndale are just a few of these Christian martyrs.

Clearly, the church had ignored Paul's warnings in the eleventh chapter of his letter to the Romans in which he had tried to ensure that those who believed inYeshua would not become arrogant and assume that they had replaced the non-believing Jews as God's chosen people. Paul described the church as a new branch that had been grafted on to an older tree, and he also insisted that it would be easy enough for the original and broken branch to be grafted back on when the time was right. Paul had proclaimed that God's gifts and calling are irrevocable and declared that someday all Israel would be saved. However, the church of Christendom was acting as though Israel's hardening was universal and permanent. Paul had also warned the church of the dangers of cutting themselves off from the mercy and favor of God if they gave into their arrogance and refused to show mercy and compassion to Israel. Given these clear warnings, we must conclude that only a deviant church could treat the Jews the way it did!

Before I move on, let me clear up a couple of things. First of all, my short history of the church's violent persecution of the Jews could lead you to believe that this was the constant norm in all ages, but this is not true. As mentioned in a previous answer (see 2.6), during the first few centuries after the death and resurrection of Jesus, there were no violent persecutions of Jews, which means that Christianity is not essentially anti-Jewish. Though there were plenty of polemical treatises written during this time, they did not lead to violence against the Jews.

Christians do not believe in forcing people to convert. This principle was challenged, however, when Christians came into power with the rise of Emperor Constantine, and the Roman Empire was "Christianized." Some church leaders such as Augustine suggested that the state might be justified in forcibly keeping people already in the church from leaving or causing divisions, though forced conversions of others were adamantly rejected. Augustine also urged the church not to boast against the Jews, but to remember that Christians were only counted among God's people because of the grace of God. Even Thomas Aquinas, the most influential theologian of the Middle Ages, argued against coerced conversions, allowing for certain freedoms for Jews to worship and raise their children as they saw fit.

Though the anti-Jewish work of Martin Luther has already been mentioned, what needs to be emphasized is that it was actually his pro-Jewish literature that had more of an influence until the Nazis came to power. His treatise That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew pointed out that Jesus was Jewish and condemned the horrendous behavior of many church leaders who had treated the Jews badly. Luther also argued that the death of Jesus should not be blamed on the Jews, but falls upon the shoulders of humanity in general. Unfortunately, Luther's treatise did not result in the influx of Jews into the church that he had hoped for, and when this disappointment was followed by being shown some exceptionally vulgar, anti-Christian writings disseminated by Jews, Luther responded with his anti-Jewish writings. These were not well-received, however, and they were repudiated by Luther's evangelical contemporaries and by Christians in the centuries to follow. In fact, near the end of the nineteenth century, the Lutheran theologian Friedrich Lezius accused Luther's anti-Jewish arguments of not being in the spirit of the New Testament and the Reformation. For him, true Christianity and anti-Semitism were utterly incompatible, a view shared by many church leaders during the past five hundred years.

The claim that "Christians have always hated and persecuted the Jewish people" is a sweeping statement that simply is not true since there have been many Christians who have loved the Jews.

On the flip side, Christians have been hated and persecuted by Jews in the past; does this mean that Jews have always hated Christians? Not only the New Testament (see e.g., Acts 7, 14, 17),but also the Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 43a, t. Hullin 2:22-23) and the Jewish historian Josephus refer to violent actions perpetrated by Jews against the followers of Jesus. In the first century, Jewish followers of Jesus were driven out, harassed and persecuted in other ways. In certain martyrdom accounts in the early church, Jews are described as actively siding against the Christians, even encouraging that they be put to death. On some occasions when Christians attacked synagogues, mobs of Jews would retaliate by attacking Christians. During the first thousand years of the Common Era, a whole body of anti-Jesus literature was created by Jewish leaders. The Jewish persecution of Christians is the other side of the story, and it often gets overlooked by Jews.

Until the modern State of Israel was founded, Jews were never in a position of power, so it's hard to tell how they would have reacted if the tables had been turned. Since 1948, there have been several incidents in Israel involving ultra-Orthodox Jews (called Haredim) where they acted against Christians. Some of them have perpetrated violence against Messianic Jews and sought to create legislation restricting the activities of these believers in Jesus. What do the Haredim say in response? "Don't' judge the whole community by the actions of a few!" This is exactly what I've been saying to you about the subject of "Christian" anti-Semitism!

Acknowledging that persecution of both Jews and Christians has happened during the past two thousand years is important, but it does not tell the whole story. The philo-Semites also need to be mentioned. There have always been followers of Jesus who have had a special love for the Jews, some who were even willing to die for them if need be.

This philo-Semitism can be found in all eras of the church. In the fourth century, Ambrosiaster affirmed that the Jews would be received with joy by God when they return to the faith, and Cyril of Alexandria in the fifth century declared that the Jews would be saved when the time was right. In the seventeenth century, several prominent Puritan leaders such as Samuel Rutherford, John Owen and Robert Leighton, expressed a special affection for the Jewish people and maintained that God's purposes would not be fulfilled without them. Nineteenth-century Bishop Moule expected a great revival in the universal church once the Jews have finally been gathered in, and Scottish Presbyterian Andrew Bonar referred to Israel as the "everlasting nation" and sang glorious praises in honor of the restoration of Israel. Philo-Semitism is a genuine expression of the ethos of the church whereas anti-Semitism is not since it contradicts the Word of God.

Are you aware that today there are Christians around the world who are utterly shocked to hear that any follower of Jesus could hate or persecute the Jews? I've had a few experiences of this myself when people found out I was a Jew. When I visited a home in Andhra Pradesh, India, the man of the family uttered a greeting that I will never forget: "You are the second Jew to come to my house. The first was Jesus Christ!" I met other Indian Christians on that trip who told me they fasted and prayed regularly for God's blessing upon Israel and the Jewish people, even though they had never actually met a Jewish person before me. In Kenya, I met a young Christian who was distributing tapes from America that encouraged followers of Jesus to pray for Jews worldwide.

I have a full arsenal of these very moving stories of personal encounters with Christians—in Korea and in Italy, Africa and Asia, the Ukraine and Finland and Sweden, and America—all full of love and concern for the Jewish people. In fact, an Iranian Christian I met in Maryland, who had been baptized by a Jewish Christian in Iran, said emphatically: "If someone hates the Jews, he is not a Christian." He is right.

The spirit of the true church is the spirit of philo-Semitism, not anti-Semitism. Whenever the church has faithfully sought a true expression of the New Testament faith, philo-Semitism has flourished and anti-Semitism has not gained a foothold. I would argue that it is no more possible to speak of Christian anti-Semitism than it is to speak of dry water or a godly murderer or a two-eyed Cyclops. The adjective "Christian" does not fit with anti-Semitism! That's why Bible-believing Christians are Israel's staunchest and most loyal supporters today.

Have Christians always hated and persecuted the Jewish people? Absolutely not! Get to know some real, sincere Christians and find out for yourself. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see how gracious and respectful they are toward you when they find out that you, like their Savior, are a Jew. If they want to share their faith with you, it's just an expression of love, their way of repaying their debt to you as a member of the Jewish people. How could they do anything less?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 124-145.

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The origins of anti-Semitism can be traced to the pages of the New Testament. From the negative depiction of the Pharisees to the charge of deicide, anti-Semitism is a Christian plague.

The fact that today anti-Semitism can be found in Islamic, communist and even Japanese societies, demonstrates that it is not a purely Christian phenomenon. Even a cursory examination of history shows that anti-Semitism predates Christianity. It existed in Egyptian, Greco-Roman, as well as the wider Mediterranean and Persian cultures centuries before Jesus arrived on the scene. The presence of anti-Semitism in the pre-Christian world was first mentioned in our own Hebrew Scriptures in the book of Esther. Haman's hatred for Mordecai expanded to a general hatred of the Jewish people, which resulted in a royal edict calling for the destruction of the Jews (see Esther 3:13). Another example of anti-Semitism that was recorded in Scripture happened after the return from the Babylonian exile,when the opponents of Israel pleaded Artaxerxes, King of Persia, to do something to prevent such a "rebellious people" from getting a foothold in the region again (see Ezra 4:12-15).

Anti-Semites through the ages have mined our own Scriptures to lend support to their characterizations of our people."Stiffnecked," "stubborn," "defiant," "wicked," "rebellious," "faithless," "disobedient," and "brazen" are descriptions of our ancestors drawn from passages in which either Moses or God is addressing Israel (e.g., Exod. 33:5a; Deut. 9:6; Deut. 31:27-29; Isa. 30:8-9; Ezek. 2:3-4a, 6b; 3:4-7). Why is it that Christianity gets the blame for being the source of anti-Semitism, when even more explicit passages can be found in our own Scriptures?

I can hear you protesting: "Yes, but those passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures depict inner-family conflicts; they are not meant to be heard by others.The New Testament, however, was designed to be read by Gentiles, and should not have depicted the Jews the way it did." The Hebrew Scriptures were meant to be shared with others as we brought the light of the Lord to them. In addition to hearing those difficult descriptions, Gentiles would also have heard that the Israelites were chosen, elect, loved and cherished by God, called to bring salvation to the world.

Are you aware of just how Jewish the New Testament really is? All of the authors, save one, were Jewish, and the New Testament contains about 330 direct quotations from the Tanakh and over 1000 allusions to the Hebrew Bible. If you want to understand the religious conflicts in the New Testament (e.g., healing on the Sabbath), you need to have a grasp of Jewish law and tradition. In fact, if you tried to remove the Jewishness from the New Testament, it wouldn't make any sense. From the opening genealogy in Matthew to the closing passage about heaven in Revelation, the New Testament is thoroughly Jewish. The New Testament continues the story of the people of Israel, describing them as deeply loved by God and chosen out of all the peoples of the world to bear the light of God to the nations. As part of this story, it acknowledges that this people tended to reject him and those he sends. For this reason, the New Testament echoes the lamentations of the prophets over God's people (e.g., Matt. 23:37-38, 24:2b; Acts 7:51-52; Rom. 9:1-4a; 11:1a, 11-12, 25-27).

While it is true that there have been many scholars (even Christian ones) who have claimed that the roots of anti-Semitism—and therefore the grounds for the Holocaust—can be found in the New Testament, there are many other scholars who disagree. The history of interpretation of difficult New Testament passages has not been straightforward, especially in the wake of the Holocaust, which has forced some very deep reflection on the matter by Jews and Christians alike. It is important that we carefully and honestly investigate this issue of anti-Semitism in the New Testament. We'll do that by looking at it in its original Jewish context, and try not to read it in light of later horrendous events like the Crusades or the Inquisition. Anti-Semitism seems to raise its head only when the New Testament is wrongly interpreted or misrepresented.

Let's take a look at some of the accusations that have been levied against the New Testament and see how they stand up.

First let's consider the claim that Matthew propagated the view that all Jews in all subsequent ages should be held responsible for the death of Jesus. In Matthew's Gospel, when Pilate wants to let Jesus go, the Jewish peoplecry out: "Let his blood be on us and on our children" (Matt. 27:24-25)! Sadly, this verse has been used to justify all kinds of terrible acts against our people. Far from being a verse that was simply written to spite those who rejected the Messiah, this verse had historical and cultural precedents in Judaism at that time. Since the crowd truly believed Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, they were willing to take responsibility for having him put to death. They were not calling down a curse on future generations; instead, they were taking responsibility for themselves (and those children standing by their side) for that particular decision being made there and then.

You might continue to protest the idea that Jews should bear any blame for the death of Jesus, claiming that this is just a myth that should be squelched. Why is it so difficult to admit that our people rejected Jesus (we have a long history of rejecting the Torah and the prophets) and participated in his demise? Neither the Talmud nor Moses Maimonides felt a need to hide the ways in which the Jewish court (the Sanhedrin) participated in the condemnation and handing over of Jesus to be killed (see b. Sanhedrin43a; t. Sanhedrin10:11; y. Sanhedrin7:16, 67a). It is a terrible tragedy that others have used this passage in Matthew to justify violence against our people, but that does not mean the passage itself is inherently anti-Semitic.

What about the demonization of 'the Jews' that seems to fill the pages of the Gospel of John? The Hebrew Scriptures use the phrase "the Jews" (hayehûdim in Hebrew) in several different ways. Sometimes this term means the "Judeans" (i.e., the inhabitants of Judea), while other times it refers the religious leaders (see Neh. 2:16). John uses the term in several ways too, sometimes referring to the population of Judea, while at other times referring only to the Jewish religious leaders who were hostile to Jesus; but he never seems to have all Jews in mind when he uses the phrase. Confusion over what is meant by "the Jews" can and should be addressed through more careful translation of the term. As for the harsh rhetoric that often accompanies this phrase in John's Gospel, it helps to be aware that this was typical of inter-Jewish debates in the first century of this era—both the Dead Sea Scrolls and Josephus are even harsher when referring to their opponents! Unless you're willing to admit that the latter are guilty of anti-Semitism, then you can't insist that the Gospel of John is anti-Semitic.

What about the depiction of the Jewish religious leaders, and especially the Pharisees, as snakes and vipers, thoroughly corrupt hypocrites, deserving of hell? I've just explained that harsh polemic directed against opponents can be found in other first-century Jewish literature, and this seems to provide yet another example. Even the Talmud, which was carrying on the traditions of the Pharisees, has some pretty harsh things to say against Pharisaic hypocrites (see b. Sotah 22b [with parallels in y. Berakhot 67a]), so it shouldn't be that surprising to find anger directed at hypocritical leaders in the gospels (see Matt. 3:7-10 and Matt. 23:1-37).

Here is the real question: Are these depictions accurate? In the Hebrew Scriptures, who was generally most vehemently opposed to the messages of the prophets? The political and religious leadership (see e.g., Jer.26 and Amos 7:10-17)! Why would a corrupt leadership view Jesus as a threat to their establishment? Jesus was clearly very charismatic—large groups of people followed him around, hung on his every word, and brought others to him to be healed (see Mark 6:53-56). It's not difficult to see why the religious leaders would have been jealous and fearful of Jesus' ability to attract others, and would have treated him with hostility. Many of Jesus' difficult encounters with the Pharisees sprung out of a genuine difference of interpretation of the Law, but sometimes Jesus could see that these debates only masked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and he wasn't afraid of telling them so (see e.g., Luke 13:15-17).

Granted, not all Pharisees or Jewish leaders are vilified in the New Testament writings—some are commended for being sympathetic to Jesus and even speaking on his behalf (e.g., Joseph of Arimathea). We also must not forget that Paul was a Pharisee and didn't try to hide this even after he became a follower of Jesus. While it is true that the word "Pharisee" has become synonymous with "hypocrite" in the English language, and that this has its roots in New Testament references, these references should not be blamed for the way they were later used to lend support to anti-Semitic activities.

I've shown that the religious hostility of Jewish leaders towards those who posed a threat to their establishment is not unique to the New Testament writings; it can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures, and it continued in the persecution of the earliest followers of Jesus (see 2.7). I would argue that this hostility is still alive and well among certain Jewish leaders even today—I have personally experienced their aggressive behavior because of my faith in Jesus, as have some of my friends. You've also probably heard that there is a strong movement to ban proselytizing in Israel. Aggressive behavior toward those who pose a threat to the religious establishment can be found in many societies: Islam, Christianity and Judaism have all been guilty of it. I don't find it hard to believe that many (though by no means all) Pharisees gave Jesus a hard time in his day.

Some people suggest that Paul provided support for anti-Semitism when he told the Gentiles that the Jews displeased God and were objects of his wrath, that they had killed both prophets and the Messiah, and that they were hostile to other people. This accusation is based on a quotation in one of Paul's letters to the Thessalonians (see 1 Thess. 2:14-16). Those new Christians were suffering persecution at the hands of their own people, and Paul was trying to comfort and encourage them by letting them know he had also suffered the same kind of treatment from his own people. The Thessalonians needed to realize that what was happening in their region had already been going on for a long time among the Jews since some Jews believed in Yeshua whereas others did not. In previous generations, the unbelieving Jews had attacked the prophets; in this generation, they had rejected and killed the Messiah, and now they were busy persecuting those who believed in Yeshua and were trying to keep them from speaking about Yeshua to the Gentiles.

It could be that Paul is referring in this passage to an even more specific group of Jews who were hostile to Jesus' followers: the Jewish leadership based in Jerusalem in Judea (in other words, "Jews" should be translated "Judeans"). Jerusalem and her religious leadership had a reputation for being hard on prophets and ignoring their calls to change their wicked ways. In either case, it seems clear that Paul is not speaking about Jews generally and in all times, but is thinking in terms of two groups—believers and non-believers. The same holds for Paul's comments about the wrath of God. This needs to be held in tension with his insistence that the irrevocable plan was for all Israel to believe and be saved. This was his constant prayer for his fellow Jews (see Rom. 10:1-2).

What about the New Testament accusations of deicide directed against the Jews? I challenge you to point out exactly where that accusation can be found in the New Testament, but I'll tell you right now that you won't find it! You might counter by arguing that since the New Testament maintains Jesus is God and accuses the Jews of killing Jesus, according to logic of the New Testament the Jews are guilty of killing God. Let's find out if this is true.

The New Testament is clear in attributing certain things to Yeshua: As Messiah, he willingly died to save us from our sins even while we were ungodly (see Rom. 5:6-8; 1 Cor. 15:3); the death of Jesus was ordained by God himself (see Rev. 13:8; Acts 2:23a); both Jews and Gentiles played roles in the death of Jesus (seeActs 2:23b; Acts 4:27-28); as he was being crucified, Jesus called out, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). This last statement deserves special emphasis since it demonstrates that Jesus never advocated avenging his death by punishing his own people. Jesus actually extended mercy to those who handed him over to be crucified, acknowledging that they did so out of ignorance (see Acts 3:17-20). Paul let his support to this statement during one of his synagogue sermons (see Acts 13:27) and proclaimed that Jesus came to forgive us all of our sins (Acts 13:38). This word of forgiveness is good news for all people!

What about the idea that Jesus is God? While the New Testament clearly depicts Jesus as a fully human, Jewish rabbi, it also refers to him as the Son of God; the mystery surrounding his divine nature is never removed. Jesus never explicitly claimed to be God, but instead spoke of God as his Father and as his God (see John 20:17), the same Father and God of those who were listening to him. It was only gradually, and after a great deal of reflection, that the followers of Yeshua began to understand more fully who he was. How do you hold two truths together: that God is One and that Jesus is God's Son? There is a common misconception among many religious Jews and Muslims that Christians worship three gods. While a careful analysis of the New Testament and of Christianity clearly indicates that Christians do not worship three gods, there's no easy way to describe God's tri-unity. Nowhere do the New Testament authors suggestthat when their fellow Jews called for Jesus to be crucified, they were killing God. When talking to fellow Jews, these authors tended to emphasize the humanity of Jesus, not his divinity (Acts 2:22-23; Acts 2:36; Acts 3:13; Acts 5:30). The New Testament simply does not accuse our people of deicide.

Finally, let us take a look at the idea that God had had enough of the Jews and decided to replace the "synagogue of Satan" with the "true Jews" and the "New Israel," i.e. Christianity. Although this doctrine—known as "replacement theology" or "supersessionism"—has been taught at different times by church leaders, it is an unbiblical concept. Paul never thought that God's purpose for the Jews was over, even though some of their hearts had been partially and temporarily hardened (see Rom. 9-11). Paul looked forward to the day when all Israel would turn back to God in faith. In the meantime, there would always be some Jews who would believe in Jesus as Messiah. Paul taught that the Gentile believers in Jesus were brought into the household of God along with the Jews—but they remained Gentiles. Though he did use certain phrases in relation to the Gentiles that had been used to describe Israel, Paul never equated the church with Israel, and he never said that Israel had been replaced by the church. Paul was building on the teachings of Jesus who envisioned the twelve tribes of Israel gathered around him in the world to come, and who expected his followers to believe the same (see Matt. 19:28; Acts 1:6-8).

Some people have interpreted Romans 2:28-29, in which Paul is describing the "true Jew," as presenting a contrast between Jews and Gentile Christians, when it is actually contrasting two kinds of Jews—those who are only "outwardly" Jews (circumcised in body) and those who are "inwardly" Jews (circumcised in spirit too). Paul declares that if physical circumcision is not also accompanied by a life of service to God, then that Jew is not really a Jew in God's sight.

What about the phrase "synagogue of Satan"? I'll grant that this has been used by anti-Semites against us, but it helps to look at its original context. The phrase appears only two times in the New Testament: Revelation 2:9 and 3:9. In both of these passages, Jesus uses this phrase to describe those who are actively persecuting his followers in the cities of Smyrna and Philadelphia who "claim to be Jews but are not." It could be that Yeshua is referring to a sect that really has no legitimate affiliation with the Jewish people, but it is more likely that Jesus is using the same kind of hyperbole that God himself uses in Hosea1:9-10 where he expresses his exasperation at his people's disobedience by speaking of them as if they were not his people.

The New Testament was written for a group (eventually called the "church") that was comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles gradually began to outnumber the Jews and, as a result, began to forget the Jewish roots of their faith (see 2.7). In time, some so-called Christians even began to treat the Jews with hostility, interpreting selected texts as anti-Jewish, which were also used to lend support to racial anti-Semitism eighteen centuries after they were written. I am deeply saddened that my sacred Scriptures have been so misused by so-called Christians, and I hope that more sensitive translations can prevent future misinterpretations and abuses.

As a Jew, I agonize over the fact that our people as a whole missed the Messiah when he came and instead turned against him. How awful it is! We broke the Sinai covenant over and over again, we rejected prophet after prophet, even killing some, and then we rejected the Messiah, delivering him up to be crucified. Both the church and the Jewish people have sinned! I see only one way to make things right: Let everyone who claims to be a Christian demonstrate it by showing the love of the Messiah to his own Jewish people, utterly repudiating even the slightest hint of anti-Semitism, and let every Jewish person turn back to Yeshua—our one and only Messiah—in repentance and faith.

In almost thirty years in the church, I have rarely, if ever, met a Christian anti-Semite. In fact, when I have described the ways in which anti-Semitism has been found in the church at different points in its history, and when I've explained that some Jews believe that the New Testament is anti-Semitic, the Christians I've been addressing have been utterly shocked. I hope I can convince you that at this critical point in history, it is the Bible-believing, New-Testament-reading Christians who are Israel's best friends. I know this is the opposite of what you have been taught, but it's the truth.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 145-175.

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Without the long, ugly history of Christian anti-Semitism, the Holocaust would never have occurred.

For the most part I agree with you. It's true that many so-called Christians and Christian leaders participated in the creation of the hostile atmosphere that led to the Holocaust; however, no Christian leader has ever tried to get rid of the Jewish people, and any anti-Judaism the church has expressed in its history is very different from Hitler's racial anti-Semitism. The true Christians were those who helped the Jews during the Holocaust, often risking their own lives (see 2.6 and 2.7).

Did you know that the fact that Messianic Jews believed in Jesus and attended churches made absolutely no difference to the Nazis and did not save them from the destruction of the Holocaust? All that mattered was that they had at least some Jewish blood in their veins. Nothing about the Holocaust was "Christian" in any sense of the word!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp.175-177.

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Why did God allow six million Jews to die in the Holocaust?

This is a deep and agonizing question, and there are so many different ways to analyze what led to the Holocaust. No one will ever understand the whole mystery; nevertheless, it is important to attempt to understand what God might have been doing (or not doing).

Although there have been a number of Jewish responses to the Holocaust, there are some general perspectives, which I will summarize below. These views were elaborated by Steven Katz (1975) and Yosef Roth (1998).

  • The Holocaust joins the long list of tragedies that continue to raise the age-old question of theodicy and the "problem of evil," but does not add anything new to the discussion.
  • The Holocaust is best interpreted using the Jewish doctrine of mi-peneihata'einu ("because of our sins we were punished"). In other words, the Holocaust is a just punishment for the sins of Israel. Exactly what sins are being punished varies, but the list includes failure to observe Torah and Jewish traditions, and attitudes to the establishment of the State of Israel.
  • The Holocaust is an act of vicarious atonement, and Israel plays the role of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.
  • The Holocaust should be understood as a "divine treatment" rather than punishment. It is redemptive in that it either leads to the end of exile and the establishment of the State of Israel, or because it helps cleanse impurity and prepare Israel for salvation. God cannot bring about evil, and some spiritual good can be found in every evil and act of suffering.
  • The Holocaust, like the sacrifice of Isaac (Akedah), is a test of faith.
  • The Holocaust is an instance of God turning his face away (hesterpanim), or a temporary "Eclipse of God."
  • The Holocaust proves that "God is dead," otherwise he would have intervened.
  • The Holocaust is a great exhibition of human evil—one of the consequences of human freedom. The evil capacity of humanity is highlighted by this event whereas God's existence or perfection isn't affected by it.
  • The Holocaust is a summons for Jewish survival and an affirmation of the identity and mission of the Jewish people.
  • The Holocaust is an instance of the "birth pangs of the Messiah," part of the time of suffering and upheaval which precedes the arrival of the Messiah.
  • The Holocaust is a mystery that transcends human understanding—the only appropriate responses are faith and silence.

Do any of these positions resonate with you? Do any of these positions repel you? Maybe you've got your own point of view. With every perspective, there is an imperative not to remain at the level of the abstract, but to speak as if to the victims of the Holocaust.

In the very beginnings of the Holocaust, before the massive loss of life could be factored in, Orthodox Jews were interpreting the growing restrictions set down by the Nazis as God's way of judging them for their failure as a people to keep the teachings and precepts of the Torah. Their perception had biblical foundations; they knew that willful disobedience of God's covenant would result in judgment and punishment. As Elie Wiesel notes, there was a similar response by many Jews as they entered the concentration camps; they assumed that they were there because they were being punished for their sins.

It is scriptural to view the Holocaust, at least to some extent, as an act of divine judgment. If we as a nation were in good standing with God, then why did such a terrible thing happen to us? I cannot believe that God was doing nothing during the Holocaust; there must have been an element of judgment. Even as I say this, I want to be very clear on one point: I am not saying that the Holocaust happened because Jews didn't believe in Jesus. That is not what I'm saying, and it is not what I believe. Why would God wait 1900 years to punish that particular sin? What I am trying to communicate here is that our people has a long history of forsaking God's laws and rejecting God's messengers and I think that this perennial disobedience resulted in our being removed from God's protection at that time in history. This observation begs the question, why was there such an extreme judgment, such an enormous degree of suffering at that particular time? Were the sins of the people significantly greater than they had ever been before?

What my reading of the Scriptures has led me to believe is that something more than judgment was happening in the Holocaust. I believe that we were being attacked by Satan, who had detected both our vulnerability in losing God's protection, and had seen that we were on the verge of re-gathering as a nation. For these reasons, he decided it was time to eliminate us. If he had succeeded, not only would he have stopped us from returning to our homeland, but he would have been able to have demonstrated God's untrustworthiness. I believe that because of their special calling by God, Jews found themselves in the middle of a cosmic, spiritual battle.

None of this excuses or downplays the human side of the Holocaust. We are still left with many questions about the nature of humanity: How could so many people have committed so many utterly inhuman, unspeakably evil acts? Is there any hope for us as a race if human beings have the capacity to do such terrible things? If so many could participate in cold-blooded murder, could it be that such ugliness exists potentially in all of us?

The answer to these questions, something that Christians hold as a core belief, is that human beings are essentially not good; by nature we are corrupt (see 1.10 and vol. 2, 3.20). Christians believe that we need to be saved because we are sinners. Not only do we harbor the potential for doing horrendous things, quite often we actually do them. All too often we tend either to deny or to downplay the seriousness of our sinfulness, and all too often we assume that we are still capable of improving ourselves, or that praying for forgiveness when we fall short will restore the balance. When we do this, however, wedeny the depth of the corruption in even the most "average" person, let alone the Nazi murderer. The Holocaust forces us to confront the question of how any of us can ever hope to be righteous, and I believe that in Yeshua we find the answer: God himself had to reach down into this deep pit of human evil in order to save us from our sins, including the sins of the Holocaust; without him taking this initiative, we would be totally lost.

One of the interpretations of the Holocaust presented in the list above had to do with the identification of the Jewish people with Isaiah's Suffering Servant who gives his life in atonement for sin so as to bring healing and wholeness to others. Respected author Rabbi Ignaz Maybaum has even suggested that the Holocaust represented the crucifixion of the Jewish people. He explains that in order to awaken the conscience of the Gentiles, the Jews needed to speak in the language of the Gentiles, the language of the cross, by collectively losing their lives for others, just as the individual Jesus had done. Through the sacrificial shedding of blood, the Holocaust was meant to reveal the mercy of God, encouraging the Christians to become Christian again, and thereby advancing human society.

This image points to the real key for understanding the tragedy of the Holocaust; however, it was not the Jewish people as a whole who fulfilled the role of Isaiah's Suffering Servant (see especially Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and see vol. 2, 3.15 and vol. 3, 4.10-4.22); it was Yeshua, the only truly righteous Jew. The suffering of the Jewish people points us back to the suffering and death of the Messiah, asking us to reinterpret that event.

The words of Basilea Schlink (originally Dr. Klara Schlink), the German Gentile Christian founder of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, overflow with anguish, concern, grief and repentance for the horrendous persecution of the Jewish people that took place in the Holocaust. She has taken the full weight of Germany's sin—including the sins of every professing Christian in the land—and she has confessed that sin, repented of that sin, and dedicated her life to making restitution for that sin. Schlink saw in the suffering of the Jewish people a reflection of her Savior, Jesus, the Messiah, and in response, she declares: "We as Christians are to hold in high esteem this people who bears such a close resemblance to Jesus. . . . It may well be that [God] often feels closer to His people Israel than to those proud Christians who believe in Him and yet refuse to acknowledge their guilt towards the Jews, their heartlessness in passing their brother in desperate need" (Schlink, Israel My Chosen People, p. 34).

Why is it that so many Jewish scholars and philosophers refuse to think of Jesus as Isaiah's Suffering Servant or to make concrete connections between Yeshua and the Jewish people? Jesus is like us. He knows our pain. He can identify with our sufferings. He understands intimately what it means to be left alone in this world, abandoned, and handed over to die a terrible death at the hands of wicked people.The identification is clear.

Although there are certainly similarities between the suffering of Jesus and that of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, there are also some profound differences. Whereas the Jews suffered unwillingly, Jesus willingly chose to suffer and to give his life as a ransom for us all (see Matt. 26:53-54; Mark 10:45; 1 Pet. 2:24). Furthermore, while we Jews suffered for our own sins, Jesus, being entirely guiltless, suffered entirely for the sake of others. Finally, whereas the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust has not brought healing but rather judgment on the nations that caused the suffering, the suffering of Jesus has brought healing to millions of people, both Jews and Gentiles, who have found mercy, forgiveness, deliverance, redemption, and restoration through his wounds. His shed blood has become a fountain of purification and cleansing to all who recognize his love.

Elie Wiesel describes a boy hanging on the gallows in the concentration camp, who died a slow, painful death. "Where is God?" people asked. Wiesel knew that the answer was that God was there, hanging on the gallows. While Wiesel's image of the boy on the gallows evokes sympathy, it does not offer any hope, unlike Jesus on the cross, whose suffering and death brings resurrection and life. The cross is a symbol of humiliation and pain, suffering and death, of being forsaken by God and human beings, and of sacrifice, atonement, and hope even for the worst of sinners. This image for which our Messiah is known, should draw—not repel—our Jewish people, especially in light of the Holocaust.

The suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust was not redemptive. It didn't save anyone, it didn't improve human nature, it didn't end wars or racial conflicts—it didn't even eradicate anti-Semitism which, in some places in the world, continues to build. The suffering of Jesus, however, has made and continues to make a profound difference. Not only does Jesus on the cross signify the wickedness of humanity and our inability to change without God's intervention, but it also demonstrates the grace and mercy of God who has chosen to provide what is needed to address human evil. In other words, Jesus is the Messiah that we need!

My hope is that you will be able to accept this profound connection between the suffering of Jesus and that of the Jewish people and realize that he is one of us! I pray that whatever burdens regarding the Holocaust (or life in general) you carry, you will be able to hand them over to Yeshua, so that he can offer you rest and genuine freedom in the presence of God.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp.177-196.

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The main reason Christians are so zealous to convert Jews to their beliefs is to legitimize their faith. The fact that Jesus' own people rejected him is a real problem to Christianity.

I have met a lot of Christians, and I can tell you that I've never met one who felt his faith needed to be propped up by getting Jews to believe in Jesus. In fact, most of them are not all that surprised that Jews as a nation rejected Jesus. Christians have read the Hebrew Scriptures and know that time and again Israel rejected God's messengers and God's law; why would they expect Israel to treat the Messiah any differently?

It is certainly encouraging when others come to accept your point of view, especially if they've previously scorned you for it. Christians and Messianic Jews rejoice when they hear that a Jew has been "born anew" through faith in Jesus as Messiah, especially if that person is an Orthodox rabbi or brilliant agnostic, but what would be the use of a faith that is utterly dependent on whether someone else believes or not? Followers of Jesus around the world endure great hardship—even to the point of martyrdom—without denying their faith; they remain believers whether or not the Jewish nation has accepted their Messiah.

Christians reach out to Jews because their love for their Jewish Messiah has led them to have a special love for the Jewish people, and they are saddened to know that many of his people have not recognized him as their Messiah. Many Christians are anticipating Jesus' return and know that a widespread recognition of Jesus by the Jewish people will be a powerful sign that his return is near. Most of the missionary time and energy goes into reaching the two billion people who have never even heard of Jesus, and despite the rumors you may have heard, most of the mission funding goes toward these causes, not toward Jewish evangelism.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp.196-199.

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Although Jews have been forced to hold public debates with Christians in the past, Jews have won every debate. You can even check the Christian records for verification.

Debates about Jesus have been going on since the beginning, and it is clear from the earliest records that the Messianic Jews were more persuasive. Paul and some of his co-workers debated publicly in synagogues, and they are described as baffling those who heard them (see Acts 9:22, 17:2-3, 18:28).

Granted, there were forced debates in the Middle Ages, which reflected badly on the church—I would be more than happy if the Jewish debaters had won over those so-called "Christian" leaders. The famous Barcelona debate between Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (Ramban or Nachmanides) and a Catholic Jew (renamed Pablo Christiani) is often held up as an example of Jewish debating victory—but why continually refer to that triumph, if there are supposedly so many others to choose from?

I have debated a number of rabbis and anti-missionariesabout whether Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah promised in the Hebrew Scriptures, and all of those debates have been made available for public access. I want Jews to be able to hear strong arguments made by both sides so that they can have what they need to make up their own minds about Yeshua. We have nothing to hide, and we believe that honest dialogue will lead to the truth. All too often those I have debatedare not willing to distribute those debates to others. What does this tell you?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 199-201.

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Within two generations, the Jewish followers of Jesus (under the influence of Paul) had largely given up their Jewish practices, setting a precedent that has remained the same right up until today: Jews who become Christians totally lose all connection to Judaism within two generations.

There were Sabbath-keeping, Hebrew-reading, Torah-revering Jewish followers of Jesus for at least the first four hundred years of church history. The prayer against the heretics, which became part of the synagogue service in 90 CE as a way of exposing Messianic Jews, proves that followers of Jesus were still attending synagogues more than sixty years after the Messiah's death and resurrection. Eventually, the Messianic Jews were kickedout of the synagogues by other Jews; they didn't leave of their own accord.

As the church gradually became overwhelmingly Gentile, to the point that the Jewish roots of the faith were ignored or forgotten, the Jewish believers (Nazarenes) began to be viewed with suspicion, precisely because they were holding on to the Torah, as well as the gospel; however, in spite of the difficulties presented by both the synagogue and the church, Messianic Jews steadfastly maintained their faith and their heritage for centuries.

There is no question that through the ages there have been Jewish Christians who have assimilated into the surrounding culture, but in the earliest days of the church, this was not the norm. In recent decades Messianic Jews have made aliyah to Israel, and their children and grandchildren have become deeply embedded in the society and have served in the military. Even in America you can find at least four generations of Jewish followers of Jesus.

It is sad that although many true Christians are beginning to rediscover and celebrate the Jewish roots of their faith, Jewish Christians still face the pain of ostracism and hardship from their own people. Those who accuse Messianic Jews of abandoning their heritage are actually driving them away through their hurtful words and deeds.

Have you ever considered the possibility that traditional Judaism may not be God's Judaism? It has rejected its Messiah and the followers of the Messiah. Perhaps you should reconsider what it means to be a true Jew and what it means to be faithful to our heritage.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 201-205.

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Just look at the church! Who's right? The Protestants, the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, the Mormons, the Messianic Jews? Even so-called Christians can't agree among themselves.

Ironically, you accuse the church of having numerous divisions even though there are many branches of Judaism. Although there are differing views, true believers all share the same fundamental beliefs.

Not everyone who calls himself a Christian is a real Christian. Some Christians are genuine believers while others are believers in name only. If you look at Christianity from the outside, the diversity seems to make it impossible to discern the real thing, but from the inside, it's easier to find the commonalities. The New Testament both warns about false believers and offers ways to discern the truly faithful from the fraudulent. Those who don't accept the fundamentals of the faith are not really Christians. These are some of the core Christian beliefs:

  • Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, and Savior not only of the Jews, but of the whole world.
  • Jesus lived a sinless life and died for our sins.
  • Jesus' sacrificial death provides the only acceptable means of forgiveness of sins.
  • Through faith in Jesus, even the worst sinner can find reconciliation with God and begin a transformed life.
  • True Christians are recognized by the good fruit their lives produce.
  • Those who believe in Jesus will live forever in heaven, while those who refuse to believe will spend eternity in hell.

Even when there are recognizably different "Judaisms," there are still certain core beliefs that unite them (i.e., one God, special calling of Jewish people, belief in the Torah, etc.). Let me point out that Messianic Judaism has always shared those same core beliefs. Even within a single expression of Judaism today you're going to find disputes over details and legal rulings—the same holds for the church: although believers may hold to the same fundamentals, there will still be differences of interpretation regarding other matters.

Across the world, no matter the background of the believers, you will find followers of Jesus gathered around the core beliefs. In fact, this unity of the church, which can only be described as supernatural, is one of the strongest signs that faith in the Messiah is warranted.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 205-208.

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Christianity is just another great world religion, like Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism. But it is certainly not the true Messianic faith and the only way to find God. In fact, I find it to be the height of arrogance that Jesus claimed to be the only way to the Father. This is small-minded conceit at its worst.

It may seem arrogant to you when you hear that the only way to be in right relationship with God is through Jesus, but let's reason this through. Doesn't it make sense that if there is only one God, one Creator of all things, that he alone would be justified in deciding how it is that people can be in right relationship with him? Couldn't it be possible that there is only one divinely ordained way to approach the Father? There may be all kinds of lovely customs and commendable teachings in the many religions of the world, but unless they are endorsed by God, they remain human creations. The truth of a religion is not based on the sincerity of its believers.

All religions cannot be equally true since they believe contradictory things. Islam believes there is only one God, while Hindus believe in many: Can they both be right? If some are wrong, then isn't it possible that one may be right?

Is it really more arrogant to claim that Jesus is the only way for people to get right with God than it is to say that Jesus cannot possibly be the only way? When you say that, you're declaring Christianity to be wrong. Either way, millions of people are sidelined as false believers. Don't we believe that we as a people have been uniquely singled out, specially chosen by God out of all the peoples of the world to bring his light to all? Why doesn't that represent the height of arrogance?

The real question is not who is being the most arrogant, but what grounds do we have for claiming that only faith in Yeshua can reconcile people to God? Yeshua willingly sacrificed himself to pay the penalty for our sins, thereby satisfying God's justice and securing eternal life for us. All religions seem to acknowledge that human beings have somehow fallen short and become alienated from God, and they describe many ways to address that problem, but apart from Jesus, there is no certainty that forgiveness of sins has been accomplished and our relationship with God has been restored. Without Jesus, there may be hope, but no certainty.

This perspective distinguishes Christianity from all other religions, and it is this good news of certain forgiveness and reconciliation with God that motivates his followers to introduce others to Yeshua.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 208-211.

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We dealt with Christianity 1900 years ago. There were great Jewish leaders alive in Jesus' day and in the decades following. They watched him, they watched his followers, and they rejected the whole thing for good reason. There's nothing to discuss.

Then what has led you to this site? Were you aware that many Jewish scholars are revisiting their old ideas about Yeshua? Did you know that throughout the centuries, there have been many Jewish leaders (even prominent rabbis) who have changed their minds about Yeshua and placed their faith in him as the Jewish Messiah? The fact is, our forefathers who rejected Yeshua made a wrong turn and got off track. Now, there's only one thing for you to do: Turn around!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 1, p. 211.

Theological Objections

  • Jews don't believe in the Trinity. We believe in one God, not three.

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  • If you claim that Jesus is God then you are guilty of idolatry!

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  • God doesn't have a son.

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  • Jesus was a false prophet because he taught us to follow other gods.

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  • The Holy Spirit is not the so-called Third Person of the Trinity.

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  • According to Isaiah 43:11, God alone is our Savior.

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  • Christianity emphasizes the creed; Judaism emphasizes the deed.

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  • The Scriptures clearly tells us that righteousness is better than sacrifice.

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  • The prophets indicated that God did not want blood sacrifices.

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  • The Torah offers other means of atonement, not just the shedding of blood.

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  • According to Proverbs 16:6, good deeds make atonement; who needs sacrifices?

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  • Sacrifices were for unintentional sins only.

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  • The book of Daniel teaches us that prayer replaces sacrifice.

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  • When Jonah preached, the people repented without sacrifices and God forgave them.

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  • God wanted the blood of a goat or a lamb, not human sacrifice!

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  • The blood had to be poured on the altar; Jesus' blood was not.

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  • Why do the prophets anticipate sacrifices when the Third Temple is built?

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  • The Christian concept of salvation is contrary to the Hebrew Bible.

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  • Jewish people don't need a middleman.

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  • Judaism doesn't believe in a 'fall' of the human race.

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  • Jews don't need to repent.

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  • Judaism doesn't believe in a divine Messiah.

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  • Judaism doesn't believe in a suffering Messiah.

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  • Judaism doesn't believe that the Messiah will come twice.

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  • Judaism is a healthy religion while Christianity is an unhealthy religion.

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  • Christianity is contrary to Torah as well as contrary to human nature.

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  • Fear of hell is the only thing that keeps many Christians from converting.

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  • Christianity damns all people who do not believe in Jesus.

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Jews don't believe in the Trinity. We believe in one God, not three.

Messianic Jews do not believe in three gods; we believe in only one God and this is non-negotiable. God is a mystery, and his being is beyond anything our finite minds can fathom. Allow me to explain what is and what is not meant when we say that God is "one." Jews and Christians alike are aware that there are different aspects to God's being. It is important for us to follow the Scriptures when we try to describe what God is like. Although the word "Trinity" is not something that can be found in the Scriptures, the concept behind it has been fashioned by putting together the different pieces of the puzzle of the scriptural depiction of God.

The Shema—"Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deut. 6:4)—is the most basic Jewish confession of faith. What is meant by the word one ('ehad) that is found in this confession? Messianic Jews understand this to mean a compound unity, while traditional Jews understand it to be an absolute unity. The word can mean a compound unity, though it doesn't have to; however, contra Maimonides, it does not mean an absolute unity. Most likely, Maimonides maintained that Jews have to believe that God is "only" one as a reaction to exaggerated Christian concepts of God as "three." His idea of absolute unity simply cannot be found in the Scriptures.

It might help to understand the meaning of 'ehad by looking at some other Scripture passages in which this wordis found. In Genesis 2:4, it is used in the phrase "one flesh," which occurs when a man is united to a woman; in other words, this use of "one" refers to a compound unity. In Exodus 36:13, the joining together of all the many pieces into the one Tabernacle is described by the word 'ehad. In 2 Samuel 7:23 and Ezekiel 37:22, Israel is described as one nation made up of hundreds of thousands of people. Other examples could be produced, but the basic point should be clear: To say that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is 'ehad does not tell us anything about his essential nature, whether he is three in one or ten in one.

God and Moses strictly warned Israel to ignore all the other gods worshipped by the surrounding nations and to worship YHWH, and only YHWH. This is the primary meaning of the Shema, and this use of the word 'ehad ("alone," "only") can be found elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., 1 Chron. 29:1). Certain medieval commentators, including Abraham Ibn Ezra and Rashbam, believed the Shema was emphasizing that "the LORD is our God, the LORD alone," or as Moshe Weinfeld entitles his discussion of the Shema, "Exclusive Allegiance to YHWH." This interpretation is also found in the midrash to this passage (see b. Pesahim 56a; Sifre Deuteronomy 31; Genesis Rabbah 98:4). The prophet Isaiah echoes this call to allegiance (see Isa. 44:8; 45:5a; 45:18; 45:22). In other words, this understanding of the word "one" is not primarily interested in the nature of God's being, but is meant to be a profession of faith.

"The LORD alone is our God" is something every follower of Jesus is able to affirm, but in addition to knowing that God is one, we want to know what the one LORD is like. Is there anything in the Hebrew Scriptures to indicate that God is one in a way that is similar to that of husband and wife, or Tabernacle, or nation—in other words, a compound unity?

Sometimes traditional Jews get so wrapped up in what they think Christians are saying when they speak about God as Trinity that it keeps them from taking a fresh look at what the Scriptures or the tradition say. Leave aside what Christians believe for a moment as we analyze together certain Jewish understandings of God. Are you familiar with the mystical concept of the ten Sefirot? This refers to divine emanations that help link the otherwise unknowable Creator to the earthly creation. In this sense, the being of God can be compared to a person and the many parts of his body, or to a tree with one central trunk and its many branches. In other words, in God, just as in these examples, there is both unity and multiplicity. The Scriptures describe God as demonstrating his presence in the cloud and fire over the Tabernacle and as sending his Spirit on his prophets, at the same time that he is in heaven. At the very least, we can affirm that God manifests his presence in various modes of being. There are other mystical ways of speaking about God's being. The Zohar explains that there are five different expressions relating to various aspects of the threefold nature of the Lord. These are all Jewish ways of speaking about the one God, the only God we worship.

The Hebrew Bible sometimes speaks about God in the plural. The first chapter of Genesis refers to God as 'elohim (which is a plural form). In this passage, God speaks about himself in the first person plural ("let us make man in our image, according to our likeness"). A similar address can be found in Isaiah 6:8 when God says, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Some followers of Jesus have considered these to be proofs of the Trinity; however, the rabbis have offered a different interpretation, pointing out that the plural noun in Genesis was followed by a singular verb (e.g."Let us make man," followed by "So God created" (bara', singular).

Other cultures in the Ancient Near East referred to their deities in the compound plural. Furthermore, it was common practice to speak of an owner or master in the plural. One biblical example of this can be found in Genesis 24, where Abraham speaks of his master by using the plural 'adônîm (lit. "lords"). (Other examples of this use of the plural when referring to a single person can be found in Gen. 39, Exod. 21, 1 Kings 1:11, Isa. 1:3, and Isa. 19:4.) There are also other references to God which use this compound plural (see Mal. 1:6; Ps. 8:2, 10; Deut. 10:17). Like other Semitic languages, Hebrew expressed concepts like "greatness, supremacy, exaltation, majesty and fullness" by means of compound plural nouns, even when referring to a single person or single deity. While these references to God or the Lord in the plural do not in any way prove Trinitarian beliefs, they are certainly in perfect harmony with everything we are trying to say here, namely, that in some way, the Lord's unity is complex.

Several explanations by Jews and Christians have been given for the use of the plural "we" or "us" (like that which can be found in Genesis 1: "let us make man in our own image"). Some have interpreted this as the Father speaking to Son and/or Spirit. Other interpretations include the Lord speaking to the angels or as God deliberating with himself. While these verses should not be taken as proofs of the Trinity, they certainly do not rule out such beliefs; they could refer to a plurality or diversity within God's unity.

Jesus, Peter and Paul all proclaimed the one and only God; they also declared Jesus to be Messiah and Lord, Son of God the Father and Creator (see John 17:3; Acts 2:22, 32, 36; 1 Cor. 8:4b-6; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; 1 Thess. 1:9-10). One of the main reasons Jesus was sent into the world was to draw people away from their idolatry to the worship of the one, true God.

The New Testament is definitely monotheistic, and it further clarifies the monotheism of the Hebrew Bible. The only true God is one, and yet his oneness is complex, unique, and beyond human understanding.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 3-14.

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If you claim that Jesus is God then you are guilty of making God into a man. You are an idol worshiper!

Is Jesus God or not? This question is paramount since the answer to it contains profound ramifications for how we should live our lives. I can see that looking from the outside, it may seem to you that what Christians claim about Jesus is not all that different from the way Hindus might describe one of their holy men or gurus, claiming him to be the personification of one of their gods, referring to him as a "god-man" and worshipping him in a way that should only be reserved for God himself. Of course, such a view is incompatible with Judaism, but I assure you that this is not what Christians believe about Jesus!

Let me start this discussion with a quote from a very famous Jew: "No one has ever seen God." Do you know who wrote this? He was known as Yochanan ("John"), and, as a faithful follower of Yeshua, he wrote what is now referred to as the Gospel of John. This phrase can be found right at the beginning of his book, and it is part of an explanation as to how all things came into being by means of the Word. He writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)

This passage describes a unique relationship between the Word and God. John says that this Word was not only with God, but also was God, and that all things were made through him by God. Does this idea of creation taking place by means of the word sound familiar to you? It should, since that is how Genesis describes creation as coming into being – everything was created through God's spoken word: "God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light" (Gen. 1:3). Of course, John's emphasis is slightly different. What is John trying to say about the Word?

Before we answer this question, we first have to ask, Why is God depicted as speaking everything into being, rather than simply doing it? In the first chapter of Genesis, God's word seems to have its own creative, dynamic force, a power and energy, a tangible release of God's divine life, an extension of God's nature, an expression of God's will. This sense of God's word having a mission and helping to carry out God's will is not confined to the creation accounts, but can be found elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 107:20; Isa. 55:10-11; Ps. 147:15-18). God not only communicates with us, but reveals himself by means of his word. Of course, God speaks to us through the written word, but God's word is more expansive than the written word. In other words, while the written word is the Word of God, it does not exhaust the Word of God.

The rabbis use the Aramaic word memra' (from the Hebrew and Aramaic root 'mr, "to say," which is used throughout the creation account in Gen. 1) to express the concept of the word of God serving as a link between the transcendent God and his creation. There are hundreds of occurrences of memra' in the Targums (Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Scriptures which were used in synagogues where the people no longer understood Hebrew before, during, and after the time of Jesus). The word memra' was often added to biblical passages which reference God. For example, while Genesis 3:8 says that Adam and Eve "heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden," the Targum says, "And they heard the sound of the Word of the Lord God walking in the midst of the garden."

Another important example can be found in Genesis 28:20-21, in which Jacob says, "If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God." The Targum has Jacob saying, "If the Word of the Lord will be with me . . . then the Word of the Lord will be my God." Because these translations were used officially in the synagogues, they shaped the way the people heard and understood various passages and had a lasting effect on their religious life. Week in and week out, the people heard about this walking, talking, creating and saving Word, who was Jacob's God.

If one were to substitute memra' for "word" in the opening passage from the Gospel of John quoted above, one would easily see just how Jewish the passage sounds. John was a Galilean who wrote in Greek; he therefore used the word logos for "word" since he had grown up hearing the Aramaic Targum with its constant emphasis on the memra' as an active link between God and human beings.

Philo of Alexandria, the most well-known Jewish philosopher of his day, roughly contemporary with Jesus and John, made great use of the term "logos," which was understood to be a kind of mediating principle between God and human beings, an aspect or half-personal emanation of God. He even spokeof the logos as "the second god" and explained that human beings were actually created in the image of the logos, since nothing created could directly resemble God himself. Philo also referred to the logos as "firstborn" (protogonon), "archangel," "Name of God," and "governor and administrator of all things," stating that the "Divine Word" (theios logos) is the "chief" of God's powers (Hurtado, One God, One Lord, 45).

One of the main differences between Philo and John, however, was that John emphasized that the Word was able to live among us as a human being. According to John, God is very near to us through his logos, who became man. The Memra/logos is an extension of the Lord himself—in one sense God and in another sense with God— who came down from heaven to dwell among us. At the same time, God reigns on high and controls the universe, and did not exhaust his presence in the person of Jesus. In short, God is known personally through his Word, who became a human being, but God thereby did not cease to be God in heaven.

This may seem difficult to understand, but so do the Rabbinic concepts of Memra, Shekhina and Sefirot—all of which remind us that God cannot be comprehended by our finite minds.

John 1:14 reads: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (lit. "pitched his tent") among us." There are many connections between this concept and the claim that God dwelt in the Tabernacle and Temple. Solomon built his magnificent structure as a dwelling place for God, though he knew that God could not be confined to that building or any other space on earth, yet God promised to dwell ("pitch his tent") among his people (Exod. 25:8; 2 Chron. 6:1-2) in the Tabernacle and the Temple. John understands Jesus to be the fulfillment of these promises.

The Talmudic rabbis, Jewish philosophers and medieval mystics all wondered how Almighty God could dwell in our midst. Followers of Jesus answer this question by saying that God came to us through his Word, Yeshua, the Son of God. Just as God could be in his Temple, so he could be in his Son, filling them both with his glory and revealing his glory through both of them. Just as the glory of God filled the Tabernacle and Temple, without in any way emptying, depleting or lessening God, so also his glory fills his Son, without in any way emptying, depleting or lessening him.

John makes a point of saying "no one has ever seen God," but then tells us that Jesus has made God known to us (John 1:18). Other passages in the New Testament emphasize this point. The fullness of the Father fills Yeshua (Eph. 1:22-23) and he represents God's being (Heb. 1:2). Jesus told his first followers that if they knew him, they would know his Father also, and that because they had seen and known him, they had seen and known the Father, too, for the Father was living in him and he was living in his Father (John 14:7-11). In other words, whoever has seen the Son has seen the Father.

The Hebrew Scriptures raise the following question: How can a human being see God and live? In Exodus 33:20, God tells Moses, "You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live," but just a few chapters earlier, Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy elders had gone up Mt. Sinai where they "saw the God of Israel. . . . God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank" (Exod. 24:9-11). How do you explain this apparent contradiction?

Abraham Ibn Ezra calls this encounter a prophetic vision, but this still does not explain why they went up the mountain, why only Moses was allowed to go closer, and why God didn't respond as expected when they saw him. There seems to be something more going on here than just a vision.

The Targum adds the word "glory" to the text so that instead of seeing God himself, they saw "the glory of the God of Israel." The Talmud (b. Sanhedrin38b) explains that Moses and the people did not see God himself, but saw Metatron, chief of the angels. In an attempt to preserve God's glory, the Talmudic interpretation of this passage reads, "Come up to Metatron whose name is YHWH." Is this any less problematic?

One might counter that Exodus 3 equates seeing an angel with seeing God. Targum Onkelos finds Exodus 3:6 too direct, and instead of the textual "Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God," it prefers the reading, "Moses was afraid to look at the glory of the Shekhina of the Lord." But this is similar to how the Targum presents Exodus 25:8, which, instead of saying "I [God] will dwell in their midst," replaces "I" with "my Shekhina." There does seem to be a blurring of the distinction between God and his angel (messenger) here, as in numerous other biblical passages. Another example of this is Genesis 32:24-30, where Jacob is described as wrestling with an angel, but expresses his surprise at still being alive after having seen God face to face. Is it any surprise that the Targum describes Jacob as seeing an "angel of the Lord," rather than "God" himself?

Angels are often portrayed as creating links between God and creation, but they can also appear as the personification of [God's] self-manifestation, as the concrete, visible, embodiment of the glorious God, especially when the passage emphasizes that this is a different kind of angel, one that is particularly identified with God. All of these interpretations of Scripture seek to provide a way of explaining how the Almighty can interact with his creation.

The various rabbinic explanations for "seeing God" can be synthesized into the following formula: "[God] dwells in our midst by his Shekhina, his glorious Presence, and he reveals himself to us through his angel, who bears his name. Seeing him is like seeing God, just not directly."

That's a good summary, but it is not in accordance with what the texts themselves say. Unless the angel is somehow more than an angel, what the person is seeing is an angel, not God. None of the angels in the Bible are ever referred to as "the Lord"—unless the messenger in some way really is the Lord. God did not just say that his Shekhina would dwell with the people, he said that he would.

The Bible makes a definite distinction between seeing the glory of God and seeing God himself. Traditional translators problematically substitute "glory" for "God." Scripture says that it is impossible for people to see God and live. The dilemma is that either the interpretation seemingly has to deviate from what the text says, or people have actually seen God and have lived to tell about it, even though Scripture says that to see God is to die!

The only sufficient answer to this problem of "seeing God" is that it was the Son who was seen by these people. This is how John explains it: "No one has ever seen God; but the only unique Son, who is identical with God and is at the Father's side—he has made him known" (1:18, JNT). The Messiah is the visible representation of the invisible God, the living manifestation of the glory of the Lord. He alone is distinct from God the Father and simultaneously bears the presence of God within him in a way that is qualitatively different from the way any of the other angels bear God's presence.

As we continue to think through this problem of "seeing God," let's consider the story in Genesis 18, which tells the story of Abraham's reception of the three visitors. The Hebrew text says that the Lord (YHWH) appeared to Abraham, and Abraham addressed him as "Lord," yet a few verses later, it says that Abraham looked up and saw three men. Some Christians interpret this as a representation of the Trinity, but that's problematic in that it allows for a human being to see the Father, which is unbiblical, and it also pictures God as three separate people, which is also completely contrary to the biblical understanding of God. Only one of the three visitors is addressed as Lord ('adônay), though traditional translators translate this as 'adônî or "my lord."

According to the Talmud, the three visitors are the angels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. One of the problems with this view is that the text does not say that these angels replaced or represented the Lord. After their visit to Abraham, the text says that two of the men went on to Sodom (where they are identified as angels), but the one who stayed behind is referred to as YHWH several times. Scripture indicates that the Lord, accompanied by two angels, visited Abraham, and that all three appeared as human beings who ate and drank with Abraham and Sarah. The men went on to Sodom, but the Lord stayed with Abraham.

The one addressed as Lord and referred to as YHWH in the text, announced the promise of the child and declared that he would return in a year. It is with YHWH that Abraham conversed and interceded with on behalf of Sodom. The Lord somehow appeared in human form and spoke and dined with Abraham and Sarah. At the same time, it is assumed that all the while God was still in heaven. According to this text, God is clearly capable of coming to earth in human form for a period of time if he so desires. If he can do this for a few hours in a temporary human form, why couldn't he adopt a permanent human form and be on earth for a few decades? This is what theologians call the Incarnation, God coming down to earth as a man in the person of his Son. In the words of a rabbi I once met, Jesus was like a "walking Shekhina."

The idea of God being present to us in the form of his Son clarifies a number of difficult passages in Scripture in which God is seen, yet not seen. Moses and the elders cannot see the unseen God, but they can see God's Son. When Gideon and Manoa see an angel of the Lord, who is somehow identified with the Lord, they see the Son. There's no need to conjure up Metatron to account for the one who bears the name of God; it's the Son. While Jesus never referred to himself as God, he did identify himself as God's Son,and as the Son, Jesus is the one in whom the fullness of God dwells in bodily form. Far from undermining the Hebrew Scriptures, this claim actually creates possibilities for answering questions which the Targums, the Talmud, and the rabbinic commentators all struggle to answer.

Part of what it means to be the Son of God is to have a relationship with the Father before the world had even come into being. There are references to this characteristic throughout John's gospel (see 1:30, 8:23, 17:3-5, 16:27-28). This idea of a pre-existent Messiah who would come down from heaven is not foreign to traditional Jewish sources (as I explain elsewhere).

The Messiah is divine inasmuch as he is the Son of God, and he is human since he took on human nature and become a man. As such, he was able to act as the mediator between God and humankind. In order to save and deliver us, he needed to become one of us, but he also needed to be greater than us in order to save us.

The Shekhina is one of the most important rabbinic ways of explaining how the infinite and transcendent God could be present to his people in this world. The rabbis believed that since the destruction of the Temple, the Shekhina has accompanied God's people in their wanderings across the world, sharing with them in their suffering, and longing to have them reunited in the Holy Land. The rabbis are willing to say that God is experiencing a sort of internal "disunity" until his people are fully restored. When that happens and the people of Israel are gathered together again and have experienced spiritual renewal, then God's unity will be complete again. There is a similar concept in the New Testament which affirms that the Son went out from the Father to be joined to us and that he will return to earth; on the day that happens, God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:27-28).

The next time someone tells you that because God cannot be a man, Jesus cannot be God, you can answer with confidence: "Of course, God is not a man. But he can reveal himself in and through a man." There's nothing idolatrous about that.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 14-37.

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God doesn't have a son.

Followers of Jesus believe that the Son of God is divine and eternal, not created. We believe that he became a human being and was known as Yeshua/Jesus the Messiah. When the term "Son" is used as a designation for Jesus, it is used in a special way. It does not literally refer to the offspring of a male and a female, and does not designate the type of relationship Israel, the king, and the angels enjoyed with God. I want to explore what this term means in its wider biblical use and in relation to Yeshua.

Semitic languages allow for the word "son" (Hebrew ben, Aramaic bar, Arabic ibn) to carry several different meanings; it can refer to both literal and metaphorical offspring (physical son or descendants; followers or disciples). The Bible refers to the Israelite king as the "son of God," indicating divine adoption. The people of Israel are called God's (firstborn) son, as are individuals within the nation who prove themselves obedient to God. The angels are also described as "sons of God" (benei 'elohîm) and share in some of the qualities of God that humans don't have, such as a spiritual nature rather than a spiritual-corporeal composite nature.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, when someone is called "son" in reference to God, they are understood to have a specific, God-given mission. Since God is the giver of the mission, he is understood to be "Father." This is one of the meanings behind Jesus' designation as Son of God; with Israel, he shares in God's special calling to introduce the God of Israel to the world.

Jesus also shares much with the Davidic kings of Israel, who are described as sons of God. It is important to note that there is a mixture of both adoption and "giving birth" or "begetting" implied in the title when it is used for kings. Psalm 2:7 uses the phrase 'anîhayyômyelidtîka to describe the origin of the king. (Yalad is the standard Hebrew verb used for a woman giving birth to a baby or a man fathering a child.) Some Christians accept this verse as a direct prophecy of Jesus; others note the connotations for Israel's kings in general, keeping this in mind when it comes to Jesus' special designation. The praise, reverence and obedience that are owed to earthly kings (who do not merit as much honor as the Messiah) are minor reflections of the praise, reverence and obedience that are owed to God. Clearly God's son is understood to be a highly exalted and praiseworthy figure.

All the words in the Hebrew Scriptures associated with worship or adoration of God are also used in reference to the Messiah, the Davidic king. For this reason, the New Testament explains that the same honor is to be given to the Son as to God himself (John 5:23-24; Rev. 5:13). This is in keeping with the respect shown to the Davidic king, and fulfills the promises inthe Psalms that one day, everyone would give glory to God and to his Messiah, the anointed one.

The Midrash Tehillim interprets several psalms and prophecies referring to the Davidic king in ways that have interesting implications for the characteristics of the Messiah. Psalm 2 speaks of a "decree" which leads God to speak of his "son" whom he has "begotten." The rabbis connect this decree to Exodus 4:22, declaringthat just as Israel is described as God's firstborn son, so is the Davidic king God's son. Even though there is no explicit reference to "son" in Isaiah 52:13 and Isaiah 42:1, in which God is introducing his "servant," the rabbis still draw a connection between the king and the Messiah in what they refer to as the "decree of the Prophets." The third decree, the "decree of the Writings," interprets Psalm 110:1, in which God says to the king, "Sit at my right hand." Jesus made use of this very same psalm to explain that he was more than just David's son, since David had acknowledged him as "my lord" (see Matt. 22:42-45). Finally, Daniel 7:13 is connected to sonship since it refers to the exaltation of one "like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven"; the rabbis understand this exalted figure to be the Davidic king, the son of God.

All of these texts are commonly used by those who want to point to the uniqueness of Jesus the Messiah, and it is interesting that the rabbis have grouped them together, tying them in with the Davidic king and calling him theson of God. In fact, Rabbi Yudan states explicitly that the words "You are my son . . ." refer to the Messiah. Although some of the good kings in the line of David were justly referred to as "son of God," it is only Yeshua who fulfills all of the expectations expressed in those passages; he alone sits at God's right hand, isworshiped and adored by people of every nation and tongue, refersto himself as both "Son of man" and "Son of God," and promisesa glorious return in the clouds of heaven. In other words, everything that was prophesied in the Tanakh about the Davidic king, the one anointed (mashîah) by the Lord, is fulfilled in Yeshua.

Occasionally, the Hebrew Scriptures (see Ps. 45 and Isa. 9) refer to the anointed king as God ('elohîm). Although rabbis have often attempted to side-step the awkward implications and maintain that the phrase must refer to God himself, the most natural translation of verse six (seven) is "Your throne, O God," which is not spoken to God, but to the earthly king! It was only later that this phrase was applied in the full sense to Jesuswho, as the Davidic Messiah, was also'elohîm.

When Jesus the Messiah came into the world, these psalms (which were spoken at the installation of a new king) werefinally fulfilled. God's Son, who was really God himself ('elohîm), was also David's lord. The royal psalms served two functions: (1)they referred to the kings, the earthly sons of David and (2)they are Messianic prophecies, which are only fulfilled by Yeshua. Only when these two truths are held together is justice done to the Hebrew Bible and to history.

Isaiah 9 announces the arrival of a Davidic king whose kingdom would last forever. Though this passage can refer to one of the earthly kings, most interpreters, whether Jewish or Christian, have also understood this to be a Messianic prophecy since none of the earthly kings wholly fulfilled all that the passage promises. I believe that the psalmists and the prophets were sometimes inspired by the Spirit to speak of each Davidic king as if he were the Davidic king, painting a picture for us of who the Messiah would be and what he would do, which gives these texts both an immediate and an ultimate application.

Most of the titles given to the child promised in Isaiah 9 can be explained as somehow appropriately bestowed on a human being, but to speak of a human being as "Mighty God" is difficult to explain. The Targum, with a few grammatical twists and turns, attempts to read all of the titles as referring to God, instead of to the child. But the Talmud (b. Sanhedrin94a) and Abraham Ibn Ezra use the more natural interpretation, assuming that all were meant for the child. Ibn Ezra, however, believed the passage was referring to Hezekiah, translating "Mighty God" as "strong one" or "warrior." The fact that he ignored the 'el of 'el gibbôr altogether, shows hesitation on his part to bestow this title on a human being. Ultimately, this passage points to Jesus.

The Hebrew Bible shows us that the title Son of God would be used in a unique way when applied to the Messiah: he would have divine qualities and in some sense, could really be called divine. Jesus' designation as Son of God is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Some people claim that Christians have simply borrowed a pagan myth to come up with the idea of the virgin birth of Jesus, but this is simply not true. Jesus is called the Son of God because he came forth from God the Father and was born to a young Jewish virgin, because he had an intimate and unique relationship with his Father, and because he was the Davidic king. Theologians have attempted to explain the complex implications of Jesus status as God's son, such as his simultaneous oneness with the Father and his distinction from the Father. There are truths that are above our minds, but this only makes the whole thing even more awesome. In himself, Jesus is perpetually uniting God and man.

Proverbs 30:4 poses a riddle: "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? . . . Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!" I know who it is; do you?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 38-48.

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According to the Law (Deut. 13), Jesus was a false prophet because he taught us to follow other gods (namely, the Trinity, including the god Jesus), gods our fathers have never known or worshiped. This makes all his miracles utterly meaningless.

Those who carefully read the New Testament are forced to conclude that Jesus' whole ministry (and the mission of his followers) was to honor and bring glory to the God of Israel. Jesus was not a false prophet; he directed all people to the Lord.

Jesus' miracles introduced people to the mercy and power of the one true God, as this passage from Matthew's Gospel attests: "The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel" (Matt. 15:30-31).

Jesus' teachings also brought glory to God. When asked regarding prayer, Jesus answered: "This, then, is how you should pray: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. . ." (Matt. 6:9-10). Jesus maintained that his whole life was meant to show people the way to God: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Those who recognized Jesus for who he truly was offered praise to the God of Israel for keeping his promises, as did Zechariah, the father of John the Immerser, who proclaimed: "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago) . . ." (Luke 1:68-70).

Does this really sound as thougha new idolatrous religion was being propagated?

The writings of the Jewish followers of Jesus recorded in the New Testament always direct their audiences to the God of Israel and explain how Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, offers to bring Jews and Gentiles into an intimate relationship with God. The mission of those who have been called to follow Jesus is to make the one true God known throughout the world.Were you aware that there are more than 1200 references to God (the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in the New Testament? Have you fully taken in the fact that Jesus is the most successful and effective Jewish Prophet who has ever walked the earth? Because of him, hundreds of millions of Gentiles now love, adore, worship and serve the God of Israel.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 48-52.

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The Holy Spirit is not the so-called Third Person of the Trinity.

Rather than rehearse again the arguments about the Trinity (see 3.1), I want to focus on a single question: Is the Holy Spirit just an abstract power, or is there some way in which the Spirit is also a "who"? In other words, do the Hebrew Scriptures depict the Spirit as having personality?

The Hebrew word ruah (Greek pneuma) can mean "breath" or "wind," as well as "spirit." "Spirit" is used in the Scriptures to denote personal demonic beings, angelic beings, and inner attitudes, emotions, or will in human beings. The Scriptures also claim that just as there is a human spirit, there is a divine Spirit.

The Scriptures certainly do speak about the divine Spirit in terms of "what"— something that people can be "filled with" or something that can be "poured out"—but there are other places in which the Spirit is understood to be the means by which God personally interacts with human beings. The Scriptures speak of the Spirit instructing, grieving, and being rebelled against; in other words, the Spirit also has personality, and is not just a power.The psalmist says that "God dwells among us by means of his Spirit" (Ps. 139:7). This raises the question of how God can be enthroned in heaven, but also intimately involved with human beings here on earth.

When the Scriptures refer to the "Spirit of God" do they mean the same thing as when they refer to "God"? I would say, yes and no. This Spirit, who can be grieved or angered and can instruct, must have personality; however, the Scriptures speak of the Spirit of God—i.e., God's very Spirit, not a separate being. The Holy Spirit accompanied the people of Israel during their wilderness wanderings, manifesting himself in the cloud by day and the fire by night. In fact, there are more references to the Spirit in relation to the exodus than anywhere else in the Hebrew Scriptures—the Spirit of the Lord was clearly very close to his people during that time.

Another thing associated with the Holy Spirit is God's speech: "The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue" (2 Sam. 23:2). The Spirit puts plans for the Temple into David's mind (1 Chron. 28:11-12) and the Spirit of the Lord comes upon Ezekiel, telling him what to say (Ezek. 11:5). These acts of speaking certainly indicate that the Spirit should be understood as a someone, rather than simply something. Rabbinic literature also has a number of instances in which the Spirit is depicted as speaking, announcing, crying out, rebuking and even serving as counsel for the defense (e.g., Talmud m. Sotah 9:6; b. Sotah 46a; b. Pesahim 117a; Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer 31; Yalkut Reubeni 9d to Gen. 1:26; Lam. Rab. 3:60 9; Lev. Rab. 6:1). In all these citations, which can be easily multiplied, there can be no question that we are dealing with a "who," not just with a "what," with a personal dimension of God, not an impersonal power, with God himself, and yet with a "separate" entity who can mediate between God and human beings.

Similarly, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is depicted as empowering, anointing, filling, and leading his people. The Holy Spirit is given to the disciples and speaks through them, just as the Spirit spoke through the prophets. The Holy Spirit is poured out, just as Joel promised, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Spirit now lives within God's holy people, fulfilling the words of the prophets of old. Just as the Hebrew Bible teaches that whatever is done to the Spirit of the Lord is done to the Lord himself, so it is in the New Testament:Paul urges people not to grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and Jesus warns against blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29).

The word "Messiah" means simply "anointed one." Jesus had a special anointing by the Holy Spirit, and his followers would also be similarly anointed, gifted with special qualities and supernatural abilities (see 1 Cor. 12:7-11; Gal. 5:22-23). Just as Ezekiel prophesied (see 36 and 37), God has given new life by placing his Spirit in us, which helps us remain faithful to God's ways and enables us to truly experience the joy of the Lord. There is much more talk about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament than in the Hebrew Scriptures since the Messiah has inaugurated the first stage of the Messianic age, a period of special activity on the part of the Spirit which fulfils the prophecies and promises spoken through Moses and Joel and Ezekiel (Num. 11:29b; Lev. 26:12; Ezek. 37:27; Joel 2:28-29; 2 Cor. 6:16b-18).

I think the most important question to be asked about the Holy Spirit is not whether it should be described as the Third Person of the Trinity (a reference not found in the New Testament), but whether the New Testament portrayal of the Spirit is in harmony with that of the Hebrew Scriptures and has common ground with later Jewish traditions. The evidence is very compelling: in the New Testament the Spirit is as much a "who" as a "what," which reflects the depiction of the Spirit in the Hebrew Bible. There is no good reason why any religious Jew should have a problem with what the New Testament says about the Spirit.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 52-59.

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According to Isaiah 43:11, God alone is our Savior. We don't need or recognize any other saviors.

If you check your Hebrew concordance, you'll see that the word môshi'a (savior) can be found more than thirty times in the Bible, and almost every one of those references is to someone other than God (e.g., Moses, judges, kings). Yes, God alone saves us; however, he saves us through others. Both traditional Judaism and the New Testament acknowledge that God has promised that the Messiah would be the ultimate Savior. This is why the Amidah (or ShemonehEsreh), a prayer asking God to save his people through the Davidic Messiah, continues to be recited.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 59-60.

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We are righteous by what we do, not by what we believe. Christianity is the religion of the creed, Judaism the religion of the deed.

I think you'll find that trying to separate faith and works as neatly as you suggest is an impossibility—they are totally interrelated, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament. Why would anyone want to keep the commandments if he didn't already trust in the God who gave them? Conversely, who would want to cease living a godly life once he had known for himself the goodness of God?

Paul was very careful to explain that we are incapable of establishing our own righteousness and bringing about our salvation through our own good works, and yet he still emphasized the need to do good. In fact, he insisted that it is only because of faith—trust and dependence upon God's mercy—that we are able to show love for others through acts of service (Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 3:4-10). It is when we look upon God's goodness that we are able to be good ourselves. When we place our trust in him, he can begin to transform our lives, guiding us along his way, helping us to live as his children according to his commandments. Our faith is demonstrated in what we do.

Paul is not advocating a new teaching, but is merely emphasizing patterns found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Take Abraham for example; Genesis 15:6 explains that it was because he believed that God would keep his promises that God consideredhim righteous. Our relationship with God begins by faith, and every righteous person in the Bible has been a believer first and a doer second.

Before God gave the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, he delivered them from Egypt, helping them to see that he was the only true God, the one who could be completely trusted. Before the Ten Commandments start emphasizing "doing," they command "believing" by describing the God who expects and is worthy of full obedience.

Some might think that Deuteronomy 6:25 is all about doing, but if you take a close, careful look, you'll see that before any commandments are issued, there is a rehearsal of all the great and wonderful things God has done. Before parents tell their children what they are to do to please God, their children need to know that they can trust God and that the God whom they are to obey is worthy of their ultimate allegiance. In other words, the God of the Law is prior to the Law of God.

A very important part of the Law of God was the sacrificial system for establishing atonement. Can you imagine an Israelite assuming he could ignore the sacrificial rites or Day of Atonement and still be considered righteous? No, the Torah includes both a means for forgiveness and instructions for how to live righteously. Forgiveness and the re-establishment of one's relationship with God make possible a life of good deeds.

It was unbelief that led to Israel's disobedience, which in turn led to judgment and disaster. In the wilderness, the people failed to trust God and Moses, which is why they created the golden calf. Because the people failed to trust that God would bring them into the Promised Land, a whole generation had to die before the people were allowed to enter. Even Moses was refused entrance into the land because of his failure to completely rely on God. The intrinsic relationship between faith and deeds cannot be stressed enough.

The New Covenant acknowledges our inability to keep the Law and our constant failure to live righteously before God.  It proclaims the good news that the Messiah has come to put things right between us and God by paying for our sins, taking away our guilt, and cleansing us, so that we can once again do the will of God. Christianity is known as a religion of good works because these works are rooted in a renewed faith in God through Jesus the Messiah.

Much discussion has centered on Habakkuk 2:4, which raises the question of the number of commandments God gave the Jewish people (see Makkot 23b-24a). From 613, the number is eventually reduced to Habakkuk's one: "And the righteous will live by faith"; Rav Nachman bar Yitzhaq maintains that this summarizes all the commandments. The context for this passage from Habakkuk emphasizes the need for the people to maintain their faith in God, even in the midst of judgment. While they were waiting to be rescued from their time of exile, they were to continue to trust that God could be relied upon to keep his promises to bring about justice. Faith, righteousness and obedience to the Torah go hand in hand!

The creed leads to the deed, and it is the combination of faith and works that produces a life that pleases God. Of course, there are times when Christianity stresses correct belief so much that little emphasis is placed on living it out, and there are times when Judaism is so intent on the commandments that it neglects to foster a living faith in God, but these attitudes are to be avoided and the biblical visionof the interrelationship between faith and works adopted.

One more point: It is not only Christianity, but also Judaism that has placed an emphasis on creed. There have been Jewish martyrs who have died because they refused to deny the Shema. Furthermore, Jews have been reciting Maimonides' Thirteen Principles on a daily basis for centuries. Of course, Judaism has always recognized the importance of grace and mercy; it is not merely a religion of works. We would be nothing as a people were it not for God's great mercy. It is in light of that grace that God calls us to obedience. Christianity and Judaism are religions of grace and good works, faith and law. Given our track record as a people, we should put our hope in the grace of God, rather than depending on our own effort, no matter how righteously we may be living. I strongly recommend that you trust the Messiah first as your Savior and Deliverer, and then, by his help and grace, seek to live a life that pleases the Lord.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 60-69.

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The Scriptures clearly tells us that, "To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice"(Prov. 21:3).

You're using this text to argue that the followers of Jesus are wrong to place so much emphasis on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus since you believe it makes them assume that their belief in his death gets them off the hook from having to live a moral life. First, let me assure you that far from thinking we no longer have to worry about the kind of life we lead, Jesus' atoning sacrifice has motivated his followers to be even more dedicated to doing what is right and just and holy (as I've explained in 3.7).

Secondly, the passage you quote is not denigrating the importance of sacrifices and offerings, but is trying to root out hypocrisy in those who think that participation in religious rituals and ceremonies will save them from their lack of morality (see 3.9). There are many other places in the Scriptures in which God his anger toward those who believe with their lips, but not with their hearts (see e.g., Isa. 29:13; Prov. 15:8; 21:27). This passage from Proverbs is not trying to deny the proper place of sacrifice in the religious life. The main point is that God desires us to live righteously; he doesn't want us to lie, cheat, steal, hate, lust, and then offer sacrifices afterward. He prefers obedience!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 69-71.

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The prophets indicated clearly that God did not care for blood sacrifices. In fact, they practically repudiated the whole sacrificial system, teaching that repentance and prayer were sufficient. The Talmudic rabbis simply affirmed this biblical truth.

Not only do the prophets and psalmists have strong statements regarding sacrifices and offerings, but they occasionally condemn particular prayers and Sabbath observations; now, do you really think that they were saying that God didn't want any of these things to continue? Clearly not! Let's find out why the prophets said what they did.

The main point of the prophets and psalmists was that God wanted the hearts of his people to be thoroughly dedicated to living for him; he didn't want his people simply to go through the motions of carrying out his laws. The sacrifices, feasts, Sabbaths, holy days, and prayers were worthless unless they were accompanied by genuine devotion, justice, mercy, repentance, and contrition. The prophets and psalmists were trying to root out hypocrisy so that God's people would glorify God by living holy and righteous lives. By quoting Hosea 6:6, "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings" (see Matt. 9:13; 12:7), Yeshua indicates that he has the same mission as the prophets.

Because sacrifices were very powerful and meaningful rituals, the prophets had to remind the people that the act of sacrificing was not effective unless it was accompanied by repentance and devotion to God. Of course the prophets believed that God can be pleased with prayer and worship, but they never taught that those are meant to be replacements for the sacrificial system. All the sacrifices in the world would not make up for the disobedience of his people. Even Yeshua insisted that his own sacrificial life would have no life-changing value unless it engendered repentance and faith.

In their attempts to distance themselves from Messianic Jews and their emphasis on the sacrificial, atoning death of Yeshua, traditional Jews have tended to downplay the centrality of blood atonement in the religious life of the people of Israel, but it's very difficult to deny that the system of sacrifices and offerings was of utmost importance to them. There are many places in the Torah where sacrifices and offerings are described as a "pleasing aroma" to God, a phrase which is mean to indicate that God was happy with sacrifices that were presented by genuinely devoted people. Recall that the Israelites were brought out of Egypt so that they could offer sacrifices to God. The overwhelming number of verses in the Torah dedicated to sacrifices and offerings indicates their importance. More frequently than any other ritual or law in the Torah, sacrifices are described as "lasting ordinances" established "for the generations to come." Does this sound as though they were meant to be replaced? This is why Messianic Jews place such emphasis on the fact that Yeshua fulfilled the requirements of the sacrificial system by laying down his life on our behalf. It is unthinkable to us—based on the Torah—that the sacrificial system would simply be discarded and replaced by prayer.

Yes, Hosea, Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah all have some very strong statements that make it seem as though they were rejecting the sacrificial system, but if this were really the case, why did Haggai and Zechariah encourage the people to rebuild the Temple? They were completely dedicated to re-establishing sacrificial worship. Even Zechariah and Malachi, who lived during the days of the Second Temple, emphasized the importance of Temple sacrifices.

It is common for anti-missionaries to argue that the sacrificial system is adequately replaced by prayer (as long as those who pray are penitent and contrite), but is this argument really biblical? Let's consider this question by taking a look at what the various prophets and psalmists taught.

Micah's prophecies were delivered while the Temple was in full operation, with sacrifices offered in accordance to the divine stipulations laid down in the Torah, so he didn't have to worry about how worship of God could continue when there was no Temple. It's hard to imagine that Micah would have tried to convince the people that everything God had said in the Torah was meaningless and should be ignored, and that he would try to halt the whole sacrificial system then and there. If he had, there would have been a good case to brand him a false prophet, just as the anti-missionaries declare Jesus to be, because he allegedly ignored and violated the Torah and encouraged others to do the same. Far from being labeled a false prophet, Micah was respected for faithfully communicating God's word.

Micah was trying to get a sinful people to see that their priorities were out of order; they were putting too much of their energy into outward displays of devotion without concerning themselves with how to actually live out their devotion to God through acts of justice, mercy and humility. Similarly, Yeshua confronted the religious leaders because of their hypocrisy since although they were meticulous with their tithing, they completely ignored justice and mercy (see Matt. 23:23). Paul, too, had to address the priorities of those who emphasized spiritual gifts, but neglected love. If we do not love, Paul declared, all our acts are only outward displays with no substance (see 1 Cor. 13). God is looking for certain qualities to accompany our outward acts, and if these qualities are missing, our acts do not impress him one bit!

The prophets often use hyperbole, sarcasm, and "either-or" language in their messages, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings; however, if their messages are interpreted in light of the Torah, then it becomes easier to understand their meaning. Essentially, the prophets called the people to obedience so that their motivations and actions would be pure; they were not trying to undermine what God had been telling his people from the beginning.

Isaiah's prophetic style was similar to that of his contemporary Micah, which communicated God's anger at his people's hypocrisy. Isaiah not only expresses God's displeasure at the people's sacrifices, but also with their holy days, Sabbaths, assemblies, and prayers. God wants his people to "stop doing wrong and to learn to do right" (Isa. 1:20-17). God does not want them to give those things up entirely; he wants them to do them, but to do them with clean hands and hearts. Jeremiah expresses the same kind of disgust in relation to the people's worship, informing the people that God will not listen to them any longer, even though they make offerings and cry to him in their prayers (Jer. 14:12). Amos shows no mercy when he rebukes the people for their sinful practices regarding their feasts and assemblies, sacrifices and offerings, and music and songs, telling them in no uncertain terms that God finds them meaningless because of their failure to live justly (Amos 5: 21-24).

Psalm 51 is often interpreted as King David's heartfelt confession of repentance after committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranging for the death of Uriah. In this prayer, David acknowledges God's preference for repentance over sacrifices offered without a change of heart: "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Ps. 51:16-17[18-19]). Immediately after this, David indicates that there will come a day when God will be pleased again with the sacrifices of his people. Similarly, the author of Psalm 40 realizes that the sacrificial system is based on a deeper kind of sacrifice—the giving of one's entire life to God. He doesn't advocate getting rid of the sacrifices; rather he stresses the need for utter devotion to God to accompany them, since this is what makes the whole system pleasing to God. This recognition is echoed in Paul's letter to the Romans where he exhorts the followers of Jesus to "offer [their] bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship" (Rom. 12:1). Even things as precious as prayer, sacrifices, worship, fasting, and observance of the Sabbaths and Holy Days are utterly distasteful to the Lord when performed with a sinful, hypocritical heart.

God warned the people of Israel that their sacrifices were liable to displease him if they did not remain obedient to him. The acceptability of the sacrifices is described in terms of delight and a "pleasing aroma" (Num. 28:4-6; Lev. 26:31). God wanted the people to express their devotion to him by means of sacrifices and offerings,but their sin rendered these brituals repugnant to God. Yeshua affirmed these convictions, quoting from Isaiah when he confronted the hypocrisy of the sinful leaders of his day: "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men'" (Matt. 15: 7-9, quoting Isa. 29:13). Like God, Yeshua had no patience for hypocrisy.

Sometimes traditional Jews will cite Amos (5:25-27) or Jeremiah (7:21-23) to argue that because Israel never offered any sacrifices during their forty years in the wilderness, they must not be absolutely essential to their relationship with God. Some even use these passages to claim that God never intended for the sacrificial system to be set up in the first place—all he really wanted was their obedience. Although Jeremiah's statement about the lack of sacrifices in the wilderness can be interpreted in a number of ways, it is simply not true that the Israelites knew nothing about divinely ordained sacrifices before the institution of the Temple sacrificial system. The Passover lamb was a sacrifice (Exod. 12), and immediately after the Ten Commandments were given, instructions for sacrifices were presented (Exod. 20-24). Sacrifices and offerings were part of God's laws to Israel immediately before and after the exodus from Egypt. The only way that Jeremiah can be interpreted as supporting the elimination of the Temple cult is by totally neglecting other passages in which sacrifices and offerings are understood to be part of the blessing of the restored and obedient Jerusalem (see Jer. 17: 24-26; Jer. 33:10-11, 17-18).

There are rabbis who recognize that the prophets were not trying to abolish the Temple cult, but were simply struggling to get the disobedient people back on the right track with God so that their interior spiritual lives and their outward religious displays would be in harmony. It was no use offering sacrifices if they did not practice justice, mercy and faithfulness in their daily lives. According to Abraham Heschel, "The prophets disparaged the cult when it became a substitute for righteousness" (Heschel, The Prophets, 1:196-197). Chief Rabbi J. H. Hertz explains,"The Prophet's call is not, Give up your sacrifices, but, Give up your evil-doing" (Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 561). The prophets sought to counteract the misunderstanding and misuse of the sacrificial system, not its rightful use.

There are several passages that appear to suggest that prayer has replaced sacrifices and offerings (i.e., Ps. 141:2; Hosea 3:4-5, 14:2-3; 2 Chron. 7, 1 Kings 8); however, if they are read carefully in context, it becomes clear that this is not what they mean. Psalm 141 is ascribed to David, who insisted that a Temple be built to replace the Tabernacle, and who offered sacrifices as instructed by the Lord. His cry for God to accept his prayers in the same way that God accepted sacrifices is not an attempt to replace one with the other. Not only was the first Temple constructed by David's son, but a second Temple was built after the people had returned from exile. These are not indications that the sacrificial system was on its way out.

Did Hosea prophesy that before the Messiah would arrive, Israel would be instructed to replace sacrifices with prayer? His message could be interpreted in the same way as Psalm 114, in which the effectiveness of prayers is compared with that of sacrifices, but prayers in no way replace sacrifices and offerings. There are different opinions regarding the translation of Hosea 14:2, such as whether it actually refers to "bulls" (parîm) or "fruit" (perî), but even if the word is bulls, it still has nothing to do with sacrifices, but rather with making and keeping vows. In other words, the passage could read: "We will pay the vows of our lips to God," as opposed to, "We will replace animal sacrifices with the offerings of our lips." Do you really think God would hang the future of the sacrificial system on one ambiguous verse? This particular passage seems to be referring to the age after the return from exile; it is not trying to describe how the people should worship when they are separated from their Temple because of their exile.

What about the final two passages (2 Chron. 6 and 1 Kings 8), which record the prayer of Solomon? Do they lend credence to the argument that God intended prayer to replace sacrifices and offerings when the people of Israel are in exile? Is it accurate to use these passages to argue that God has no need for sacrifices of any kind in order to forgive his people when they repent and ask for mercy?

These passages in no way imply that sacrifices are to be replaced with prayer. Solomon's prayer is part of the dedication of the Temple, and it makes clear that God chose the Temple as the place where he would accept the people's sacrifices and hear his people's prayers; however, it also warns that if the people are disobedient, their sins would lead to the Temple's destruction and God's promises to hear their prayers will be nullified. The Temple was an integral part of Israel's worship and its destruction was taken as a sign of God's judgment. Unless the Messiah has come and fulfilled the purpose of the sacrifices and offerings, the absence of the Temple means that the people have no means of atonement.

Every day, traditional Jews ask God to hasten the day of the Temple's restoration. The two most prominent petitions are the following:

Be favorable, O LORD our God, toward Your people Israel and toward their prayer, and restore the service to the Holy of Holies of Your Temple. The fire-offerings of Israel and their prayer accept with love and favor, and may the service of Your people Israel always be favorable to You.

May it be Your will, O LORD our God, and the God of our forefathers, that You have mercy on us and pardon us for all our errors, atone for us all our iniquities, forgive all our willful sins; and that You rebuild the Holy Temple speedily, in our days, so that we may offer to You the continual offering that it may atone for us, as You have prescribed for us in Your Torah through Moses, Your servant, from Your glorious mouth, as it is said: [Num. 28:1-8 then follows].

These prayers would be utterly meaningless if prayer has adequately replaced sacrifices and offerings. The fact that the rabbis included these petitions is a strong indication that they longed for the day when sacrifices would be restored and there would be joy in the presence of the Lord once more.

The Temple was destroyed because of the sinfulness of our people. God was so grieved by our people's sins that he finally said,"Enough! No amount of prayer, sacrifice, or fasting will stop me. I will reject my city and my sanctuary, and I will judge my people and banish them from my presence." How can one imagine the very opposite, i.e. that because we can no longer offer sacrifices, God will be pleased by our prayers instead?

How frightening the destruction of the Temple must have been for our people, especially when they knew that the door had been shut on national atonement. There are traditions that say that for forty years before the destruction of the Second Temple, God did not accept the sacrifices that were offered on behalf of the people on the Day of Atonement (see b. Yoma 39b), but at least there would have been some hope while the Temple was still standing. After its destruction, there was nothing but grasping at straws such as hoping that prayer would be accepted in place of sacrifice—a wish without guarantees or assurance.

The petition for God to heed the prayers in place of sacrifice continues today, remarkably sandwiched between an admission of sin as the cause of the destruction of the Temple and a list of details for the offering of animal sacrifices at the altar! Clearly the Temple's destruction indicates that something is missing in Israel's relationship with God.

Maybe you've experienced this conundrum, too. Maybe as you've prayed the various prayers, you've sensed that something is spiritually disjointed, but you don't know what the problem is. Maybe you're sensing the fact that you have no acceptable form of atonement for your sins and that all the prayers in the world cannot take the place of blood atonement.These daily prayers are recited by a people that is still scattered around the world, a people that—even with a homeland—still has no Temple, a people that still awaits some hint that the Messiah will come, though he was expected so many centuries ago.

Spend some time thinking about this concept of blood atonement and how the death of Yeshua meets those requirements. In subsequent sections, I will elaborate on these topics. As I draw this section to a close, let me say it yet one more time: There is not a single verse in the entire Hebrew Bible which states that the prophets repudiated the sacrificial system or that prayer has replaced sacrifice.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 71-103.

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Even if I accept your premise that blood sacrifices are of great importance in the Torah, the fact is that our Hebrew Bible—including the Torah itself—offers other means of atonement, not just the shedding of blood.

I will address your claim that the Bible presents other means of atonement that don't involve shedding blood, but first I want to remind you just how important blood atonement is in the Scriptures. The Torah tells us that ever since the very beginning people have been making blood sacrifices to the Lord, but it's only in the book of Exodus that these blood sacrifices are explicitly commanded and directly linked to atonement. The blood of the Passover lamb, smeared by the Israelites around their doors in Egypt, was God's way of indicating which lives were to be saved. To ratify God's covenant with Israel, Moses sprinkled blood over the people. The Targum of Onkelos adds that before the people were sprinkled, Moses poured blood on the altar as "an atonement for the people" (Exod. 24:8) (which shows that the Talmudic rabbis associated the spilling of blood with atonement). Because of their direct involvement in making atonement for Israel and their own need for purification, the priests were consecrated with the blood that had been shed for the atonement sacrifice (Exod. 29:20, 33). Obviously, blood is an essential element of atonement rituals.

Instructions for an annual act of atonement can be found in Exodus 30:10. These instructions say nothing about prayer, fasting, oreven repentance—but they do mention blood! The text seems to indicate that if blood is removed from the equation, atonement is not possible. Leviticus 16, which describes in greater detail what is necessary for the Day of Atonement, emphasizes the centrality of blood sacrifice. The Holy of Holies, the altar, and the Tent of Meeting were all central to the ceremony of the Day of Atonement, and it is no coincidence that they were cleansed with blood. Atonement is mentioned forty-nine times in the book of Leviticus, and every single time it is connected to blood sacrifices. From this, we can see how much of an emphasis the Torah places on the shedding of blood as a means for atonement.

The passage that provides the strongest support for the Talmudic observation that "there is no atonement without the blood" is Leviticus 17:11: "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." Yes, I am aware that the primary purpose of this passage is to explain why blood should not be eaten, but that only underscores the importance of blood in a ritualistic sense; the blood sacrifices operated on a principle of substitution—life for a life. This was thought to be a common understanding in the early first century, and it is echoed in the New Testament book Hebrews (9:22): "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." There were different aspects to the ritual, including laying one's hands on the head of the animal, waving the offering, etc., but it was the blood that was considered the effective aspect.

This intimate and inseparable connection between blood and atonement is still demonstrated in certain Orthodox circles around the world, when on the eve of Yom Kippur (or, in some circles, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah), either a live rooster or hen is waved three times while a prayer is said, indicating that the bird is a substitute for the life of the person praying. The fowl is then taken immediately for slaughter, and its death is understood as an atonement offering.

"There is no atonement without blood" became a Rabbinic maxim (see e.g., b. Yoma 5a; b. Pesahim 59b; b. Zevahim 6a). I am aware that the rabbis also claimed that once the Temple had been destroyed, blood atonement could be replaced by prayer, repentance and charitable deeds, but there is no denying that the Torah emphasizes that the shedding of blood was absolutely necessary for atonement. Prayers, repentance and good deeds are important aspects of our lives as God's people, but they are no substitute for blood atonement. While the Temple was still standing, there was no need to think of anything else that might replace blood atonement; it was only after its destruction that other forms of atonement, including fasts and acts of loving-kindness, were considered.

What about the provision in Leviticus5:11-13 for those who could not afford to bring an animal for sacrifice and were encouraged to bring a measure of flour instead? Neither that passage, nor any other claims that the flour itself could bring about atonement, it was the priest's mingling of the flour with the other sacrifices that enabled the poor to take part in the sacrifice of atonement on the altar and to be forgiven along with the others.

What about Exodus 30 (cf. Num. 31) and its references to atonement money—could this be an alternative form of atonement presented in the Torah? If you read the passage carefully, you'll see that what is actually being paid for is protection from plague, not atonement for sin. All the men over twenty are meant to offer a kopher (ransom) for their lives. The word kopher is used fourteen times in the Hebrew Scriptures to mean "ransom," or "bribe," or "payoff," but it is never used in any connection with atonement. Many scholars, and even some leading rabbinic commentators, have noted that the word kopherin Exodus 30 has been read as kippur, and, therefore, translated not as "ransom," but as "atonement." Rashi was able to consider two possible explanations for this passage: the first was that ransom money was paid to avert the plague brought about by the census; the second was that money was being paid to help finance the Tabernacle sacrifices, which indirectly affirms the importance of the blood atonement. The passage surely can't be suggesting that you can use money to buy forgiveness of sins!

Numbers 16:46-48 (see also Heb. 17:11-13) seems to indicate that the offering of incense can lead to atonement, but again, the context of the passage suggests that it was to avert plague that the incense was burned. Again, it's the word kipper (usually translated "to make atonement or expiation") that's at stake here. There are some very creative attempts to explain what the passage means. Rashi tried to explain how incense could keep away plague, and Rashbam pointed out that incense in the wrong hands brought death instead of life. The Talmud struggled with bringing atonement together with incense and concluded that burning incense only atoned for gossip (see b. Zevahim 88a). Burning incense could never replace blood atonement, even after the destruction of the Temple. A careful examination of the Torah shows that there are no other provisions for atonement besides blood sacrifice. Certainly, incense is closely connected to ritual sacrifice, but it has no power to make atonement. Those who believe they are justified in arguing otherwise, especially the anti-missionaries, have no genuine biblical proof for their position.

What about in the rest of the Bible? Are there any additional passages that might add to or shed light on the Torah regarding other forms of atonement? Some have drawn attention to certain passages that allegedly speak about other forms of atonement, but they are even less convincing than those that are supposedly found in the Torah; however, so as not to leave any stone unturned, let's explore these passages.

Granted, there are numerous texts in the Hebrew Bible that describe God as merciful and forgiving, and these generally do not mention blood sacrifices. This is not unusual, however, since these passages are highlighting who God is, not how atonement is made. They call people to repentance and use the description of God's merciful nature to encourage them. In fact, the word kipper is used in the Psalms to speak of God's forgiveness (see 65:4[3]; 78:38; 79:9), but there is no reason to think that these passages refer to any other ordained means of achieving forgiveness apart from blood atonement. These passages do not spell out the requirements for forgiveness, but are simply describing the gracious nature of God.

In Isaiah, there are several passages which use the word kipper (see esp. 27:9), but again, because of the context (which has to do with ending idolatrous practices) the term is generally translated "purge, wipe away," instead of "atone." In Isaiah's description of his vision of the Lord, he uses the word kipper to speak about the removal of his guilt and sin (Isa. 6:7), which is best translated as "take away, remove." Even if this passage is referring to atonement, there is a very close connection with sacrifices in the use of the burning coal which was taken from the altar. Also, we have to keep in mind that this is a prophet's vision and that this is the only instance in which coal is burned as a means of purification in the Bible. This passage does not provide a firm foundation for claiming that burning coal is an alternative form of atonement. Besides, applying burning coals to our lips to ensure our forgiveness would not be a very good idea! The context of the vision indicates that the action is meant to purge whatever is unclean, not make atonement for sins.

These are all the passages that are generally used to support the claim that blood sacrifices are not the only way in which we can achieve atonement with God, and none of those texts conclusively offers a replacement for sacrifice. Blood sacrifices were the only God-ordained means of atonement in the Hebrew Bible.

Throughout the generations, blood sacrifices were offered to make atonement for the nation. Hezekiah offered them (2 Chron. 29:20, 24), the priests and Levites in Nehemiah's day offered them (Neh. 9:32-33), and in Ezekiel's vision of the future, blood sacrifices are still offered (Ezek. 43:19-20, 26; 45:15-17, 20). The Tanakh is indisputable, consistent, and clear. As summarized by the author of Hebrews: "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."

Any other system of atonement which does not include blood is not biblical, and any other system of atonement which fails to offer substitutionary atonement, i.e., an innocent sacrificial victim dying on behalf of a guilty sinner, is not able to provide real forgiveness of sins. God established life for life, not money for life, not jewelry for life, not flour for life, not incense for life, as the means of expiation for his people. As the Talmudic rabbis recognized—atleast while the Temple stood—"There is no atonement without the blood."

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 103-123.

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According to Proverbs 16:6, love and good deeds make atonement. So who needs sacrifices?

If your objection is true, why do traditional Jews keep celebrating Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)? If love and good deeds are all that are needed for atonement, suffering, chastisement, prayers and confession are all unnecessary. Do you know any religious Jew who would even consider such things?

How one obtained forgiveness for different kinds of transgressions was a question that generated much discussion among the rabbis, and the decisions that were made demonstrate that even the best actions conducted out of a sense of repentance do not guarantee atonement for all sins. Neither do they do away with the need for the other means of forgiveness put into place by God, especially the Day of Atonement.

As previously mentioned (3.10), the word kipper, found in Proverbs 16:6, can be translated in a variety of ways depending on the context or grammar. This passage takes place in the context of an attempt to address the effects of one's sins on others. In this instance kipper would best be translated by "wiped away." Love and good deeds can go a long way in overcoming (wiping away) the hurtful and negative effects of one's sinful actions.

Proverbs is meant to be a book of down-to-earth advice on how to be faithful to God in everyday living. It's a very different kind of literature from Leviticus with its detailed descriptions of how particular rituals are to be carried out in order to restore a right relationship with God. In other words, you're not likely to find the doctrine of atonement in Proverbs, except maybe for wise words on how to "atone" for sins of one human being against another. Furthermore, it's impossible for a single passage from Proverbs to eliminate the teaching about atonement in the Torah in one fell swoop, especially when this passage can be interpreted in more than one way.

Whatever Proverbs 16:6 is trying to say, it does not go against Moses and it is not rejecting either the annual or the daily sacrifices. Love and good deeds may help clean up the mess that sin creates in our interpersonal relationships, but they can't satisfy all the claims of justice, whether human or divine.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 123-126.

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It's clear that you misunderstand the whole sacrificial system. Sacrifices were for unintentional sins only. Repentance was the only remedy for intentional sins.

Before I respond to your objection directly, allow me to clarify a few things. First of all, Christians and Messianic Jews believe that sacrifices without repentance and faith are meaningless. Furthermore, we do not believe that every time an Israelite sinned, he had to offer a sacrifice. We also don't believe that God's people could think it appropriate to continue a cycle of sinning followed by repentance. Finally, we believe that there is no forgiveness for those who willfully and defiantly continue to sin.

Having said that, let me remind you that there were many kinds of sacrifices and offerings made in Israel to meet different needs—dedication, thanksgiving, removal of ritual impurity, fellowship or peace. There were also sin and guilt offerings (hatta't and 'asham, respectively), which are not easily distinguishable. Generally, they are thought to have been associated with unintentional sins, i.e. those done out of ignorance; however, under certain circumstances the 'asham sacrifices could also be used to atone for intentional sins, as outlined in Leviticus 5:20-26 (6:1-7 in most English translations). This clearly indicates that the anti-missionary claim that blood sacrifices only atoned for unintentional sins is not true.

Leviticus 16, which describes the rituals for the Day of Atonement, is very clear that all the sins of the community—not only those that were described as "wickedness" or "iniquity" (Heb. 'awon), but also those described as "rebellion" (Heb. pesha', meaning willful transgression)—were included and transferred to the goat sent away into the desert. The Talmud (see m. Shevu'ot 1:6) even more explicitly details the kinds of transgressions atoned for by the sacrificial goat, and includes deliberate acts, things done knowingly, even those acts that are punishable by karet (extirpation) and death, as well as minor or unintentional sins. Even Maimonides (Laws of Repentance, 1:2), acknowledges that all sins, both light and serious, unintentional and intentional, unconscious and conscious—even those punishable by execution or premature death—can be atoned for through the sacrificial goat on the Day of Atonement. (The question that is left somewhat vague, however, is to what degree repentance and faith were deemed necessary for the effectiveness of the sacrifices.)

Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8; 2 Chron. 6) explains that the sins of the people would be atoned for when they turned to God in repentance and prayed toward the Temple. Because of the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple, God promised to forgive and restore his people. If you take a closelook at the prayer itself, you'll see that Solomon is referring to both intentional and unintentional acts, to both sins and transgressions.

Think about the actual practices that happen as part of the Yom Kippur celebration even now. In certain Orthodox circles, following the custom of kapparot, a rooster or a hen is slaughtered as a substitute for the sinner's own death, which he acknowledges would be the just penalty for his sins. Also, the prescribed prayers said on Yom Kippur include almost every imaginable sin, those things for which sacrifice would have been made by the priests, and which would have been accompanied by the repentance and fasting of the people while the Temple was still standing. There must have been something effective in the sacrifices of the Temple, since, after its destruction, something was deemed necessary to replace them, i.e., prayer and repentance.

Numbers 15:22-31 seems to suggest that only unintentional sins could be atoned for through sacrifices, and that there was no way of ridding oneself of the guilt of willful, defiant sins. According to Rashi, however, rather than this passage cutting off all hope of atonement for transgressions, this text is emphasizing the need for repentance, without which the sinner remains guilty (b. Sanh. 90b). There is hope that the sinner might repent and then find forgiveness through sacrifice. A passage from Hebrews in the New Testament seems to echo this interpretation, explaining that there is no sacrifice left for those who keep on sinning even after they know the truth, and that those who continue to act as an enemy of God and his Son will face an even graver punishment than those who rejected the law of Moses (Heb. 10:26-31). Apart from repentance, there is no means of atonement. Those who continue to face God defiantly will not be restored; however, forgiveness is still possible for those willing to repent and perform the services in the Temple that are required according to the Law.

There is a rabbinic view that repentance can turn intentional sins into unintentional ones, so that they are eligible for sacrifice and can be atoned for. Whether this position is correct or not, it still seems to emphasize the importance of the sacrificial system for atonement, adding yet another challenge to the anti-missionary position.

There is a lot of biblical evidence, which Rabbinic literature affirms, that militates against the position that the sacrificial system only atoned for unintentional sins.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 126-135.

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Even if I accept your arguments about the centrality of blood sacrifices, it only holds true while the Temple is standing. The book of Daniel teaches us that if the Temple has been destroyed and is not functional, prayer replaces sacrifice. In fact, the book of Ezekiel is even more explicit, telling Jews living in the exile—and therefore without any access to the Temple, even if it were standing—that repentance and good works are all God requires.

Let's start with the passage from Daniel and see if it teaches that after the Temple has been destroyed, prayer will replace sacrifice. In this passage, namely 6:10, we are told that while in exile, Daniel turned toward Jerusalem and prayed to God three times a day, but that's all it says. It doesn't say that prayer replaced sacrifice; it doesn't even tell all Jews in all generations to come that they are supposed to pray three times daily. The only thing described in this passage is how Daniel structured his prayer life—nothing more, nothing less.

Daniel was desperate to get back to Jerusalem and restore the Temple. He knew that the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile were punishments for the disobedience of the nation, and his prayers were full of heartfelt confessions of sin and pleas for God to restore the holy city and the desolate sanctuary (Dan. 9:15-19). Daniel interpreted the destruction of the Temple as God's judgment of the nation. The sign that God would be pleased with his people once again would be the restoration of the Temple and of the sacrificial system. Daniel would have been appalled if another Jewish exile had suggested to him that he didn't need to worry about the Temple or sacrifices anymore, because God had decided that these could be replaced by prayer.

When Ezra and his contemporaries were finally allowed to return to Jerusalem, their one goal was to rebuild the Temple and start offering sacrifices again.They risked their lives to make that happen. Cyrus the king of Persia, who was used by God to allow the Jews to return from exile, issued an edict that emphasized the divine plan to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2-4). He commanded: "Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices" (Ezra 6:3-5); clearly God had not intended for sacrifices to be permanently replaced by prayer. The first thing the people did when they returned to Jerusalem, evenbefore they laid the foundations for the Temple, was to rebuild the altar "in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God" and to offer burnt offerings again to the Lord (Ezra 3:1-6).

Six hundred years later, during the devastations and difficulties of the war against Rome (66-70 CE), daily sacrifices were still being offered until there were no more lambs and qualified priests left. This was three weeks before the Temple was destroyed by the Romans and sacrifices ceased altogether (Ta'an. 4:6, Jos., Wars, 6:94).

Why did Daniel pray three times a day? Who knows? There were only two daily sacrifices in the Temple, so his prayer habit doesn't correspond with those. The Psalms suggest praying seven times a day (Ps. 119:164) and that doesn't correspond with Temple rituals either. It doesn't make much sense to claim that Daniel's prayers replaced the routine that would have been followed in the Temple.

Let me remind you that the last of the Eighteen Benedictions (ShemonehEsreh), recited daily by Jews, is a prayer for the rebuilding of the Temple, and a plea that true service will be restored to the Temple. This is a strong indication that the prayer service is not an adequate substitution for sacrifices. With all of this background, both ancient and contemporary, I find it difficult to understand how anyone could still claim that prayer replaced sacrifice during the exile when the Temple was destroyed.

Let's take a look at Ezekiel 18 and 33, the other passages that were mentioned in this objection. Many anti-missionaries use these passages in their attempts to downplay the need for sacrifice to achieve atonement, claiming that repentance alone suffices; however, their interpretation of these passages is problematic.

The first thing we need to do is ask ourselves how Ezekiel's words would have been heard by those who first received them. If the people in exile had ever really thought Ezekiel's message meant that God no longer required their sacrifices, then what happened to that message when they returned to Jerusalem? It doesn't look like they thought Ezekiel was ordering them not to participate any longer in the Temple rituals and Day of Atonement. When they returned to the land, the people of Israel wholeheartedly resumed their participation in the system of sacrificial atonement, knowing that they were faithfully following the Torah. The same question can be raised here as above in relation to Daniel's message: Why were the people so eager to get back to Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple and resume sacrifices if they truly believed that repentance alone was needed to achieve atonement? Ezekiel's visions included a restored Temple with sacrifices taking place again; these visions were part of the promise for the future in which Israel's sins would be dealt with once and for all. Ezekiel's messages are acknowledged to be the word of God, so they cannot be revoked.

Yes, Ezekiel advocated repentance, but in this context (Ezek. 18) he did so in response to the recognition that children were suffering for the sins of their parents—he wasn't making some blanket statement about the sacrificial system and atonement. In fact, the text doesn't even mention atonement; it simply describes the traits of a righteous person and a wicked person, those who prove by their actions that they either belong to, or have turned away from God. Both the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures emphasize the need for repentance and trust in God's means for atonement. Ezekiel 18 certainly refers to repentance and to acceptable and unacceptable deeds, but just because sacrifices were not explicitly mentioned, does not mean that the prophet thought God had changed the means for atonement. Ezekiel failed to mention many things in that passage such as the Sabbath and the High Holy Days; do you really think he also intended for these to be replaced by repentance alone?

You should be aware that the interpretation of Ezekiel 18 as advocating repentance as an alternative to sacrificially derived atonement is a very modern reading of that passage and can claim no support from either the Talmudic or medieval Jewish commentators. Why didn't this particular argument ever occur to the great Jewish scholars of the past, but has only recently come to light when the anti-missionaries were looking for ways to refute Messianic Jewish emphasis on the importance of Jesus' atoning death?

Another thing I want to make you aware of is the ceremony of kapparot, which takes place on the eve of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah in certain Orthodox circles. This ceremony, which involves a ritual that culminates in the slaughter of either a rooster or a hen (to which the sins of the individual are symbolically transferred), demonstrates the continuing need for substitutionary atonement that is felt in the absence of the Temple. As the birds are swung around the head three times, the following is recited: "This is my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement; this cock (or hen) shall meet death, but I shall find a long and pleasant life of peace." This is a strong indication that the idea of sacrificial atonement is not obsolete in Judaism.

It has been almost 2000 years since the Temple was destroyed, and the fact that Judaism has continued without the Temple cult is often considered proof that all is well; however, study of the Torah, prayer, and beneficence, noble and important as they are, do not take the place of the Temple service. Rather than make us complacent, this situation really should raise a very important question for our people: Has God simply left us this long without a means of atonement? This is not the case. God has not left us on our own, but has provided atonement once and for all through Jesus the Messiah. If you read through the Scriptures while praying for God to open up their meaning to you, you will discover that God's compassion for the whole world has been revealed in Yeshua's death, the sacrifice that atones for our sins.

Interestingly, it was while God's people were in exile in a foreign land, without Temple and sacrifices, that they began to think more intensely about Isaiah's Suffering Servant. The idea that a righteous man, one who suffered greatly, would die for the sins of his people, began to take root in their hearts and minds. God prepared the ground for his people to see that the sacrifices introduced through the Law would find their true fulfillment in a human being who would offer himself up on their behalf. This act of final atonement was to take place during the days of the Second Temple according to Daniel (see Dan. 9:24-27, discussed in vol. 1, 2.3 and vol. 3, 4.18-21); in accordance with this prophecy, Yeshua, the righteous Messiah and servant of the Lord, came and completed his atoning work before the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.

The Temple sacrifices had the important function of ritually purifying God's people and offering them temporary atonement. Those sacrifices, however, could not offer complete cleansing or the eternal forgiveness of sins. For this to happen, the Messiah needed to come and offer himself as an atoning sacrifice. This sacrifice is what gives all the other sacrifices their effectiveness. God's forgiveness of sin in every day and age has resulted from the atoning sacrifice of God's Son, the righteous Messiah, who has paid our debt in full by dying in our place. As explained in 3.15, this is the exemplification of the rabbinic concept that, "The death of the righteous atones." It is this grace that makes it possible for the people of Israel to receive God's mercy even though the Temple has been destroyed.

The sacrificial system, which was a central part of the religious life of God's people, emphasized the importance of blood atonement and the need for an innocent substitute to die in our place. God has always had one system of atonement and one system alone, namely, substitutionary atonement, life-for-life atonement, blood atonement. Blood sacrifices were always foundational for our people, and they always pointed to that day when the ideal Substitute would come and lay down his life for us.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 136-152.

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The book of Jonah totally shoots down all your arguments about sacrifice and atonement, especially with reference to Gentiles. When Jonah preached, the people repented and God forgave them—no sacrifice, no blood, of offering.

Exodus 19:4-6 says that Israel was called to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." In living out that calling, Israel interceded and made atonement not only for their own sins, but for those of the whole world. Gentile nations that repented and turned to the God of Israel would be forgiven because of Israel's sacrifices. This understanding of Israel's calling is explained and emphasized in the Talmud (b. Sukkah 55b; Pesikta de Rav Kahana, Buber edition, 193b-194a). Rabbi Yohanan mourns for the world's loss resulting from the destruction of the Second Temple, since everyone was deprived of the means for atonement.

Clearly, "God can have mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and have compassion on whom he wants to have compassion" (Exod. 33:19), but he called our nation to perform all that was necessary for obtaining atonement for the sins of the world. We all are sinners and need some way to have our relationship with God restored. The sacrificial system had its important, though partial, role to play in that restoration, but it was the atoning death of the Messiah that fulfilled it and made it possible for everyone to enter into God's presence.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 152-153.

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Even if I admit that we need blood atonement, I still won't believe in Jesus. God wanted the blood of a goat or a lamb, not a person. He doesn't want human sacrifice!

Of course God is not interested in human sacrifice, but have you ever heard the phrase: "The death of the righteous has atoning power"? It is a very Jewish concept, and I want to focus on this phrase in response to this objection.

According to historian Rabbi Berel Wein, the Eastern European Jews who were caught up in the massacres of the seventeenth century found strength to endure by calling upon a tradition that goes back to biblical times, which allowed them to think of their own innocent dead as helping to expiate the sins of the world. Remembering the biblical stories of Isaac and Nadav and Avihu helped them to believe that the deaths of their own innocents were not in vain, and that somehow Israel, and even the whole world, would be positively affected by their "stretching their neck to be slaughtered" (Wein, The Triumph of Survival, 14).

Do you see what Wein, an Orthodox Jew, is claiming? He is declaring that according to the Bible and to tradition, a human life—a righteous one—might serve as an atonement for the sins of other human beings. Wein indicates that this tradition grew in strength once the animal sacrifices were no longer offered in the Temple.

One of the foundational texts for the Talmud's claim that "the death of the righteous atones" is the account of the burial of Saul and Jonathan. Seven of Saul's relatives had been offered as restitution for the Gibeonites that had been killed by Saul (2 Samuel 21:14). The passage says that after David had retrieved all the bodies of the Israelites and had them buried, "God answered prayer on behalf of the land." In other words, the deaths of the seven men not only appeased the Gibeonites, but were the reason behind God's positive response to his people's prayers.

The Midrash and the Zohar also elaborate on the concept of the atoning death of the righteous. In the former, God is said to have told Moses that on a day when neither Tabernacle nor Temple would bestanding, God would take one of their righteous men and "keep him as a pledge on their behalf so that I may pardon [or atone for] all their sins" (Exodus Rabbah Terumah 35:4). The Zohar, referring to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, declares, "In general a just person is only smitten in order to procure healing and atonement for a whole generation," but "when the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, He smites one just man amongst them, and for his sake heals all the rest." The Zohar states that the Messiah would remove the world's "diseases" now that the sacrificial system has ended (2:212a).

Although these sources are Jewish, they testify to the logic of one of the central messages of the gospel: The Messiah—the holy and righteous servant of the Lord—was smitten for the sins of the world, and through his death we can receive atonement for our sins and healing for our souls. Rabbinic scholar Solomon Schechter's Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, in which he offers a summary of the Talmudic teaching that the suffering and death of the righteous atones for sin, shows us just how biblical and Jewish this idea is. After comparing Moses and Isaiah's Suffering Servant, Schechter explains that being willing to offer one's life as an atonement for Israel was a characteristic of all the great men of Israel and of some of the rabbis.

This tradition of the righteous martyr goes all the way back to the Binding of Isaac. The biblical story stresses the obedience of Abraham, but the rabbis also emphasized the obedience of Isaac (understood to be a grown man), who willingly presented himself as the offering. There is a midrash about the act of creation, in which the angels ask God about the significance human beings. One of the answers God gives is: "You shall see a father slay his son, and the son consenting to be slain, to sanctify my Name" (Tanhuma, Vayyera, sec. 18). That was the height of sacrificial service: A father offering up his own son, and the son willingly laying down his life for the glory of God. There is a very familiar gospel ring to that interpretation! In fact, the midrash compares Isaac, who carried the wood for the burnt offering (i.e., himself), to "one who carries his cross on his own shoulder" (see Genesis Rabbah 56:3).

Professor GezaVermes, who has studied interpretations of the Binding of Isaac in Jewish traditions, has discovered several intriguing connections to atonement in general. Even though Isaac didn't die on the altar, the rabbis claimed that according to the Scriptures, Isaac was still credited with having died and with his ashes having been placed upon the altar (Midrash Ha Gadol on Gen. 22:19 and Sifra, 102c; b. Ta'anit 16a). To emphasize the important relationship between shed blood and atonement, a tradition was developed claiming that even though he had not actually died, Isaac had shed one fourth of his blood on the altar (Mekhilta d'Rashbi, p. 4; Tanh. Vayerra, sec. 23). The early Jewish midrash Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael says that it was Isaac's blood that God remembered when he passed over the Israelite houses smeared with the blood of the Passover lamb. What's more, the effectiveness of the whole sacrificial system was credited to the Akedah (the Binding of Isaac), because Isaac was seen as the perfect self-offering.

Vermes has uncovered several prayers that reference Isaac and atonement (see Fragmentary Targum and Leviticus Rabbah, 29:9). In the prayer that is still said today in the additional service for Rosh Hashanah there is a reference to Isaac: "Remember today the Binding of Isaac with mercy to his descendants." The rabbis even taught that the final resurrection of the dead would take place "through the merits of Isaac, who offered himself upon the altar" (Pesikta de RavKahane, 32).

"The death of the righteous atones" is very deeply ingrained in the Jewish tradition. There's a certain logic behind it that has its basis in the relationship between sin and punishment. When someone sins, they often "pay" for it by suffering somehow, and the more serious the sin, the greater the suffering. This concept can be found in Leviticus 26:43 and Isaiah 40:1. Considering these verses that connect "payment" for sins, it's not difficult to see why the rabbis thought that "exile atones" (b. Berakhot 56a; b Sanh. 37b). Once the people had paid the serious price of exile for their serious sins, they would return to the land. At the same time, nowhere do these texts use the word "atone." There is a significant difference between "payment" and "atonement." Atonement removes guilt and purifies the sinner; it doesn't just pay for sin.

The rabbis recognized different classes of sins which required different means of gaining forgiveness, including repentance, restitution, waiting until the Day of Atonement, passing through a certain amount of suffering, and waiting until death—the final payment—which could count not only for one's own sins, but also for the sins of others. Numbers 25 provides a biblical example in which the deaths of guilty representatives paid the price needed to turn away God's wrath from the guilt of the whole nation. In this passage Phineas, a grandson of Aaron the priest, takes a spear and runs it through the Israelite man lying with a Moabite woman. This action not only stops the spread of the plague through Israel, but also earns Phineas and his descendants a lasting covenant of peace with the Lord "because [Phineas] was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites" (Num. 25:13b). According to this passage, atonement was made for the whole sinful nation through the death of a small number of representative sinners; their deaths were considered adequate payment for the sins of the whole group.

If this is true for guilty representatives, what about the death of a righteous person? If the most righteous person in the community offered to give his life as a ransom so that the others might be spared, how valuable would his death be? There's plenty in the Jewish tradition regarding the "merits of the patriarchs" or "the merits of the righteous"; it's clearly not a foreign concept.

What if the Messiah offered up his life for the nation? Is there any other individual whose life is worth more than his? When the Messiah died, his death served as a ransom for the sins of the whole world. He came into this world not to be served, "but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

Israel's whole sacrificial system was based on the principle of life for life, where those who were guilty transferred their sins onto an innocent victim. This concept of substitution, however, didn't just hold for animal sacrifices – it also carried over into the human realm. For example, there was an assumption that the Levites helped absorb the wrath of God on behalf of the nation when someone profaned the sanctuary (Num. 8:19). Also, according to Numbers 35, the death of the high priest—theone charged with interceding and making atonement at the altar on behalf of the nation—could bring an end to the punishment of a person guilty of unintentional manslaughter. This idea of substitutionary death reaches its high point in Isaiah 53 in reference to the Suffering Servant on whom "the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all . . . for he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors."

Some religious Jews react negatively to the idea that a sacrifice could pay for sins that have not yet been committed, but even this concept has a place in the tradition. For example, there are traditional prayers said upon the death of a rabbi asking that his death will serve as an atonement for the present generation (presumably even for those sins committed after his death). There's also Isaac's sacrifice, which was said to somehow be effective for all subsequent generations. This idea is not foreign to Judaism. Not only is this concept consistent with Scripture and Jewish thought, but it has already received its fullest application in our nation's history in the death of one righteous individual whose life of perfect obedience and whose willingness to give his life in the place of others has the power to free every one of us from the guilt of our sins, satisfying the wrath of God and making complete atonement for us all. The Messiah, the obedient Son, said to his Father, "Let my life be an atonement for them," and God said, "It is enough."

As the apostle Paul explains: "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Messiah died for us" (Rom. 5:7-8). This message is very Jewish! The death of the righteous—the truly righteous, the Messiah, the High Priest of Israel and the nations, the Redeemer who pays for our sins—atones!

It's incredibly difficult to wrap our minds around the enormity of our sins accumulated over the course of our lifetime, let alone the enormous amount of sins that accumulate for every person in the world. Add to that not only the sins of those who are alive right now, but the sins of every other human being in history. Who could possibly pay for such a huge mountain of sins? It would need to be someone very righteous indeed, someone whose death would be worth an infinite value in order to counterbalance the evil in the world.The Son of God, the Messiah, whose life and death was of infinite value in the eyes of God, has taken upon himself the sins of the world, and his blood makes atonement for us in full.

It was not the blood of animals that God was ultimately interested in, and it wasn't Isaac who died for our sins. All the righteous martyrs and godly priests could never make us truly whole. The Messiah alone was able to make atonement for our sins, once and for all. The death of the Righteous atones. Through him you can make a break with your past, receive the forgiveness of sins, and start with a brand new slate. Through him your life can be changed. The Messiah took your place. Today can be your Day of Atonement if you fully trust in him.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 153-167.

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Another reason that I can't believe that the death of Jesus paid for my sins is that the Torah teaches that for the blood to be effectual, it had to be poured out on the altar in a specific way. This obviously does not refer to Jesus!

Let me remind you that it was the sacrificial system that pointed to the death of the Messiah, not the other way around. Animal sacrifices exemplified certain principles that would only find their full explanation in the blood of the Messiah. The Messiah was not treated like an animal sacrifice, and therefore, the detailed laws as to how those sacrifices were to be carried out do not apply to his death. Even so, God accepted blood sacrifices that weren't carried out on the altar in Jerusalem (e.g., 2 Sam. 24:17-25; 1 Kings 18:31-39), which means your argument would rule those out too.

When Isaiah declared that the Lord would make his righteous servant an 'asham (guilt offering) (Isa. 53:10), did he stipulate that this would have to take place on the altar in Jerusalem if it was to be really effective? Of course not! Just as the blood of religious Jews through the ages—whose deaths were considered as atoning for their generation's sins—was not poured out on the altar in Jerusalem (see 3.15), neither was the blood of Yeshua, who willingly offered his life as a righteous martyr, making atonement for the sins of the world. The sacrifice regulations referred to types and images of the ultimate sacrifice by which the Messiah saved the world.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 167-168.

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If the death of Jesus was the fulfillment of the sacrificial system, why do the prophets anticipate sacrifices when the Third Temple is built?

The book of Hebrews strongly emphasizes the once-and-for all nature of Jesus' death (see Heb. 7:27, 10:8-10). At first glance, there does seem to be a contradiction between this claim and the visions given by God to the prophets regarding the future. Let's see whether there is really a contradiction here.

The most prominent of these prophetic visions can be found in the last eight chapters of Ezekiel, in which the prophet describes a new Temple, an altar, sacrifices, and priests. God promised to fill the new Temple with his glory and to make it his dwelling place among his people forever (see Ezek. 43:7-9). Ezekiel's vision includes detailed instructions on how the new Temple is to be built and how offerings are to be made, including regulations on sin offerings and guilt offerings, and the blood that is to be used for atonement (see e.g., Ezek. 42:13; 43:18-21; 43:20, 26; 45:15, 17, 20).

With its assumption of the continuation of animal sacrifices this must be considered by Jews to be not only problematic for followers of Jesus, but also for traditional Jews too since they claim that the sacrificial system has been replaced by prayer, repentance, and charity. The vision indicates that sacrifices are in some way pleasing to God and are part of his people's future. Is this not a step backwards for traditional Jews, especially in light of the anti-missionary stance that prayer is superior and more acceptable to God than animal sacrifice?

The last eight chapters of Ezekiel are widely considered to be very difficult to interpret by both leading Orthodox Jewish and Christian scholars. There are many discrepancies between Ezekiel's Temple laws and comparable laws in the Torah. Some scholars have been so thoroughly puzzled by Ezekiel 40-48 that they have decided to let Elijah explain itupon his return! If even the best Jewish scholars don't quite know what to make of these chapters in relation to the Torah, how can you blame Messianic Jews for not having a satisfactory answer that corresponds neatly with the claims of the New Testament regarding Jesus' atoning death?

One of the challenges of these chapters is that they suggest that the Temple of the vision is meant to be constructed during the prophet's lifetime. In Ezekiel 43:19 God tells Ezekiel, "You are to take the blood, you are to take the bull, etc." And there are other places in chapters 44-48 where Ezekiel is expected to be carrying out the various Temple functions. Does this vision refer to the Second or to a Third Temple? The vision makes it clear that Ezekiel is meant to share all the details of the Temple as a means of bringing about the repentance of those in exile, so that they would be spiritually prepared to build it when they returned. If that is the case, it seems things didn't quite turn out as Ezekiel expected.

Given the traditional understanding that Ezekiel never returned from exile but was buried in Babylon, given that the Second Temple was not built to Ezekiel's specifications, and given that the glorious transformation promised in the vision never came to pass upon the people's return from exile, Radak came to believe that this passage pointed to the resurrection. He maintained that the men of Ezekiel's generation would indeed build the Temple—but thousands of years in the future, after their resurrection—and that Ezekiel would be there serving as priest alongside Aaron.

Rashi believed that the Temple should have been built during Ezekiel's lifetime, shortly after the return from exile, but that the sinfulness of the people prohibited its construction. In other words, the vision had to be postponed, which was neither what God had intended, nor what Ezekiel had understood. All this demonstrates how difficult it is to interpret Ezekiel's vision. If the rabbis believe that best solution to the interpretive difficulties is to wait for the return of Elijah, then I don't know how this vision can be used to discredit the Messiah's once-and-for-all atoning death on the cross.

Even if the details of Ezekiel's vision might be a bit ambiguous, what about its assumption that sacrifices of atonement will still be needed in the future? I would argue that this vision raises the question not only of atonement, but of the function of sacrifices in general. There are Rabbinic traditions that assume that the only sacrifices that will be offered in the Messianic age will be thanksgiving offerings. If that is the case, does Ezekiel's vision refer to the Messianic age, or does it refer to the age to come (assuming that they are even distinguishable in the first place)? Why would the people of Israel need atonement during the Messianic age in the first place, especially since the vision describes everything as filled with the glory of God?

I'm not going to foolishly claim that I understand what these chapters from Ezekiel are all about, but I do have a few ideas that I'll share with you. I'm going to move away from Ezekiel for a moment and recall the primary purpose for building a sanctuary. In Exodus 25:8, referring to the Tabernacle, God says, "Then have them make a sanctuary [Heb. "holy place"] for me, and I will dwell [Heb. sh-k-n] among them." The Temple has the same purpose: the people are promised that if they do everything as directed, God will come and dwell [Heb. sh-k-n] among them (1 Kings 6:12-13). What is the central promise in Ezekiel's vision? "Now let them put away from me their prostitution and the lifeless idols of their kings, and I will dwell [Heb. sh-k-n] among them forever" (Ezek. 43:9). If you read all three of these passages in context, you'll see that the desire and promise of God is to live among his people, but for him to do so requires holiness from the people in return.

Following the Talmud (b. Arachin 12a), Rashi and Radak both believed that Ezekiel received his vision on the Day of Atonement during a Jubilee year in which debts are to be cancelled and slaves are to be set free (Lev. 25). This adds some significant layers to our interpretation by bringing together three important themes: God dwelling with his people, atonement, and the release of God's people from their captivity. The reality of the return, however, did not match the glory of the vision. All this makes me wonder whether Ezekiel, speaking from the perspective of a priest, was somewhat limited by the language at his disposal when he tried to articulate what God had showed him. Perhaps Ezekiel's vision is completely symbolic; why else would there be so many contradictions between what he sees and how the Torah regulations? Moreover, the vision wasn't fulfilled during Ezekiel's lifetime, as the text suggests. Is it possible that Ezekiel's vision is meant to stretch the spiritual imagination beyond the literal, historical level?

Jeremiah and Isaiah both spoke about Israel's return from exile, and Haggai and Zechariah mentioned the building of the Second Temple; however, their visions were so glorious that they can only be described as a new creation and a second exodus (see vol. 3, 4.5). These prophecies were fulfilled in different ways than the prophets described they would since the physical glory of the Second Temple was not greater than that of the First and final atonement was not made during those days (see vol. 1, 2.1). What conclusion are we to draw from this? What if Ezekiel's vision was God's way of saying to his servant, "I will forgive my people, wipe away their sins, and bring my glory into their midst again. See it, taste it, touch it. It will surely happen!" What could be more glorious to a priest than a restored Temple? What could speak better of atonement and purification than blood sacrifices? These were the words and images Ezekiel had onhand that best expressed God's glorious promise of forgiveness and restoration of his people.

There are a few possible explanations as to why the return of the Jews from Babylon did not quite match the glorious prophetic visions of that return: (1) the Bible is not true (this is not a viable option for a traditional Jew or for Christians, (2) because Israel was too sinful the timetable had to be altered (despite Rabbinic traditions to that effect, this also is not an option for traditional Jews or Christians),or (3) the promises were fulfilled when the Messiah arrived (which would explain many scriptural passages that would be difficult to interpret otherwise).

The coming of the Messiah into the world is God's fulfillment of his desire and promise to dwell among his people forever. Through the Messiah, God has brought about the creation of a new Temple, but not one made of stone; he inaugurated a spiritual temple built out of "living stones," as Peter describes (1 Pet. 2:4-5), comprised of redeemed Jews and Gentiles alike. The people of God would be the Temple of God and God would dwell in us. Spiritual sacrifices would be made to the Lord, beginning with the offering of our own lives. These themes are elaborated on in the New Testament (e.g., Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1; Heb. 13:15-16).

Perhaps Ezekiel's vision was not meant to be understood literally, but was to be interpreted as a reassuring sign that God would keep his promises to release and restore his people, provide atonement for sin, and dwell among his people forever. Perhaps it points to Yeshua, our great High Priest, the Messiah and the living Temple made up of God's own people, redeemed and purified by the blood of the new Paschal lamb.

If you remove the Messiah from the equation, where is the hope that Ezekiel's vision, and those of the other prophets, will ever be fulfilled? The prophets would have proven unreliable witnesses, since they had prophesied that certain events, including divine visitation and final atonement, would take place before the destruction of the Second Temple (see vol. 1, 2.1). It is no coincidence that there has been no earthly Temple since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE; God has been building a world-wide spiritual Temple that is sufficient, based on the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah.

For the sake of argument, let's consider the possibility that the vision does mean that a literal Temple wouldbe built when the Messiah returns and that literal sacrifices wouldbe offered in it. Does that necessarily contradict the claim that Jesus offered atonement once and for all? There are Christians and Jews who believe that the Messiah build the Temple, and they explain the discrepancies between the rules of sacrifice in Ezekiel's vision and the Temple laws set out in the Torah as an indication that the Temple in Ezekiel's vision will be a different kind of Temple built according to a new Torah written for a new age.

Let's examine the function of sacrifices as presented in the Torahin relation to the Messiah and to the age to come. Hebrews 9:11-14 provides a succinct explanation of the relationship of the three: The sacrifices offered according to the Torah both pointed to and anticipated the atoning death of Jesus. They were able to cleanse us from outward defilement and provide a temporary forgiveness, but the atoning death of Jesus actually transforms our natures. After the death of Jesus, animal sacrifices were still offered for another forty years, and Messianic Jews seem to have participated in some of those rituals. Perhaps those sacrifices, as well as those which might be offered in a future Temple, can be understood to point back to what Yeshua has already done to gain our eternal atonement. They might be classified as a memorial, much as communion or the Eucharist is already in Christian circles—a constant reminder of the Messiah's sacrifice for us. In a similar way, animal sacrifices could be seen as serving as memorials to "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

There is another question which we must strive to answer: Should we really expect there to be animal sacrifices in a future Temple? In the Messianic era, will there be any need for expiatory sacrifices? As I've already mentioned, there is a Rabbinic tradition that only thanksgiving offerings will be made in the Messianic era. Beyond Ezekiel's vision, there are very few references in the prophets to future sacrifices. Only Jeremiah speaks about offerings made by the Jewish people, whereas Isaiah, Zechariah and Malachi are referring to those brought by Gentiles. None of them mention atonement or forgiveness of sins in relation to sacrifices. These references in Isaiah, Zechariah and Malachi combined only number three or four verses, which implies that this topic was not of primary importance to these prophets.

Zechariah's reference (14:16, 20-21) has to do with the Feast of Tabernacles, and he does not describe the kind of sacrifice that would be offered. There is some sense in which the passage must be taken metaphorically, since this prophecy presents those coming to sacrifice from all over the world as arriving on horses. This would pose quite a challenge for those coming from New Zealand! Perhaps Zechariah's vision describes worship of God in general, and not a newly constructed Temple in Jerusalem.

The incense and pure offerings Malachi mentions (Mal. 1:11) could be understood in a similar way: they represent the worship and prayers "in every place" (as the text reads), rather than in a future Temple in Jerusalem. Again, there is no reference to the need for future atonement; instead, there is just a comment on the universal adoration of the Lord. This also happens to be the theme of Isaiah's relevant vision (19:21), which also mentions that Gentiles would bring sacrifices and offerings as expressions of thanksgiving.

Two passages in Jeremiah could be understood as referring to future sacrifices that would be offered by the people of Israel. The first passage (17:24-26) was delivered before the destruction of the First Temple, so it is possible that it was never fulfilled. The people are offered a chance for "the city to be inhabited forever" if they faithfully keep the Sabbath, but it is fair to assume that since the people failed to repent of their disobedience, they lost the opportunity to receive this blessing. The other text, Jeremiah 33, was given after the destruction of the Temple and refers to a restored city and sacrificial system. This prophecy could have been fulfilled during the Second Temple. The presence of a Third Temple is not a prerequisite for the fulfillment of these prophecies, but even if they do refer to a Third Temple, it is significant that neither of them mentions sin or guilt offerings.

None of the passages in the Hebrew Bible that may be reasonably understood to be referring to a future Temple and sacrifices provides the conclusive evidence necessary for doubting the once-and-for-all nature of the Messiah's atoning death. In a court of law, the case would be dismissed. Wefind nothing in these texts that make usquestion the finality, power, and efficacy of Yeshua's atoning death for the sins of the world.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 169-186.

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The Christian concept of salvation is contrary to the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition. We Jews don't need saving!

Let's consider two things; first, how the Bible describes salvation, and secondly, why it is that Jews (along with the rest of humanity) are in need of salvation. There are two other concepts that relate to this objection, "original sin" and "the fall of humankind," which I address in another section (3.20).

You suggest that the differences between the Christian concept of salvation and that of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition are so significant that the two cannot be reconciled. While I agree that the two have some different emphases, they are derived from the same source.

For the most part, the salvation spoken about in the Tanakh is an earthly one. Much of the saving work attributed to God affected his people right then and there. God saves (Heb. y-sh-') his people by bringing them out of Egypt and dealing with their Egyptian enemies, and then continues to save them from their enemies. Many of the Psalms are cries to God to save the psalmist from personal enemies, illness, harm, or danger. In the New Testament, the emphasis shifts from earthly salvation to heavenly salvation, from physical deliverance to spiritual deliverance. Although there are differences in emphases, the concepts of salvation are intrinsically connected.

In order to understand the true nature of Israel's salvation, you need to zoom out to the broadest view and see that Israel's physical conflicts with the various nations were all part of a larger cosmic battle. There's a deep connection between the physical and the spiritual. God is in charge over all other hostile forces, whether they are the forces of nature, spiritual forces, or human armies, as Psalms 74 and 93 so aptly capture. God has established his rule and ordered his creation. As Psalm 97 describes, God's sovereignty is based on righteousness and justice, and he calls his people to hate evil; all false gods and those who worship them will meet God's wrath.

When God saves his people, he is not just interested in their earthly needs, but is also concerned about their spiritual needs. In Psalm 18, for instance, David calls on God for deliverance from evil men and from the forces of death and destruction, and God saves David because of his righteousness (Ps. 18: 20-24[21-25]). Although the Tanakh primarily depicts God's salvation in earthly terms, spiritual or heavenly elements were also included because Israel's life was part of a larger cosmic drama. This is perhaps best illustrated in the book of Job, which discloses a battle between good and evil, God and Satan, with both heavenly and earthly witnesses observing and sometimes playing a role in Job's struggles.

The question that is constantly being asked throughout the Tanakh is will Israel (as a nation or as individuals) remain obedient to God's laws, and therefore be recipients of his favor and reward, or will Israel's enemies (both visible and invisible) triumph, leading the people into sin and bondage? "Salvation" was far more than a limited, earth-bound, worldly concept; in fact, it often tied in directly with salvation from sin, be it Israel's own sin (or the psalmists own sin), or the sinful attacks of the nations (or Satan).

In this way the concept of salvation in the Old Testament ties in directly with that of the New Testament. When the Messiah arrived, he brought God's kingdom with him. God's Spirit was there in power, driving back the hostile forces and setting captives free. To drive the point home that the Messianic era had begun, Jesus quoted from Isaiah (61:1-2; 58:6), which describes salvation holistically, i.e. as affecting spirit, soul and body. Jesus came to bring good news tothe poor, freedom to captives, sight to the blind, and release for the oppressed.

The word primarily used in the New Testament for "salvation" is the Greek word sozo which has a very inclusive and extensive definition: "to rescue, save, deliver, preserve from danger, i.e. death, sin, sickness, demons, hell, peril, etc." Jesus is described as a Savior (Gr. soter) who forgives, delivers, heals and resurrects, both temporarily and eternally. This correlates with the titles for God in the Hebrew Scriptures—Savior, Deliverer, and Healer of his people.

There is more of an emphasis on the eternal destiny of people in the New Testament than in the Hebrew Scriptures, but this is not so much a contrast as it is a development of the concept of salvation as found in the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh merely hints about what happens to people after death; the prophet Daniel seems to be the most explicit, introducing the idea of some people awaking to everlasting life and others to everlasting shame and contempt. It was only after Daniel (and before Yeshua) that Jewish writings began to show a real interest in the afterlife, and by the time Yeshua was on the scene, the Pharisees had a fairly developed view about the world to come. The Talmud inherited these views and expanded them with numerous discussions.

Yeshua brought things that had previously been hidden out into the light and helped explain things that had only been partially revealed by expanding and developing concepts found in the Tanakh. Both the Old and New Testaments place great importance on right living, faith in the one true God, repentance, and obedience. While the Hebrew Scriptures tend to emphasize reward and punishment experienced in this world, the New Testament speaks primarily about the world to come; however, neither ignores the other dimension entirely.

Do Jews need saving? Because we are all sinners, yes. All human beings have the option available to them of choosing to do the good, resisting temptation, and saying no to certain sins. Despite this, no one is capable of never sinning. The psalmist knew that well enough, pleading with God: "Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you" (Ps. 143:2). Jeremiah knew it too: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). All you have to do is read the history of our people to see how many times we have fallen short of God's expectations and suffered God's wrathful judgment (see vol. 1, 1.10, 1.16). We are utterly dependent upon God's grace and mercy. If God did not forgive us, we would have no hope at all.

For almost two millennia, most of our people have been in exile outside of the land. Why do you think the Temple has been in ruins for more than 1900 years? Do you think that our sin, both past and present, might have something to do with this?

The bad news is that the Jews need to be saved as much as anyone else. The good news is that God has provided for our full salvation through our Messiah, Yeshua, the Savior of Jews and Gentiles alike.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 186-194.

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Jewish people don't need a middleman.

What exactly do you mean by "middleman"? I know that Jesus is often negatively depicted as standing in the way and blocking access to God, but he's not that kind of middleman.

Do you realize that our ancestors found it helpful to have mediators between them and God? Who do you think the priests and Levites were, if not middlemen? They alone were allowed to perform the necessary services in the Temple. Among them, only the high priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place (see Lev. 16:2). There are stories of those who thought they knew better (including a few kings) and tried to usurp the place of the priests and Levites, only to have their pride crushed by God. Israel needed the high priest to present offerings and gifts on behalf of the people. Yeshua is now serving as our high priest by making our gifts and offerings acceptable to God (see vol. 3, 4.1); this is the kind of middleman Yeshua is.

Do you remember what happened when God tried to speak directly to the Israelites on Mount Sinai? They were so terrified that they begged God to let Moses act as their go-between (Exod. 20:18-19). The people of Israel needed priests to atone for their sins and prophets to communicate God's messages to them because of the awesome holiness of God, which was believed to be deadly if it was approached by someone who was not holy.

Think about the role the rabbi plays for the Jewish community today. He studies and interprets the Torah, explaining what God expects of his people. Many Jews believe that the rabbi represents God and speaks with authority, and some even think his prayers are more likely to be heard by God than those of "ordinary" Jews. Similarly, there are non-religious Jews who rely on religious Jews to present their prayers for them at the Wailing Wall on their behalf.

All human beings need help knowing who God is, what he requires from us, and how we are to relate to him; Jews are no exception. Jesus' taskas a "middleman" is to bring people into right relationship with God. In fact, he allows us to enter with him into the Most Holy Place, granting us direct access to the holy presence through his blood. We do need a middleman, the kind of middleman that Yeshua is, because without him, we'd be standing outside the door with no way of gaining access. Because of Jesus, however, the door has been flung wide open to welcome us home.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 195-198.

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Judaism does not believe in original sin or a 'fall' of the human race. We do not believe that the human race is totally sinful.

Let me first explain what I mean by "original sin" and the "fall" of the human race. What I don't mean to imply is that human beings are incapable of doing any good at all and that they can only do evil. On the contrary, I believe that even the wickedest person has some moral qualities. What I mean is that every human being follows in the footsteps of Adam and Eve. The Torah tells us that human beings were created with a free will, capable of obeying God, and that God declared them to be good. Adam and Eve, however, abused this gift of freedom that was given to them, and since that first act of rebellion, sin has spread and affected everything to the point that it is now part of our nature.

No one has to teach children to disobey; it comes quite naturally to them. We are often shocked to think that our children act the way they sometimes do, but the truth is that they often learn that behavior from us, and we learned it from our parents, and our parents from their parents, etc. We all have an inclination to sin. It takes so little effort to do what is wrong, but so much discipline to do what is right. Something has gone very wrong with the human race.

When God finished creating the world and everything in it, he pronounced it all "very good," but it didn't take too long before shame, fear, duplicity and denial, followed by jealousy, hatred and even murder to enter into the hearts of human beings. Something happened between God's pronouncement of "very good" in the first chapter of Genesis and the murder of Abel in chapter four. This "something" that went wrong is what I mean by "the fall" of the human race, which explains (to a degree) all the horrible things that we humans do to one another and to the planet.

Is it God's fault that sin entered into the world since he gave Adam and Eve free will? By no means! If God had intended us to be evil, he would not have grieved as much over Adam and Eve's fallas he did. Genesis 6 explains that God was so affected by our sinfulness that he decided to destroy us before we could destroy each other. Even people whom others consider to be good people are capable of doing terrible things that they would be embarrassed and ashamed of if others discovered what they were thinking about or had done in secret. Even the things we intend for good are tinged with pride and self-righteousness. Human nature is fatally flawed and terribly tainted. In the words of Jeremiah,"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9).

It is the fact that we are created in God's image that enables us to be moral and to do good and noble things. God has given us a conscience which is supposed to turn us away from evil and help us know what we should do. We are created in the image of God, but that image has been so corrupted that we are more easily identified as children of Adam than as children of God. Nevertheless, God's Spirit tries to show us the error of our ways and to help us be obedient to God's law. The Scriptures also encourage us to change our ways. This interior struggle is something that rages inside each and every one of us throughout our lives, unless we have given up altogether and entirely succumbed to evil.

We cannot bring ourselves out of our predicament. No amount of self-improvement is going to change our nature. We may try to live up to God's standards, but we will fall short again and again. Try living twenty four hours a day without sin, in your thoughts as well as in your deeds, and see how successful you are. Sin seems to have such a stranglehold on us that we have a very difficult time shaking it loose.

The Bible records the history of our people's constant struggle with sin and God's response. Even though human beings were just as evil after the flood as they were before the deluge, God kept his promise never to destroy the earth because of sin again (Gen. 8:21). Within days of receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were worshiping the golden calf. Also, remember that only two people from the original wilderness generation were allowed by God to enter the Promised Land. The kings of Israel and Judah, including Saul, David and Solomon, all sinned (some terribly and constantly) in one way or another. In his day, Jeremiah was told to look for one honest person in Jerusalem (Jer. 5:1), but he couldn't even find one! Neither could Ezekiel find one righteous person (22:30-31). Because of their constant disobedience, God's people saw their Temple and cities destroyed and were taken away into exile. Even after their return from captivity, God's people knew little peace since they were constantly living under foreign occupation; this was God's punishment for their sin. After this, the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed yet again. Almost two thousand years later, the Temple has still not been rebuilt. Why do you suppose that is?

Even now, as we witness the ongoing miracle of the rebirth of the State of Israel, our moral problems still persist. Atheism, materialism, drug abuse, alcoholism, pornography, prostitution, and abortion all are rampant in the "Holy Land." Ordinary citizens and religious leaders alike are affected by sin. Very religious Jews have been caught up in financial scandals, and have resorted to using intimidation tactics against their opponents. It is clear that something is fundamentally wrong with our people and that Jews are just as in need of divine help as Gentiles are.

Moral individuals stand out from the crowd, proving to be the exception to the rule, but even these "saints" are very much aware—maybe even more aware than others—of their flaws, sins, and need for atonement.

One of the questions that accompanies the discussion of "original sin" is whether human beings are responsible for their sins if they have inherited their sinful nature from their parents. The traditional Jewish solution to this problem is that although it is impossible for human beings to directly inherit sin, thereby rendering them guiltless, people may be "burdened by the consequences of the wrongdoings of [their] forefathers" (Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, 96). There is also a traditional Jewish teaching that human beings have to deal constantly with an internal struggle between our good and evil inclinations. People have a tendency to judge others and to think they're good people, but they often do the very same things as those they are judging, and become adept at justifying their own actions.

Of course, there are Jews who have turned their lives around and started being more faithful observers of the Torah. From an objective standpoint, however, very few of those were deeply entrenched in sin and evil to begin with. The truth of the matter is that Judaism doesn't have a very strong track record with turning really degenerate lives around. It is difficult to convert hardened sinners. This is not the fault of Judaism, of course; it's the fault of the human race, which needs God to reach down and save it.

Jesus the Messiah came into the world "to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (Heb. 7:5). So many people have experienced the life-transforming truth of this statement by believing in Yeshua. Jesus the Messiah offers us the only way out of our sinful condition. We are called to trust in him and to ask God to forgive our sins because of what he has done on our behalf. As we identify ourselves with his saving death, the sins which once enslaved us begin to lose their power over us; through Yeshua, we can overcome sin. Granted, we'll never experience complete freedom from sin during this lifetime; nevertheless, we'll begin to taste the wonderful, holy liberty that will one day be ours forever.

If you're willing to step away from your denial and acknowledge that we are by nature slaves to sin, Jesus the Messiah can also set you free (John 8:31-32).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 198-208.

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Jews don't need to repent.

This objection goes totally against the grain of the Jewish tradition; I'll devote a few paragraphs to pointing out just how central this tenet is to the Jewish faith.

  • Here are only two selections from the Talmud on repentance: "Better an hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than a whole lifetime in the world to come" (m. Avot 4:17); "Great is repentance, for it reaches the Throne of Glory; . . . for it brings redemption . . . for it lengthens a man's life" (b. Yoma 86a).
  • Moses Maimonides was so emphatic about the importance of repentance for receiving forgiveness that he devoted a whole section in his Law Code (Mishneh Torah) to learning how to do it correctly. He wrote: "Even a person who was wicked his whole life and repented in his final moments will not be reminded of any aspect of his wickedness" (1:3, as rendered by Touger, Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, 12).
  • One of the Eighteen Benedictions, which Traditional Jews recite daily, is specifically dedicated to repentance: "Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah, and bring us near, our King, to Your service, and cause us to return in complete repentance before You. Blessed are You, O LORD, who desires repentance."
  • Some of the greatest contemporary Jewish thinkers have spent a great deal of time and energy on the subject of repentance, e.g., Rav Soloveitchik, Abraham Isaac Kook, and Solomon Schechter.
  • When a secular Jew becomes traditional, he is referred to as a ba'al teshuva, literally, "a master of repentance." Penitent Jews are accorded the highest respect; the Talmud states, "Where the repentant stand, not even the completely righteous can stand" (b. Berakhot 34b).
  • Especially when compared to Eastern religions, Judaism's emphasis on the centrality of repentance becomes plain. As Jacob Neusner comments, "For Judaism the conception of repentance—regretting sin, determining not to repeat it, seeking forgiveness for it—defines the key to the moral life. No single component of the human condition takes higher priority in establishing the right relationship with God, and none bears more profound implication for this-worldly attitudes and actions" (Jacob Neusner, "Repentance in Judaism," 61-62).

If you really want a good example of the significance of repentance for religious Jews, I recommend that you go into a Jewish bookstore around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; the books on repentance will be flying off the shelves!

Why is it that we Jews, who have been given the great privilege of receiving the Torah, have failed so miserably in our obedience to God's laws? Instead, we have often distinguished ourselves as being especially obstinate, and so, of all peoples, repentance has been crucial—and precious—to us.

The main message of the prophets can be summarized in one word: "Repent!" Let us heed their advice!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 208-210.

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Judaism doesn't believe in a divine Messiah.

Judaism has had, and continues to have, many different beliefs about the Messiah. While there is no explicit teaching about the divinity of the Messiah, there are many Jewish traditions that describe the Messiah as superhuman or as having divine characteristics. Even the Talmud, which emerged from the first century to represent the dominant strand of the tradition, offers a variety of interpretations about the Messiah. One of the most important and lengthy Messianic discussions (b. Sanh. 96b-99a) provides a number of different beliefs, some of which have become common (e.g., the Messiah is referred to as the son of David), but others of which have remained obscure. Furthermore, much of what is recorded there is mutually contradictory! In other words, not even the Talmud presents a clear picture of the Messiah. The Talmudic teachings on the Messiah are rather vague because the Talmud is primarily interested in legal rulings, not beliefs.

According to Rav Sa'adiah Gaon, there is a possibility that there will be two Messiahs: the Messiah son of Joseph, associated with a time of victory mixed with hardship and suffering (see b. Sukkah 52a), and the Messiah son of David, who would triumphantly establish God's kingdom on earth. If Israel remains obedient, however, only one Messiah (the son of David) would be needed since the hardship and suffering that accompany the coming of the Messiah son of Joseph would be bypassed. According to this tradition, the nature of the Messiah(s) partially depends on the spiritual state of Israel when the time of redemption arrives. Sa'adiah Gaon's view, however, is not well known among Jews today since the view of Moses Maimonides carries so much weight. According to Maimonides, there will be only one Messiah, the son of David. Maimonides's interpretation has carried so much weight that Sa'adiah Gaon's interpretation and other traditions have been marginalized.

From the above, it is obvious that it would be overly simplistic to claim, "Judaism doesn't believe in a divine Messiah," or "Judaism doesn't believe the Messiah will come twice." To which text, expression, or legal authority do these statements refer? There are many different teachings on the Messiah regarding his nature, sufferings, and the timing of his arrival, just as there are different teaching about what the Messianic Age will be like, which makes it difficult to know which of those teachings should be followed.

As far as the divinity of the Messiah goes, you're right; there is no single source that describes his nature as divine. At the same time, there are sources that refer to the Messiah's supernatural qualities, which are sometimes called "semi-divine." Given that the rabbis were aware that Jesus was considered divine, the fact that they cannot seem to get rid of the idea of the Messiah's divinity altogether indicates that the scriptural evidence in that direction is too strong to completely ignore. Plus, the longer our people waited to be rescued by the Messiah, the more exalted a figure he became in their eyes.

The Tanakh lays the foundation for understanding the Messiah to be divine. Furthermore, different expressions of the Jewish tradition allow for the Messiah to have semi-divine qualities. Because I discuss some other angles on this topic in other sections (see 3. 2 and 3.3), here I will simply explore a few of the key texts from both traditional Jewish sources and the Hebrew Bible to see what they have to say about the Messiah's divinity.

Traditional Jewish literature is so expansive that it is often called the "sea of the Talmud." There's always the possibility of pulling out obscure, random texts to support almost any position. Instead of following this method, I'm going to limit my search to a widely known and respected text, the midrash to Isaiah 52:13, which reads: "See my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted."

The midrash on this passage grants the Messiah a very prominent position higher than Abraham, Moses, and even the angels! The language of exaltation and being lifted up used in this passage to refer to the Messiah can be found elsewhere in the Prophet to describe God himself. Some who have commented on this midrash, including Rabbi Don Yitshaq Abravanel, are surprised that the Messiah, a human being, is described in such exalted language. They are also very aware that such an interpretation could be used by Christians to justify raising a human being to the level of God, which is why they believed it was necessary to give an adequate explanation of this midrash. But it wasn't only the "heretics" who read more into this passage than seemed appropriate; traditional Jewish commentators (e.g. Moshe Ibn Crispin) did too, attributing superhuman intelligence to the Messiah, which is their explanation of why the Messiah is described as being higher than the angels.

There are some Jewish traditions that grant a preexistence to the Messiah (or his name), and others that speak about his coming on the clouds of heaven. When these are combined with the traditions describing the Messiah's supernatural qualities, it's easy to see how the Messiah could be understood as a greatly exalted, even semi-divine figure.

There are several key texts in the Hebrew Bible that lend credence to the highly exalted stature of the Messiah. Psalm 2:7, in which the Davidic king, the anointed one, is referred to as God's son, draws on the following passages:

  • Exodus 4:22, in which Israel is called God's firstborn son;
  • Isaiah 52:13 and Isaiah 42:1, in which the servant is held up as exemplary;
  • Psalm 110:1, which includes "The LORD said to my lord, 'sit at my right hand,'" and which describes the Messiah as greater than David;
  • Daniel 7:13, in which the prophet sees the "son of man coming with the clouds of heaven."

Does the passage from Daniel (7:13-14) prove the Messiah's divinity? Not necessarily, but it does depict him as more than human. The verses that immediately precede this passage refer to two thrones that were set in place, and there has been much discussion among the sages as to whose thrones those were. Was one throne for God and the other for the Messiah? Was there one for grace and one for justice? Or was there actually only one throne while the other "throne" was really a footstool? No matter how one approaches the text, if this passage does refer to the Messiah, the implication is that the Messiah is more than merely human.

In light of all this, I submit to you something wonderful and profound: Through the Messiah, God himself has reached out to us, committing himself totally to our redemption and salvation. In another section (3.23), I discuss the suffering of the Messiah. His exaltation and his suffering manifest the depths and lengths God has gone to reach out to us in Yeshua. If you carefully and prayerfully consider the evidence, you will understand that he alone fulfills the Messianic expectations of the prophets of Israel and that he alone fulfills the Messianic dream; we could hope for no greater Messiah than him.

It is unfortunate that in our day, thousands of Lubavitcher Jews (Chabad) perpetuate the claim that their deceased Grand Rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Rebbe, is actually "King Messiah." Some even speak of him as if he incarnated God and refer to the Rebbe as the "Essence of the Infinite," or even "The Master of the Universe." Of course, other Orthodox Jews have expressed their disagreement of Chabad's use of this terminology for their leader, but this terminology demonstrates that incarnational language for the Messiah is not completely foreign to Jewish thinking. It is ironic, however, that these groups refuse to allow the same concepts to be attached to Yeshua, claiming that the New Testament concepts of the Messiah's divinity are offensive to them.

Chabad hasthe right concepts but the wrong candidate! Jesus alone fits the bill and fulfills the biblical description of the Messiah. He is our divine Messiah, the ideal righteous King, the one whose death is powerful enough to pay for the sins of the whole world (see 3.15).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 210-220.

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Judaism doesn't believe in a suffering Messiah.

There are many prominent traditions in Jewish literature that refer to the sufferings of the Messiah. These traditions can be found in the Talmud, in the midrashic writings, and in both medieval and modern commentaries on the Bible. In some of these traditions, two Messiahs are mentioned: the Messiah, son of Joseph, and the Messiah, Son of David. It is the latter who is most widely recognized as the Messiah, and for whose arrival Jews pray daily. According to the Talmud (b. Sukkah 52a), the Messiah, son of Joseph (also called son of Ephraim) would first accomplish many brave acts on behalf of his Jewish people, before dying in the great war that would precede the arrival of the Messiah, son of David. Due to the prayers of the Messiah, son of David, the Messiah, son of Joseph, would be raised from the dead.

There are passages in Jewish literature that describe the suffering endured by both Messiahs, ben Joseph (Ephraim) and ben David, for the sake of the Jewish people. These sufferings are described with reference to Isaiah 53. Because Maimonides did not refer to suffering in his description of the Messiah, son of David, it is often forgotten that there are many texts that do. In the Talmud (b. Sanh. 98a), the Messiah is described as "sitting among the poor who suffer diseases," suffering and wounded, but ever ready to spring into action when he is called to reveal himself to his people. The Schottenstein Talmud summarizes leading Rabbinic commentaries on Isaiah 53:4 as teaching "that the diseases that the people ought to have suffered because of their sins are borne instead by the Messiah" (Tractate Sanhedrin, Talmud Bavli, 98a5). Raphael Patai explains that "the Messiah becomes heir to the Suffering Servant of God, who figures prominently in the prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah [i.e., Isaiah 40-55]" (Patai, The Messiah Texts, 104-5).

When I was working with a group of doctoral students, I read this Talmudic text in reference to Isaiah 53. On one particular occasion, I was struck both by the longing of the Messiah to reveal himself to his people and the frustration of my Jewish people that the Messiah has still not come. I also thought about the suffering Yeshua endured when his own people did not recognize him. Day in and day out, our people pray for the Messiah to come. It is sad that for the most part, our people have not recognized their Messiah's coming.

The Talmudic rabbis did not reject the Messianic implications of Isaiah 53 even though this passage was so frequently quoted in the New Testament with reference to Yeshua. Apparently the text simply could not be overlooked in relation to the Messiah, as is borne out by certain medieval mystical texts which also reference it. (For an in-depth discussion of Isaiah 53, see vol. 3, 4.5-4.17.)

There are also Jewish commentators on the Bible who read Isaiah 52:13-53:12 with reference to the Messiah (son of David), despite the obvious Christian connections in this passage and a long history of "Christian" anti-Semitism (see vol. 1, 2.4-2.9). Among these commentators is the prominent medieval scholar Moses ben Nachman (Nachmanides or the Ramban). In relation to Isaiah's text, Nachmanides speaks both of a triumphant Messiah who would never be conquered or die at the hands of his enemies, and a suffering Messiah, who was chastised by God and suffered because of our transgressions, was stricken, smitten, oppressed, afflicted, reviled, insulted and reproached. Despite all the suffering the Messiah would have to endure, Nachmanides refuses to acknowledge that the Messiah would die. In his view, he might be willing to die, expected to die, reported to have died, have all kinds of deaths devised for him, but for the Messiah to be delivered into the hands of his enemies was something unthinkable for Ramban. In his opinion, the Messiah should enjoy his victory, gather his family triumphantly around him and be exalted by his people. Ramban twists and turns every way to avoid admitting that it was prophesied that the Messiah would die; it would have been much easier for him to have acknowledged the plain meaning of the text, which clearly speaks of the Messiah's death.

Another significant commentator who refers in great detail to the suffering of the Messiah (son of David) in relation to this passage from Isaiah is Rabbi Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin (ibn Krispin), who writes of the servant: "We shall not believe that there could be any man ready to endure such pain and grief as would disfigure his countenance, even for his children, much less for his people: it will seem a certain truth to us that such terrible sufferings must have come upon him as a penalty for his own many shortcomings and errors" (Driver and Neubauer, Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah, 2:107-8).

In his commentary, Rabbi Mosheh El-Sheikh (or, Alshekh) claims that "our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah," and he refers to a midrash that explains, "of all the sufferings which entered into the world, one third was for David and the fathers, one for the generation in exile, and one for the King Messiah" (Driver and Neubauer, Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah, 2:259).

Not so long ago, Isaiah 53 was also applied directly to Menachem Schneerson, who was acknowledged to be the Messiah ben David by his followers. They made connections between the text and the suffering of the Rebbe, after a stroke left him unable to speak and his paralysis did not improve. They believed that the Rebbe's sickness, followed by his death as a righteous man (see 3.15) made atonement for the people, and they waited expectantly for his resurrection or return. It is incredible that an ultra-Orthodox group would use Isaiah 53 in such a Christian way, interpreting the Rebbe's sickness as fulfilling this prophecy, and expecting his resurrection. The idea of the suffering of the Messiah must be deeply embedded in the Jewish psyche, especially in light of the heavy emphasis Christians place upon this same text (Isaiah 53)!

The final text I want to bring to your attention offers the fullest and most detailed description of the Messiah's sufferings found anywhere in the major Rabbinic sources. The text includes chapters 34, 36 and 37 of the important ninth-century midrash known as Pesikta Rabbati. Its descriptions of the Messiah's sufferings are even stronger than anything found in the New Testament. In this passage, the Messiah is referred to as Ephraim, which leads some to think that this is a reference to Messiah ben Joseph, not to Messiah ben David; however, the Messiah is also called "my righteous Messiah," which normally is ascribed to Messiah ben David. Regardless of which Messiah this passage speaks of, what is absolutely clear in this highly respected Rabbinic text is that the Messiah endures great suffering on behalf of his people.

It is interesting that one of the passages cited in these sections of the Pesikta regarding the sufferings of the Messiah is Psalm 22, which is also applied to Jesus in the New Testament. Anti-missionaries try to argue that this psalm is not Messianic, and yet here it is used explicitly in relation to the Messiah and his suffering.

One could easily expect some Jewish leaders to try to get rid of all references in traditional literature to a suffering Messiah, since Christians place great emphasis on the necessity portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures for the Messiah to suffer and die. The fact that there are so many texts that speak of these sufferings in the Talmud, the midrashic collections, the mystical literature, and the Bible commentators reminds us that Judaism does indeed believe in a suffering Messiah; it is too scriptural to deny!

Messianic Jews point out the redemptive purpose of these sufferings, which are part of God's gracious plan of salvation and part of the priestly ministry of the Messiah. The Messiah became one of us, shared in our suffering, and gave his life as an atonement for our sins. As I mention with reference to the Holocaust (see vol. 1, 2.10), Jesus the Messiah is the most famous Jew of all time, yet he was forced to endure all kinds of humiliation and suffering. He is a Messiah with whom we can identify, and who can identify with us, a suffering Messiah who brings life, deliverance, and lasting victory to all who put their trust in him.

In accordance with the Scriptures, Yeshua suffered and died for the sins of Israel and the world, rose victorious and powerful, was exalted above all others, and ascended into heaven where he waits for the time of his return. He did all of that for us. I pray that because of the Messiah's suffering, you will discover a lasting joy and deep peace in God.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 220-231.

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Judaism doesn't believe that the Messiah will come twice.

Traditional Judaism believes at least three different things regarding the arrival of the Messiah (see 3.22-3.23): (1) there are two Messiahs, who will each come once, (2) there is one Messiah, who will either come with the clouds or riding on a donkey, depending on the spiritual state of Israel at the time, and (3) there is potentially one Messiah in every generation, which must be recognized for who he is, and the people must be worthy to receive his revelation. In recent years, a fourth position has been introduced by Chabad: the Messiah (Rabbi Schneerson) will be resurrected and then will return and reign as king.

All of these contrast with the biblical position which has one Messiah coming from the line of David, yet greater than David, a king and yet a priest, first suffering and dying for the sins of Israel and the world, then returning in triumph and judgment. Yeshua is this one and only Messiah, whose coming was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible. He came at the appointed time, but due to the unworthiness of that generation, he was rejected, suffered and died. God knew this would happen and foreordained that the Messiah's death would atone for the sins of the world. He used this great evil and injustice to bring about the greatest good. When the end of the age arrives, when my Jewish people recognize Jesus as the Messiah and call upon him to return, Jesus will come again joyfully, this time on the clouds of heaven as Daniel envisioned, and Jerusalem will be established as the center of his kingdom. This view is much more biblical than the multifarious traditional views.

The account of Yeshua has many remarkable parallels with the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, including the way in which both Joseph and Jesus were rejected by their own people, but respected by foreigners. Both accounts offer a very moving picture of forgiveness of those who had initially rejected them, and both demonstrate God's ability to use for good what human beings intended for evil. In the words of Joseph: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Gen. 50:20). So it will be with Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah and his brothers, the Jewish people. He will be recognized in the end, but we will be held accountable for rejecting him until his return.

Let me say it again: there is only one Messiah and he has come right on schedule, andwhen the time is right, he will come again. On that day, our people as a nation will recognize Yeshua for who he is and will turn back to God in repentance. Messianic Jews are waiting eagerly for this to happen, and we encourage each and every Jew to make that choice today so that they will be ready to welcome Yeshua when he returns.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 232-235.

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Judaism is a healthy religion, properly oriented to the here and now. It doesn't see the world as intrinsically evil, or denounce marriage or call for self-renunciation. Christianity, on the other hand, is unhealthy in its orientation, seeing the world as evil, advocating celibacy, and saying: "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and suffer."

I think the best way to answer your objection is to divide it into three parts. First, I'll consider what the Scriptures and traditional literature have to say about the nature of this world and the one that is to come. After that, we'll see how these views have been translated into daily living. Finally, we'll think about whether the way of life fostered by the New Testament makes sense in the light of eternity.

The eschatological realities after death, i.e. the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come, were only gradually revealed by God to his people, so it's not that surprising to see that the Hebrew Scriptures tend to focus on this world rather than the next. Still, there seems to be a very good understanding of the transient nature of life in this world, captured with the image of grass that withers or fades or is gone and remembered no more (e.g., Ps. 103; Isa. 40:6-8). Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament describe the temporary nature of this life with the image of a journey or pilgrimage and compare us tostrangers or aliens (Gen. 47:9; 1 Chron. 29:15; 1 Pet. 1:17b).

Rabbinic Judaism has much to say about the transience of this life and often speaks of the life to come. From the time of Daniel, elaborate and extensive descriptions of heaven and hell were developed in Jewish sources. Still, Judaism tends to place more of an emphasis on life here and now, but this does not mean that the afterlife is unimportant in Judaism. The importance of living in this world with an eye toward the world to come, however, has been challenged by secular and rational thinking, the Holocaust, and persecution by the church (which has led Jews to rebel against Christian ideas of heaven and hell).

You suggest that the different emphases of the two religions, Judaism's focus on the here and now and Christianity's concentration on the world to come, has an effect on the way lives are shaped, and you maintain that in the case of Christianity, this effect is negative and unhealthy. Although Christianity has produced some extreme examples of very strange behavior, this is not the norm. Jesus did not advocate these practices (e.g. living in caves, or on top of a pillar) when he commanded his followers to deny themselves.

While it is true that the Roman Catholic Church, following Paul's thought (see 1 Cor. 7), requires its priests and nuns to be celibate, the vast majority of Christians (including Catholics) are married. The practice of not marrying was advocated by Paul given the crisis situation the church found itself in at the time (1 Cor. 7:26). Remember that God commanded Jeremiah to abstain from marriage and having children for similar reasons (see Jer. 16:1-4). Paul expected most Christians, including church leaders, to be married (see 1 Tim. 3:1-5; Titus 1:6), and to enjoy this world and the things in it, recognizing that everything God has made is good and should be accepted with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:3-5).

Granted, there are some Christians who choose not to marry and have children so that they can concentrate more fully on their particular vocations, but this actually allows them to engage more fully with the world around them, rather than leaving them with an otherworldly focus. The Talmud relates the example of Ben Azzai, who never married so that he could dedicate himself to Torah study (b. Yebamot 63b), which clearly indicates that this is not a practice unique to Christianity.

Yes, followers of Jesus are aware that we are "strangers" here on earth (living in exile), waiting to go to our true home, but we believe that we should live out our pilgrimage on earth as practically and fully as we can. Jesus has called his followers to be the "light of the world" and the "salt of the earth," to "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:13-16). Christianity has led the way in humanitarian efforts around the world. I encourage you to read D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe's "What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?" to get an idea of how many ways Christianity has positively impacted the world; the list is incredible!

Providing health care and emergency help, establishing relief organizations to provide food and practical help in the face of natural and man-made disasters, caring for refugees (including helping tens of thousands of Jewish refugees to return to the land of Israel!), establishing universities and colleges and other centers of education, abolishing slavery, protecting the life of the unborn, producing beautiful music and art, civilizing, pacifying and reconciling hostile groups, feeding the poor, setting up shelters, advocating traditional family values, advocating the rights of women and minorities, and encouraging scientific and medical research, Christians have been at the forefront of humanitarian development. Far from being unhealthy or focusing totally on the world to come, Christianity has had a far-reaching positive effect on this world.

There's no question that many Jews are also actively involved in acts of charity and other good deeds, and I know that Jews are known and appreciated for their humanitarian acts around the world, but it seems to me that the more religious Jews become, the less focused on this world they are. Those who have the greatest impact on society tend to be the ones who would be considered less observant. Rather than trying to improve society, it seems like the most observant Jews prefer to devote most of their time and energy to studying the Talmud. I know that the most Orthodox Jews—called haredim in Israel—care almost nothing about developing life in this world, unless it pertains to bringing Jews into a Talmudic lifestyle. Where is the "this-worldliness" among the very Orthodox? What normally happens to traditional Judaism outside of a cloistered environment? It becomes assimilated!

Let's get back to the original question: Does following Jesus lead to an unhealthy obsession with the life to come? Absolutely not! The New Testament advocates relationships and deeds that help to make life better for everyone here and now.

Does the New Testament approach to life make sense in the light of eternity? If you believe in the resurrection of the dead, the answer to this question must be yes!

There are lots of parallels between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament regarding the way we approach this world. Both agree that every good thing comes from God and that we are meant to enjoy these gifts. Both also realize just how easy it is for us to place our trust in the things of this world, such as money, and to desire more than we have. They both want us to be aware of the shortness of life, to acknowledge the certainty of death, and to make the most of our time here. Both the Tanakh and the New Testament recognize the importance of this world in and of itself, but it is the New Testament, with its greater revelation of the nature of the world to come, that tends to place greater emphasis on viewing this earthly life as a preparation for the life to come. This emphasis is not entirely absent from Judaism, since it is also captured by the Rabbinic phrase, "this world is the corridor to the world to come" (see m. Avot 4:16).

We should learn from the story of Esau, who gave up his birthright for something to eat, thereby satisfying his momentary desires and forfeiting long term rewards. There are two possible fates that face us when we depart this world: eternal bliss in the presence of God, or eternal misery because we've been shut out from his presence. Knowing this should influence the way we live our lives here and now, and this is what the New Testament teaches.

One of the prominent images of this life presented in the New Testament is that of a battleground; followers of the Messiah are called to serve as God's soldiers, giving up their lives to help a dying world. Life in this world is portrayed as a constant spiritual war (2 Tim. 2:3; Eph. 6:10-18; see also Ps. 144) that requires Christians to deny themselves, die to sin and, whether living or dying, do everything with the goal of glorifying God (Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:22; Rom. 6:1-23; Phil. 1:20-21). Just as throughout the centuries, religious Jews have been willing to die for kiddushhashem so as to sanctify God's name, so too do the followers of Jesus devote themselves to those who are lost without God, even if it costs them their lives. Jesus has called us not to be served, but to serve (Matt. 20:17-28; Phil. 2:5-11).

Christianity does not share Judaism's optimism that this world can be made sacred and holy. It does, however, insist that much suffering can be relieved here and now, even while people are being prepared for the world to come. While I do not deny that Judaism has done much to dignify and elevate human life and death, Christianity has definitely done so. In fact, it has offered more humanitarian aid and assistance than all other religions combined! The idea of denying oneself—even to the point of giving one's life—is a good thing if it can bring goodness and life to a dying world, wouldn't you agree?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 235-248.

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Christianity calls on its followers to have unnatural emotions and feelings, even commanding Christians to love their enemies. This is contrary to Torah as well as contrary to human nature.

Traditional Judaism encourages a person to sublimate his evil intentions and cultivate his good intentions. Because we have tendencies toward evil as well as tendencies toward good within us, it is difficult to determine what counts as "natural" behaviors (or emotions) for us. Because our natures have been corrupted, maybe it's not such a good idea to do what comes naturally. It could be that what feels unnatural to us as sinners, is precisely that which God desires from us if we are to be godly.

The New Testament speaks about this dichotomy in us in terms of "flesh" and "spirit," and it promises that by relying on God's Spirit we can obey Jesus' command to deny ourselves and say no to the sinful desires of the flesh. Saying no to things like revenge, lust, anger or greed may feel unnatural in the beginning, but with time and practice, this denial in favor of taking the higher, spiritual road can gradually become natural. Even what seems to be a most unnatural practice—forgiving one's enemies—can begin to be something we are capable of and want to do.

Is Jesus going against the Scriptures when he commands forgiveness of enemies? While there are places in the Tanakh where God calls the nation of Israel to punish its enemies, no one would assume that those passages in which the Israelites were commanded to kill the Canaanites (or Amalekites, etc.) should be taken as instructions for similar action (i.e. killing all the irreligious in a community) today.

There are many passages throughout the Hebrew Bible in which God calls his people to treat their enemies kindly, to drop their grudges, and to let God handle the situation. Here is one example: "Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:17-18). Proverbs instructs, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you" (Prov. 25:21-22). This passage was used by Paul in the New Testament to encourage followers of Jesus to live according to his commands (see Rom. 12:17-21).

If Jesus had cursed his enemies while on the cross, would that make you think more of him than you think of him now, knowing that he asked God to forgive them because they didn't know what they were doing? Certainly the "natural" response of an innocent person unjustly condemned to death is to lash out in anger. It is "supernatural" to forgive as Jesus did. Jesus calls us to this type of forgiveness when he says, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27-28).

It was while we were still sinners that Jesus decided to die for us (Rom. 5:6), and his "unnatural," unconditional love provides the example by which we are to live. The New Testament calls us to take the higher ground. When it does this, it is merely building on what is already there in the Tanakh. Because this kind of behavior is unnatural for us, Jesus promises to help us as we try to live it out. Those of us who have taken Yeshua at his word have found that his way is the best wayand that it frees us from our destructive attitudes and fosters holy sentiments within us that are in accord with God's heavenly kingdom.

Goodness and justice are only natural for God, but he still calls us to continue to acquire the virtues of mercy, compassion, kindness and goodness to such a degree that they become "second-nature" to us. It is really exciting when these virtues and qualities start to become natural! People may question what we do, but God's approval is the only thing that matters.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 248-252.

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The only thing that keeps a lot of people in the Christian faith—including Jews—is a fear of hell.

I happen to know a lot of followers of Jesus—both Jews and Gentiles—and I cannot think of one who continues to follow Jesus primarily because of the fear of hell, let alone only because of the fear of hell. We follow him because we love him. The one who loves will do anything for the beloved! Being loved is a great motivation for loving others in return. As the New Testament explains: "We love because [God] first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Our deep love for God and for others arises from the forgiveness that we have been granted through the death of Jesus the Messiah. Being forgiven and being loved by God sets us free for joy, for love, and for service. I can't say enough about God's grace, mercy, and love that have been extended to me through Jesus. I second Paul's declaration that everything else is rubbish compared to knowing Jesus the Messiah (Phil. 3:7-8).

Having said that, it is important to understand that there is such a thing as a healthy "fear of the Lord." This is a very Jewish theme. The Hebrew Bible explains that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Job 28:28), an antidote to sin (Exod. 20:20; Prov. 16:6), the key to long life and blessing (Ps. 34:11-22; Prov. 10:27; 14:27), and a rich treasure (Isa. 33:6). Love is the best motivator for service, but because we are still struggling with sin, our tendency toward disobedience needs to be kept in check and we need to be reminded that there are consequences for failing to live according to God's laws. The entire Bible is filled with warnings about the dangers of sin, and we need these warnings in order to strive for holiness. It's a good thing to want to avoid hell!

I could turn the question around and ask, "Which religion really emphasizes fear as a motivation for serving God?" One very striking image that readily comes to my mind is that of a well-known midrash in which God is holding Mt. Sinai over the heads of the Israelites, threatening to bury them if they do not accept his covenant (Exod. 24:3, b. Shabbat 88a). Moreover, I've been in debates with anti-missionary Jews who were trying to get me to deny Jesus out of fear of eternal punishment for idolatry. One ultra-Orthodox Jew even told me that if I had been living in biblical times, the Sanhedrin would have poured burning metal down my throat! My love for God keeps me from being intimidated by this kind of talk.

I wish that you knew Yeshua like I do, because if you did, you wouldn't be able to keep from loving him too. He wants you to trust him, to become his friend, to sit with him and eat and drink what he has to offer you. There's plenty of room at his table, and I guarantee you that you won't regret it.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 252-256.

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To be perfectly honest, I find much beauty in the teachings of Jesus, and I think that there are some good arguments in favor of Christianity. But I find it impossible to believe in a religion that damns all people to hell—including many moral, good, kind, and sensitive people, not to mention countless millions of very religious Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists—simply because they don't believe in Jesus. I can't follow a religion whose God will torture people in flames forever for not believing in someone they never even heard of.

The world is not the way God created it to be, but is filled with sin and suffering. Furthermore, since the first act of disobedience, every generation has turned away from God, putting other things and other gods in his place. Sin has totally affected this world and it has an effect on the world to come. There must be some way in which those who have done terrible things to others or blatantly rejected God in this life without suffering any apparent consequences will face God's justice. Yeshua warned of the day when all would be resurrected, when some will be rewarded with eternal life whereas others will face condemnation (John 5:28-29).

Regarding the fate of those who have never heard about Jesus, it sounds like your idea of Christianity might be somewhat off balance. The Messianic Jewish faith of the New Testament is bent on one goal: to share the good news with the world that Jesus the Messiah has come so that everyone might receive forgiveness, regardless of their background or past.

There is not a single person who can earn the right to enter God's kingdom; every single one of us has sinned and has fallen short of God's expectations for us. All of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, have broken the first and most important commandment: "To love the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength." All over the world, people have created and worshiped other gods, trying to find God according to our own plans and patterns, often causing a lot of destruction along the way. If God were not merciful, not a single one of us would be saved.

The good news is that God came to find us. He sent us Yeshua, who atoned for our sins and paid for them all with his blood; this is the expression of the heavenly Father's heart, broken with pain over a sinning, dying world, and it is this same love that motivates the followers of Jesus to go out into the world to tell others about him and about the pardon and reconciliation that are available through him.

Yeshua, the Savior of the world, has accomplished what our own Jewish traditions (as beautiful as many of them are) are incapable of doing and what no other religion of the world has ever succeeded in doing: he has purchased our pardon, secured our right-standing with God, and provided us with a new heart; this is why we are so eager to share him with others, and it's also why we pray and fast for our friends and loved ones.

The Bible (and the Rabbinic writings) warn us of a future judgment, and whatever "hell" is, believe me, you don't want to go there! At the same time, there is no reason to worry, since you don't have to be judged guilty and suffer the eternal consequences. God can forgive you through Jesus the Messiah. As for those who haven't yet heard of Jesus, neither you nor I will be their judge; this is God's prerogative (for more on this subject, see vol. 1, 1.10). What you do have control over, however, is your own response to the gospel message.

If you had to stand before God this day to account for your life, how would you do? Do you think you've earned the right to enter into heaven? Fortunately, Jesus has been judged in our place so that we can be healed and delivered from guilt and from the power of sin. If you have come to believe that Yeshua is indeed the Messiah promised to our people, then I encourage you to surrender to our heavenly Father right now and to call on him in prayer, admitting your need to repent, letting God hear that you believe Yeshua died so that your sins could be forgiven, and asking God to cleanse, forgive, and welcome you as one of his children. He will help you to hold onto your faith in his Son as he guides you through your brand new life, which is the beginning of eternal life. After this, I would encourage you to seek out other followers of Jesus and let them know that you too have come to faith and are ready to live for God according to his word.

Perhaps you are not yet ready to pray for forgiveness because you are still wrestling with doubts and questions, or are still not quite ready to repent of your sins. Don't give up! Continue to search, question, and study, and keep struggling with your sinfulness. God has promised that whoever searches for him with his whole heart will not be disappointed (Deut. 4:29; Jer. 29:13). God always tells the truth!

It is my fervent hope that you will find no good reason to reject Jesus, and every good reason to receive him as your Messiah and Master and Friend. As Moses said to our people many years ago, "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before youlife and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him" (Deut. 30:19-20a). I pray that you too will choose life!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, pp. 256-263.

Messianic Objections

  • If Jesus is the Messiah, why doesn't the Torah speak of him?

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  • The Hebrew Bible doesn't tell us to 'believe in the Messiah'.

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  • Isaiah 7:14 does not prophesy a virgin birth!

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  • Isaiah 9:6 (9:5) does not speak of a divine king (or Messiah).

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  • If you want to know what Isaiah 53 means, read Isaiah 52 and 54.

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  • Isaiah 53 speaks of the people of Israel, not Jesus.

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  • The rabbis didn't apply Isaiah 53:1-12 to the Messiah son of David.

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  • The Israel interpretation of Isaiah 53 is very ancient.

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  • Isaiah 53 contains the words of the repentant kings of the nations.

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  • Several key words in Isaiah 53 speak of a servant in the plural.

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  • Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus since he attracted great crowds.

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  • Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus since the servant died of disease.

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  • Isaiah 53 doesn't say that the servant would die.

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  • Isaiah 53 doesn't say that the servant will rise from the dead.

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  • Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus because the servant did no violence.

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  • Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus because the servant didn't cry out.

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  • Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus because the servant would have descendants.

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  • Daniel 9:24-27 has nothing to do with 'the' Messiah.

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  • Daniel 9:24 was clearly not fulfilled by Jesus.

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  • Christian translations of Daniel 9:24-27 divide the seventy weeks incorrectly

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  • Daniel 9:24-27 speaks of two anointed ones.

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  • Psalm 2:12 should not be translated 'kiss the Son'.

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  • Psalm 16 does not speak of the resurrection of the Messiah.

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  • Psalm 22 is the story of David's past suffering; it isn't prophetic.

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  • Psalm 22 does not speak of death by crucifixion.

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  • Some of the so-called Messianic Psalms speak of the psalmist's sin.

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  • Psalm 40 is absolutely not Messianic in any way.

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  • Psalm 45:6(7) does not say that the Messiah is God.

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  • Psalm 110 does not say that the Messiah is Lord.

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  • Haggai 2 refers to the physical splendor of the Second Temple.

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  • Zechariah 12:10 has nothing to do with Jesus.

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  • Jesus fulfilled none of the Messianic prophecies!

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  • Jesus fulfilled none of the provable Messianic prophecies!

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  • Modern Christian scholars reject the Old Testament proof-texts about Jesus.

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  • Jesus cannot be the Messiah since he was not a king.

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  • Jesus cannot be the Messiah because he couldn't rebuild the Temple.

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  • The only true prophecy about Jesus in the Tanakh is Zechariah 13:1-6.

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If Jesus is really the Messiah, and if he is so important, why doesn't the Torah speak of him at all?

The Torah does not mention the Messiah very often. In fact, the word mashiach is found only four times in the Torah (Lev. 4:3, 5, 16; 6:15), and in all four cases, it refers to the high priest. This means that what the Torah says about the Messiah is more implicit than it is explicit since it uses foreshadowing to speak about him rather than plain discourse.

The narrative of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22, also known as the Akedah, prefigures the Messiah, especially in the way it was interpreted by the rabbis. In their view, although Abraham did not actually sacrifice Isaac, God accepted it as if it had actually occurred. There are several parallels between the Akedah and the Messiah:

  • As Abraham demonstrated his fidelity to God by his willingness to offer up his son (cf. Gen. 22:12), God shows his steadfast love for his people by giving up his Son (cf. Rom. 8:32).
  • Isaac is described as Abraham's only son (see Gen. 22:2); similarly, the New Testament calls Jesus God's only son (see John 3:16).
  • Isaac's cooperation anticipates the Messiah's obedience.
  • Abraham knew that he would come back down from Mount Moriah with his son (Gen. 22:5), and the Messiah was raised from the dead.

Commenting on the Akedah, the author of the letter to the Hebrews states, "By faith, Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son . . . Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death" (Heb. 11:17-19). Isaac's virtual return from death foretells the Messiah's literal return from death. God provided the ultimate sacrifice, his own Son, to take away the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29).

Another Messianic figure in the Torah is Joseph, who was rejected by his brothers (Gen. 37), was unjustly punished (Gen. 39), and was raised to a high position, which he used to save the world from death (Gen. 41). While he was respected by the Egyptian Gentiles, his brothers did not know him; Joseph made himself known to them only when he met them the second time. Similarly, Yeshua was falsely accused and became the salvation of the world because his brothers rejected him, and it is only at his second coming that he will reveal himself to Israel.

The sacrificial laws in the Torah also point to the sacrifice of Yeshua, the Messiah. Rashi explains that it was necessary for an innocent victim to take the place for the guilty party; yet, God is not interested in the blood of animals (cf. Hos. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:22; Isa. 1:11; Prov. 21:3; Ps. 50:8). After all, if it were a definitive and perpetual law that only the blood of animals could take away sin, there would be absolutely no way for Jews to have their sins atoned after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. It could be argued that instead of regarding sacrifice as the method for atonement, we should study the Law instead; however, it is this same Law containing the theology of atonement which Christianity has adopted. Faith in Jesus is Torah-centric, even more so than the teachings of the rabbis! Whereas the rabbis throw out the sacrificial system entirely, Christians merely maintain that the mode of sacrifice has changed – the Messiah has become our sacrifice instead of animals.

The high priest is another Messianic figure in the Torah. Recall that it is only in reference to the high priest that the mashiach is found in the Torah. His primary role, of course, was to make atonement for Israel. Rabbinic tradition teaches that his death and his garments (see b. Zevahim 68b and b. MoedKatan 28a) have atoning powers. Consider what the letter to the Hebrews says about the priesthood of Jesus:

[B]ecause Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because he always lives to intercede for them . . . Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day . . . He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Heb. 7:24-25, 27-28)

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Heb. 9:13-14)

Remarkable! Only Yeshua fulfills the sacrificial system of the Torah, and he did so just in the nick of time – less than forty years before the destruction of the Temple and the termination of animal sacrifices in Judea!

Let's look at yet another passage in the Torah. In the book of Numbers, the only way for the people to be saved from the fiery serpents was for them to look at the bronze serpent Moses crafted and mounted on a pole (see Num. 21:4-9). In The Wisdom of Solomon, a work most likely written 120-100 BCE, it is written,

For when the terrible rage of wild animals came upon your people
and they were being destroyed by the bites of writhing serpents,
your wrath did not continue to the end;
they were troubled for a little while as a warning,
and received a symbol of deliverance to remind them of your law's command.
For the one who turned toward it was saved, not by the thing that was beheld,
but by you, the Savior of all.
And by this also you convinced our enemies
that it is you who deliver from every evil.(16:5-8, NRSV)

Of course, it was not the image of what they beheld that saved them, but God. It is the same with Yeshua, who was raised on the cross. As he himself said, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up [meaning, in crucifixion], that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).

In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter, the chief of Yeshua's twelve disciples, describes him as the prophet greater than Moses (see Acts 3:22-23). The words of this prophet are so important that God declares, "If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account" (Deut. 18:19). Yeshua is this prophet, the one who prophesied the destruction of the Temple and prophesied his own death, resurrection, and final return. While Moses promised a prophet like himself, Deuteronomy testifies that there has been no prophet like Moses since his passing. The only one who fits the bill is Yeshua.

Lastly, let us consider Genesis 49:10, Jacob's benediction of Judah on his death bed, which has been widely considered a Messianic prophecy. It is no secret that the Tanakh teaches that the Messiah will hail from the tribe of Judah. There is a high probability that this prophecy is Messianic since (1) it prophesies that the future kingship would pass through the line of Judah, (2) David, the first king from Judah, was a prototype of the Messiah, and (3) the leader is to subjugate the nations. Of course, the main issue here is not whether this prophecy is Messianic, but whether this prophecy refers to Jesus. According to Dr. Walter Riggans, "Christians can be confident that their reading of [this prophecy] has integrity and perhaps even probability" (Riggans, Yeshua ben David,330). Nothing in Genesis 49:10 rules out Yeshua as being the one who fulfills this prophecy. If the prophecy is Messianic and refers to a ruler who came over 1900 years ago, it must apply to Yeshua, and if the prophecy is not Messianic, then it does not apply to any other potential Messianic figure. The case for Yeshua is quite strong.

In conclusion, there is hardly a place in the Torah which refers to the traditional understanding of the Jewish Messiah while there are many prefigurations of Yeshua, including the sacrifice of Isaac, Joseph, the sacrificial system, the atoning power of the high priest, the prophet greater than Moses, and the mighty ruler coming from Judah. Read the Torah again, asking God, "Uncover my eyes, and I will behold wonders in your Torah" (Ps. 119:18, my translation).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 3-13.

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Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible are we told that we must 'believe in the Messiah.'

This objection goes against traditional Judaism; the only reason to come up with it is to counter the statements in the New Testament which indicate that belief in Jesus is necessary for salvation. While the Hebrew Bible does not explicitly command belief in the Messiah, neither does it say to listen to the oral tradition. In fact, belief in the Messiah is one of the thirteen principles of the Jewish faith as articulated by Rambam (also see Hilchos Melachim 11:1). Rabbi Shmuley Boteach declares that "the belief in the coming of the Messiah is more central to Judaism than even the observance of the Sabbath or Yom Kippur" (Boteach, The Wolf Shall Lie with the Lamb, 7).

Our people anticipated the arrival of the Messiah for centuries. When Yeshua came and revealed himself to the world, his emissaries spread the good news everywhere, declaring that through Yeshua, it became possible to receive atonement for one's sins, to be at peace with God, and to rejoice in the reign of the Messiah, who is gathering the nations to himself. Many of our people did not heed this invitation, and so the following words of the prophet Habakkuk were applied to them, "Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you" (Hab. 1:5, quoted in Acts 13:40-41).

One of the principles of Judaism is that it is imperative not only to believe in God but also to believe in his servants. When God sent Moses and Aaron to the Hebrews, the Hebrews were to believe in God and in them (see Exod. 4:1-31). Furthermore, just because Moses died over 3000 years ago, it does not mean that we can stop believing in him. Similarly, although Jesus died nearly 2000 years ago, as a true prophet of God and the long-expected Messiah, we must believe in him.

As a people, we have repeatedly manifested unbelief. Although in the desert our forefathers believed in Moses after they saw the miracles he wrought, many of them sought his death (see Num. 14:10). The psalmist comments, "When the LORD heard [his people's complaints in the wilderness], he was very angry; his fire broke out against Jacob, and his wrath rose against Israel, for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance . . . . in spite of his wonders, they did not believe" (Ps. 78:21-22, 32). Similarly, although many saw the miracles Jesus performed and believed in him, a large Jewish crowd demanded Yeshua's crucifixion (Matt. 27:22). Were they blameless? Surely not! This is not a pleasant topic, I know, but the facts remain incontrovertible.

Are you going to believe in the Messiah? He has given us a way to find reconciliation with him, has offered us new life in the spirit of God, and stands ready to cleanse and transform us day by day. Why act like our rebellious forefathers in the desert? Why not believe in the Messiah today?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 13-17.

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Isaiah 7:14 does not prophesy a virgin birth! And it has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus, since it dealt with a crisis 700 years before he was born.

A proper understanding of Isaiah 7:14, which is quoted once in the New Testament, inevitably leads to the conclusion that it is Messianic.

Let's take a look at the historical background of this verse. Judah was being attacked by a joint force of Israelites and Arameans who wanted to take Jerusalem and replace the king of Judah with the man of their choice. Unfortunately, king Ahaz was a faithless king, preferring to hire mercenaries than to rely on Yahweh. Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused. The Lord then responded, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The 'almah will be with child [or, is with child] and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isa. 7:13-14).

Who is this child, Immanuel? Some believe this child was to be born to Isaiah, others say that he was to be the son of Ahaz, while still others believe that he was a child destined to be born of a woman at that time in the history of Judah; the exact referent of this prophecy is not clear from the text itself. It is safe to assume, however, that this prophecy refers to a child who is related to the future house of David, especially since the following chapters in the book of Isaiah, most notably chapters 9 and 11, are principle Messianic prophecies.

What was the miraculous sign that was promised? While there are many theories, it is evident that the sign offered by God would have to be extremely significant; it would have to be a powerful miracle only God could perform. The question inevitably arises, "Does the word almah mean virgin?" The answer is, "No, not specifically." The reason for this is that almah is derived from a Semitic root meaning "to come into puberty." Just as the word elem means "young man," almah means "young woman" or "maiden," and this is exactly how these words are most commonly translated in the Tanakh.

One might object that had Isaiah intended to speak of a virgin birth, he would have used the word betulah. The problem with this objection is that there is no single word in Hebrew that unequivocally means "virgin." Out of the fifty times that the Tanakh contains the word betulah, the New Jewish Publication Society translates it as "maiden" instead of "virgin" thirty-one times. Many passages in the Tanakh indicate that it would be absurd to treat betulah as corresponding precisely with "virgin." Consider the following passages:

"Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary" (Ezek. 9:6). Here, it is obvious that betulah parallels bahur, i.e. young man. Virginity is not the issue in this passage; instead, it is the comprehensiveness of the command: slay everyone without the mark.

  • "Lament – like a maiden girt with sackcloth for the husband of her youth" (Joel 1:8, NJPSV). The maiden (betulah) in this passage is no virgin since she has been made a widow.
  • "Go down, sit in the dust, Virgin Daughter of Babylon . . . listen, you wanton creature, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, 'I am, and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children.' Both of these will overtake you in a moment" (Isa. 47:1, 8-9, NIV). A virgin becoming a widow – does this really make sense?
  • Obviously, betulah does not exclusively mean "virgin," which means that neither betulah nor almah unequivocally means virgin. Since this is the case, it remains to be explained exactly what this Messianic prophecy means. The obscurity and ambiguity that underlie this prophecy are actually the keys to understanding Matthew's interpretation of it.

Having considered numerous biblical commentaries written by Jewish and Christian scholars alike, I have drawn the conclusion that it is impossible to determine precisely what the prophecy meant to those who heard it originally, except that it was a promise of a supernatural birth that would be a great sign for the house of David, and that it would simultaneously serve as a reproach to unbelievers.

The birth announcement in Isaiah 7:14 is patterned on other birth announcements in the Hebrew Bible, including the births of Ishmael (see Gen. 16:11) and Samson (see Judg. 13:3, 5, 7). In fact, there is an intriguing text from Ugarit that was written about 500 years before Isaiah that announced the birth of a god to a goddess in the following words: "Behold, the maiden [Ugaritic ġalmatu, the equivalent of Hebrew almah] will bear a son." These passages all indicate that this prophesied birth was extremely significant for the house of David.

Reading this prophecy, Matthew was aware of the Messianic significance of Isaiah 9 and 11. The birth of Jesus was a miraculous sign because the almah was actually a virgin, yet she gave birth to the Messiah. Matthew also realized that Yeshua was Immanuel because he fulfilled the literal meaning of the name (God is with us). This prophecy was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus for two reasons: (1) the nonspecific nature of the text leaves the door open for interpretation within certain parameters, and (2) this prophecy concerns the royal line of David, which ultimately reaches its apex in the Messiah, whose birth is an event of the utmost importance.

In order to see the logic of reading Isaiah 7:14 as referring to the Messiah (and in particular, to Jesus), one must understand the character of the Messianic prophecies in Isaiah 7-11. These prophecies offer snapshots, so to speak, of different stages in the life of the Messiah. In Isaiah 7, the Messiah's imminent birth is foretold; in Isaiah 9, the Messiah has been born and has been declared to be a divine king; and in Isaiah 11, the Messiah reigns. These passages are all interconnected and are meant to be read together. Matthew does precisely this, reading all of these passages in their wider context (see Matt. 1:23, 2:23, 4:15-16).

Who is Immanuel? The standard Jewish argument is that the birth of Immanuel had to be contemporaneous with the political situation of Isaiah's day; however, this view is problematic since it does not consider the fact that the promise was made to the whole house of David rather than to a particular king, and that the prophecy associated with Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isa. 8:1-4) became more important in Isaiah's day than the prophecy of Immanuel. Joseph Blenkinsopp, a Catholic Old Testament scholar, analyzes the prophecies of Immanuel and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, claiming that the parallelism of the two accounts suggests that they are different dimensions of the same "one sign-act." Blenkinsopp holds that "within the prophetic world view, Immanuel and Maher-shalal-hash-baz represent different aspects of the divine intervention in human affairs at that critical juncture. They are, so to speak, the recto and verso of the same coin" (Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 238-239). While the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz is actually described, the birth of Immanuel is not. Maher-shalal-hash-baz becomes the tangible sign of the promise for Isaiah's contemporaries whereas Immanuel's birth is situated at some point in the indefinite future, a prophecy that had yet to be fulfilled.

The Septuagint, i.e. the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was completed over two centuries before Yeshua, renders almah as parthenos, which normally means "virgin." This fact has been used by missionaries as proof that almah means virgin. This is not entirely accurate however, since the Septuagint describes Dinah as a parthenos even after she was raped (Gen. 34:3); yet, there is something significant in the Septuagint translation of almah into parthenos.

Did Rashi claim that almah in Isaiah 7:14 means virgin? He has been misquoted as such by David Stern in Jewish New Testament Commentary, as revealed by Rabbi Tovia Singer (entry posted June 21, 2011, on Noahide – The Ancient Path). Although Rabbi Singer is correct in pointing out Stern's error, Stern did not intentionally misquote Rashi; instead, Stern took for granted that Victor Buksbazen was accurately citing Rashi when he said in his commentary The Prophet Isaiah that in Isaiah 7:14, "almah" means "virgin." Stern, being a scholar who possesses integrity, corrected his later editions of the Jewish New Testament Commentary and issued an apology for not checking the original source (JNTC 1992, 7).

In his closing comments on Isaiah 7:14, Rashi states, "And some interpret that this is the sign, that she was a young girl ['almah'] and incapable of giving birth" (Rosenberg, The Book of Isaiah, Judaica Press Tanakh). This text indicates that the birth was to be at the very least unusual, and possibly even miraculous. Rashi does not say that the almah would be a virgin, but he does indicate that she would be a young girl, for whom giving birth would not be considered normal. While it is not certain, there is a possibility that the translators of the Septuagint deliberately intended to convey the sense of a virginal birth in Isaiah 7:14. If a word other than almah had been used in the original Hebrew, one that meant woman or wife rather than young girl, later interpretations of a virginal birth would have been entirely unfounded.

The fullest meaning of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 has only gradually come to light. The Word of God contains within it the possibilities of its later interpretations, and the very fact that particular verses have been interpreted in certain ways reflects something of the nature of those verses. Over the centuries, the interpretation of Isaiah 7:14 matured until it was realized that this prophecy is fulfilled in Yeshua, the Messiah, the mighty God, whose conception was virginal. Although it is true that he was never called Immanuel in the New Testament, neither was Solomon ever called Jedidiah in the Tanakh, although it was said that he would be called by this name (2 Sam. 12:24-25). Furthermore, millions of Christians adore Yeshua as Emmanuel, which is evident from a famous Christmas hymn that starts with the words, "O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel." In short, the claim that Matthew misinterpreted Isaiah 7:14 is not true; instead, his interpretation, which follows the best interpretive methods of the rabbis, is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 17-32.

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Isaiah 9:6 (9:5) does not speak of a divine king (or Messiah).

Our task is twofold: (1) we will ascertain the most suitable translation and meaning of this verse, and (2) we will determine whether this verse is a Messianic prophecy.

The Septuagint attributes all of the names listed in this verse to the king, whereas the Targum only attributes the last two names to the child. Many rabbis recognize that all of the names refer to the child rather than mostly to God. Even the Talmud and various midrashic writings maintain that the names refer to the child, not God (see Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:20).

Let us take a look at how contemporary Jewish scholars have translated this verse. The JPSV (1917) transliterates the Hebrew words rather than translating them. The Stone translation follows the Targum by only attributing the last couple of names to the child. The NJPSV translates the series of names as a complete sentence: "The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler." This move is extremely difficult to justify. If such a translation is correct, it would imply that centuries of rabbinic scholarship, the Talmud, midrashic tradition, and every previous rendering of this verse for over two millennia were flat out wrong, and that it was only very recently that scholars happened to stumble upon the right meaning. This implication is simply ludicrous for traditional Jews, who believe that the rabbis who lived in times of greater proximity to the events described were more authoritative in their interpretations of the sacred texts. Although the NJPSV's translation is highly creative, it must be rejected.

Much more probable is the rendering of these names into four double names. Brevard S. Childs of Yale University translates this passage as follows: "For a child has been born for us, a son has been given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders, and his name will be called: 'Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace'" (Childs, Isaiah: A Commentary,78). This rendition follows many of the important rabbinic traditions which maintain that all of the names apply to the child.

We have now arrived at our next task, which is to determine whether this prophecy is Messianic in nature. First, it must be understood that every prophecy concerning a ruler in the line of David is potentially Messianic. Second, it is clear that this prophecy remained unfulfilled up until the time of Yeshua, and certainly has not been fulfilled after Yeshua. The two alternatives are that the prophecy is either false, or it is a Messianic prophecy.

Let's take a closer look at the prophecy and see how well it might apply to Hezekiah, as some Jewish commentators suggest. The prophecy runs as follows:

For to us a child is born...
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever (Isa. 9:6-7).

According to the Talmud, God had intended for Hezekiah to be the Messiah and for Sennacherib to be Gog and Magog, but Hezekiah was unworthy (b. Sanh. 94a). Although God used Hezekiah in powerful ways, Hezekiah did not fulfill this prophecy since (1) his reign fell short of what was promised in the prophecy, (2) his son, Manasseh, was the most evil king in the history of Judah, and (3) the nation was in exile only four generations after Hezekiah. Remember, Isaiah described this kingdom with the words, "[T]here will be no end."

Isaac Troki, a medieval refutationist, claims that the words should not be taken at face value. In his view, the words "without end" are "a mere figure of speech" (Troki, HizzukEmunah, 106-107). The problem with his interpretation is that even if the words were a figure of speech, Hezekiah's kingdom did not last nearly long enough to be described, even metaphorically, as lasting forever.

An unbiased reading of the text suggests that the Messianic prince described in this passage will be a king who surpasses human limitations. There are several biblical passages which indicate that the Messiah will have a divine nature. Zechariah 13:7 calls the Messiah geber amiti (God's fellow or colleague).

Micah 5:2(1) is another text that indicates that the Messiah has an eternal origin and a divine nature. The crux of the issue is the translation of the Hebrew phrase miqedem mi-yemey'olam, which describes the nature of the Messiah's origins. Miqedem means "from of old," but the most intuitive translation of the next two words, mi-yemey'olam, would be "from eternity." In fact, 'olam usually means eternal, as in Psalm 90:2, where God is described as being me'olam we'ad 'olam, i.e. "from eternity to eternity" (cf. NJPSV). It must be admitted, however, that there are cases when 'olam cannot mean eternal, but rather denotes "for a long time." How are we to translate this verse then?

Rashi comments on Micah 5:2(1) as follows:

1And you Bethlehem Ephrathah . . . you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah . . . from you shall emerge for Me the Messiah, son of David, and so Scripture says (Ps. 118: 22): "The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone." and his origin is from of old – "Before the sun his name is Yinnon." (Ps. 72:17)

How interesting! Rashi teaches that this verse points to the eternal origin of the Messiah, and he even quotes the same psalm verse Yeshua applies to himself!

In light of all the above evidence, it is clear that the position that Isaiah 9:6(5) refers to the Messiah's divinity rests on solid ground.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 32-40.

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If you want to know what Isaiah 53 is talking about, just read Isaiah 52 and 54. The context is the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian exile, 550 years before Jesus.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is perhaps the most important Messianic prophecy in the Hebrew Bible. This passage has led more Jews to believe in Jesus than any other text in Scripture. Many anti-missionaries have objected to the interpretation that this passage is referring to the Messiah. In fact, they often claim that the passage refers to the nation of Israel rather than to the Messiah, although this interpretation does not exist in the Talmud, the Targums, or the Midrashim. The first time this interpretation comes onto the scene is in the writings of Rashi in the eleventh century CE (although Origen of Alexandria mentioned some Jewish leaders who took this view). As far as we can tell, there are no writings whatsoever left by any of the rabbis and Jewish sages of the first millennium after the birth of Yeshua which teach that Isaiah 53 should be interpreted as referring to the nation.

Let us focus on answering two clarifying questions: (1) In Isaiah 40-51, does the phrase "the servant of the Lord" always denote the nation of Israel rather than an individual? and (2) Is the context of Isaiah 53 exclusively the return of the Jewish people from Babylon?

The servant of the Lord ('ebed) is mentioned seventeen times in Isaiah 40-51. The referent in these cases is sometimes the nation (41:8-9; 42:19-25; 43:10; 44:21-23; 45:4; 48:20) and other times an individual (49:3, 5-7; 50:10). There are some verses that are ambiguous (42:1; 44:1-2). The most personal language is found in Isaiah 52:13 and 53:11. All of these texts follow a particular structure: the texts toward the beginning of Isaiah 40 describe the servant as the nation whereas the texts toward the end of these prophecies begin to see the servant as an individual. In other words, the servant as an individual gradually comes into focus until Isaiah 49, when 'ebed clearly refers to an individual.

Let's consider one of the prophecies from this sequence: "But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, 'You are my servant'; I have chosen you and have not rejected you" (Isa. 41:8-9). In this verse, the servant of the Lord is obviously the nation. However, this servant is also described as deaf and blind (Isa. 42:18-20; 43:8). In contrast, God says that his servant will "open eyes that are blind" (Isa. 42:7). Rabbi David Kimchi described the servant in Isaiah 42:1-7 as "King Messiah." This theme of the servant as referring to the Messiah is continued in Isaiah 49. It is interesting to note that in this prophecy, although the servant is called Israel, he is also sent to redeem Israel. In Isaiah 49:8ff, the servant miraculously leads the people out of captivity like a new Moses, but the deliverance is from spiritual bondage.

We have yet to explain why the servant is called Israel in 49:3 when the text is referring to an individual rather than to the nation. Metsudat David, a prominent medieval Jewish commentator, suggests the solution when he describes a prophet of Israel as follows: "Behold, before Me, you [meaning the prophet] are like the multitude of Israel [hamon yisra'el], and I glory in you as if you were all of them." Applying this logic to Isaiah 49, the servant takes the place of Israel, stands as Israel's representative, and as such, is called Israel. The Messiah is the foremost representative of Israel because in the Messiah, God sees the entire nation!

What about the context of the Babylonian exile? The interpretation of 'ebed as the nation makes sense in the context of the Babylonian exile, but what about when 'ebed is an individual? While it is true that right before Isaiah 52:13, the setting is the return from the Babylonian exile, the next verse does not necessarily take its bearings from this event. In fact, many traditional Jewish interpreters read Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as a prophecy of the Messiah; it was considered to be a passage detached from that which preceded it. In addition, many commentators interpret this passage as describing the sufferings of Israel throughout history, even up to the Holocaust. To read this passage as exclusively referring to the context of the Babylonian exile has no convincing basis in Jewish tradition from the time of the Talmud to the present.

There is also the issue of the glory that was promised that was to come in the wake of Israel's return; this predicted exaltation simply did not occur at that stage in history. Isaiah prophesied, "all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God" (Isa. 52:10); The return of 45,000 Jews (see Nehemiah 7) was certainly not a cosmic event that manifested God's salvation to all the nations. The only way to read this in its fullest sense is by seeing the salvation as something brought about by the Messiah, the new Moses, who leads his people back with outstretched arm. The exile serves as a symbol for this spiritual renewal and transition into the new Messianic age.

How did the prophet envision this event in history? From a distance, he sees God's deliverance emerging on the horizon for his people. At first, he thinks it is the nation of Israel, glorified in God's sight, but then he realizes that it is not the nation, but the Messiah, who stands in the place of Israel as its intercessor. From the miserable depths of the exile, there arises a nugget of gold as out of a dark mine; fashioned in the heart of the history of its people, only now does it slowly begin to emerge. In the crucible of suffering, it becomes purified, perfected, and is finally glorified. The Messiah will be the one to free the nation of Israel from their sins and will teach them the path of righteousness.

If this Messianic interpretation is not true, the prophecy is false because the glorious events that were promised simply did not happen when the Jews returned from Babylon. If, on the other hand, the prophecy is Messianic, then it is easy to see how an individual Jew, i.e. Yeshua, is able to fulfill it. Consider the following prophecies that have been (or are being) fulfilled:

  • According to Isaiah 42:4, "he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law [Hebrew torah] the islands will put their hope." This very moment, there are distant islands awaiting the good news of the salvation the God of Israel offers through Yeshua.
  • "I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting" (Isa. 50:6). This verse describes what Jesus went through.
  • The Lord says of his Messiah in Isaiah 53:12: "Therefore I will give him a portion among the great . . . because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

This last passage leads to Isaiah 54, which announces the salvation of Jerusalem. What is the nature of this salvation? Israel is saved from its sins through the Messiah! The disastrous history Israel experienced after its return from exile precludes a political interpretation of Israel's salvation – it must be on the spiritual plane. When one reads all of these texts together, it becomes clear that these prophecies refer to Yeshua, the Messiah, the Savior of his people.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 40-49.

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Isaiah 53 speaks of the people of Israel, not Jesus (or, any Messiah).

While it is true that over the last millennium many religious Jews have interpreted Isaiah 53 as referring to the people of Israel rather than to an individual, most Jewish commentators before Rashi read Isaiah 53 as referring to an individual, and many of them described this individual as the Messiah. This is, in fact, the way the Targum and the Talmud interpret the suffering servant. The earliest Jewish sources interpret the servant in Isaiah 53 as an individual; by comparison, the interpretation of the servant as the nation of Israel is a recent innovation.

While Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Radak interpreted the passage as referring to Israel, Ramban (Nachmanides) followed the Messianic interpretation of the Talmud. Jewish rabbis in the first millennium of this era unanimously interpreted Isaiah 53 as referring to an individual. Only in the second millennium do we see Jewish rabbis interpreting this passage as referring to the nation, even in the middle of the second millennium, there were rabbis who held the Messianic interpretation. In the sixteenth century, Rabbi Moshe Alshech wrote, "Our rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the Messiah, and we shall ourselves also adhere to the same view" (Driver and Neubauer, The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah, 2:259). This point, coupled with the fact that although it would have been very tempting and very easy for the Jewish rabbis in the first millennium to interpret this passage (which so clearly points to Jesus) as referring to the nation, they preferred to stick to the Messianic meaning, proves that it must be referring to an individual.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 cannot refer to the nation of Israel. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 explain that if Israel lives righteously, it will be blessed, not cursed; yet, Isaiah 53 says that the servant of the Lord is righteous, even as he experiences ignominy in spite of his innocence. If Isaiah 53 referred to Israel as a whole, the Word of God would be contradicting itself. It was during our nation's sinful streaks that righteous individuals suffered precisely because they were righteous. If God would have delivered up righteous Israel into the hands of its enemies, he would have broken the covenant.

Furthermore, Isaiah 52:13-15 states that the servant of the Lord would be exalted to such an extent that kings would bow down to him. While kings bow down to Jesus, no world leader bows down to Israel.

Another reason why Isaiah 53 cannot apply to Israel as a whole is that the servant is depicted as guileless and completely righteous; when has our nation ever been like this? The servant suffers on account of the sins of others. While this description fits Yeshua, it does not describe our nation.

Finally, consider the following reason why Isaiah 53 must refer to an individual. The suffering of the servant heals the people. While we have suffered as a nation, we cannot be the suffering servant because if this analogy were to hold, those who are healed would have to be the other nations. Whenever a nation rises against Israel, God judges that nation, so how could it be that by Israel's sufferings, the nations are healed? Only Yeshua brought about healing with his death, going so far as to ask his Father in heaven, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

One might object, "What about Psalm 44? Doesn't this psalm speak about the sufferings of righteous Israel? If so, then your thesis that righteous Israel never suffers at God's hand is undermined!"

After describing the suffering, the psalm states:

All this happened to us,
though we had not forgotten you
or been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path...
Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. (44:17-18, 22)

While it is true that the psalm uses the first person plural (i.e. us, our, we), this does not necessarily imply that it is the nation who is righteous – it may very well be that it is the righteous remnant who is interceding for the nation. In this case, the remnant, though guiltless, would have suffered with the rest of the nation. This interpretation is the only one that makes sense because otherwise, righteous Israel would have suffered, and God's covenant with Israel as recounted in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 would have been broken.

Neither can the remnant be the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. First of all, the origin of the suffering servant is quite specific, whereas the righteous do not come from a specific background. Furthermore, Isaiah 53:7 speaks about the servant's silence and submission; the remnant, in contrast, was often rigorously opposed to the sins of the majority. Finally, the remnant was never exalted to the point of receiving the homage of kings.

The biblical evidence strongly suggests that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 refers to an individual (specifically, the Messiah), not to the nation of Israel.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 49-57.

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The rabbis only applied Isaiah 52:13-15, not 53:1-12, to the Messiah son of David.

In a debate I had with Rabbi Tovia Singer in 1991, Singer said that none of the traditional Jewish commentators claimed that the servant in Isaiah 53:1-12 was the Messiah son of David. This position, however, is simply not true. Ramban taught that Isaiah spoke of "the Messiah, the son of David . . . [who] will never be conquered" (Driver and Neubauer ,The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah, 2:78). Ibn Krispin and Alshekh also spoke of the servant in Isaiah 53:1-12 as the Messiah. Alshekh made the claim that their rabbis unanimously believed that Isaiah was "speaking of the King Messiah." (see Driver and Neubauer, The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah, 2:259).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 57-58.

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It is not true that the medieval rabbis were the first who applied Isaiah 53 to Israel instead of the Messiah. The Israel interpretation is actually very ancient.

There are no rabbinic works that apply Isaiah 53 to the nation of Israel. The earliest reference to a national interpretation is found in the writings of thesecond century Christian scholar Origen of Alexandria. Origin writes, "[A]t a disputation held with certain Jews . . . I quoted these prophecies; to which my Jewish opponents replied, that these predictions bore reference to the whole people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering" (Contra Celsum, Book I, Chapter 55).

Let us survey some of the ancient Rabbinic literature to see what these sources teach. Targum Jonathan interprets Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as referring to the Messiah, yet the Targum rewrote the passage so as to depict a conquering warrior, a political Messiah, rather than a suffering Messiah. It would have been easier to have simply done away with the Messianic reference altogether.

Several passages in the Talmud also interpret the servant in this passage from Isaiah as the Messiah. The Jerusalem Talmud (Shekalim 5:1) sees Rabbi Akiva as the servant in 53:12 while the Babylonian Talmud applies 53:4 to the Messiah (Sanhedrin 98b), 53:10 to the righteous in general (Berakhot 5a), and 53:12 to Moses (Sotah 14a). According to the Midrash Rabbah, Isaiah 53:5 concerns the Messiah (Ruth Rabbah2:14a) and Isaiah 53:12 refers to Israel in exile (Numbers Rabbah 13:2). It must be noted here that this is only one verse in the whole prophecy that is attributed to the nation of Israel, and that was at a very specific time in its existence. The first time Isaiah 53 is interpreted as referring to the nation of Israel is in the eleventh century with the commentary of Rashi, who interpreted this passage as the righteous remnant of Jacob.

All of this goes to show that the ancient rabbis (the most authoritative sources in Judaism) almost unanimously interpreted Isaiah 53 as a Messianic prophecy rather than as a prophecy referring to the nation.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 58-62.

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Isaiah 53 contains the words of the repentant kings of the nations rather than the words of the Jewish people.

Although Isaiah 52:13-53:12 contains the verse, "kings will shut their mouths because of him [i.e., the servant of the Lord] . . . what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand" (Isa. 52:15), repentant kings are not the ones who are speaking in this part of Isaiah 53, but rather the Jewish people.

Recall that according to Jeremiah 30:11, God promised to destroy the nations that subjugated and led Israel captive, while he disciplined his people. Isaiah 53, on the other hand, says that the people will be healed through the sufferings of the servant. How could it be that the Gentile kings, the very ones who led Israel into captivity, are the ones who are blessed? The prophecy must refer to Israel, who for a time is disciplined through exile, but then is healed through the Messiah.

Another problem is based on the context and the grammar of the text. Only God uses the first person singular in the text (52:13; 53:8; 53:11-12). The onlookers, on the other hand, refer to themselves in the first person plural (53:1-6). The use of the first person plural stops after v. 6, which means that after this, it is either God or the prophet who is speaking as the narrator. With this in mind, consider v. 8: "For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished" (NIV). Whether the narrator is God or the prophet, it is obvious that "my people" refers to the people of Israel, not to the Gentile kings! Even if one were to grant that the opening verses of the prophecy are spoken by the astonished kings, the reason why they are astonished is because they are beholding the suffering servant, Yeshua, who has been glorified.

If the suffering servant is in fact Jesus of Nazareth, to which groupdo you think the following prophecy refers?

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed (Isa. 53:4-5).

These are the words of the people of Israel! Yeshua was not a criminal; instead, he is the one who suffered for our transgressions even though our people did not know it. He is the one who brings healing to Israel after everything our nation has been through, because God has finished disciplining his people and has called us back to himself.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 62-66.

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Several key words in Isaiah 53 speak of a servant in the plural.

For a long time, an argument has existed which claims that there are some words in Isaiah 53 which indicate that there is actually more than one servant. The Hebrew words in question are lamoin v. 8 (in the phrase nega'lamo — "a stroke for them/him") and bemotayw in v. 9 (lit., "in his deaths"). However, even the NJPSV states the most likely meaning of these words is that the servant receives a stroke for them. In v. 9, "deaths" is in the intensive plural, which means that it refers to a violent death. Compare this with Ezekiel 28:8 where it is prophesied that an individual "will die the deaths of one slain in the depths of the sea." Over the past several decades, this argument has begun to lose traction. Serious Jewish scholars and translators are forced to admit that there are no grounds for this objection.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 66-67.

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Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus because it says that no one was interested in the servant of the Lord or attracted to him, yet the New Testament records that large crowds followed Jesus.

It is odd that on the one hand, anti-missionaries claim that the authors of the New Testament ornamented their books with references from the Hebrew Scriptures to make Jesus appear as though he were the Messiah, and on the other hand, they claim that the New Testament depiction of Jesus contradicts the Tanakh. For the time being, let us leave this observation aside and focus on the objection at hand.

The relevant verses in Isaiah are as follows:

[H]is appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness...
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (Isa. 52:14, 53:2)

While it is true that large crowds followed Jesus, this does not indicate in the slightest that this prophecy does not refer to him.

Jesus was presumably from a poor background since his foster-father was a carpenter from Nazareth, and he seemed to do hardly anything that was especially noteworthy for the first thirty years of his life. When Nathaniel, one of Yeshua's followers, first heard that he was from Nazareth, he declared, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:45-46). These facts suggest that Jesus' origin was unimpressive (cf. Isa. 53:2).

Furthermore, while there are physical descriptions of Saul (1 Sam. 10:23) and David (1 Sam. 16:12b), there is no physical description of Jesus in the Gospels. The passage from Isaiah which states "he had no beauty or majesty to attract us" (53:2b) is therefore applicable to Jesus; at the very least, there is no contradiction here.

Jesus "was despised" (Isa. 53:3). After his inaugural sermon at the synagogue in Capernaum, some people tried to kill him (Luke 4:16-30). He was accused of being possessed by a demon (John 8:48), many turned their backs on Jesus after one of his hard teachings (John 6:66), and his own people called for his death by crucifixion. The beating he received before he was crucified made "his appearance . . . so disfigured beyond that of any man" (Isa. 52:14b). Indeed, Yeshua was crushed for the iniquities of us all; he accepted the mission from his father to offer atonement for the sins of the nation and of the entire world.

In short, the biblical evidence strongly suggests that Isaiah 53 is describing the sufferings of Jesus.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 67-71.

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Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus because it says that the servant of the Lord was sickly and died of disease.

This reading of Isaiah 53 simply does not make sense from multiple perspectives. In the last several centuries, Jewish rabbis have often interpreted Isaiah 53 as referring to the sufferings of the people of Israel. They used this passage as a hermeneutical lens through which they interpreted the sufferings of their people, sufferings which were perpetrated by members of the surrounding nations. This interpretation agrees with the Christian reading that Isaiah 53 refers to someone who is actively persecuted, rather than to one who simply suffers and dies from disease.

This raises the question, "Which verse refers to the servant's sickness?" The New Jewish Publication Society Version renders Isaiah 53:3 as follows: "He was despised, shunned by men, a man of suffering, familiar with disease." It then translates Isaiah 53:10a as, "But the LORD chose to crush him by disease." The ambiguity of this verse is evident when one compares this translation with the Orthodox Jewish Stone Edition translation of the same verse: "HASHEM desired to oppress him and He afflicted him." The Hebrew word that is used here comes from the root hlh, which can be "to be sick" or "to be debilitated." Other instances of the use of the root hlh include the description of King Ahab (2 Chron. 18:33) and King Josiah's mortal wounds received from arrows(2 Chron. 35:23). It makes sense to interpret hlh in Isaiah as suffering that has been afflicted. As already noted, this was the way many rabbis interpret Isaiah 53 as applied to the sufferings of the nation; they did not restrict the application of these passages only to those Jews who were sick or ill, but applied them to all those who were exiled, tortured, and put to death.

It is important to note that the Hebrew does not say that the Messiah was sick, but that he was "intimate with sickness/suffering." Jesus was familiar with this kind of suffering, having experienced anguish himself at the loss of his friend (John 11:32:36). He was also acquainted with this kind of suffering since he spent a lot of time with the outcasts of society, including the blind, the lame, beggars, the sick, epileptics, etc. Jesus received them and healed all of these people (see Matt. 4:24; 8:16-17; 9:35; 12:15; 14:14, 35-36; 15:30-31; 21:14; Mark 6:53-56; Luke 4:40; 6:17-19; 17:12-19). This sheds light on Isa. 53:4, which states that "he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases" (NRSV). Jesus bore the sufferings we deserved on account of our sins. This is what Peter, Yeshua's chief disciple, meant when he wrote, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness" (1 Pet. 2:24).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 71-74.

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Isaiah 53 does not actually say that the servant would die.

Isaiah 53 speaks about the death of the Messiah. As proof, one need only consider that many of the rabbis interpret Isaiah 53 as referring to the death of the Messiah, whether they take the Messiah to be the Messiah ben Joseph or the Messiah ben David. There are also Rabbinic interpretations which interpret Isaiah 53 as referring to the deaths of righteous individuals in the nation of Israel. It is obvious that it is contradictory to simultaneously hold that this passage can refer to the deaths of Jewish people and that this passage does not speak about the death of the Messiah. In addition to describing the sufferings of the servant, the passage teaches that he was led as a sheep to the slaughter (53:7), that he was cut off from the land of the living (53:8) and that he died and was buried (53:9). The following verses explain that his death made atonement (53:10) and that he poured his soul to death (53:12). It is no surprise, therefore, that Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Radak saw in these verses many references to the servant's death.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 74-76.

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Isaiah 53 does not say that the servant will rise from the dead.

According to David Flusser of Hebrew University,"Isa. LIII could be understood . . . as . . . implicitly . . . [speaking] about his [the Servant's] resurrection" (1988, 423). It is clear that if the text speaks about the death of the prophet, the subsequent passages which refer to his long life must (v. 10) imply that he will rise from the dead. This prophecy has been fulfilled since Yeshua rose from the dead and now lives at the right hand of the Father.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 76-77.

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Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus because it says that the servant of the Lord did no violence, yet Jesus drove out the Temple money-changers with a whip.

Jesus was not a violent man in any way. While the New Testament authors mention him making a whip, he only used it to drive out animals. Jesus overturned the money tables and ordered the venders, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" (John 2:16). Unfortunately, there are those who have conflated the slightly varying Gospel accounts, some of which mention that Jesus drove out human beings as well as animals, inferring that Jesus used the whip (John 2:15) to drive out people (Matt. 21:12). Inspired by zeal, Jesus was cleaning out his Father's house, an act that was interpreted as a prophetic action.

It is not insignificant that during Jesus' trial, no one accused him of doing any kind of violence. Furthermore, none of the Rabbinic literature mentions this incident, although it contains slurs against Yeshua. It should also be remembered that violence (hamas in Hebrew) in the Hebrew Scriptures only refers to violent actions that are illegal, rather than to actions which would be considered violent by today's standards. This is why Moses' command that the Levites put their fellow Israelites to death (Exod. 32:27-29) was not understood as an act ofviolence.

Far from being a violent man, Jesus taught his followers not to be violent, rebuking Peter when he struck off the ear of the high priest's servant by saying, "[A]ll who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matt. 26:52b). In fact, Jesus' nonviolence inspired Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., the two twentieth-century figures best known for implementing the practice of nonviolent resistance.

Ironically, the rabbis apply Isaiah 53 to the nation, although our nation was most glorious when we used forceful resistance (e.g. the Maccabees). The words in this prophecy cannot rule out Yeshua!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 77-80.

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Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus because it says that the servant of the Lord would not lift up his voice or cry out, yet Jesus cried out several times on the cross, once in near blasphemy (Ps. 22:1).

Let us take a look at the relevant passage from Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53:7 states, "[H]e was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." This corresponds with the picture of Jesus' crucifixion in the Gospels. Consider the following details from the narrative of his suffering and death:

  • During his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus rebuked Peter for using his sword (Matt. 26:52).
  • At his trial, Jesus did not answer any of the charges that his false accusers were bringing against them, even though they carried the sentence of capital punishment. In all of these proceedings, "Jesus remained silent" (Matt. 26:63a). He did not say a word when he was spat upon and repeatedly struck (Matt. 26:67). The trial scene before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, was similar: "Pilate asked him, 'Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?' But Jesus made no reply" (Matt. 27:11-14).
  • When the soldiers tortured and abused Jesus by flogging him, putting a crown of thorns on his head, mocking him and spitting on him, he offered no resistance (Matt. 27:28-31).
  • There are multiple passages in the New Testament which say that Jesus was led away; he was led away to the high priest (Luke 22:54), Pilate (Matt. 27:2, Mark 15:1), and the site of his crucifixion (Matt. 27:31; Luke 23:26).

After Jesus was crucified, he prayed that the Father would forgive his executors (Luke 23:34). When one of the men that was crucified realized that Jesus the Messiah, he asked Jesus to remember him. Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). He recited Psalm 22:1, the words of the righteous sufferer who would be miraculously delivered from death (Matt. 27:46). Jesus did not open his mouth when he was being tortured, and when he was finally crucified, his words were meek, merciful, non-retaliating, and profound. He is the Lamb of God, who was led to the slaughter (cf. John 1:29, Isa. 53:7).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 80-83.

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Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus because it says that the servant of the Lord would see seed, an expression always meaning physical descendants in the Hebrew Bible.

The odd thing about this argument is that the Hebrew expression "see seed" (yireh zera') only occurs once in the entirety of the Tanakh. It does not make sense to argue that this term always means physical descendants if it only occurs once since there is nothing else to compare it with. Although it may be argued that zera' always refers to physical offspring and never to metaphorical descendants (which would rule out Jesus as the referent of Isaiah 53), this argument does not hold water for three reasons.

First of all, zera' has been used metaphorically in Isaiah. We see Isaiah referring to Israel as a "seed of evildoers" and a "seed of an adulterer," (1:4; 14:20). According to Brown-Driver-Briggs, the standard Hebrew lexicon, in these kinds of contexts, seed of a certain kind means "persons (or community) of such a quality," which means that "seed of evildoers" would really mean the community of evildoers.

Secondly, zera' is sometimes used to describe "a future generation." Psalm 22 declares, "Posterity [zera'] will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord" (22:30 [31]). Transferring this usage to Isaiah 52:10, this passage would mean that the servant would see future generations serving God. This is certainly true since hundreds of thousands of Jews have followed him over the past two millennia.

Third, Sa'adia Gaon saw Isaiah 53 as referring to the prophet Jeremiah, even though God commanded him not to marry or have children (Jer. 16:1). If Isaiah 53:10 can be seen as referring to Jeremiah, even though he was childless, surely it can be applied to Yeshua.

This concludes our discussion of Isaiah 53. I encourage you to read the text for yourself from 52:13 to 53:12, and to find out to whom this passage refers. This powerful text so clearly points to Yeshua as the Messiah that, according to some sources, the annual reading of Isaiah 53 has been discontinued in synagogues for this reason. Whether this is true or not, it is clear that Isaiah 53 has not been read in synagogues for centuries. Why don't you read it and find out the truth about the servant of the Lord for yourself?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 83-86.

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Daniel 9:24-27 has nothing to do with 'the' Messiah.

Since these verses are the climax of the angelic revelation given to Daniel concerning the Jewish people, they are very significant. The convoluted nature of the prophetic text lends itself to a myriad of interpretations by Christians and Jews alike. Great care should be taken when one sets out to interpret these verses. Let us take a closer look at the history of the interpretation of this text.

Gerald Sigal aggressively attacks the Christian translation of this passage, especially as set forth in the King James Version. In his words, this version "puts a definite article before 'Messiah the Prince' (9:25)," whereas, "The original Hebrew text does not read 'the Messiah the Prince,' but, having no article, it is to be rendered 'a mashiach ['anointed one,' 'messiah']" ("Daniel 9:25 Translation," Jews for Judaism).

Looking at the broader context of these verses will help us to see what the text really means. Daniel 9 begins by describing Daniel as fasting and praying as a result of reading in the book of the prophet Jeremiah that the exile would last for seventy years (cf. Dan. 9:1-3).In the verses that follow (vv. 4-19), Daniel prays a profound penitential prayer. He acknowledges the sins of his people and asks God to restore his people and his Temple in Jerusalem (9:20).

While he was praying, Gabriel appeared to Daniel. Gabriel's message was that he was sent to Daniel because he was highly esteemed by God. He revealed to Daniel that God was going to go beyond Daniel's request to restore the people in Jerusalem; there was going to be a period of seventy sevens of years (490 years) after which final atonement would be made and the Messianic era would be inaugurated (cf. Dan. 9:22b-24).

Rashi comments on this text as follows:

Seventy weeks [of years] have been decreed... The number of seven weeks is four hundred and ninety years. The Babylonian exile was seventy [years] and the Second Temple stood four hundred and twenty [years].

It is clear from this passage that it is not only Christians who see Daniel 9 as having a Messianic significance; however, Rashi later comments that "the anointed one" is king Agrippa, "who was ruling at the time of the destruction" of the Temple in 70 CE (Rosenberg, The Book of Isaiah, Judaica Press Tanakh). He goes on to explain that God's kingdom will come through the Messiah, but does not elaborate any further. Yet Yeshua came during this century; it makes more sense to apply this prophecy to him than to King Agrippa, a relatively obscure vassal king who ruled during the destruction of the Temple. Surely, this event is not the coming of the kingdom.

The Stone translation provides the following summary of Rashi's views in its note to Daniel 9:26: "I.e., Agrippa . . . at the end of the Second Temple Era. After his death, the prince . . ., Titus, would command the destruction of the Temple, which will not be rebuilt until . . . Messianic times" (Rosenberg, The Book of Isaiah, Judaica Press Tanakh). The fulfillment of the prophecy is left in the horizon of the remote future.

In Rashi's view, the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy is postponed: "the ruling of the abomination will endure until the day that the destruction . . . decreed upon it [will] befall it, in the days of the . . . Messiah" (Rosenberg, The Book of Isaiah, Judaica Press Tanakh). Although the events leading to the coming of the Messiah were set in motion during the century Jesus exercised his ministry in Judaea, according to Rashi, the fulfillment of this series of events will not occur until the Messiah arrives, and he was writing one thousand years after these events.

What of the objection raised by Sigal concerning the addition of the definite article to mashiach? While it is correct that the Hebrew simply says mashiach and has no definite article, the implications Sigal draws are incorrect. He overemphasizes the significance of the addition of the definite article for several reasons. First of all, the Septuagint, the oldest Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, translates mashiachas touchristou ("the anointed one"). Furthermore, the Stone edition translates mashiach as "the anointed one" rather than "an anointed one." The reasoning behind these translations is that the Hebrew language sometimes specifies a particular individual without the use of the definite article; this fact is recognized by numerous Hebrew translators and grammarians.

To translate mashiach as "the Messiah" would be reading too much into the text, even though this interpretation is not wrong. A better rendering would be "an anointed one" (NRSV), "the anointed one" (Stone), or "Messiah" (NKJV) without the definite article. Ultimately, the prophecy speaks of the death of the King Messiah, as stated by Rashi, but we know that the King Messiah is Yeshua.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 86-92.

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Daniel 9:24 was clearly not fulfilled by Jesus.

Daniel 9:24 states: "Seventy septets have been decreed upon your people and upon your holy city to terminate transgression, to end sin, to wipe away iniquity, to bring everlasting righteousness, to confirm the visions and prophets, and to anoint the Holy of Holies" (Stone edition).

Professor Walter Kaiser gives a traditional Christian interpretation when he says that there are six divine actions which are to occur during the 490-year period for the nation of Israel, including the completion of transgressions, the putting an end to sin, the sacrifice for atonement, the bringing about of everlasting righteousness, God hiding the meaning of the prophecies from the Jewish people, and the anointing of the Messiah (Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, 202; emphasis his).

The historical critical interpretation, as exemplified by John J. Collins, runs as follows:

Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression . . . to bring sins to completion . . . and to expiate iniquity ["kpr, with God as subject, means to 'cancel' or 'absolve'"], to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal vision [as authentic], and to anoint a most holy place ["The reference is to the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple . . . in 164 BCE (1 Macc. 4:36-39)"] (Collins, Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 345).

Which interpretation is correct? Let's weigh the evidence. The strong points of the conservative Christian view are (1) it realizes that Dan. 9:24-27 predicts monumental spiritual events for the Jewish people and Jerusalem, (2) it takes seriously the concept of "everlasting righteousness," and (3) it accepts the accuracy of the 490-year timeframe. The weak points of this interpretation are (1) it has difficulty with the meaning of anointing a holy one and (2) it does not seem accurate since there is still sin and unrighteousness in the world.

The historical-critical interpretation's strong points are (1) it points to concrete events, (2) it follows the critical dating of the book of Daniel, close to the second century BCE, and (3) it has a simple explanation of "to anoint a most holy place." The flaws of this interpretation, however, are manifold: (1) it must maintain that Daniel is mistaken in his dates, (2) it places Daniel in the second century BCE rather than the sixth century BCE, which implies that the prophecies in the book of Daniel are not prophecies at all, and (3) it does not acknowledge the significance of Dan. 9:24-27 and overlooks the importance of "everlasting righteousness." If we take seriously the miraculous nature of prophecy, this interpretation cannot be true.

From the Christian perspective, the most logical interpretation of this passage is that Jesus must be the Messiah since these events had to take place before the destruction of the Temple. If we follow this train of thought and see how Jesus fulfills the six parts of the prophecy, it will be easy to answer the objections to the Christian interpretation.

The first action is "to finish transgression," which most likely means to bring sin to a climax rather than to annihilate it. Consider the words of Yeshua to the Jewish leaders:"Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!" (Matt. 23:32). For this reason, he said, "Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth. . . . I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation" (Matt. 23:35a, 37). This interpretation sees transgression as reaching its zenith in the time of Jesus.

The second action is "to put an end to sin." This may refer to an event that is still in the future or to the atoning death of the Messiah, an event that brought about the means of reconciliation between God and humanity.

The third action is "to atone for wickedness," a statement which encapsulates the Messiah's mission. The crucifixion of Yeshua is the only event before 70 CE that has this kind of atoning power.

The fourth action is "to bring in everlasting righteousness." This phrase can point either to an action of the Messiah when he returns, or to Jesus' crucifixion, which brought about "the gift of righteousness" (Rom. 5:17).

The fifth action is "to seal up vision and prophecy." This could mean either "to authenticate" or "to hide." Both are applicable to Jesussince he fulfilled the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, and God hid the truth of the prophecies from those who rejected Jesus.

The sixth action is "to anoint the most holy." On the surface, it seems difficult to justify applying this phrase to Jesus rather than to the Temple. There is a place in Scripture where qodešqadašîmjust might refer to a person (1 Chron. 23:13). Some interpretations, including the NASB and the Stone edition, translate this verse as referring to Aaron: "Aaron was set apart to sanctify him as most holy" (NASB, my emphasis). If this is an accurate rendition, it would be a precedent for interpreting "the most holy" as referring to an individual. If the anointing of the most holy refers to a temple, it could refer to a spiritual Temple, i.e. the redeemed people who become temples of the Holy Spirit.

There are only two possible interpretative choices that make sense if one takes the prophetic and miraculous nature of the Word of God seriously (which ipso facto excludes a hard line historical-critical interpretation since this method judges prophecies through the hermeneutical lens of empiricism, thus rendering prophecies as historical interpretations of past events, rather than future events supernaturally revealed to prophets): (1) the six divine actions which had to be completed by the time of the destruction of the Temple were all fulfilled by Jesus through his atoning death and glorious resurrection, and (2) the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy will occur when Jesus returns. This second interpretation coincides with Rashi's view since it points to a future fulfillment, but it is more sophisticated than Rashi's, because it sees key elements as already having been fulfilled historically by Jesus of Nazareth. This second possibility hinges upon the historical event of Jesus' redemptive death.

There is one last piece of corroborating evidence from the book of Daniel, i.e. Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue comprised of different materials symbolizing different kingdoms which would not last (Dan. 2:44-45).

Commenting on this text, Rashi explains, "And in the days of these kings in the days of these kings, when the kingdom of Rome is still in existence. the God Of heaven will set up a kingdom The kingdom of the Holy One . . . is the kingdom of the Messiah" (Rosenberg, The Book of Isaiah, Judaica Press Tanakh). Daniel explains that "the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth" (Dan. 2:35). What is this rock? It can be nothing other than the kingdom of God established by Jesus the Messiah, a spiritual kingdom that was founded during the time of the Roman era,spreading across the entire world, even while the Roman Empire gradually crumbled and was blown away. He is the stone rejected by the builders which has become the cornerstone (cf. Ps. 118:22, Matt. 21:42, Acts 4:11).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 92-100.

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Christian translations of Daniel 9:24-27 divide the seventy 'weeks' incorrectly, and the dates have no relation to the times of Jesus.

As is discussed in the previous objection, Rashi believed that the anointed one in Daniel 9:26 was king Agrippa, thereby unwittingly dating some of the key historical events described in the book of Daniel to the generation after Yeshua. Leaving this point aside, let us look at the dating in this passage of Scripture to see if it is legitimate to interpret it as referring to the time of Jesus.

There are two different translations of Daniel 9:25, exemplified here by the New Revised Standard Version (which reflects the traditional Jewish interpretation), and the King James Version:

  • Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. (NRSV)
  • Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. (KJV)

In the first translation, there are only seven weeks of years (forty-nine years) between the time of the prophecy and the coming of the Messiah, which would place the coming of the Messiah most likely at some point in the fifth century BCE. The second translation, however, would place the coming of the Messiah after sixty-nine (seven plus sixty-two) weeks of years, totaling 483 years after the initial prophecy. If we were to use 457 BCE as the date of the prophecy, as some scholars suggest, this would place us at 27 CE, the same year Jesus began his public ministry!

The problem with the original text is only apparent, which is made clear from two considerations. First of all, if we were to grant that the traditional Jewish division of weeks is accurate, we would also have to accept that the text speaks of two anointed individuals. Secondly, the original Hebrew manuscripts were not written with vowel signs or accents, a fact which significantly weakens any argument that is based on the interpretation of the accents rather than on the consonantal text.

Admittedly, it would be odd to speak of seven weeks of years and sixty-two weeks of years if the sole purpose of the text was to indicate that the Messiah would arrive after sixty-nine weeks of years. The clear Messianic interpretation of this difficulty, however, is that there are two messiahs: one which comes after the seven weeks and the other who arrives after the sixty-two weeks. The first one builds Jerusalem while the second is cut off (Dan. 9:26).

The traditional Jewish division of the sixty-nine weeks into two distinct periods is a more natural rendition than the one found in the KJV. Even if we were to follow the Jewish division, however, we would still find that the prophecy speaks of the death of the second Messiah.

One might object that it is impossible to be sure of anything since there are hundreds of divergent Jewish and Christian interpretations. While it is true that we have barely scratched the surface of things, we can be sure of the more major points while overlooking those that are minor. What are the major points? First, the seventy weeks begin with the rebuilding of Jerusalem and end with the destruction of Jerusalem. Second, there are one or two messiahs in the text, the second of which would be killed (Dan. 9:26). Third, there are six actions which will be fulfilled before the end of the 490-year period.

When did the seventy weeks begin? The most common suggested dates are 605 BCE (when Jeremiah received the word that Jerusalem would be restored after seventy years of exile), 538 BCE (the decree of Cyrus), 521 BCE (the decree of Darius), 457 BCE (the decree of Artaxerxes I), and 446 BCE (the commission of Artaxerxes I). Some of these dates are problematic because they are only related to the rebuilding of the Temple rather than Jerusalem, as the text from Daniel specifies; however, there is simply not enough information in Dan. 9:25 for us to come up with an interpretation everyone can agree on.

We also have to consider the possibility that there are some gaps in the chronology. In fact, it is almost certain that there are gaps since if one were to count 490 years backwards from 70 CE, one would arrive at 421 BCE, which is later than any of the events which scholars propose as the beginning of the 490-year period. If there are no gaps between the 49- and 434-year periods, the only plausible dates would be the last two (i.e. 457 or 446 BCE) since they are the only ones that come even close to 70 CE. This, in conjunction with Daniel 9:26, which states that the anointed one will be killed after the 483-year period, makes 457 BCE a very probable date, with the last seven-year period following a generation later. Perhaps the best interpretation is that the seventy weeks of years started sometime in the 450s BCE, meaning that the gap between the death of the Messiah and the destruction of the Temple would be around thirty to forty years, with the last week occurring from 63 CE to 70 CE.

When all is said and done, we must agree with Walter Kaiser, who concluded, "It is enough to know that there are some 483 years between the time that God began to fulfill this word mentioned to Daniel and the time of the first advent of Messiah, without trying to nail down the precise day and month" (Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament,203).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 100-109.

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Daniel 9:24-27 speaks of two anointed ones.

The text just might speak of two messiahs, but this poses no obstacles to a Christian interpretation; however, if there are two messiahs, it becomes obvious that only one of them can be the Messiah since the alternative would be preposterous: if both Messiahs were the same, the anointed one would have to live for 483 years!

If there are two anointed ones in this passage from the book of Daniel, the second one is Yeshua, the Messiah, who was cut off and had nothing (Dan. 9:26). Who might the first anointed one be? Some believe he is King Cyrus while others believe he might be Joshua the High Priest or Zerubbabel; there is no way to know for certain who he is. There are chronological inklings, however, which almost certainly rule out certain candidates. If Yeshua is not the second anointed one, who might that be? Some Jewish interpreters believe the second anointed one is Onias III who was killed in 171 BCE while others believe he is King Agrippa I, who died in 44 CE. If we look at the facts objectively, however, the significance of King Agrippa's death pales in comparison with the lasting importance of the death of Yeshua.

The text either speaks of one or two anointed ones. If there are two anointed ones, the only logical candidate for the second anointed one is Yeshua, whose death brought about the atonement prophesied in Daniel 9:24. If there is only one anointed one, then a fortiori is this anointed one Yeshua.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 109-111.

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Psalm 2:12 should not be translated 'kiss the Son.' Only the KJV and modern Christian fundamentalist translations still maintain this incorrect rendering.

Every sound interpretation of scripture depends on a proper understanding of its larger context. Psalm 2 is a coronation psalm, which celebrates the enthronement of a Davidic king. It is obvious that the psalm refers to the king as God's son (2:7). Ibn Ezra claims that the psalm either refers to David or to the Messiah. There is no reason, however, why Psalm 2 could not refer to both David and to the Messiah.

Because the language of sonship is so prominent in Psalm 2, it would not be out of place if v. 12 stated "kiss the son." The primary issue is not the translation of nashaq ("to kiss") since this word can mean "to pay homage"; instead, the main issue is the translation of the word "son." The Hebrew word for son is ben, but the word that appears here is the Aramaic word for son, bar. The text has often been translated with reference to purity since the Hebrew bor is so similar to bar.

One advantage of the Christian rendition of bar into "son" is that it does away with the contextual problem of the Messiah appearing in the first part of the psalm and receding to the background by the end of the psalm.

It is not just Christians who understand bar to mean son here; Abraham Ibn Ezra believed that bar meant son. A. B. Ehrlich, A. Sh. Hartom, and Samuel Loewenstamm and Joshua Blau also render bar as "son."

Why would the Aramaic bar appear in this psalm instead of ben? It has been suggested by some scholars that, just as in Jeremiah 10:11, the foreign nations are addressed in Aramaic, the most widely used Semitic language of the day, and are reminded in a language that they can understand that the Davidic king is God's son.

In short, there are no reasons to reject the translation of bar into "son" in Psalm 2:12.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 111-114.

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Psalm 16 does not speak of the resurrection of the Messiah.

Let's take a look at the relevant verses of Psalm 16 as translated by the NJPSV:

 
So my heart rejoices,
my whole being exults,
and my body rests secure.
For You will not abandon me to Sheol,
or let Your faithful one see the Pit (Ps. 16:9-10).

Rabbi David Kimchi interpreted the words, "my body rests secure" (v. 9) as meaning that "when the Psalmist dies his body will not decompose" (Rozenberg and Zlotowitz, The Book of Psalms, 79). In fact, the question of whether these verses speak about the resurrection and immortality of David has been debated among traditional Jewish scholars, so it is not simply something that Christians are pulling out of a hat. Admittedly, there is no consensus among Jewish scholars on precisely what the text means.

Does the Christian view coincide with the Psalm? Let's see how Peter interprets it:

David . . . was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. (Acts 2:29-32)

Was David speaking about himself in the text, or is it possible that he was referring to the Messiah? There is a strong indication that David was speaking about his son, the Messiah since there is a biblical notion that one lives on in one's descendants. This mentality is expressed in Jewish names, e.g. Abraham Ibn Ezra (Abraham son of Ezra). It would not be surprising at all if David was prophetically moved and saw the life of his son, the Messiah, preserved. At the very least, it must be recognized that the Christian interpretation certainly does not contradict the contents of Psalm 16, and that the greatest fulfillment of this psalm would be the resurrection of Yeshua, the Messiah, the son of David, from the dead since God did not "abandon [him] to Sheol, or let [his] faithful one see the Pit" (Ps. 16:10).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 114-117.

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Psalm 22 is the story of David's past suffering. There is nothing prophetic about it.

Tovia Singer claims, "[Psalm 22] is not a prophecy, nor does it speak of any future event" (cf. "A Lutheran Doesn't Understand Why Rabbi Singer Doesn't Believe in Jesus: A Closer Look at the 'Crucifixion Psalm,'" Outreach Judaism). This is really a puzzling contention on the part of Singer since it is refuted by several Jewish interpretations. Rashi, for instance, states, "They [i.e. the people of Israel] are destined to go into exile and David recited this prayer for the future" (Rosenberg, The Book of Isaiah, Judaica Press Tanakh; my emphasis). He goes on to explain that v. 26(27) refers to the "time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah." While Rashi saw this psalm as prophesying the sufferings of the Jewish people, Pesikta Rabbati, the famous eighth-century midrash, sees the suffering Messiah [called Ephraim] as the son of David and describes his sufferings in light of Psalm 22:

Ephraim is a darling son to Me . . . My heart yearneth for him, in mercy I will have mercy upon him, saith the Lord (Jer. 31:20). Why does the verse speak twice of mercy: In mercy I will have mercy upon him? One mercy refers to the time when he will be shut up in prison, a time when the nations of the world will gnash their teeth at him every day, wink their eyes at one another in derision of him, nod their heads at him in contempt, open wide their lips to guffaw, as is said All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head (Ps. 22:8); My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my throat; and thou layest me in the dust of death (Ps. 22:16). (Pesikta Rabbati 37:1 in Braude, 680-681).

This powerful interpretation applies Psalm 22 to the suffering Messiah. Psalm 22 must be understood as the psalm of a righteous sufferer who is delivered from death; Rashi and Pesikta Rabbati recognized this. Although many righteous persecuted people have recited this psalm, no one has recited it with more meaning than Jesus, who suffered a humiliating and agonizing death. Finally, no one fulfilled the end of this psalm in quite the same way as Jesus did by rising from the dead, thereby giving people from all nations a cause to proclaim the deeds of God in the midst of the assembly to all future generations.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp.117-122.

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Psalm 22 does not speak of death by crucifixion. In fact, the King James translators changed the words of v. 16 (17) to speak of "piercing"the sufferer's hands and feet whereas the Hebrew text actually says, "Like a lion they are at my hands and feet."

The New Testament never quotes Psalm 22:16(17). Although the New Testament authors cited this psalm several times, they never focused on this verse, never insisted that it refers to literal piercing. Instead, the New Testament authors read Psalm 22 in its entirety, and testified that it applies to Jesus. Jesus himself cited Psalm 22 when he was on the cross (Matt. 27:46).

So what is the charge? The charge is that the translators of the King James Version deliberately modified the Hebrew text replacing "like a lion" with "pierced." According to Rabbi Tovia Singer, the latter rendering is a "Christian contrivance" (cf, "A Lutheran Doesn't Understand Why Rabbi Singer Doesn't Believe in Jesus: A Closer Look at the 'Crucifixion Psalm,'" Outreach Judaism). In Singer's view, it was not the authors of the New Testament who inserted this interpolation into the text, but rather later Christian translators who deliberately translated ka'ari as "pierced." We'll take a look at the documentary evidence to see if Singer's claims are valid.

However, before we do so, it must be understood that all other factors being equal, translators will typically side with translations that resonate with their own beliefs; there is no such thing as an unbiased interpretation. As we shall see, the evidence suggests that in the manuscript traditions, there is not one, but two possible translations since the manuscripts attest to two different words.

The Septuagint, the oldest translation (older than Christianity) of the Hebrew Bible into another language, states, "they pierced my hands and feet." Where did the Septuagint translators get this idea? The oldest extant copy of the Psalms, which is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran (these scrolls date back to the century before Yeshua), have the verb ka'aru, not ka'ari("like a lion"). This reading is also found in about a dozen Masoretic manuscripts. According to Hebrew scholars, the root meaning of ka'aru is "to dig out," or "to bore through." The oldest translation of the Hebrew Bible, numerous Masoretic texts, and the oldest copy of the Psalms all contain ka'aru. The only logical conclusion is that the reading of Psalm 22:16(17) as "they have pierced my hands and feet" is not a fabricated Christian interpolation, but instead is a sincere attempt to interpret the meaning of ancient inspired words which predated Christianity.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 122-127.

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Some of the so-called Messianic prophecies in the Psalms actually speak of the psalmist's sin and folly. How can you apply this to Jesus?

Rabbinic interpreters often took biblical verses entirely out of context in order to come up with ingenious solutions to exegetical problems. This was also the case with Talmudic and Midrashic writings. In this light, it should not be so amazing that the New Testament authors occasionally applied a relevant verse to Yeshua without applying everything in the passage to him.

There are certain key hermeneutical principles behind the dynamics of New Testament interpretations; one such interpretive key is that David is the prototype of the Messiah; in other words, "As it was with David . . . so it was with the Messiah." There are certain events in David's life which parallel the life of the King Messiah; however, no one expects there to be an exact one-to-one correlation between David and the Messiah. This is why the New Testament is able to cite Psalm 41:9[10] as referring to Jesus: "Even my close friend . . . has lifted up his heel against me," although several verses later, the psalmist declares, "O LORD, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you" (v. 4[5]). The Tanakh simultaneously refers to the past sins of the psalmist and prophesies the future Messiah. In short, the New Testament authors have provided a sober interpretation of the Psalms in the same vein as Rabbinic interpretations over the centuries.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 127-129.

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Psalm 40 is absolutely not Messianic in any way.

We have already seen that the Talmudic rabbis applied a multitude of scripture passages to the Messiah, some of which are quite inapt. In contrast, Psalm 40 has significant Messianic overtones.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews cites Psalm 40:6-8, stating, "[W]hen [Messiah] came into the world, he said: 'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings . . . you were not pleased. Then I said, 'Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God'" (Heb. 10:1).

As with any interpretation of prophecy, it is imperative to understand the background of a particular prophecy before one ascertains whether a particular interpretation is valid. Let's look at the literal meaning of Psalm 40. The psalmist suddenly realizes that God doesn't want animal sacrifices, but obedience (vv. 6-7). After this remarkable epiphany, the psalmist acknowledges how far he is from the ideal of giving his life entirely to God, and confesses his many sins (v. 12). The psalmist rightly sees that the sacrifice God wants is the offering of one's entire life to him. Generation after generation, Israelites repeated the psalmist's words, recognizing that they fell short of the purity and obedience God demanded. Then came Yeshua, the perfect servant of the Lord, who offered up his entire life to God, being obedient even to the point of suffering death on the cross in order to atone for the sins of the world.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 129-131.

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Psalm 45:6(7) does not say that the Messiah is God.

Psalm 45 is a royal psalm which refers to the Davidic king as one who is divine. While this is certainly a stretch, to say the least, it is perfectly legitimate to say that this is a prophecy which refers to Yeshua, the Word made flesh, who is one in being with the Father.

According to Risto Santala, a Finnish Christian scholar of Hebrew and Rabbinic literature, "The most celebrated Jewish exegetes agree that this psalm speaks of the 'Messiah-King'" (Santala, The Messiah in the Old Testament, 113). Rashi interprets v. 6(7) as "Your throne O judge Your throne O prince and judge shall exist forever and ever as the matter that is stated (Exod. 7:1): 'I have made you a judge . . . over Pharaoh'" (Rosenberg, The Book of Isaiah, Judaica Press Tanakh). This is a rather significant interpretation since Rashi effectively interprets the word 'elohim as referring to the king rather than to God, just as Moses was an 'elohim to Pharaoh. The Hebrew original reads, "Your throne, O 'elohim, is forever and ever." This suggests that the Christian translation, "Your throne, O divine one," is not at odds with Rashi's interpretation, and does more justice to the original Hebrew than the translation of 'elohim into "judge." It is far better to accept the theology the Word of God gives us than to impose our own theology on it.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 131-133.

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Psalm 110 does not say that the Messiah is Lord. Also, the psalm is not written by David about the Messiah. Our traditions indicate that it may have been written by Eliezer about his master Abraham, then added to the collection of the Psalms by David many years later, or it was written by David for the Levites to recite about him (or by a court poet about David). This much is sure: It does not teach that the Messiah is God!

According to Rabbi Singer, Christians tampered with Psalm 110 (cf. "'The Lord Said to My Lord…' To Whom Was the Lord Speaking in Psalm 110:1?" Outreach Judaism). Furthermore, he critiques Yeshua's handling of Psalm 110, claiming that the Pharisees would not have been impressed by what he said. First, we shall analyze Jesus' response and see whether it was a strong argument; secondly, we shall assess Christian translations of Psalm 110.

According to the Gospel of Matthew,

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, "What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?" "The son of David," they replied. He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says, "'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.'" If then David calls him 'Lord,' how can he be his son?" No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Matt. 22:41-46)

Some of the earliest Rabbinic commentaries explain Psalm 110 as referring to the Messiah. If David was the one who composed this psalm, then Yeshua raises a good point: If the Messiah is David's son and not greater than David, how can David call him "my lord"?

The Hebrew la'doni means "to my master" or "to my lord," and this is precisely how most Christians translate this phrase in the psalm. The opening verse of Psalm 110 states, "'adonay said to 'adoni," i.e. "The LORD said to my lord (or my Lord)." Christian translations of Scripture almost always use LORD instead of YHWH, which means that Christians do not conflate "LORD" and "Lord," but instead are cognizant of the difference between these two words. Rabbi Singer, however, takes offence that the second "Lord" would be capitalized, claiming that every other use of 'adoniin Scripture is profane rather than sacred.

There are a number of problems with Singer's contention. First of all, it simply is not true that every time 'adoni was used in the Hebrew Bible, it was used in a profane context. Consider, for instance, when the angel of the Lord is called 'adoni and then commands Joshua to take off his sandals (Josh. 5:14), the same command Moses was given when he experienced the theophany at the burning bush when the angel of the Lord appeared to him (Exod. 3:1-5). Surely, this is not a profane context! Another problem with Singer's view is that Yeshua's whole point was that David called the Messiah "my lord," not that David called him LORD; his point was that the Messiah had to be greater than David, not that the Messiah had to be equivalent to the LORD.

It might be objected that 'adonay and 'adoniare Hebrew words and that the New Testament was written in Greek; wouldn't the fact that the New Testament only uses one word for both terms imply that the person was one and the same? Not necessarily. The New Testament authors simply followed the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which rendered YHWH into kurios, meaning Lord or lord. The Septuagint translates Psalm 110:1 as "The kurios said to my kurios"; Matthew simply followed the Septuagint. Therefore, Rabbi Singer's accusations are incorrect.

Rabbi Singer really seems to have chosen some small fish to fry when the bigger issue is whether this psalm is Messianic, and if it is, whether Yeshua was correct in referring the psalm to himself.

It is important to note that the superscription of the psalm reads "Of David. A Psalm." This indicates that the Jews in Yeshua's day accepted that this psalm was of David, but was it written by David or was it for David? One interpretation is that the psalm was written by a court poet who declared that Yahweh said to his lord (David), "Sit at my right." The problem with this view, however, is that if it is true that a court poet wrote the psalm for David, and David is the referent, it would mean that God sat David on his right hand side and made him a priest forever! While he was a priestly-king and ruled over his enemies during his lifetime, it does not make sense to interpret this psalm as being fulfilled in the person of David himself. This leaves the Messianic interpretation, which sees this psalm as referring to the Messiah. This interpretation was subscribed to by a number of ancient rabbis, and it was this interpretation that Jesus and his interlocutors presupposed. How can we be so sure of this? If the most common interpretation of the day was that the referent of the psalm was not the Messiah, the Pharisees would have replied to Jesus that this was not the common interpretation among the religious figures, but they remained silent.

Although the New Testament indicates the Messianic character of this psalm, in no way does the historical fact of the prominence of the Messianic interpretation of the time depend on the New Testament itself. For the Jews in the first century, "A psalm of David" would have been taken as meaning a psalm that was written by David. Even if David's court poet had written the psalm, it could only have been fulfilled by the Messiah, David's descendant.

Rabbi Sa'adiah Gaon's interpretation of Daniel 7:13 supports this Messianic interpretation. He explains the Messiah's presentation to the Ancient of Days (a title referring to the Lord) by quoting Psalm 110: "The utterance of the LORD to my lord, 'Sit at My right hand.'"

The last point in connection with Psalm 110 is that the Jews in the time of Jesus expected two Messiahs, one priestly (the Messiah of Aaron) and one royal (the Messiah of David), as indicated in the Dead Sea Scrolls; the Tanakh, however, teaches that there will only be one Messiah who will be both priestly and royal. This is clear from Zechariah 3-6, which suggests that the Messianic figure called Branch would be crowned, something indicated by the prophesied coronation of Joshua the High Priest, the symbol of the Branch: "Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Here is the man whose name is the Branch'" (Zech. 6:11-12). Rashi and Ibn Ezra, however, both claim that the Branch is actually Zerubbabel, but they overlooked the priestly role of the Messiah. To cap things off, the shortened name of Joshua (or Yehoshua) is Yeshua, thereby indicating that Jesus is the Messianic Branch who fulfills in his person the priestly and kingly roles of the Messiah, the Son of David.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 133-145.

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You claim that Haggai 2 points to the fact that the Messiah had to come before the Second Temple was destroyed, since it says in v. 9 that the glory of the Second Temple would be greater than the glory of Solomon's Temple. Actually, Haggai is speaking only about the physical splendor of the Second Temple, which surpassed Solomon's Temple in the days of Herod.

Let's take a look at Haggai 2:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: "In a little while . . . I will fill this house with glory," says the LORD Almighty. "The silver is mine and the gold is mine," declares the LORD Almighty. "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house," says the LORD Almighty. "And in this place I will grant peace," declares the LORD Almighty (Hag. 2:6-9).

How do we know that kavod does not refer to riches, but instead refers to the spiritual glory of the Lord? First of all, this passage compares the Second Temple to the first, and we all know that the glory of the First Temple derived from the supernatural presence of God. In addition, many of the elements that made the First Temple glorious, such as the ark of the covenant, the divine fire, the Shekinah, and the Urim and the Thummim, were missing from the Second Temple. Finally, we must consider the fact that concerning the Second Temple, it was prophesied that there would be peace (Hag. 2:9); yet, Ibn Ezra said that this peace was predicated on the obedience of the people, something which the book of Haggai does not state at all. This is illustrative of the types of problems Rabbinic Judaism faces when it confronts such passages in Scripture claiming that the Second Temple will be connected with the glorious coming of the Messiah; they essentially make the promises conditional and postpone the Messiah's coming to some future point in time.

Only the coming of the Messiah explains how the prophecies of Haggai are not false prophecies. The Second Temple was filled with glory since the coming of the King Messiah, the very shekinah of God, walked in the Temple, physically filling it with the glory of the Lord.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 145-148.

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Zechariah 12:10 has nothing to do with Jesus.

In the Talmud (b. Sukkah 55a), Zech. 12:10 is described as referring to the human evil inclination on the one hand, and to the death of the Messiah son of Joseph on the other, who later rose from the dead. Two significant points can be gleaned from this: (1) early interpretations of this verse speak of a singular subject, not plural, and (2) an ancient Jewish tradition interprets this passage as speaking of a Messianic figure who died and rose from the dead.

Oddly enough, both the Stone Edition and the NJPSV translate Zechariah 12:10 with a plural subject: "They shall look toward Me because of those whom they have stabbed; they will mourn for him . . ." (Stone); "they shall lament to Me about those who are slain, wailing over them" (NJPSV). These translations, however, are contradicted by some of the most ancient Jewish sources.

What does the text mean, and does it justify a Messianic interpretation? The mourners turn to God because he is the only one who is referred to in the first person in the chapter starting in v. 2. The "me" who is pierced is none other than the Lord, and since the Messiah is the image of God, if the Messiah is pierced, so will the Lord be pierced.

The Stone translation of v. 10, "They shall look toward Me because of those whom they have stabbed," makes little sense for two reasons: first, the plural translation is highly improbable, and second, the ones who are mourning are the ones who did the piercing; they themselves did the stabbing, not other people! The verse states, "And I will pour out on . . . the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child."

The Messianic interpretation makes perfect sense. When the Messiah comes again, our people will mourn because they will realize that the one whom they have pierced is Yeshua, the Messiah, our Savior; when he returns, those who accept the Messiah shall be cleansed from their sins (cf. Zech. 13:1). He will return to the Mount of Olives, (cf. Zech. 14:4a), the same place from which he ascended into heaven (cf. Acts 1:1-12). Jesus is the Messiah, the one who was pierced by our people, died, and rose from the dead; he is the one who died to take away our sins!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 148-152.

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Jesus fulfilled none of the Messianic prophecies!

This is really an incredible claim. The rationale behind the argument belies its own conclusion. The argument runs as follows: Jesus fits so many of the Messianic prophecies according to the New Testament that the New Testament authors must have contrived the whole thing, modifying historical facts to suit their own agenda, which means that in reality, Jesus did not fulfill any of the prophecies. If this was the case, however, how could Jesus' disciples ever have hoped to dupe their contemporaries?

There are actually very many Messianic prophecies in Scripture. In fact, the Talmud states, "None of the prophets prophesied except of the Messiah" (b. Sanh. 99a; cf. Acts 3:24). Maimonides claimed, "This belief in the Messiah is in accordance with the prophecies concerning him, by all the prophets, from our master Moses until Malachi" (Boteach, The Wolf Shall Lie with the Lamb, 3; my emphasis). Naturally, the authors of the New Testament saw many references in the prophets to the life and death of Jesus.

What are the main Messianic prophecies Jesus fulfilled? His birth place (cf. Micah 5:2[1]), his time of arrival (Daniel, Haggai, Malachi), his miracles (Isa. 49:6-7), his rejection (Isa. 52:13-53:12), his suffering before his exaltation (Ps. 22), his death and resurrection (Ps. 16), his role as light to the nations (Isa. 42, 49), and the restoration of Israel (Isa. 49).

There are many more minor prophecies Jesus fulfilled. In fact, Herbert Lockyer enumerates nineteen prophecies that were fulfilled by the death of Jesus, among them that he would be betrayed by a friend, sold for thirty pieces of silver, have his hands and feet pierced, have his garments gambled for, and be buried with the rich (Lockyer, All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible, 146-158). Granted, a traditional Jew would demur at this evidence, claiming that the New Testament authors were cavalier in their interpretations of the Tanakh; however, compared to Rabbinic interpretations of Messianic prophecies, the interpretation of the disciples of Jesus are very methodical, systematic, and sober.

There are several examples of Rabbinic interpretations of certain Scripture passages which are interpreted as Messianic:

  • Genesis 1:2, which states, "the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters," is taken to mean " the Spirit of the King Messiah" (Genesis Rabbah 2:4).
  • According to the Jerusalem Targum, when Eldad and Medad prophesied outside the camp (Num. 11:26), they were prophesying about "the defeat of Gog and Magog by the Messiah."
  • Ruth 2:14a states, "And Boaz said [to Ruth], At mealtime come thou hither, and eat of the bread" (KJV). Midrash Rabbah Ruth interprets this passage as follows: come hither, i.e. draw near to the kingdom, and eat of the bread, i.e. the bread of royalty, and dip thy morsel in vinegar, i.e. sufferings.
  • In b. Sanh. 96b-99a, the Talmud suggests that the name of the Messiah might by Chaninah since Jeremiah 16:13 states, "I will show you no favor [Hebrew, chaninah]."

From all of this, it is clear that the interpretations of the New Testament authors are more balanced and reasonable than those of the Rabbinic authors.

Finally, one has only to compare the multitude of prophecies that can be attributed to Jesus with the dearth of prophecies attributable to other false Messiahs in our nation's history. Bar Kochba, for instance, did not come at the prophesied time, performed no miracles, and did not make peace. Shabbetai Svi, a false Messiah in the seventeenth century, fulfilled none of the Messianic prophecies. Consider also Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whose followers still insist that he was the Messiah, even though he died in 1994; which prophecies has Schneerson fulfilled?

Any objective onlooker would be forced to admit that there exists a double-standard; traditional Jews are able to proclaim one from among them the Messiah without much biblical evidence, whereas they reject the overwhelming evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, rejecting this possibility out of a deep-set bias. Yeshua is the Jew through whom more Gentiles believe in the God of Israel than any other Jew in history.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 152-158.

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Jesus fulfilled none of the provable Messianic prophecies!

There are four kinds of prophecies Yeshua has fulfilled, or will fulfill: (1) prophecies that no one other than Yeshua can ever hope to fulfill, (2) prophecies with a worldwide scope, (3) prophecies that are being fulfilled today, and (4) prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled.

(1) The Tanakh indicates that the Messiah would come before the destruction of the Second Temple, and that final atonement had to be made before its destruction; either Yeshua fulfilled these prophecies or no one has. What does the Talmud mean when it states, "all the appointed times have passed and the matter is dependent only on repentance and good deeds" (b. Sanh. 97b) if it does not mean that the time was ripe for the Messiah's coming?

(2) Genesis 49:10 states that the Messiah will have the obedience of the nations, Isaiah 42:4 indicates that the islands will wait for his teaching, and Isaiah 49:6 shows us that he will be a light to the nations; Jesus has fulfilled all of these prophecies and continues to fulfill them to this day. No one could have guessed, as Yeshua hung on the cross, that he would one day be the most famous Jew ever, that history would be divided into the years before and the years after his birth, and that millions of people would put down their idols and worship the God of Israel through him. All of this, however, took place; it is provable!

According to the Hebrew Bible, there must be one Jew who would be rejected by his people, who would suffer for his people, rise from the dead, and would be revered by the Gentiles; there is no one who has accomplished all this except Jesus. On top of this, he was born in the right place and at the right time; the conclusion is obvious: Jesus is the Messiah!

(3) The prophets also declared that the Messiah would perform miracles such as healing, opening the eyes of the blind, curing cripples, and forgiving sins. All of these deeds have been recorded in the Gospels. Of course, one might object, "How can we be sure these stories are true?" We can be sure that they are true because his followers continued to perform miracles in his name. Peter and John cured a man who was lame from birth in the name of Yeshua (Acts 3:1-10). If Jesus had been an ordinary man, his followers would not have been able to perform miracles in his name, but since he sent the Holy Spirit on his followers, they were empowered to continue his mission. Many Jews who believe in Jesus came to believe in him through their spiritual encounter with the power of God through him, and this is the greatest testimony of all. Such testimony is not to be taken lightly since the Torah emphasizes the necessity of everyone having a personal relationship with God (cf. Deut. 5:1-4).

Have you received a new heart of flesh (cf. Ezek. 3:26-27)? Have your sins been forgiven (cf. Jer. 31:34b)? If you think these promises are meant for the Messianic age, you are right; we are in the Messianic age now! Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh, as Joel prophesied (cf. Acts 2:1-21, Joel 2:28-31).

(4) There are still prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled such as Isaiah 2:1-5 and Isaiah 11:1-9, which predict universal peace. Will Jesus fulfill these prophecies too? The answer is clear: The one who has fulfilled all of the other Messianic prophecies will also fulfill these prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled. No one has to remain in ignorance as to the identity of the Messiah when he returns in glory.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 158-164.

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Even modern Christian scholars reject the so-called Old Testament proof-texts about Jesus. Just check most modern Christian Bible commentaries and translations.

This objection does not attack the integrity of Christianity; instead, it rests on the lack of faith of certain Christian scholars. Every Christian who believes in the Word of God as divinely inspired believes that the Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures refer to Jesus, whereas the Christians who deny this are Christian in name only. Typically, the scholars who reject the idea of Jesus as having fulfilled the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures reject prophecy altogether.

The same kind of phenomenon can be found in Judaism. Reform Jews do not accept the Torah as authoritatively binding, reject the Mosaic authorship of the Torah, and reject the idea of a literal Messiah. This only proves that some Jews believe in the Scriptures while others, who claim to be Jews, do not.

There are a large number of Christian scholars – many of whom are experts in the Hebrew Bible and biblical hermeneutics – who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. While this does not prove that Yeshua is the Messiah, it clearly militates against this objection.

It is important to recognize that many of the liberal Christian scholars who reject the inspiration of the Bible recognize that the New Testament uses interpretive methods that are very similar to those used in Rabbinic literature such as the Talmud, Targums, and Midrash; in other words, they realize that the New Testament must be judged in the context of the Jewish background of that time period. This is not surprising since the authors of the New Testament were Jews. Furthermore, recent studies indicate that the hermeneutical methods of the disciples of Yeshua who wrote the New Testament are more biblically consistent and less farfetched than the methods used by the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls and classical Rabbinic literature.

Simply put, this objection evades the primary issue, which is how the Messianic prophecies are fulfilled, not how they are interpreted by certain Christian scholars; these prophecies overwhelmingly indicate that Jesus is the Messiah.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 164-167.

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Jesus cannot be the Messiah because the Messiah was to be a reigning king, whereas Jesus was despised, rejected, and crucified.

Many Jewish traditions speak of a suffering Messiah, and Scripture itself contains many indications of a suffering Messiah. Consider the following prophecies:

  • Isaiah 52:13-15 states that the servant of the Lord would suffer before being exalted.
  • Zechariah 12:10 shows that the Messiah will be killed.
  • Psalm 118:22 says that the stone (i.e. the Messiah) rejected by the builders will become the cornerstone. In light of this, we must carefully consider Isaiah 28:16: "See, I lay a stone in Zion . . . a . . . cornerstone . . . ; the one who trusts will never be dismayed."

Would you rather have a Messiah who was incapable of sympathizing with the weak, who never suffered, and who would rule over all without knowing what it is like to be despised, or would you rather have a Messiah who is able to understand all of his people, the least no less than the greatest? According to the letter to the Hebrews, "[Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful . . . high priest . . . Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted" (Heb. 2:17-18).

Jesus' suffering – which enables him to sympathize with his people – is not an argument against his Messianic status; instead, it is a confirmation that he is the Messiah since Rabbinic tradition and the Scriptures teach that the Messiah would be rejected before assuming his worldwide reign.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 167-169.

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Jesus cannot be the Messiah because the Messiah had to rebuild the Temple, yet the Temple was standing in Jesus' day.

According to Maimonides, if someone "learned in the Torah" rebuilds the Temple, "he is definitely the Messiah" (1987, 232). This opinion, however, is disputed since there is evidence from Rabbinic literature which suggests that the Third Temple "is waiting in the heavens to be revealed" (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah: Hilchos Melachim U'Milchamoteihem, 233). It is, in certain ways, natural for traditional Jews to believe that the Messiah will rebuild the Temple. It was destroyed over nineteen hundred years ago, and it seems as though the only one who could rebuild it is the Messiah.

There are very few Messianic prophecies in the Bible that mention the rebuilding of the Temple, and those that do speak about the process of building the Second Temple in the sixth century BCE. The entire book of Isaiah contains no prophecy about the rebuilding of the Temple; Jeremiah prophesies the restoration of Jerusalem, but does not mention the restoration of the Temple; and none of the prophets speak about the restoration of the Temple in conjunction with the Messiah, except for Zechariah and Ezekiel.

Ezekiel does not state that the Messiah will build the Temple; Ezekiel is merely given a detailed vision of the new Temple and the glory of the Lord taking its abode in this house of worship. This leaves us with one book to consider: Zechariah.

The first part of Zechariah mentions two anointed leaders, Joshua (the High Priest) and Zerubbabel (the governor of Judah). These men were types of "the Branch," and played key roles in the building of the Second Temple. According to Zechariah 6:9, 11-13, God told Zechariah to make a crown, place it on the head of Joshua, and to tell him that his name was Branch, that he would build the Temple, that he would sit on a throne as priest, and that those far off would help build the Temple.

In this passage, Joshua is the Messianic prototype, and as such, it is said that he would sit on the throne as a royal priest. What is the meaning of the prophecy? There are three possibilities.

(1) Historically, both Joshua and Zerubbabel were involved with the building of the Second Temple. Their actions, therefore, were types of future happenings. According to Rashi, "Some interpret this [i.e. the reference to "the Branch" in 6:12] as referring to the King Messiah but the entire context deals with the [time of the ] Second Temple" (Rosenberg, The Book of Isaiah, Judaica Press Tanakh). If Rashi is right, this means that there is not one prophecy in the Tanakh which prophesies that the Messiah would rebuild the Temple; this would completely undermine this objection. The Messianic imagery in this passage, however, is too clear, which means that Zechariah actually prophesied the future building of the Temple by the Messiah. The question remains, What is the nature of this future Temple?

(2) The second possibility is that Zechariah 6 predicts the building of a spiritual Temple comprised of people. This makes a lot of sense when one considers the historical context of the prophecy. Zechariah was encouraging Joshua and Zerubbabel to build the Temple, and it was already in the process of being completed. To prophesy that the Temple would be rebuilt, and to actually mean that the current Temple in the process of being built would be destroyed and then rebuilt at some point in the distant future (this prophecy was delivered over 2500 years ago), would not have made any sense to Zechariah's contemporaries.

The New Testament does not describe a building, but does describe God'speople as his dwelling place; the people of God become the Temple:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus the Messiah. (1 Pet. 2:4-5)

This idea of a spiritual Temple is not a New Testament novelty; its roots can be traced to the Tanakh since God promises his people that he will dwell in their midst (cf. Lev. 26:12). Of course, this verse means that God will dwell with his people in the Tabernacle and the Temple, but many Israelites were only able to experience God in the Temple infrequently. With the coming of the Messiah and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God is able to take his abode within his people who have been cleansed from their impurities by the atoning death of the Messiah. This resonates with Ezekiel's prophecy: "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean . . . I will . . . give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you" (Ezek. 36:25-27). This spiritual Temple is being built every day.

This interpretation also illuminates Zechariah 6:15, which states, "Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the LORD." Who are the ones far away? The Gentiles! Paul makes this clear when he writes that those "who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Messiah" (Eph. 2:12-13; emphasis mine). The text continues, "[Y]ou are . . . built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:19-21). This spiritual Temple was providentially established before the destruction of the Second Temple.

(3) The third possible interpretation is that the Messiah will literally rebuild a physical Temple in Jerusalem when he returns to earth. This is an intriguing interpretation, but it is not a fundamental Christian doctrine. We can be sure that if the Temple is gloriously rebuilt, the identity of the Messiah will not be a secret, and we also know that if it is rebuilt, Jesus will be the one to rebuild it. How can we be sure of this? What about the Messianic criteria given by Maimonides, who essentially holds the same view that if someone builds the Temple, he will definitely be the Messiah?

At first glance, Maimonides seems to disqualify Jesus from being the Messiah who will rebuild the Temple, however, Maimonides's interpretation of the Messiah is incorrect for several reasons. First of all, Maimonides imagined a Messiah who was a rabbi or sage, thus making him into his own image. He downplayed the scripturally founded miraculous signs associated with the Messianic age because if these signs were important, they would indicate that Jesus is the Messiah. He also taught that anyone who died could not be the Messiah, thus excluding Jesus. As we have seen, however, many ancient Jewish interpretations believe that the Messiah would die and rise from the dead. Jesus not only performed the prophetic signs mentioned in the Tanakh, he also rose from the dead. Unfortunately, traditional Jews are typically more familiar with Maimonides's view of the Messiah than the scriptural description.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 170-179.

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The only true prophecy about Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures is found in Zechariah 13:1-6—apassage dealing with false prophets. It even makes explicit reference to his crucifixion!

Some Messianic Jews have claimed that Zechariah 13:1-6 is a Messianic prophecy and that it applies to Jesus; they are in serious error. In fact, it has nothing to do with the Messiah and nothing to do with Jesus. The context of this prophecy is that it speaks of the national cleansing of Israel when false prophets will be exposed. Since this will only occur in the future, it is clear from this fact alone that it cannot apply to Jesus. Furthermore, the wounds that are mentioned in Zechariah 13:6, translated by the King James Version as "wounds in thine hands," is inaccurate; the real meaning of the Hebrew is "on your back" (literally, "between your shoulders").

Unfortunately, those who use this verse to insist that it is the only time the Tanakh speaks of Jesus, and that it speaks of him as a false prophet, have missed Messianic passages surrounding Zechariah 13 which clearly point to Jesus, such as 12:10-14, which speaks of the piercing of the Messiah and Israel's repentance, and the coming of the Messiah on the Mount of Olives in 14:4. It is important to read all of these prophecies in context. I am confident that an unbiased and informed reading of Zechariah 12-14 will lead one to the conclusion that Yeshua is the Messiah.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 180-181.

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Paul claimed that the Hebrew Scriptures prophesied the resurrection of the Messiah on the third day. Nowhere in our Bible is such a prophecy found.

Although there is no single scripture passage which speaks about the resurrection of the Messiah on the third day, there are many prophecies which speak of a divine rescue from death on the third day. Consider the following examples:

  • Hosea 6:1-2 states, "Come, let us return to the LORD. . . on the third day he will restore us."
  • Genesis 22:4 states that on the third day, Abraham came to Mount Moriah. During this period of time, he figuratively received his son back from death (Heb. 11:19).
  • 2 Kings 20:5 states that Hezekiah would be healed on the third day.
  • Jonah 2:1-9 recounts how Jonah was trapped in a fish for three days (cf. Matt. 12:40).

 

There are many other instances in the Bible in which the third day is a significant time.
  • God told the people of Israel that he would meet them on the third day (Exod. 19:10).
  • Esther interceded for her people after three days of fasting and prayer (Esther 5:1).
  • The Israelites crossed the Jordan after three days (Josh. 1:11; 3:2).

According to Roland Gradwohl, "The 'third day' [describes] the moment when an event attains its climax" (Gradwohl, "Drei Tage und der dritte Tag"; the quote is from Old Testament Abstracts 21.1, 1998, 139). Taken together, all of these passages indicate that Paul was correct to maintain that the Messiah would rise on the third day according to the Tanakh.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 181-184.

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I can find Muhammad prophesied of in the Bible just as easily as you can find Jesus. That's because all of your so-called proofs are either distortions, make-believe creations, or Jewish midrash—free, homiletical interpretations — of the worst kind.

This objection is hardly an objection at all. Muslims don't recognize the Hebrew Scriptures, do not see Mohammad prophesied in them, and have had to revise the entire history of the Jewish people in order to justify their religious claims. There is really no comparison here. Furthermore, the interpretations of the Tanakh by the New Testament authors are some of the most sophisticated and balanced among the Jewish literature of the time.

Perhaps you have had many objections to the Messiahship of Jesus, but have now seen that your objections have been answered completely. The rejection of Yeshua by our forefathers set the precedence for rejection, and this attitude has persisted to this day, but the eyes of our nation are gradually being opened; there are many Jews who believe in Jesus, and more are turning to him every day. Paul wrote that the full number of Gentiles had to come in before Israel would be redeemed (cf. Rom. 11:25b-27). Could it be that Jesus is the Messiah? This is a question you must carefully ask yourself. Please, consider the following facts:

  • There have been no other worthy Messianic candidates in the last 2000 years.
  • Yeshua is the only one who fulfilled the essential prophecies dictating when the Messiah would arrive.
  • Yeshua identifies with us since he was despised and rejected, much like our nation for most of our history.
  • Over 150,000 Jews recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and this movement is growing.

Reconsider the Messianic claims of Yeshua.

I leave you with the following words from the book of the prophet Isaiah:

[H]e was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities . . .
Yet it was the LORD'swill to crush him and cause him to suffer . . .
After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities. . . .
I will give him a portion among the great . . .
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors (Isa. 53:5, 10-12).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, pp. 184-188.

New Testament Objections

  • The New Testament misquotes the Old Testament and manufactures verses.

    Read Answer…

  • Matthew 2:15 quotes a passage from Hosea that refers to Israel, not Jesus.

    Read Answer…

  • The prophets never said the Messiah would be called a Nazarene.

    Read Answer…

  • Matthew quotes a prophecy from Zechariah and attributes it to Jeremiah.

    Read Answer…

  • Hebrews 10:5 changes the word "ears" to "body" in Psalm 40.

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  • The New Testament is full of historical inaccuracies.

    Read Answer…

  • None of the important historical writers of the period mentioned Jesus.

    Read Answer…

  • Modern scholars agree that the Gospels portray a mythical Jesus.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus was not born of a virgin; this idea is based on a pagan myth.

    Read Answer…

  • Matthew and Luke's genealogies of Jesus are contradictory.

    Read Answer…

  • Even if the genealogies are correct, Jesus cannot be the Messiah.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus can't be the Messiah since he descended from Jehoiachin, the cursed.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus did work some miracles, but they were not by God's power.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus didn't fulfill any of the Messianic prophecies.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus' followers invented the myth of his resurrection and imminent return.

    Read Answer…

  • Either Jesus didn't know his Bible, or else Matthew didn't know the Tanakh.

    Read Answer…

  • The New Testament is self-contradictory (especially the Gospels)!

    Read Answer…

  • Matthew claims that when Jesus died, many people were raised to life.

    Read Answer…

  • The teachings of Jesus are impossible, dangerous, and un-Jewish.

    Read Answer…

  • The anti-Semitic New Covenant blames the Jews for the death of Jesus.

    Read Answer…

  • The Jesus of the New Testament is hardly Jewish.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus made incorrect prophecies.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus was a cruel and undisciplined man who needlessly cursed a fig tree.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus also taught that salvation came through obeying the Law.

    Read Answer…

  • The teachings of the New Testament soon became totally pagan.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus was all right; it was Paul who founded Christianity.

    Read Answer…

  • The teachings of Jesus borrow extensively from Hinduism and Buddhism.

    Read Answer…

  • Jesus abolished the Law.

    Read Answer…

  • Paul abolished the Law.

    Read Answer…

  • The Torah is forever, and only traditional Jews keep it.

    Read Answer…

  • Anyone who changes the Law is a false prophet. That applies to Jesus!

    Read Answer…

  • Since Christianity changed the Sabbath, it isn't for the Jewish people.

    Read Answer…

  • According to Mark 7:19, Jesus abolished the dietary laws.

    Read Answer…

  • If Jesus inaugurated the new covenant, why hasn't it been fulfilled?

    Read Answer…

   
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The New Testament misquotes and misinterprets the Old Testament. At times it manufactures verses to suit its purposes.

The New Testament authors quoted the Hebrew Scriptures frequently. In fact, more than ten percent of the New Testament is made up of quotes or allusions from the Tanakh. Some scholars claim that one out of every three verses of the New Testament contains some kind of reference to the Hebrew Bible. The book of Revelation alone contains Tanakh imagery in 331 of its 404 verses.

With so many quotes, it is no surprise that not every New Testament reference to the Tanakh follows the same interpretive principle. Such an eclectic approach to the Hebrew Scriptures is not unprecedented, as we will see from our discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Rabbinic writings. After we take a look at these writings, we will observe how the New Covenant Scriptures use the Tanakh.

In Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, Joseph Fitzmyer postulates that there are four ways the Qumran writings use the Tanakh:

  1. The "Literal or Historical Class" of citations comprises instances "in which the Qumran author quotes the Old Testament in the same sense in which it was used in the original writing" (Fitzmyer, Semitic Background of the New Testament, 17-18). An example of this can be found in CD 7:8-9 (quoting Num. 30:17) in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), with a New Testament parallel in John 6:31 (quoting Ps. 78:24).
  2. The "Class of Modernized Texts" preserves the "same general sense of the Old Testament," but applies it "to a new subject" (21-22). Fitzmyer cites CD 1:13-14 (quoting Hos. 4:16) and notes a New Testament parallel in Matthew 4:15-16 (quoting Isa. 8:23-9:1). Fitzmyer finds several New Testament instances of this class.
  3. "Accommodated Texts" apply the Hebrew text to a new subject, but in this case, the Hebrew text is "wrested from its original context or modified somehow to suit the new situation" (33). Fitzmyer cites, among eleven other examples, 1QS 8:13-16 (quoting Isa. 40:3), and points to a New Testament parallel in Ephesians 4:8 (quoting Ps. 68:19).
  4. The "Eschatological Class of Texts" "express in the Old Testament context a promise or threat about something still to be accomplished in the eschaton, which the Qumran writer cites as something still to be accomplished in the new eschaton of which he writes" (46). He cites, among nine other examples, CD 7:10-12 (quoting Isa. 7:17), and notes a New Testament usage in Romans 12:19 (quoting Deut. 32:35). Clearly, Qumran usage of the Tanakh mirrors the New Covenant writings' use of the Hebrew Scriptures.

How do later Rabbinic writings use the Tanakh? Let's look at some examples in the opening pages of the Berachot, the opening tractate of the Babylonian Talmud.

  1. 2a cites Deuteronomy 6:7b ("when you lie down and when you get up") and Genesis 1:5b ("And there was evening, and there was morning") to explain why the Mishnah mention sevening recitation of the Shema before it mentions morning recitation.
  2. The Talmud questions whether the expression we-taherin Leviticus 22:7 means that "he [the man] shall be clean" or "it [the day] shall be clean [or clear]." While scholars almost universally agree that the passage refers to the priest, the Talmud uses the opposite view to determine the appropriate time for the priest to consume his portion of the offering.
  3. Nehemiah 4:15-16 iscited as a hint (zeker) rather than a proof (ra'ayah) that the appearance of the stars was the mark of night time.
  4. 3b cites Judges 7:19 (referencing "the middle watch") as evidence that there are three watches in the night. It then cites Psalm 119:62 and 148 to prove that there are four watches, a conclusion that seems unlikely at first glance.
  5. Psalm 119:147, Proverbs 7:9, 1 Samuel 30:17, and Exodus 11:4 are used to establish the exact timing of midnight.
  6. 3b-4a misquotes 1 Chronicles 27:34 by saying "Jehoiada, the son of Benaiah," rather than, "Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada." If we continue reading for several more pages, we find plays on words, a very common method of using the Scriptures in Rabbinic literature.

In this brief Talmudic sampling we find: (1) verses cited to support positions which barely relate to the discussions at hand; (2) verses cited in somewhat contrived ways to support various positions; (3) a verse cited, discussed, and ultimately interpreted contrary to its clear, contextual meaning; (4) a verse that is actually misquoted, with key names being reversed; (5) plays on words, with no attempt to elucidate the primary (or, original) meaning of the text. Rabbinic usage of the Hebrew Scriptures was often much freer than strict grammatical-historical interpretation. The Rabbis felt free to use biblical passages in differing contexts for various reasons. The Rabbinic writings also demonstrate the prevalence of copying errors. New Testament citations of the Hebrew Scriptures are not only valid, but they often evince greater care and caution for the biblical text than even the Rabbinic writings!

Rabbi Tovia Singer disagrees with the above assessment, concluding that the church "manipulated, misquoted, mistranslated, and even fabricated verses in Tanach"("A Lutheran Doesn't Understand Why Rabbi Singer Doesn't Believe in Jesus: A Closer Look at the 'Crucifixion Psalm,'" Outreach Judaism) to establish Jesus' Messianic claims. Of particular concern to Singer are Matthew's citations of the Hebrew Bible, which he claims are superficial and deceptive; however, in their exhaustive 2,300+ page commentary, W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr. conclude that Matthew's hermeneutics was sophisticated and that he "was not above scattering items in his Greek text whose deeper meaning could only be appreciated by those with a knowledge of Hebrew" (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew: Matthew 1-7, 279). Let's take a closer look at the extreme aspersions leveled against the New Testament. We will first consider some general issues before analyzing some of the New Testament's Tanakh quotations.

The following textual forms of the Tanakh existedin Jesus' day: Hebrew texts, Aramaic translations/paraphrases, and at least one Greek translation (the Septuagint or LXX). All of these recognized Jewish texts contained variations from the original writings. Some may argue that the only authoritative text is the Masoretic (MT); however, while the Masoretic tradition evidences meticulous care and preservation, it nonetheless represents several thousands of manuscripts, no two of which are identical despite the incredible harmony of these manuscripts. We also have the DSS, which represent four different textual traditions. The variant readings of the DSS are sometimes more accurate than those of the Masoretic tradition. For instance, the MT rendering of 1 Samuel 1:24 states that Hannah brought three bulls for sacrifice. However, the LXX and DSS say that she only brought one bull. In this case, the LXX and DSS maintain the correct reading, for the next verse tells us that one bull was slaughtered.

New Testament citations of the Hebrew Biblefall into one of four categories: (1) the MT or another ancient Hebrew tradition, (2) the LXX, (3) the author's own paraphrase from the Hebrew original, and (4) an interpretation of the text found in the Aramaic Targums. None of these usages violates the meaning of the biblical text. As the great medieval scholar Abraham Ibn Ezra observed, even the prophets of Israel didn't always "preserve the exact wording"of the Scriptures (The Secret of the Torah: A Translation of Abraham Ibn Ezra's Sefer Yesod Mora Ve-Sod Ha-Torah, 27-28). The New Testament authors always maintain the substance of the original, while sometimes adding further insight and observations. Here are some examples of Tanakh citations in the New Testament:

  • Mark 4:12 follows a rendering of Isaiah 6:10 later foundin the Aramaic Targum, which reads, "they repent and be forgiven," rather than the Hebrew, "it [the nation] repents and is made well."
  • Matthew 8:17 literally translates the Hebrew of Isaiah 53:5, noting that the Messiah "took up our infirmities and carried our diseases." Matthew does not follow the spiritualizing renditions found in the LXX and the Targum.
  • Mark 1:3 cites the LXX (which also agrees with the DSS), "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord," while the MT reads, "A voice of one calling: 'In the desert prepare the way for the Lord.'" The LXX was the most accessible version of the Hebrew Scriptures at the time since Greek was the most common language of the day; this is why the New Testament authors quote the LXX so frequently.
  • Hebrews 1:6 cites the LXX rendering of Deuteronomy 32:43 (which agrees with the DSS), a verse that doesn't exist in the MT.
  • Romans 10:6-8 cites Deuteronomy 30:12-13. This is a key example of a homiletical interpretation (a free-form use of the biblical text). The text from Romans reads, "But the righteousness that is by faith says: 'Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?" (that is, to bring Messiah down) or "Who will descend into the deep"' (that is, to bring Messiah up from the dead). But what does it say? 'The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,' that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming." Paul's use of Deuteronomy 30 is analogous to the Talmudic interpretation of the same passage (viz., God is no longer giving legal revelation from heaven and the "word of faith" is the Oral Torah).
  • Ephesians 4:8 seems to cite an Aramaic translation of Psalm 68:18. Walter C. Kaiser, Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauchnote, "The Hebrew text would not have made [Paul's] point" (Hard Sayings of the Bible, 77).
  • Sometimes, the New Testament author adds words to the Hebrew text to explain it, such as in Acts 2:17, in which Peter adds, "In the last days," to his quotation of Joel 2:28 (3:1).

Kaiser, Davids, Bruce, and Brauch offer two important considerations concerning the New Testament authors: "(1) [I]t could be that they may indeed have a better reading for the text in question than we have in our Bibles and (2) . . . the Spirit of God who inspired the Old Testament text has every right to expand on its meaning" (Hard Sayings of the Bible, 78). In light of this, let's look at three other significant New Testament passages to see if the authors mishandle or misquote the Tanakh.

Romans 11:26-27 quotes Isaiah 59:20, "The deliverer will come from Zion"; however, the Hebrew reads, "The redeemer will come to Zion." Paul is not quoting from the LXX, which reads, "The redeemer will come for Zion." The most likely scenario is that Paul conflates Isaiah 59:20 with Psalm 14:7a, "Oh, that salvation would come out of [or, from] Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!" Both passages refer to Zion and Jacob in the context of Israel's national salvation and both use the root shuv ("turn back"). The Siddur, the Jewish prayerbook, takes a similar approach in conflating Psalm 20:2 and Isaiah 59:20-21.

Matthew 21:5 quotes Zechariah 9:9 (and part of Isaiah 62:11):

Say to the Daughter of Zion,
"See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

Verse 7 notes that the disciples "brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them." Critics find in this text the absurd idea that Jesus rode both the donkey and the colt. It's obvious that, when the text says, "Jesus sat on them," it means that he sat on the cloaks, not on the donkey and the colt.

Critics also allege that Matthew's citation demonstrates a faulty understanding of Hebrew parallelism. In Zechariah 9:9, the "donkey" in the second-to-last line is the same animal as the "colt, the foal of a donkey" in the last line. Critics argue that, since Matthew refers to "the donkey and the colt" in verse 7, he sees two separate animals in Zechariah's prophecy. Of course, such a conclusion is unlikely in light of Matthew's extensive knowledge of Hebrew shown elsewhere in the book (e.g., his citation of Isa. 53:4a in Matt. 8:17). There's also a compelling tradition that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew. Even if Matthew does use Zechariah 9:9 to prove the presence of two animals, he may be following a hyper-literal Rabbinic interpretation. If this is the case, his citation of Zechariah 9:9 isn't the result of a misunderstanding, but of a thorough knowledge of both the text and the Rabbinic interpreters!

A final example is Matthew 22:37, which contains Jesus' quotation of the greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." The Shema, Judaism's fundamental prayer of confession, reads, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."How could any literate Jew misquote the Shema?

Ironically, this passage is further testimony to Matthew's extensive knowledge of Hebrew. His use of the Greek preposition en corresponds more accurately to the Hebrew text than the use ofek in Mark and the LXX. The discrepancy in the Shema may indicate that the regular recitation of both Deuteronomy 6:4 and 6:5 was not established in Yeshua's day. The Talmud concludes that the recitation of v. 4 is a Torah obligation,but that the recitation of v. 5 is a Rabbinic obligation (b. Ber 21b), making the inclusion of v. 5 a later practice. Also, Mark's rendition reads, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). Mark uses the Greek ischus to translate the Hebrewme'od ("strength"). Matthew may have omitted the one word in Mark's text not found in the LXX (the LXX reads dunamis rather than ischus) so as to restore the three-fold emphasis of the original Hebrew. Paul Foster's extensive study concludes that Matthew's rendering of the great commandment could not have been undertaken by a person who did not possess linguistic competence in both Hebrew and Greek, as well as a knowledge of the Hebrew biblical text. . . . The redactional reworking of the sources shows a sophisticated editor who attempted to produce greater conformity with existing biblical tradition but also did not wish to deviate from this well-known Jesus saying in too radical a fashion. ("Why Did Matthew Get the Shema Wrong? A Study of Matthew 22:37," 333)

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 3-21.

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According to Matthew 2:15, when the little boy Jesus, along with Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt to escape from Herod, "this fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'" But Matthew only quoted the second half of the verse in Hosea. What the prophet really said was this: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son." The verse has to do with Israel, not Jesus, and it is recounting a historical event, not giving a prophecy. And you claim that Matthew was inspired. Hardly!

Matthew follows the common Rabbinic practice of citing a short phrase within a passage to establish his point. He assumes that his readers are literate Jews familiar with the larger context of Hosea 11:1 (or that they can easily look up the verse if they are not). This assumption is demonstrated in the opening words of his Gospel (biblos geneseos, equivalent to the common Hebrew expression seper toledot) and in the Hosea citation itself, which follows the Hebrew text rather than the LXX (Matthew uses "son" rather than "children").

The Messiah shares significant similarities with both Israel and Moses (examples of Messianic typology). Both Moses and Yeshua were threatened by an edict to kill Israelite baby boys (Exod. 1:15-22; Matt. 2:16-18). Both Israel and Jesus went into Egypt in their infancy (Gen. 46:1-7; 47:27; Matt. 2:13-15), were called out of Egypt back to the Promised Land (Exod. 3:8; Matt. 2:21), experienced significant rites of passage at the Jordan River (Josh.3; Matt. 3:13-15), were named "God's Son" (Exod. 4:22; Matt. 3:17; 17:5),and endured testing in the wilderness (the former for forty years and the latter for forty days). Both Israel and Jesus' disciples received holy instruction in the context of a mountain (the law on Mt. Sinai and the Sermon on the Mount, respectively). There are many striking parallels between Israel and Jesus, and Matthew expected his more learned readers to catch them.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 21-24.

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Matthew 2:23 says that when Jesus moved to the town of Nazareth, this "fulfilled what was said through the prophets: 'He will be called a Nazarene.'"There's only one problem. The prophets never said this! Matthew actually made it up.

Whenever Matthew connects an event in Yeshua's life to a particular biblical prophecy, he usually says that the event took place "to fulfill what was said" by a specific prophet (Matt. 1:22; 2:15; 2:17; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9); however, a different formula is used in Matthew 2:23: "So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: 'He will be called a Nazarene.'" Matthew isn't quoting a particular prophet (since no specific prophet is mentioned), but is giving a common theme throughout the prophetic writings.

Matthew 2:23 is connected to a larger Messianic theme found in the book of Isaiah. Matthew 1:23 cites Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 4:12-16 cites Isaiah 9:1-2. Both of the Isaiah passages are part of a larger Messianic section in chapters 7-11. These chapters reach a climax in 11:1, which refers to the netser ("Branch") that "will bear fruit." There's a play on words between netser and the Hebrew word for Nazareth. It is apparent that Matthew 2:23 points to (1) the larger Messianic context of Isaiah 7-11,(2) the common Messianic title "the Branch," and (3) the humble origins of the Messiah revealed in his connection to lowly Nazareth.

A parallel to Matthew 2:23 is Ezra 9:10-12, in which Ezra quotes the Lord as saying, "The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples . . . . Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time." Ezra does not directly quote the Tanakh, but summarizes its consistent prophetic message. Matthew's similar citation reveals his extensive knowledge of Hebrew prophecy and demonstrates the complexities of God's redemptive plan.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 24-27.

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Matthew 27:9-10 is totally confused. First Matthew quotes part of a prophecy from Zechariah, then he says it comes from Jeremiah, and then he takes the whole thing totally out of context. What a mess!

This passage may be perplexing at first glance, but if you were to study Matthew's quotation in greater depth, you would find that he has a remarkable level of insight. While liberal scholars frequently attack Matthew's approach to the Tanakh, leading experts Davies and Allison clearly demonstrate his extensive knowledge and careful use of the Hebrew Scriptures.

After Judas Iscariot's remorseful return of the money he received from the chief priests and elders for betraying Jesus,

The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money." So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me." (Matt. 27:6-10)

The problems here are threefold:(1) The text seems to come from Zechariah 11:11-13, yet Matthew cites it as coming from Jeremiah,(2) There is no reference to a potter's field in Zechariah, and (3) The original context of Zechariah does not seem to relate to Judas's actions.

Let's first examine the claim that Matthew confused Zechariah with Jeremiah. We've established elsewhere that Matthew was incredibly fluent in the Hebrew Scriptures. The passage under consideration reveals careful thought and premeditation, making it unlikely that Matthew simply made a mistake without correcting it. This careful thought is demonstrated in part by the formula used to cite the prophecy (see also Matt. 2:17). While Matthew clearly cites Zechariah here, he also subtly notes a key passage and theme in Jeremiah that establish his point. Mark does something similar when he refers to "Isaiah the prophet" and proceeds to blend a quotation from Isaiah with one from Malachi (Mark 1:2b-3).

What about the mention of the potter's field? The NIV translation of Zechariah 11:13 reads, "And the LORD said to me, 'Throw it to the potter'—the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter." The NJV renders the first phrase, "Deposit it in the treasury." The NJV translation is based on an understanding that the MT reading ha-yotser ("the potter") is equivalent to ha-'otsar ("the treasury") or ha-'otser ("the keeper of the treasury"). The NIV is more accurate here, as yotser never refers to a treasury in the Tanakh.

Matthew clearly follows the Hebrew here, adding this detail: the money that was cast into the house of the Lord for the potter was used to buy the potter's field. Matthew's connection of the biblical text to the Jesus narrative isn't forced; he's simply noting significant parallels between the Zechariah account and Yeshua's betrayal. Both scenarios entail thirty pieces of silver being thrown into the Lord's house. Matthew makes no great leap from saying that the silver was thrown "to the potter" to saying it was thrown "to the potter, for his field."

Why is Jeremiah mentioned? Matthew is likely referencing Jeremiah 19:1-13, in which the prophet buys a "clay jar from a potter" (yotser), takes it "to the Valley of Ben Hinnom" before the priests and elders, and smashes it as a sign of the nation's coming judgment. Jerusalem was destroyed partly because it was "filled . . . with the blood of the innocent" (Jer. 19:4), just as Judas "betrayed innocent blood" (Matt. 27:4). Just as the priests and elders witnessed Jeremiah's smashing of the jar, so the "chief priests and the elders" (Matt. 27:3b) used the blood money to the buy the potter's field in Judas's day. Both the valley of ben Hinnom (Jer. 19:11b) and the potter's field (Matt. 27:7) would be used as burial grounds. As Michael Knowles observes, these two places that were formerly associated with potters would now be associated with bloodshed (Jeremiah in Matthew's Gospel, 70-71). Additionally, in 2:16-17, Matthew uses the same introductory formula as in 27:9a. Both passages quote Jeremiah in the context of innocent bloodshed (the former dealing with the killing of male babies in Jerusalem, the latter dealing with the killing of the Messiah). Matthew alludes to Jeremiah to show the people that they bear bloodguilt for their rejection of the Messiah. What at first glance appears to be a misquotation is actually a carefully planned allusion that Matthew uses to bolster his claims!

Let's address the argumentthat Zechariah couldn't have been prophesying the Messiah's betrayal. Look at how the Rabbinic commentators treat Zechariah 11:12-13 as summarized in the Living Nach, which was edited and translated by Yaakov Elman:

  • —thirty pieces of silver. This was the standard wage for a shepherd in those days (Metzudoth). The 30 pieces allude to the 30 righteous people who are alive in every generation (Rashi, Metzudoth). According to Malbim, the 30 righteous individuals of Zechariah's generation gave their lives to sanctify God's Name. In this way they "paid" God to continue protecting the Israelites despite their wickedness.
  • —Deposit it. God commanded Zechariah to store away the merit of the 30 righteous individuals alluded to in the previous verse (see preceding note) until the future, when, in that merit, the Third Temple will be built (Metzudoth). Or, God commanded the prophet to have the images of the 30 righteous individuals who died sanctifying God's Name engraved on the silver coins [citing Malbim and others].
  • —treasury. (Radak on 11:14; Metzudoth.) The Hebrew word yotzer, which begins with the letter yod, and usually means "craftsman." However, this is one of the cases where a yud is used interchangeably with an aleph, making the word otzar, "treasury" (Rashi, Radak). Or "keeper of the treasury" (Targum, Rashi). Malbim, however, interprets yotzer to mean "craftsman": God figuratively commands Zechariah to bring the 30 silver talents to a coin minter, for him to engrave the image of the 30 righteous individuals. (803)

These are not merely Rabbinic applications, but interpretations of the text. Consider how they differ from Matthew's approach. Matthew correctly identifies the yotser as a potter rather than the treasury. Matthew takes the thirty coins literally, not as a reference to the deeds or images of thirty righteous men. Matthew correctly connects the text to the betrayal of the good shepherd (Zechariah portrays himself as the betrayed shepherd in his prophecy). The Zechariah text that Matthew cites is surrounded by other Messianic references (e.g., 9:9, 12:10; 13:7; 14:1-21). Why reject his approach and accept that of the Rabbinic writings? Is it any surprise that the Targum actually omits the reference to the thirty pieces of silver, and that Matthew emphasizes it?

Matthew is not misattributing the Zechariah quote, nor is he twisting the Scripture to suit his own purposes; rather, he is revealing greater depth and insight into the Tanakh. While Matthew's Zechariah quotation and Jeremiah allusion do not "prove" that Yeshua is the promised Messiah, the biblical passages to which they refer are Messianic types and shadows. The New Testament authors note Yeshua's literal fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy, but they also note parallels between his life and the events in the Tanakh.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 27-37.

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Hebrews 10:5 is one of the worst examples of New Testament Scripture-twisting. The writer quotes from Psalm 40, where the psalmist says, "You have opened my ears," but he applies it to Jesus and changes the words to read, "A body you have prepared for me." Could you imagine anything more dishonest?

It would have been self-defeating for the author of Hebrews to twist the Scriptures. A Jewish readership would likely have contained at least some people familiar with the verse; surely, they would have immediately spotted an inconsistency. Moreover, these were Jewish believers in Yeshua and the author wasn't quoting Psalm 40 to establish Jesus' Messianic credentials, but to edify them in the faith.

The author's citation of Psalm 40 is from the Septuagint (LXX). The text is rather difficult in Hebrew and the LXX offers an interpretive rendition. Anti-missionaries claim that the LXX translates Psalm 40:6 quite poorly. Nevertheless, the exact meaning of the text in question is debatable. A rough translation would be, "You have dug out ears for me." Even modern versions are divided on how to translate this text: "You have opened ears for me" (Orthodox Jewish Stone Edition); "But my ears you have pierced" (NIV); "You gave me to understand" (NJV, noting, "Meaning of Heb. uncertain"); "You have made me aware" (Rozenberg and Zlotowitz's commentary). It seems unusual that the Hebrew verb k-r-h ("dig") would be used in reference to unstopping ears. The translators of the LXX (the oldest Jewish translationof the Tanakh) felt that "a body you have prepared for me" was an accurate paraphrase of the passage.The author of Hebrews simply cites the LXX here, as well as in a number of other places throughout his epistle. The phrase, "a body you have prepared for me," is not central to his argument; instead, his emphasis is on a portion of Psalm 40 not under dispute (Heb. 10:8-9).

The author of Hebrews is not misusing Psalm 40. Following a pattern set by the great prophets and teachers of the Scriptures before him, the author gives the basic sense of the passage without quoting it word for word.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 37-40.

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The New Testament is full of historical inaccuracies.

In response to this accusation, we will offer a general analysis of the New Testament's reliability, followed by an analysis of two specifically Jewish objections and a brief look at Stephen's speech in Acts 7. First, consider the testimony of Sir William M. Ramsay (1851-1939), an Oxford-trained scholar and archaeologist, who travelled through biblical lands to prove the untrustworthiness of the New Testament documents. Ramsay's findings ultimately proved the exact opposite; his writings are still used to defend biblical reliability to this day. This former skeptic observed that the New Testament author Luke "is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense. . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians" (Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 239.

We will use Eric Snow's three tests to establish New Testament trustworthiness: the bibliographical test, the internal evidence test, and the external evidence test.

The bibliographical test. This test analyzes a given document according to two criteria: (1) the number of existing handwritten manuscripts,and (2) the antiquity of the oldest existing manuscript (i.e., its nearness to the original writing). Critical scholars once claimed that many New Testament writings were non-existent until one hundred years after Jesus' resurrection. These claims were based not on evidence, but on biases against the text. F.F. Bruce deduces that, from the "evidence available in our own day . . . a first century date for most of the New Testament writings cannot be reasonably denied, no matter what our philosophical presuppositions may be."He also observed, "The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning." In fact, "if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt," but because the New Testament claims to be the Word of God, it is subject to greater scrutiny than other works.

How abundant is the evidence in favor of the New Testament? According to F.F. Bruce, there are about 5,000 partial or complete Greek New Testament manuscripts, including Codices Vaticanus (ca. 350 CE), Sinaiticus (ca. 350 CE), Alexandrinus (ca. 5th century CE), and Bezae (ca. 5th-6th century CE). There are also earlier papyri fragments, such as the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri (ca. 3rdcentury CE), the Bell and Skeat papyri (ca. 150 CE), the Rylands papyrus (ca. 130 CE, the earliest existing fragment of the New Testament), and the Papyrus Bodmer II (ca. 200 CE). Furthermore, the Apostolic Fathers (ca. 90-160 CE) cite most of the New Testament books in their writings. These writings include the Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 100 CE), the Didache (ca. 96 CE), the letters of Ignatius to Antioch (ca. 115 CE), and Polycarp's letter to Philippians (ca. 120 CE). Only a handful of existing reliable manuscripts testify to ancient works such as Caesar's Gallic War, the Roman History of Livy, the Histories and Annals of Tacitus, the History of Thucydides, and the History of Herodotus; these copies are typically dated hundreds of years (and in the case of Thucydides, 1300 years) later than the original writings, yet the authenticity of the originals is never doubted.

There are certainly variants among the existing New Testament manuscripts. The more abundant the manuscript evidence is for a document, the more potential there is for copyist errors. At the same time, such evidence also increases the possibility of deciphering the original readings. Scholars known as textual critics have been able to analyze the abundant manuscript evidence of the New Testament and make significant progress in reconstructing the original documents. Bruce notes, "The variant readings about which any doubt remain among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice."

The New Testament easily passes the bibliographical test, much more so than any other ancient Greek and Latin works. You might argue, "But the Tanakh has also been preserved with great care." While this is true, were it not for the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest manuscript of the Tanakh would date to over 1,300 years after the writing of its last book! The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed minor variants and differing textual traditions underlying the Hebrew Bible. The textual traditions reflected in the DSS include the Masoretic, the Septuagint, and the Samaritan Pentateuch. The Tanakh and the New Testament both demonstrate God's careful preservation of these sacred texts, even amidst differing readings and traditions in the extant copies.

The internal evidence test. This test analyzes a document based on two criteria: (1) the author's nearness in time and place to the events he describes, and (2) the presence of "contradictions and self-evident absurdities" (Snow, Zeal for God, 20). In regard to the first criterion, the New Testament authors are predominantly eyewitnesses of the events they recount. Craig S. Keener observes,

On the continuum between more and less careful writers, the writers of the Gospels are among the most careful. . . . the first Gospels were written when eyewitnesses were still in positions of authority in the church and oral tradition could be checked, and this supports their reliability; biographies of roughly contemporary characters were normally far more accurate than those concerning heroes of the distant past. (The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, 39-40)

The New Testament authors reveal a strong acquaintance with the culture of their time. They often use Hebrew and Aramaic expressions unfamiliar to later audiences (e.g., Matt. 5:22; 6:24; Mark 14:36), along with precise details of local geography and customs (e.g., Matt. 27:6-8; Mark 11:1; Luke 19:29; John 1:28). They cite legal disputes that took place between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders, disputes that would fit well into an early first-century context when Jewish law reflected more diversity and fluidity. The New Testament easily passes the first criterion of the internal evidence test.

In regard to the second criterion, there are four considerations. (1) The New Testament authors provide an astonishingly honest account, even to the point of revealing embarrassing blemishes in their lives. The Gospels consistently portray the weaknesses and failures of the disciples, including those of Peter, the chief leader of the early Christian movement. The Acts of the Apostles even points out an unresolved conflict between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41). (2) The authors accurately record Jesus' statements about his return, statements often misinterpreted to refer to an event that would take place in the disciples' lifetimes. (3) Even when the authors record miracles, they do so carefully and with restraint. J. N. D. Anderson asks in regard to some of the New Testament miracles, "Who can read these stories and really think they're legend? They are far too dignified and restrained; they are far too true to life and psychology. The difference between them and the sort of stories you find in the apocryphal gospels . . . is a difference between heaven and earth" ("The Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Christianity Today, 29 March 1968, 6, cited in Snow, Zeal for God, 76).(4) No effort is made to fix apparent contradictions in the Gospels (e.g., Matt. 17:1, "after six days," and Luke 9:28, "about eight days after"). Supposed discrepancies can be resolved when we consider that each Gospel writer approaches Yeshua's life from a unique perspective. The New Testament also passes the second criterion of the internal evidence test.

The external evidence test. We must consider whether a document is in harmony with other writings of the time and with archeological findings. The power of external evidence was sufficient to convert Sir William Ramsey from a skeptic to a believer. Luke, the New Testament's primary historian, repeatedly demonstrates historical accuracy. As Snow observes, "Whenever Luke could be checked, he has repeatedly proven to be correct" (Zeal for God, 90).

You might say, "I thought that there were all kinds of inaccuracies in the New Testament!" Supposed historical discrepancies in the New Testament are inevitably resolved when further evidence comes to light. F. F. Bruce cites two specific examples that are representative of many other apparent difficulties which, upon further investigation, actually confirm New Testament reliability.

  1. Critics have pointed to Luke 2:2, which states that Quirinius was governor of Syria at the time of the Messiah's birth, as an historical error. Quirinius, as Bruce states, "is known to have become imperial legate of Syria in AD 6, to have supervised in that year the enrolment mentioned in Acts v. 37" (86-88). Today however, many scholars acknowledge that Luke 2:1ff. describes an earlier enrollment than the one in 6 CE. Sir William Ramsay suggests that Quirinius was appointed first as "an additional and extraordinary legate for military purposes" (Bruce, 86-88). Other evidence suggests that Quirinius's first governorship may have been in Galatia rather than Syria. The best translation of Luke 2:2 may be, "This census was before that which Quirinius, governor of Syria, held," which would allow for the possibility that Quirinius was not actually governor of Syria at the time of the census.
  2. Luke 3:1 says that Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene in the fifteenth year of Tiberius (27-28 CE). Although it has been alleged that the only Lysanias of Abilene in ancient history was executed in 34 BCE, the discovery of an ancient temple inscription has revealed a later Lysanias. There are many other examples of compelling evidence, and in some cases, such examples have converted skeptics.

We will now address three perceived historical inaccuracies in the New Testament: (1) the depiction of Pontius Pilate,(2) the depiction of the Jews in Yeshua's day,and (3) the inaccuracies in Stephen's speech (Acts 7).

In regard to Pontius Pilate, critics argue that the New Testament authors portray him as an indecisive leader eager to release Jesus. By contrast, history reveals him to be, as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach argues, "the cruelest Proconsul the Romans ever put into Judea." Critics fail to recognize that Acts 4:27 and 1 Timothy 6:13, along with the early church creeds, clearly ascribe blame to Pontius Pilate. The New Testament authors don't exonerate Pilate and they certainly don't blame the Jews exclusively for Jesus' death. As D.A. Carson says, "Both the Sanhedrin trial and the trial before Pilate were necessary for capital punishment" ("Matthew,"8:560).

Carson also notes that the reason for Pilate's willingness to release Jesus may not be sympathy "for Jesus," but spite "against the Sanhedrin" (EBC, 8:560). Pilate ordered Jesus to be scourged, a punishment that could nearly kill a man, and gave the order for crucifixion even while believing that Jesus was innocent. The New Testament view of Pilate is no milder than the images of him revealed in other historical documents.

What about the New Testament depiction of Jews in Yeshua's day? Critics argue that the New Testament authors often twisted the facts to make the Jews seem worse than they really were. For instance, critics say that, in Matthew 22:33ff., Matthew edits Mark's account (12:28ff.) of the great commandment to make the Jews look bad. In Mark, there's allegedly a friendly exchange; the scribe who asks about the greatest commandment is deemed "not far from the kingdom of heaven." Matthew portrays the question as springing from a contentious rabbinic plot to entrap Jesus. Mark also repeatedly notes the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders (e.g., 3:6; 7:1-13; 8:11-12; 8:15; 10:2-9). The Mark and Matthew accounts are simply complementary depictions of the same event.

Acts 9:22-25 and 2 Corinthians 11:31-32 also offer complementary accounts of Paul's escape from a violent protest. Critics allege that while the 2 Corinthians passage attributes the violence to a pagan king, Acts attributes it to Jewish protestors. What is the truth of the matter? The king likely persecuted Paul after the Jewish protestors reacted adversely to his preaching. Earlier in the same chapter, Paul vividly describes the persecution he endured from the Jews (v. 24, "five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one"). The New Testament authors never edited their writings to reflect anti-Semitic sentiments.

Finally, what about the apparent errors in Stephen's speech? Three observations are in order. (1) Some supposed "errors" in Stephen's speech are not really errors at all. Stephen says that seventy-five people in Jacob's family left for Egypt, while Genesis 46:27 (MT) reports that there were only seventy; however, the LXX and a Qumran scroll both report that there were seventy-five, indicating a strong precedent for Stephen's figure. (2) Stephen draws on a rich exegetical tradition that developed in his nation over hundreds of years. James Kugel, professor at the Orthodox Jewish Bar Ilan University, believes that such features as the angel who "spoke to [Moses] at Mount Sinai" and the "law delivered by angels" (Acts 7:38, 53 RSV) "might . . . be shown to reflect other well-known exegetical motifs" (218) from Jewish tradition. (3) Even if we concede that Stephen's speech contains historical inaccuracies (a debatable claim), their presence does nothing to undermine biblical inerrancy. Under divine inspiration, Luke accurately records Stephen's speech, even if some parts of the speech represent varying Jewish traditions. Inerrancy holds that Luke's account of the speech is without error, not that the speech itself is without error.

Some of the greatest minds this world has ever seen have devoted their entire lives to the careful study of the New Testament text; some of history's greatest skeptics have attacked it. There is nothing new that today's critics will discover. The New Covenant has endured the test of time, and it continues to be worthy of our faith.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 41-59.

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None of the important historical writers of the period—Roman or Jewish—makemention of Jesus. It's questionable whether he even existed.

Yohanan ben Zakkai was perhaps the most significant influence in Rabbinic Judaism following the Roman siege of Jerusalem (67-70 CE). The Jewish Encyclopedia says, "He did more than any one else to prepare the way for Israel to rise again" (7:216). In spite of Rabbi Yohanan's influence, he is never referenced in any external sources, including Josephus's writings. Even so, to assert that Rabbi Yohanan didn't exist would be ridiculous. To assert that Jesus didn't exist would be even more ridiculous since numerous historical records mention him.

The following significant classical writers make reference to Jesus: Greek historian Thallus (ca. 55 CE), Roman senator and lawyer Pliny the Younger (ca. 61-113 CE), Roman lawyer Suetonius (ca. 70-140 CE), and Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56-120 CE). There are also less significant writers who testify of Jesus' existence, including Mara bar Serapion (after 73 CE), Lucian of Samosata (ca. 115-200 CE), and Celsus (after 175 CE). These writers deal with Jesus from varying perspectives (sympathetic, hostile, and neutral) and languages (Greek, Latin, and Syriac).

Why aren't there more references to Jesus in the literature of his day? Robert Van Hoorst suggestsseveral possibilities. Most classical works in Jesus' day have been nearly destroyed. The surviving works demonstrate that classical historians were often hesitant to be the first to report a particular account. Furthermore, Christ wasn't a major issue to Roman historians until Christianity became a threat to Rome. The testimony that does exist is compelling.

Josephus, the most important Jewish historian of the first century, also testifies to the existence of Jesus, John the Immerser, and Jacob (or James), Jesus' brother. Nearly all of the Josephus manuscripts we have demonstrate expansion by later Christians; however, it is widely believed that some sections original to Josephus testify of Jesus. Antiquities 20.9.1, § 200 references James as "the brother of Jesus called Christ," and Antiquities 18.3.3 § 63-64 calls Jesus "a worker of amazing deeds and a teacher of the people" condemned to the cross by Pilate.

There are also references to Jesus in the Talmud, some of whichare disputed, such as mentions of "Balaam," "Ben Stada," and "Yeshu." There are, nonetheless, some passages that indisputably refer to Jesus, such as an account noting that "Jesus the Nazarene" was "hanged" on "the eve of Passover" (b. Sanh43a; t. Sanh10:11; y. Sanh7:16, 67a).

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) also testifies of Jesus, noting that he "aspired to be the Messiah and was executed by the court" (Hilchot Melachim 11:4). The citations of Maimonides and the Talmud should settle the question of Jesus' existence for all devout Jews. You should focus not on whether Jesus existed, but on who he really was.

Isaiah 53:2 speaks to the humble life of the Messiah; he would grow up "like a tender shoot" with "no beauty or majesty to attract us to him." After prophesying the Messiah's affliction and death, Isaiah expresses God's promise, "I will give him a portion among the great and he will divide the spoils with the strong" (53:12). We conclude with the words of a noteworthy essay:

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself . . .
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth—His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life. (Graham Pockett, "One Solitary Life")

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 59-66.

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Modern scholars are in complete agreement that the Gospels portray a mythical Jesus. There is very little that we can really know about his life.

For further study, I recommend the following books: Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels; Wilkins and Moreland, Jesus Under Fire; Johnson, The Real Jesus; Witherington, The Jesus Quest; Wright, The Challenge of Jesus; Copan, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?; and Dunn and McKnight, The Historical Jesus in Recent Research.

In response to this objection, I offer three considerations.

  • Jewish scholars are more likely to consider the general veracity of the Gospels than are their liberal counterparts, a point I discuss at greater length elsewhere.
  • When scholars assert that the Gospels present a mythical Jesus, they generally do so because of their presuppositions. The majority of scholars in the liberal Jesus Seminar were educated under liberal professors sharing these presuppositions. When Jesus Seminar researchers analyze the Gospels, they're already predisposed to believe that Jesus said only 18% of the material attributed to him (along with other similar claims). Luke Timothy Johnson notes, "Like a great deal of Gospel criticism, [the Seminar] began with the assumption that the Gospels are not accurate histories but are narratives constructed out of traditional materials with literary art and theological motives" (The Real Jesus, 4). He further observes (in reference to statements made by Seminar leader Robert Funk that the Jesus Seminar isn't promoting "disinterested scholarship, but a social mission against the way the church controls the Bible, and the way in which the church is dominated by . . . a theology focused both on the literal truth of the Gospels and the literal return of Jesus" (The Real Jesus, 6).In Funk's keynote address at the first Jesus Seminar meeting, he lamented, "The religious establishment has not allowed the intelligence of high scholarship to pass through pastors and priests to a hungry laity" ("The Issue of Jesus," Forum 1/1 [1985], quoted in Johnson, The Real Jesus, 6).The Jesus Seminar offers anything but an objective analysis of the Gospels!
  • The same skeptics who classify the Gospels as myths similarly classify critical events in the Tanakh. Liberals presuppose that the biblical writings (both the Tanakh and the New Covenant) are untrustworthy regardless of the evidence. Both conservative and liberal scholars can allow their biases to influence their conclusions; however, conservatives are often far more willing to analyze both sides of the debate, whereas liberals tend to analyze only one side. Craig L. Blomberg takes liberal scholars to task for their approach, observing, "The critical scholarship which has abandoned these very beliefs ["the infallibility of Scripture" and "the deity of Christ"] virtually never considers where its investigations might lead if it questions its starting-point and took seriously the possibility of the divine origin of Scripture and of Jesus" (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 256-7).

We can't offer absolute proof of New Testament claims, but we can offer the followingthoughts. (1) The Gospels are presented as historical accounts inviting honest investigation. (2) Archaeological findings continue to confirm New Testament accounts. (3) The New Testament writers were eyewitnesses who suffered persecution and often martyrdom for their accounts. (4) The movement Jesus started is growing faster now than it has ever before, revealing the power of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection to change lives.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 66-70.

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Jesus was not born of a virgin. In fact, we have traditions that actually tell us who Jesus' real father was—and it wasn't Joseph! Anyway, the idea of a god being born to a virgin is just one of several pagan myths that made its way into the New Testament.

If your fiancée came to you and said that she was pregnant, but that she hadn't lost her virginity, how seriously would you take her story? Perhaps you can imagine how Joseph felt when he discovered that Miriam was with child. Joseph determined that he would quietly divorce Miriam so as to avoid making a public mockery of her (Matt. 1:19). After an angel appeared to Joseph, he decided to go through with the marriage, but he avoided intercourse with Miriam until after Jesus' birth (vv.24-25). To say that the virgin birth was hard to swallow is an enormous understatement!

Joseph's account of an angel visitation wasn't wishful thinking; the Torah did provide a way to confirm the virginity of a newlywed young lady (Deut. 22:13-21). The Law mandated that a woman be stoned to death if she couldn't prove her virginity upon the accusation of her new husband. If Joseph doubted his wife's account, he could have simply gone ahead with the marriage, slept with Miriam, and then checked to see whether she had bled. The culture in Joseph's day was much different from our own; he would never have gone through with the marriage if he had determined that Miriam was no longer a virgin. Nevertheless, the subsequent birth, life, death, and resurrection of Miriam's child left little room for doubt that he was virgin born. Yeshua's virgin birth explains how he could be both human and divine.

Some people erroneously conclude that the virgin birth account was simply a cover-up of Miriam's adultery; however, the common rumor circulating at the time wasn't that Jesus was illegitimate, but that he was "the carpenter's son" (Matt. 13:55) or "Joseph's son" (Luke 4:22; John 1:45-46; 6:41-42). Jewish accounts of Jesus' illegitimacy actually arose because of the New Testament's virgin birth account. The Gospel writers wouldn't concoct a story about a virgin birth knowing it wasn't true; they surely knew that such an account would likely lead to rumors of illegitimacy. Rumors of this sort would do little to bolster the claims of the Gospel writers!

What about the claim that the virgin birth reflects pagan mythology? First, no major cult or religion (not even one that twists many practices and teachings from the Bible) in the last 1,900 years has ever claimed a virgin birth for its founder. Some cult leaders have claimed the ability to rise from the dead, but none were so foolish as to assert a virgin birth. Second, pagan mythology contains no parallels to the virgin birth. W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr., authors of an exhaustive commentary on Matthew, argue, "Conception without a male element in some form, parthenogenesis in the strict sense, does not seem to be attested. . . .None of the proposed parallels, either pagan or Jewish, seemingly accounts for the story we find in the New Testament." Pagan gods who take on human form and sexually seduce a woman hardly provide a parallel to the Gospel accounts. Pagan accounts of creation and the flood bear far greater resemblance to their biblical counterparts than do any purported parallels to the virgin birth.

Finally, there are those who claim that the New Testament authors as a whole didn't seem to know about Yeshua's virgin birth. To the contrary, both Matthew and Luke describe the virgin birth in great detail (Matt. 1-2; Luke 1-2). While Mark and John don't discuss Jesus' birth, they do ascribe divine titles to him (e.g., "Son of God" and "Word made flesh"). Furthermore, Paul also refers to Jesus as God's Son (Rom. 1:3-4) and claims that he "appeared in a body" (1 Tim. 3:16). The above authors account for 95% of the New Testament writings, making it untenable to conclude that the New Testament authors were unaware of the virgin birth.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 70-76.

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The genealogies of Jesus given by Matthew and Luke are hopelessly contradictory.

While some claim that the genealogies deal a serious blow to New Testament reliability, Matthew and Luke cite them for two reasons: (1) they serve as critical evidence of Jesus' Messianic claims and (2) they're true! Still, there are apparent discrepancies when we place the two accounts side-by-side beginning with David (the alleged problems are underlined):

Matthew: David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jeconiah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Akim, Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, Joseph, Jesus.

Luke: David, Nathan Mattatha, Menna, Melea, Eliakim, Jonam, Joseph, Judah, Simeon, Levi, Matthat, Jorim, Eliezer, Joshua, Er, Elmadam, Cossam, Addi, Melki, Neri, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Rhesa, Joanan, Joda, Josech, Semein, Mattathias, Maath, Naggai, Esli, Nahum, Amos, Mattathias, Joseph, Jannai, Melki, Levi, Matthat, Heli, Joseph (?), Jesus.

First, Matthew lists 26 names between David and Jesus, while Luke lists 41. This contrast is not without precedent in the Tanakh. William Henry Green did an extensive comparison of the priestly genealogies in 1 Chronicles 6:3-14 and Ezra 7:1-15 and found that Ezra's version was significantly abridged. In Matthew, the term "son" doesn't always indicate immediate offspring (Yeshua is called "son of David" and "son of Abraham"). Furthermore, Matthew's division of his genealogy into groups of fourteens (1:17) reveals either a mnemonic or a symbolic purpose.

Matthew connects Yeshua to Solomon's line, while Luke connects him to Nathan's line. This too is no difficulty, for Matthew gives Joseph's ancestry, while Luke gives Miriam's.

What about Shealtiel, father of Zerubbabel? Why does Matthew list his father as Jeconiah, while Luke lists him as Neri? Glenn Miller suggests that there are two separate Shealtiels in view, observing that they have "different parents" and "different children," being descendants of "different sons of David." He offers three evidences for this suggestion:

  1. Zerubbabel was a common name from the early Persian period (539-331bc.), as shown by cuneiform inscriptions from Babylonia (see ZPEB , V. 1057)
  2. The genealogies themselves have numerous names that repeat WITHIN the genealogy (e.g. Joseph, Mattathias, Judah) without being the same individuals; These names could also be common names.
  3. The names in the genealogies are standard, common, everyday names. We have NUMEROUS people named Levi, Amos, Nahum, etc. in the OT accounts. There is just NO REASON to associate the S+Z of Luke with the S+Z of Matthew. (And even the pattern of S-followed-by-Z doesn't carry much weight--families often honored prominent people this way.) ("Problems in the Genealogies of Jesus")

There's no hard evidence against Miller's conclusion. Luke's Gospel demonstrates careful research (1:1-4); he wouldn't be likely to stray from his sources (1 Chron. 3 and possibly Matt. 1).

This discrepancy may also be due to a levirate marriage (i.e., a marriage in which a childless widow marries her deceased husband's brother to continue the family name). In such cases, the genealogy lists the name of either the deceased husband or the biological father. A levirate marriage may also explain a similar discrepancy in the Tanakh in which Zerubbabel is called the son of both Shealtiel (Ezra 3:2; Neh. 12:1; Hag. 1:1) and Pedaiah (1 Chron. 3:17-19). Miller's suggestion and the possibility of levirate marriage are both plausible explanations for this conundrum.

The problems in the Gospel genealogies are actually easier to resolve than similar issues in the Hebrew Bible. For instance, Genesis 11 records that Terah "became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran" when he was 70 years old (v. 26) and died at 205 (v. 32). These figures would make Abram 135 years old when he left Haran, not 75 as the text records (Gen. 12:4). Walter Kaiser suggests that Genesis 11:26 refers to Terah's age when he began having children, not to his age when Abram was born.

In 1 Samuel 17:55-58, after David slew Goliath, Saul tells Abner, "Find out whose son this young man is." In the previous chapter however, Saul makes David one of his armor-bearers (16:14-23). Rashi interprets 1 Samuel 17:55, "Our Rabbis said: Did he not recognize him? Is it not stated: 'And he became his weapon bearer' (supra 16:21)? But, (rather this is the explanation): he saw him behaving in a kingly manner."

If we gladly grant some leeway to deal with apparent contradictions in the Tanakh, why can we not do the same with New Testament issues? There are more problems with the genealogies in the Tanakh than there are in the New Testament. Before you harshly criticize the New Testament genealogies, perhaps you should try to resolve all of the apparent issues in the Tanakh's genealogies first!

Did the Gospel writers have access to accurate ancestry records? D. A. Carson cites examples from Josephus, Rabbi Hillel, and Eusebius that clearly demonstrate the accessibility of Davidic ancestry records in Yeshua's day. It was much easier to validate Davidic descent in New Testament times (before the Temple was destroyed) than it is to validate it today.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 76-83.

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The Messiah is David's son. If Jesus were really born of a virgin, then Joseph was not his father and he is really not a descendant of David, even according to Matthew's genealogy. And if you claim that Luke's genealogy is that of Mary, Jesus still doesn't qualify, since the genealogy in Luke goes through David's son Nathan, whereas the Messianic promises must go through David's son Solomon. Therefore, Jesus cannot be the Messiah.

The Jews for Judaism argue that Joseph could not have passed on his genealogy to Yeshua, for "there is no Biblical basis for the idea of a father passing on his tribal line by adoption." They also argue that Jesus could not claim Davidic descent through his mother Miriam because: a) "There is no evidence that Mary descends from David"; b) "Tribal affiliation goes only through the father, not mother"; and c) "Messiah must be a descendent of David through his son Solomon." (They also address Jeconiah's curse, an issue we deal with elsewhere on this site.)

The claim that an adopted father cannot pass along the tribal line is immaterial because: (1) Luke's genealogy goes through Miriam, not Joseph,(2) a good case can be made for genealogical descent through a woman when there are no male heirs, and (3) the Messiah is both David's son (a physical descendant) and his lord (more than a physical descendant).

In regard to the third point, the Messiah's superiority to David is demonstrated both by the Tanakh and by Rabbinic tradition. Sanhedrin 98a says that, if we are worthy, the Messiah will come in the clouds (Dan. 7:13-14), but if we are unworthy, he will come riding on a donkey (Zech. 9:9). The difficulty is that both Daniel 7 and Zechariah 9 represent prophecies that must be fulfilled. The only way to resolve the apparent difficulty is through the virgin birth!

The Tanakh presents the Messiah as the son of David (e.g., Isa. 11:1-6); however, it also presents him as superior to David. Daniel 7:13-14 portrays the Messiah as an exalted, heavenly figure worthy of worship and service, and in Psalm 110, David addresses the Messiah as his "lord." (While this interpretation is disputed, it does have precedent in Rabbinic sources [e.g., Midrash Tehillim 2:9; 18:29].) Other Rabbinic traditions assert the Messiah's preexistence, his communion with God, and his superiority to Abraham, Moses, and the angels.

The virgin birth provides the solution to the conundrum that the Messiah is both David's son and his lord. Jesus is a physical descendant of David through Miriam, yet he is also descended from the heavenly throne. Yeshua's human and divine natures indicate that, while he is indeed a son of David, he is also greater than David. (See Luke 3:22-23; Luke records God's pronouncement of Jesus as "Son" and proceeds to give his physical genealogy.)

There is compelling evidence that Luke's genealogy goes through Miriam rather than Joseph. (1) Early sources don't reveal any debate about Yeshua's Davidic lineage. (2) The angel Gabriel's announcement indicates that Miriam was a descendant of David: "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David" (Luke 1:32).(3) The New Testament authors and scribes wouldn't have preserved two contradictory ancestries. It's more likely that one refers to Joseph, while the other refers to Miriam. (4) The Greek construction of Luke 3:23 certainly allows for the genealogy to be that of Miriam, stating, in effect, that Yeshua was thought to be the son of Joseph but was actually the (grand)son of Heli.(5) No evidence indicates that the genealogy isn't Miriam's.

Does tribal affiliation come only through the father? The Tanakh indicates that it does not. When a father died after bearing only daughters, the daughters and their husbands passed on the inheritance (a distinct but related concept to genealogy) as long as their husbands were part of the same tribe (Num. 27:1-11; 36:1-12; Ezra 2:61). Miriam and Joseph were both from the tribe of Judah and the Davidic line. John Nolland shares U. Holzmeister's proposal:

Holzmeister argues that Mary was an heiress (i.e., had no brothers) whose father Eli, in line with a biblical tradition concerned with the maintenance of the family line in cases where there was no male heir (Ezra 2:61 = Neh 7:63; Num 32:41 cf. 1 Chr 2:21-22, 34-35; Num 27:3-8), on the marriage of his daughter to Joseph, adopted Joseph as his own son. Matthew gives Joseph's ancestry by birth, Luke that by adoption. (170)

Additionally, 1 Chronicles 2:34-36 says, "Sheshan had no sons—only daughters. He had an Egyptian servant named Jarha. Sheshan gave his daughter in marriage to his servant Jarha, and she bore him Attai. Attai was the father of Nathan, Nathan the father of Zabad." Even though Sheshan's daughter married an Egyptian servant, she continued to perpetuate the family name since Sheshan had no sons.

The Tanakh also refers to some of David's mighty men as "sons of Zeruiah" (1 Chron. 2:13-16; 2 Sam. 2:13; 1 Sam. 26:6, et al.). We don't know precisely why Zeruiah is listed in the genealogical record rather than her husband; nevertheless, this example (along with that of Sheshan) shows clear biblical precedent for citing the mother rather than the father in the ancestral registry.

Must the Messiah come through Solomon? Let's look at God's covenant with David:

When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (2 Sam. 7:12-16)

God unconditionally promised David that his "house" and "kingdom" would "endure forever" (2 Sam. 7:16); however, note the contrast in God's promise to Solomon: "I will establish his kingdom if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws" (1 Chron. 28:7). Solomon's claim to the Davidic promises was conditioned upon his obedience. Solomon married many foreign women and embraced idols; he failed to meet the condition established by God (1 Kings 11:1-8).As a result of Solomon's rebellion, his throne did not endure forever (1 Kings 11:9-13). Some Rabbinic traditions assert that Solomon lost the throne in his own lifetime (y. Sanh 2:6; b. Meg. 11b)! Yes, Solomon's descendants continued to rule over the southern kingdom, but once the monarchy was exiled in 586 BCE, there's no evidence that subsequent rulers would need a Solomonic lineage.

Anti-missionaries conveniently avoid discussion of 1 Kings 9:4-9, where God tells Solomon,

"As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, 'You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.' But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. And though this temple is now imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, 'Why has the LORD done such a thing to this land and to this temple?' People will answer, 'Because they have forsaken the LORD their God, who brought their fathers out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—thatis why the LORD brought all this disaster on them.'"

Hebrew scholar Ziony Zevit interprets 1 Kings 9:4-9 as a refusal of Solomon's request in 1 Kings 8:25-26 for an unconditional guarantee. God tells Solomon that failure to meet divine conditions would result in exile and the Temple's destruction. God promised unconditional faithfulness to David's line, not Solomon's line. The Tanakh consistently refers to the "throne of David" rather than the "throne of Solomon."

Rabbinic tradition also offers no evidence of the Messiah's Solomonic descent and the Talmud and Law Codes never state that Messiah must descend from Solomon. The only time Rabbinic literature uses the phrase "son of Solomon" is in reference to Solomon's direct offspring, Rehoboam. Moses Maimonides makes no reference to Solomonic descent in the Mishneh Torah. We don't even find the Solomonic argument in the medieval Christianity/Judaism debates or in the anti-missionary classic Hizzuk Emunah ("Faith Strengthened").

Finally, anti-missionaries reference 2 Kings 11:11. In this passage, Athaliah eradicates all possible heirs to the throne by destroying only the royal family males. Anti-missionaries cite this as proof that Davidic descent couldn't come through the mother. Athaliah was only eliminating immediate heirs so that she could become queen. She wasn't focused on God's ultimate promises to the Davidic dynasty, and she likely didn't consider the more complex issues related to genealogy and inheritance.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 83-97.

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Jesus cannot be the Messiah, because he is a descendant of King Jehoiachin. God cursed both this king and his offspring, saying that none of his descendants would ever sit on the throne of David.

Matthew 1:12 traces Yeshua's ancestral line through Jeconiah (or Jehoiachin). This grandson of Josiah reigned in Jerusalem for a mere three months prior to the Babylonian exile. The Lord placed this curse on Jeconiah, "Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah" (Jer. 22:30). Some New Testament scholars would argue that Jeconiah's curse prohibits any of his future descendants from reigning on David's throne, and that therefore the only solution is the virgin birth. We need not accept this argument because (1) the Tanakh strongly indicates that the curse was reversed and (2) the curse may only have dealt with Jeconiah's immediate offspring.

In the curse on Jehoiachin, the Lord specifically addresses "his [Jehoiachin's] lifetime" along with the lifetimes of his "offspring." Neither Jehoiachin nor his sons would enjoy restoration to the throne in their lifetimes. According to Walter Kaiser, an archaeological finding proves that all seven of Jehoiachin's sons were made eunuchs after they were taken to Babylon (Hard Sayings of the Bible, 310). In his commentary on Jeremiah, John Bright concludes, "The figure is that of a census list. Jehoiachin is to be entered as childless since, as far as throne succession was concerned, he was as good as that" (Jeremiah,Anchor Bible).

A similar passage (Jer. 36:30) prophesies that Jehoiakim (Jehoiachin's father) "will have no one to sit on the throne of David." However, Jehoiachin did sit on David's throne for three months prior to the Babylonian exile. It's best to take Jeremiah 36:30 as a promise that Jehoiachin would enjoy nothing more than a brief reign devoid of divine blessing. Unfortunately, the interpretation of Jeremiah 22:30 is needlessly pushed much further than that of Jeremiah 36:30.

There's no indication of a perpetual curse, and even if the curse were intended to be perpetual, there's evidence that Jehoiachin repented and reversed the curse. Jeremiah 52:31-34 indicates that the king of Babylon began to show Jehoiachin unusual favor after 37 years of exile, even allowing him to "eat regularly at the king's table." In light of the divine fury directed against Jehoiachin in Jeremiah 22:24-29, this reversal of circumstances is quite striking, suggesting that the king had a change of heart. Also, God addresses Jehoiachin's grandson Zerubbabel, governor of Judah after the exile, by saying, "I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel . . . and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you'" (Hag. 2:23). Note the contrast in God's pronouncement upon Jehoiachin in Jeremiah 22:24: "As surely as I live . . . even if you, Jehoiachin . . . were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off." The signet ring signified a close and personal connection with God. Haggai 2:23 strongly indicates a reversal of the curse for Jeconiah's descendants.

Rabbinic writings cite the above texts as evidence that Jehoiachin repented. Pesikta de Rav Kahana 24:11 cites the Rabbis as saying, "Great is the power of repentance, which led God to set aside an oath even as it led Him to set aside a decree." The Rabbis concluded that Jehoiachin's repentance led God to set aside the curse. The Rabbinic text, translated by William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein, goes on to say, "God consulted the heavenly court, and they released Him from His oath" (Pesikta de-Rab Kahana, 316). The Rabbinic account emphatically suggests a belief in Jehoiachin's repentance.

Anti-missionaries continue to cite Jeconiah's curse as evidence against Jesus' Messianic claims; however, in doing so, they contradict Rabbinic tradition! Even though they are well-versed in the Rabbinic writings, their use of this argument demonstrates hypocrisy and inconsistency.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 97-102.

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Jesus did work some miracles, but they were not by God's power. We have traditions that tell us he learned magical arts in Egypt.

Here's the specific text in view (footnote 17 to b. Sanh 107b):

What of R. Joshua b. Perahjah?—When King Jannai slew our Rabbis, R. Joshua b. Perahjah (and Jesus) fled to Alexandria of Egypt. On the resumption of peace, Simeon b. Shetach sent to him: 'From me, (Jerusalem) the holy city, to thee, Alexandria of Egypt (my sister). My husband dwelleth within thee and I am desolate.' He arose, went, and found himself in a certain inn, where great honour was shewn him. 'How beautiful is this Acsania!' (The word denotes both inn and innkeeper. R. Joshua used it in the first sense; the answer assumes the second to be meant.) Thereupon (Jesus) observed, 'Rabbi, her eyes are narrow.' 'Wretch,' he rebuked him, 'dost thou thus engage thyself.' He sounded four hundred trumpets and excommunicated him. He (Jesus) came before him many times pleading, 'Receive me!' But he would pay no heed to him. One day he (R. Joshua) was reciting the Shema', when Jesus came before him. He intended to receive him and made a sign to him. He (Jesus) thinking that it was to repel him, went, put up a brick, and worshipped it. 'Repent,' said he (R. Joshua) to him. He replied, 'I have thus learned from thee: He who sins and causes others to sin is not afforded the means of repentance.' And a Master has said, 'Jesus the Nazarene practised magic and led Israel astray.'

This text depicts events during King Jannaeus's reign (104-78 BCE). While the text claims that "Yeshu the Nazarene" practiced magic he learned in Egypt, the account doesn't even place him in the correct century! This story should be given as much credence as a history book placing Ronald Reagan's presidency in the Civil War! Solomon Schecther's 1898 analysis of anti-Jesus myths is apropos: "All the so-called Anti-Christiana collected by medieval [Jewish] fanatics, and freshed up again by modern ignoramuses, belong to the later centuries, when history and biography had already given way to myth and speculation" (quoted in Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament, 122).

The miracles of Yeshua occurred far differently than depicted in the anti-Jesus myths. Jesus didn't do miracles to put on a show; he even refused to give a sign to "a wicked and adulterous generation" (Matt. 16:4). Like the prophets before him, Jesus gave signs to confirm his divine mission (e.g., Exod. 4:1-9, 29-31; 1 Kings 18); however, Jesus' miracles didn't just confirm who he was – they also demonstrated his compassion toward afflicted human beings (e.g., Mark 1:40-42; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Matt. 20:29-34; Luke 7:11-15). Ultimately, these miracles led both Jews and Gentiles to a relationship with the God of Israel (e.g., Matt. 15:30-31).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 102-106.

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Jesus didn't fulfill any of the Messianic prophecies. We know that the New Covenant writers actually reconstructed the life of Jesus so as to harmonize it with certain predictions made by the prophets.

We establish Jesus' fulfillment of all pre-70 CE Messianic prophecies elsewhere, but we offer three further observations here.

  1. Yeshua died under the Romans as an 'asham ("guilt offering") who atoned for the world's sins. The Tanakh predicted that the Messiah's own people would refuse him (Isa. 53:3-5), but that the Gentiles would globally embrace him (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:3-7; 52:13-15). It's easy to think that the disciples would have been discouraged after Yeshua's death, so much that they might have tried to recreate the events of Yeshua's life in light of biblical prophecy, but how do you explain the fulfillment of biblical prophecy today as Gentile crowds worldwide find redemption in the crucified and risen Jesus? This factor gives great credence to the New Testament authors' claims.
  2. The disciples never shy away from Jesus' identity as King of the Jews (Matt. 2:2; 27:11, 39, 37) in spite of their bewilderment at his death. The disciples couldn't understand how Jesus' suffering and death would fit into a biblical picture of Messiah's majestic rule. Luke records Zechariah, John the Immerser's father, as saying,

    Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come and has redeemed his people.
    He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
    (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
    salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—
    to show mercy to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
    the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
    to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
    in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1:68-75)

     

    The Gospel writers could have noted from the beginning that Jesus was fulfilling different prophecies than those related to the Messiah's glorious reign, but instead they portray the disciples' confusion as to how Jesus could fulfill the prophecies.

  3. The connection between an event and its prophetic antecedent is sometimes unclear. For instance, Jesus' coming from Nazareth and the virgin birth don't initially appear to be based on the Hebrew Scriptures, yet Matthew connects both of these events to the Tanakh. This means that it is only after the events of Jesus' life that the New Testament authors gained insight into the meaning of the Scriptures; they did not fabricate details about Jesus' life to fit the Messianic prophecies.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 106-109.

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When Jesus failed to fulfill the prophecies, his followers invented the myth of his substitutionary death, his resurrection, and finally, his second coming, which, of course, they completely expected in his lifetime.

This objection is self-defeating in that, to propose it, you must also propose the following: (1) No biblical prophecies pointed to the Messiah's suffering, contradicting the argument that the disciples restructured his life to coincide with prophecy.(2) The Gospels are completely off base in reporting Jesus' repeated references to his death and resurrection. (3) Jesus' Last Supper (in which he points to his bloodshed and death in ratification of the new covenant) didn't take place. (4) Jesus' resurrection was a total fiction despite its foundational prominence for his followers and the eyewitness testimony indicating the contrary. (5) The disciples were able within days to overcome the immediate shock of their Master's death by contriving an elaborate tale of his prophetic fulfillment. Not only that, but they willingly endured persecution, even to the point of death, to defend their false claims. (6) The disciples wrongly believed that their own contrived myth of the second coming would happen in their lifetimes!

This objection has as much merit as a shady tabloid headline! In our discussion elsewhere on this website, we address similar claims in more detail.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 109-111.

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Do you want irrefutable proof that the authors of the New Testament didn't know what they were talking about? Well, look at Matthew 23:35, where Jesus states that the last martyr spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures was Zechariah son of Berechiah. Actually, that was the name of the biblical prophet (see Zech. 1:1); the last martyr was Zechariah son of Jehoiada (see 2 Chron. 24:20-22). So, either Jesus, your alleged Messiah didn't know his Bible, or else Matthew (or the final editor of his book) didn't know the Tanakh. Either way, this is a glaring error that cannot be ignored.

Matthew 23:35 records Jesus' denunciation of hypocritical religious leaders: "And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar." The Tanakh never records a martyrdom of Zechariah son of Berechiah (author of the prophetic book bearing his name), but it does record the martyrdom of Zechariah son of Jehoiada, one that matches the Matthew 23 description (2 Chron. 24:20-22). Furthermore, Zechariah son of Jehoiada would have been the last martyr in the Hebrew Bible, complementing Abel as the first.

Perhaps Zechariah son of Berechiah was actually martyred; perhaps Jesus refers to a different Zechariah son of Berechiah. Either way, no evidence exists to prove or deny these claims. A more plausible suggestion is that Zechariah may also have borne the family name of Berechiah (e.g., "grandson of Berechiah") in addition to that of Jehoiada. A similar usage can be found in the Targum to Lamentations 2:20, which refers to Zechariah son of Jehoiada as "the son of Iddo." Zechariah son of Berechiah is called "son of Berechiah, son of Iddo" (Zech. 1:1,7) and simply "son of Iddo" (Ezra 5:1; 6:14). We could assume that both Matthew and the Targums are in error (an unthinkable conclusion for both believers in Yeshua and traditional Jews); I think it better to conclude that Zechariah son of Jehoiada was also referenced by other family names.

The reference to Berechiah may also be the result of a scribal error. There are a handful of Greek manuscripts that read "Jehoiada" rather than "Berechiah." Christian scholar Jerome (331-420 CE) made reference to a Hebrew text of Matthew that read "Jehoiada" (there is a tradition that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew). The medieval Hebrew manuscript Shem Tob Matthew (which may occasionally preserve an original Hebrew reading even though it's a translation) makes reference to Zechariah, followed by the slash that signifies a shortened phrase in Hebrew (roughly analogous to the English "etc."). If an early scribe shortened the phrase (as demonstrated in the Shem Tob), it's possible that another scribe incorrectly changed "Zechariah, etc." to "Zechariah son of Berechiah." It is likely that "Berechiah" is not the original reading in Matthew 23:35.

The anti-missionaries unfairly attack Matthew 23:35 even while they wrestle with similar issues in the Rabbinic writings. Genesis Rabbah 64:5 attributes the persecution in Hilkiah's day to Jezebel, even though Hilkiah lived several centuries later. B. Ber 3b seems to confuse Jehoiada, son of Benaiah with Benaiah, son of Jehoiada. B. Sanh 107b misquotes the Tanakh in referring to Elisha's servant Gahazi. I take no issue with those who wrestle with these apparent discrepancies, but I do take issue with those who judge the New Testament by a different standard.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 111-116.

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The New Testament is self-contradictory (especially the Gospels)!

Both the Tanakh and the New Testament contain apparent contradictions. It's unfair to harshly critique the New Testament, while working diligently to resolve every supposed problem in the Tanakh and Rabbinic writings! When considering the alleged New Testament contradictions, keep the following in mind: (1) It's unlikely that the New Testament authors would knowingly propagate contradictory accounts. (2) Apparent problems are sometimes the result of different, not contradictory, perspectives (e.g., two witnesses in a court who give different but harmonious accounts of a crime based on differing viewpoints). (3) Differing accounts may simply spring from different authors' varying emphases. (4) The presence of additional information doesn't always indicate a contradiction. (5) Some perceived difficulties simply result from a lack of data. If we knew all of the information, we would see no problems in the text.

Carson demonstrates one example of an apparent problem in Acts 1:18-19. Matthew 27:5 records that Judas "hanged himself," while Acts says, "he fell headlong, his body burst open, and all his intestines spilled out." While these may appear to be contradictory accounts, it's possible that we simply don't have all the information. Since no Jew would have defiled himself by handling a corpse during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, "a hot sun might have brought on rapid decomposition till the body fell to the ground and burst open" (Carson, "Matthew," EBC, 8:562). An early tradition proposes that Judas hanged himself on a branch overlooking a ravine; Acts 1 describes the result of the breaking branch. Sometimes, if we had additional information, we would be able to resolve apparent problems in the text.

The following works are helpful in dealing with New Testament difficulties: Snow, A Zeal for God Not According to Knowledge; Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties; and Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. The following commentators give a reasonable treatment of alleged problems in New Testament texts: D.A. Carson (Matthew, John), Craig Keener (Matthew, John), Donald Hagner (Matthew), John Nolland (Matthew, Luke), William Lane (Mark), R.T. France (Mark), Robert Guelich (Mark), Craig Evans (Mark), Darrel Bock (Luke), Joel Green (Luke), I. Howard Marshall (Luke), Leon Morris (John), and Andreas Köstenberger (John).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 116-119.

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Matthew claims that when Jesus died on the cross, "the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people" (Matt. 27:52-53). This is obviously complete nonsense, without any hint of historical support. If such an incredible event ever took place—something like "the night of the living dead" in ancient Jerusalem—someone would have recorded it.

Is Matthew's account beyond belief? What about the Tanakh's accounts of the sun standing still (Josh. 10:12-14) or Elijah's calling down of fire (1 Kings 18; 2 Kings 1)? What about Israel's exodus out of Egypt, an event not recorded by Egyptian historians? What about the dead body that returned to life after being touched by Elisha's bones (2 Kings 13:20-21), the moving back of the sundial as a sign of Hezekiah's healing (Isa. 38:8), or the angel's slaying of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (2 Kings 19:35)? If these events are credible, why is Matthew 27:52-53 not equally credible? If you can accept these events, why can't you accept what Matthew has written? The fact that only Matthew records this event doesn't mean that this resurrection didn't happen. There are no archeological findings or historical accounts that would disprove Matthew's report.

It's unlikely that anyone outside of the Gospel writers (e.g., a Roman historian or a Rabbinic author) would have recorded an event like this. Such an account would go too far in establishing Jesus' Messianic claims! There also aren't many historical records still in existence from that time and place.

The Matthew 27 account has significant theological implications. Samuel Tobias Lachs describes the rising of the dead as "commonplace" event in "messianic times" (Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament, 435). The New Testament connects the resurrection of the righteous with Jesus' return (1 Cor. 15:50-52; 1 Thess. 4:13-17). John Nolland sees Matthew 27:52-53 as anticipatory of this future resurrection. Let's look at Matthew's description of this event:

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lamasabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah." Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him." And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matt. 27:45-53)

There is a notable parallel between the events of Matthew 27 and the phenomena associated with Jesus' return (e.g., the sky's darkening, the earthquake, the rending of the Temple curtain).

We can only speculate about what happened to the resurrected bodies in Matthew's account. Perhaps they returned to the grave. More likely, they continued living and then died again or they were translated like Enoch and Elijah. It's apparent that this event, in connection with Jesus' resurrection, made quite an impact. Peter, an eyewitness of the account, preached about the Messiah's resurrection not long after it happened, and 3,000 people came to faith as a result. In light of the miracles in the Tanakh and the eyewitness accounts of Jesus' disciples, to believe that this event occurred is totally reasonable.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 119-123.

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The teachings of Jesus are impossible, dangerous, and un-Jewish ("Hate your mother and father"; "Let the dead bury their own dead"; "Give to whoever asks you"; etc.). There's no way he should be followed.

God is a jealous God who demands exclusive worship from his followers (Exod. 20:2-5). As God, he has the authority to demand such loyalty. This authority is demonstrated repeatedly throughout the Law. When Moses discovered the idolatry of the people while he was on Mt. Sinai, he called on the Levites to slay their idolatrous Israelite brothers (Exod. 32:35-29). Under the Law, Israelites were responsible for executing their own idolatrous family members:

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. (Deut. 13:6-11)

I wonder how some would react if these instructions came from Jesus' lips! But note how the Ask Moses website renders these commands in modern language:

  1. Not to missionize an individual to idol worship—Deuteronomy13:12
  2. Not to love the missionary—Deuteronomy13:9
  3. Not to cease hating the missionary—Deuteronomy13:9
  4. Not to save the missionary—Deuteronomy13:9
  5. Not to say anything in his defense—Deuteronomy13:9
  6. Not to refrain from incriminating him—Deuteronomy13:9

Jesus teaches love, not hatred, calling on his followers to overcome evil with good, yet here, those who would criticize his teachings as extreme and dangerous advocate hatred towards those who are considered missionaries of idolatry.

When Jesus makes demands, they ultimately reflect those of his Father. "He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him" (John 5:23b). "He who receives me receives the one who sent me" (Matt. 10:40). Yeshua's declaration, "Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37), can hardly be considered extreme; he is the Messiah, God's representative on earth. Replace "me" in Matthew 10:37 with "Torah" and you won't find the passage to be nearly as extreme (for even the Talmud teaches that honoring the Sabbath comes before honoring one's own parents).

Luke 14:25-33 is perhaps more controversial:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes,even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. . . . In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:25-27, 33)

Jesus didn't want followers who were only interested in his miracles; he wanted committed disciples. But did such a commitment rightly entail hating parents, spouse, siblings, and self? It did, but let's be sure that we correctly understand Jesus' teaching.

We must keep Luke 14 in perspective with what Jesus says elsewhere:

You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:43-48; see also, 5:38-42)

Jesus exemplifies the above teaching in his prayer on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Stephen echoes his Savior's sentiments when he intercedes for his executioners, saying, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60). Peter urges slaves with cruel masters to follow the example of the Messiah, who "did not retaliate" when attacked by others (1 Pet. 2:19-25). Paul instructs the Roman believers:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:19-21)

What do we make of the command to "hate" one's parents? Jesus denounces the Pharisees for refusing to honor their parents (Matt. 15:1-9) and as he dies, he entrusts John with Miriam's care (John 19:26-27). The New Testament teaches love, not hatred, even for enemies and most certainly for one's own parents.

What then does Jesus mean when he tells us to hate family and self? There are two considerations here. First, Jesus means that God deserves undivided loyalty. Jesus uses the word "hate" to stress the radical nature of commitment to God. Second, the Hebrew Bible sometimes uses "hate" to refer to being "unloved" or "rejected." For instance, Deuteronomy 21:15-17 speaks of a man who "loves" one of his wives and "hates" the other. The idea isn't that the man literally loathes one of his wives; the man simply favors one wife above the other. Also, Scripture says that God "hates" Esau (Malachi 1:2-3).This expression doesn't mean that he loathes every inhabitant of Edom, but that he "rejects" Edom. (See the New Jewish Version renditions of these passages.)

There may also be a parallel with Deuteronomy 33:9, which praises the Levites for killing their idolatrous countrymen:

He said of his father and mother,
"I have no regard for them."
He did not recognize his brothers
or acknowledge his own children,
but he watched over your word
and guarded your covenant.

If people will give up everything to pursue excellence in sports or music, it's not too extreme for Jesus to demand the same from his followers Whatever Jesus' followers lose in this life is nothing compared to the knowing the Messiah (Phil. 3:7-8). Jesus offers rest (Matt. 11:28-30) and the water of life (John 7:37). He's the bread and the resurrection of life (John 6:35; 11:24-25). Millions are living examples of the Messiah's ability to transform lives and families, and they testify that it's worth it to follow Yeshua, even if the cost is high.

Let's consider an even more difficult text:

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:57-62)

Jesus' first reply indicates that his followers won't always enjoy the finer things in life. His last reply indicates double mindedness on the seeker's part, as demonstrated by the illustration of the plowman.

Jesus' second reply remains perplexing to interpreters, since the burying of loved ones is valued in Jewish law. Nolland gives three possible interpretations: (1) The seeker wanted to stay at home until his aging, but healthy, father passed away;(2) he sought "permission to see out the secondary mourning period (perhaps a year after his death) which was terminated by a secondary burial of the bones"; and(3) he sought "permission to remain long enough to bury a dead or dying father, or to see out the primary seven days of mourning" (Gospel of Matthew, 367). Taking Yeshua's words at the most extreme, what he was demanding would be similar to the situation of soldiers in battle who cannot stop to bury their dead because of the exigencies of war; it does not speak of a lack of honor but of a more pressing demand.

Consider some accounts of famous Rabbinic leaders. In a collection of stories compiled and edited by Rabbi Asher Bergman, Rabbi Elazar Menachem Man Shach favorably recounts a story in which a rabbi deliberately fails to deliver family letters to his diligent student immersed in study although these letters mentioned the passing of the student's mother and his need to care for the siblings (The Rosh Yeshivah Remembers: Stories that Inspire the Yeshivah World, as Retold by Rabbi Elazar Menachem Man Shach, Shilta, 50-51). There is also the story of Rabbi Akiva, who was so engrossed in the Torah that he refused to tend to his deathly ill son (m. Semahot 8:13). I can only imagine the attacks that would ensue if these accounts were in the New Testament!

Devotion to Jesus isn't the only practice that can cause tension within families. Ba'alei teshuvah (Jews who become observant later in life) often face resistance at home. Janet Aviad explains,

Relations between parents and children are upset on several grounds. A baal teshuvah finds it difficult to eat in the home of his parents who do not observe the dietary laws of Judaism. He finds it difficult to spend the Sabbath and holidays with his parents who violate the religious prescriptions regarding their observance. In most cases, baalei teshuvah moved out of the homes of their parents and set up their own apartments. (Return to Judaism, 116-117, cited in Riggans, Yeshua ben David, 199-200)

Riggans poses the question, "Would Orthodox rabbis and other spokespersons want to argue that the Torah itself must now be disqualified from being an authentic gift of God, etc., because observing it can break up Jewish homes" (Yeshua ben David, 200)? Certainly not, for Rabbinic teaching mandates ransoming your Torah teacher from captivity before your own father (unless your father is also a Torah scholar; b. B.M. 33a)! How then can you take issue with Yeshua's teaching?

Some people considersome of Jesus' teachings to be impossible or dangerous. Consider Luke 6:27-37:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Obedience to such teaching may seem "impossible," but so is obedience to some commands in the Tanakh. God established a land Sabbath, requiring the land to rest every seventh year (Lev. 25:2-7). God promised to supply the needs of his obedient people in advance (Lev. 25:18-22). Obedience to the Levitical law required great faith; if God failed to keep his word, people would starve. Consider also the cancelling of debts that took place every seventh and fiftieth year (the year of Jubilee). God commanded the people not to withhold loans from the poor simply to avoid cancellation of debt (Deut. 15:1-11).

Many scholars believe that Jesus began his public ministry shortly before the Year of Jubilee at a time when many would disobey Deuteronomy 15. He gives no praise to people who lend only when they expect full repayment (Luke 6:34-37); he expects his followers to give even to their enemies (cf. Exod. 23:4-5; the Torah commanded the Israelite to help his enemy with a wandering donkey).

Note the result of obedience to Jesus' teaching: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap" (Luke 6:38). It's difficult to give when you expect nothing in return, but it's also immensely rewarding.

The demand to turn the other cheek (also found in Matt. 5:39) isn't a summons to avoid defending your family when they're threatened. When we compare Jesus' teaching to the situation described in the Mishnah (m. B. K. 9:6), it's clear that he's referring to legal retaliation. He refers to a backhanded slap (note the mention of the "right cheek" in Matt. 5:39) that called for double the compensation of other strikes. Yeshua gives his followers a higher standard, even when they have the legal right to exact payment.

Let's look at one other controversial passage that is often called dangerous and un-Jewish:

You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matt. 5:27-30)

Jesus isn't telling us to start whacking off body parts with a hatchet in order to enter heaven; he's urging drastic and proactive action against sin. If your hand causes you to practice sin or your eye causes you to imagine sin, it's far better to lose one of these than to lose your soul.

If this teaching is so dangerous, why haven't millions of saints cut off their limbs? I am unaware of any Christian who has taken Jesus' instructions here literally. Even common, ordinary believers are able to discern figures of speech.

Are Jesus' words here "un-Jewish"? Note this passage from the Mishnah: "Every hand that makes frequent examination is in the case of women praiseworthy [meaning, examining the private parts, in order to check for ritual uncleanness] but in the case of men it ought to be cut off [for fear of masturbation]" (m. Nid 2:1). Jewish men haven't taken this instruction literally. Furthermore, in spite of the Rabbinic interpretation of "eye for eye" as monetary compensation, the Talmud records that "Rav Huna had the hand cut off [of one who was accustomed to strike other people]" (b. Sanh 58b)!There is nothing un-Jewish or un-Rabbinic about Jesus' teaching

In summary, it can be said that (1) some of the teachings of Jesus are only impossible for those who try to put them into practice without God's supernatural help,(2) none of them are dangerous, and (3) they are thoroughly Jewish, even going beyond the best of our people's traditions.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 123-147.

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The New Covenant is anti-Semitic. It is filled with negative references to the Jewish people, and it blames them for the death of Jesus.

Here's a brief summary of our findings which are further elaborated elsewhere on the website:

 
  • The oft-cited passage Matthew 27:25 doesn't indicate a perpetual curse on Israel, nor does it communicate anti-Semitic sentiments. Even Rabbinic sources note the involvement of Jewish leadership in Jesus' crucifixion. Matthew's record is, at minimum, historically feasible.
  • The Jews are no more demeaned in the New Testament than they are in the Dead Sea Scrolls or by Josephus's writings. The term "Jews" often refers to the religious leadership, not to the nation of Israel generally.
  • Though the New Testament treats hypocritical Jewish leaders harshly, it also praises the Pharisees who embraced Yeshua. The prophets in the Tanakh followed a similar pattern in their ministries.
  • When Paul denounces the Jews who persecuted the prophets, he is not denouncing all Jews everywhere: he's denouncing unbelieving Jews who rejected the message of the prophets.
  • The New Testament never charges Jews with killing God. Jesus' death is specifically connected to his human nature rather than his divine nature. The New Testament charges both Jew and Gentile with Jesus' death for sin, which was ultimately orchestrated by God's sovereignty. Peter acknowledges, "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23a). Consider also that Jesus prayed for his executioners: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
  • The New Testament doesn't teach that the church replaces Israel, nor does it ever describe the church as the "new Israel." To the contrary, the New Testament promises a future restoration of the Jewish nation. The reproof given to the nation by the New Testament writers is analogous to what we often find in the Hebrew Bible and in inter-Jewish quarrels.
  • Regardless of the professing "church's" past activities against Jews, biblically minded Christians today have shown love for Israel in accord with the real New Testament teaching.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 147-150.

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The Jesus of the New Testament is hardly Jewish. In fact, he even refers to the Torah as "your Law"—precisely because it was not his own.

In John 10:34, Jesus says, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'." Similarly, Jesus says in John 15:25, "But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'" In both cases, Jesus addresses the Jewish leadership.

Jesus is in no way disowning the Torah. Against this conclusion, consider the following:(1) The entire Bible testifies to Yeshua: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5:39-40); (2) Jesus indicates that both he and the religious leaders share Moses as part of their heritage (John 3:14-16; 7:19-23); (3) Jesus' own disciples are credited with seeing him as the fulfillment of Moses and the prophets; (4) In the aforementioned passages, Jesus is quoting from the Psalms, not the Pentateuch. Jesus is essentially telling the religious leaders, "You're hypocrites! You don't even take your own Law seriously!"

According to the New Testament, the entire Hebrew Bible testifies toYeshua (John 1:45; 5:39-40). Before leaving earth, Jesus told his disciples, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms" (Luke 24:44-45). The early believers revered the Tanakh as their Bible until the writings of the New Testament were circulated. Nothing about the New Testament Jesus is un-Jewish!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 150-152.

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Jesus was a false prophet. He claimed that his apostles would live to see his return, a prediction he missed by 2000 years. He also predicted that not one stone in Jerusalem would be left standing when the Romans destroyed it. Well, have you ever heard of the Wailing Wall?

The disciples asked Jesus, "When will this [the destruction of the Temple] happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age" (Matt. 24:3)? After discussing the immediate and distant future, Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" (Matt. 24:34). Although many interpret this as a promise that Jesus would return within the disciples' lifetimes, there are better ways to interpret Matthew 24:34. "This generation" could refer to (1) the final generation that sees the signs described in Matthew 24, (2) the generation that would see the destruction of the Temple rather than Jesus' return (cf. Matt. 24:36, "no one knows the day or the hour"), or(3) a "race" rather than a generation or posterity. All of these options are far more likely than the willful perpetuation of error by New Testament authors and scribes.

Another passage in question is Matthew 16:28, in which Jesus tells his disciples: "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." This isn't a promise that Jesus will return in the disciples' lifetimes, for the next chapter notes:

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matt. 17:1-8)

Matthew 17:1-8, which prefiguresJesus' glorious return in kingdom power, is the fulfillment of Matthew 16:28. All of the Gospel writers (except for John, who doesn't mention the event) place the Transfiguration immediately after the promise that some would see Yeshua coming in his kingdom (Matthew 16:27-17:8; Mark 8:38-9:8; Luke 9:26-36).

Three parables point to a delay in Jesus' return. (1) In Matthew 24:45-51, Jesus tells a story about a wicked servant who tells himself, "My master is staying away along time," and proceeds to "beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards." Jesus concludes that the master "will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of." (2) In Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the bridegroom and the ten virgins, Jesus mentions that the bridegroom "was a long time in coming" (v. 5). (3) In Matthew 25:14-30,Jesus compares the kingdom to a "man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them" (v. 14). The man returns "after a long time" (v.19). Jesus urges his followers to be constantly expectant of his return.

What about Jesus' prophecies that the Second Temple would be destroyed? The disturbing nature of the Temple's destruction is well attested in Rabbinic literature (b. Ber 32b, 58b, 59a; b. Shab 33a; b. Ta'an 29a; b. Sotah 48a; b. Bab. Bathra 103a). Amos 3:7 declares, "Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets." Many prophets warned about the destruction of the First Temple, but only Rabbi Yeshua warned of the Second's destruction.

Jesus promised, "Not one stone here [of the Temple] will be left on another; every one will be thrown down" (Mark 13:2). Critical scholars believe that this prophecy is so accurate that it had to have been written after the fact. Others suggest that the prophecy was incorrect, for it would be impossible to so utterly decimate the temple that no stone would be left upon another! While the Romans completely destroyed the temple itself, they left part of the retaining wall in place.

This prophecy doesn't reveal that Jesus is a false prophet (Deut. 18:22). Jeremiah frequently prophesied that, in the Babylonian siege, no inhabitants would be left in the cities of Judah (Jer. 2:15; 4:29; 9:10; 33:10; 34:22, etc.), yet history shows us that not all the cities were literally left desolate. Jeremiah's prophecies are hyperbolic, using graphic examples that would take place in many cities to illustrate the total desolation.

If Jeremiah, a true prophet, can use hyperbolic language, why can't Jesus do the same? As Steve Alt observes, no eyewitnesses of the Temple destruction would have cried out, "Jesus was a false prophet! Part of one wall remains standing." Jesus' prophecies of the Temple were remarkably accurate. His words have stood the test of time, as he said in Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 152-162.

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Jesus was a cruel and undisciplined man. He violated the Torah by cursing—and hence, destroying—a perfectly good fig tree for not bearing figs even though the New Testament writers tell us that it was not the time for figs. So much for your wonderful Messiah! He even called a Gentile woman a dog when she approached him for help.

When we look at the full New Testament testimony of Yeshua, we don't find a cruel and undisciplined man, but a compassionate Savior who rigorously obeyed God's Law. It would have made no sense for the New Testament writers to portray Jesus as cruel and undisciplined. Jesus' sinlessness was foundational to their theology:

God made him who had no sin to be sin [or, a sin offering] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)

He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. (1 Pet. 2:22, quoting Isa. 53:9b)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yetwas without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

However, Jesus allegedly demonstrated cruelty and violated one of God's commands by cursing a fig tree:

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:12-14)

It is alleged that Jesus violated this particular command of the Torah:

When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them? However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls. (Deut. 20:19)

Deuteronomy 20 commands Israel to avoid cutting down healthy trees, even when "lay[ing] siege to a city." Why would Jesus destroy a healthy fig tree? Mark even admits, "It was not the season for figs" (Mark11:13).

Consider Elisha's prophecy of Israel's battle with Moab: "You will cut down every good tree, stop up all the springs, and ruin every good field with stones" (2 Kings 3:19). Rashi says that Israel was justified in violating the Torah because Moab was "a contemptible and insignificant nation." He cites Deuteronomy 23:7, "You shall not seek their welfare and their good." If Israel was justified in cutting down all of Moab's trees, why wasn't the Messiah justified in cursing one fig tree?

Furthermore, Jesus didn't curse an ordinary, healthy fig tree. The season for figs was about six weeks away, but healthy trees would still bear visible, non-edible figs by late March or early April. Even if the fig tree in Mark 11 looked fruitful at first glance, its appearance was a total sham; the lack of non-edible figs meant that the tree wouldn't bear any fruit at harvest time. F.F. Bruce concludes, "The fig tree represents the city of Jerusalem, unresponsive to Jesus as he came to it with the message of God" (Hard Sayings of the Bible, 442). Jerusalem's outward appearance was one of health and fruitfulness, but Jesus knew of its underlying hypocrisy.

As the Son of God, Yeshua had every right to curse this fig tree; he could have justly cursed a thousand fig trees! Jesus' curse caused the tree to "wither," much to the disciples' amazement (Mark 11:20-21). The appropriate question then isn't, "What right did Jesus have to curse the fig tree?" but rather, "Who is this rabbi that performs miracles like this?"

Why did Jesus call a Gentile woman a dog? Here's a better question: why do traditional Jewish writings seem to reflect even worse sentiments toward Gentiles? For instance:

  • Exodus 22:31 commands that the "meat of an animal torn by wild beasts" be thrown to "the dogs." Rashi identifies the "dogs" in this passage as Gentiles.
  • Maimonides says that Sabbath breaking is permissible to save a Jew's life, but not a Gentile's life.
  • "While a Jew should not lower a Gentile into a pit to kill him, he should not lift him out of the pit to help him" (b. A. Z. 26a).
  • "A heathen who studies the Torah deserves death" (b. Sanh 59a).
  • "You are called men, but the nations of the world are not called men, but beasts" (b. B. M. 114b).
  • R. Shimon ben Yohai instructed, "The best among the gentiles, in wartime – kill!"
  • Recently, the graduate of a major yeshiva in America (Rabbi Saadya Grama) wrote a book based on Rabbinic sources claiming that "gentiles are 'completely evil' and Jews constitute a separate, genetically superior species," as reported in TheForward (Allan Nadler, "Charedi Rabbis Rush to Disavow Anti-Gentile Book," The Forward, December 19, 2003, http://www.forward.com/issues/2003/03.12.19/news4a.html). One review of Grama's book, also quoted in The Forward article, cites Chabad Chasidism's primary text that declares "Jewish and gentile souls . . . fundamentally different, the former 'divine' and the latter 'animalistic.'"

Many rabbis have rightly taken issue with Rabbi Grama's interpretations. Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler rescinded his original positive review of the book, saying, "Our philosophy asserts that every human being is created in the image of the Lord and the primacy of integrity and honesty in all dealings without exception. I strongly repudiate any assertions in the name of Judaism that do not represent and reflect this philosophy" (cited in Steven I. Weiss, "Ultra-Orthodox Officials Go to Bat for Anti-Gentile Book," in The Forward, January 16, 2004, http://www.forward.com/issues/2004/04.01.16/news9.lakewood.html).The texts above cannot be properly understood apart from their original context. The Talmud frequently emphasizes the dignity of all human beings since they are all made in God's image. If we are quick to defend the Rabbinic writings against charges of bigotry, why are we in such a hurry to level the same charges against Yeshua?

Consider these truths:

  • Matthew traced Jesus' adoptive ancestry through Rahab and Ruth, two Gentile women (Matt. 1:5).
  • Jesus enraged his audience in the synagogue by citing examples of God's mercy toward Gentiles (Luke 4:24-30).
  • Jesus taught that believing Gentiles would feast in the kingdom of heaven, while unbelieving Jews would be cast out (Matt. 8:11-12).
  • Jesus' compassion toward the woman at the well stood in stark contrast to the anti-Samaritan prejudice of his day (John 4:42).
  • One of Jesus' most well-known parables praises a Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
  • Jesus praised the Samaritan leper who returned to thank him (Luke 17:11-19).
  • Jesus instructed his followers to go into "all nations" (Matt. 28:19; Luke 24:47) with the gospel.
  • Jesus gave his life "for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).

Here's the context of Jesus' infamous remarks toward the Gentile woman:

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. (Matt. 15:21-29; see also Mark 7:24-31)

Jesus' exchange with the Gentile woman comes after his encounter with the Pharisees at Gennesaret. He criticizes the Pharisees for putting their traditions above God's commandments. He observes, "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean'" (Matt. 15:11). Mark's account gives further explanation:

He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) (Mark. 7:18-19 NRSV).

This is not an undoing of the dietary laws. Food, in and of itself – even ritually "unclean" food – could not defile our essential being anymore than eating with ritually unwashed hands could make our hearts unclean.

Jesus then makes a lengthy journey (between 60 and 100 miles round-trip) to "the region of Tyre and Sidon," where he ultimately heals the Gentile woman's daughter. Mark 7 parallels the vision in Acts 10 where Peter is commanded to eat unclean animals. The point of both accounts is that believing Gentiles are not "unclean." Paul would later point out, "As the Scripture says, 'Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.' For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:11-13, quoting Joel 2:32).

Jesus' controversial remark is a test for the Gentile woman that ultimately reveals her faith. His journey into Tyre and Sidon is out of the way, but one sovereignly arranged by God to communicate an important truth: even Gentiles can have "great faith" in the God of Israel (15:28). The only other time that Matthew uses the expression "great faith" is in 8:10, which references a Roman centurion!

How then do we explain his words, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs"? It's true that the Greek word that is used here can refer to "household dogs" as opposed to "wild dogs"; however, it's obvious that the Gentile woman wasn't offended. She knew that Jesus' primary ministry was to the house of Israel. She had faith that, as a Gentile outsider, she could have the "leftovers" of this ministry. Jesus wasn't demeaning the woman as some "lousy Gentile dog"; he was simply giving her the chance to demonstrate her faith. Look at the end result: "And her daughter was healed from that very hour" (Matt. 15:28). This account is anything but prejudiced and bigoted.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 162-177.

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Actually, Jesus also taught that salvation came through obeying the Law. Just read Matthew 5:17-20; 7:21; 19:16-30; 25:31-46. This whole "gospel of grace" message is the invention of Paul and the other writers.

While Jesus didn't do away with the Law, he never taught that Law-keeping could save a person. Consider these examples:

  • Jesus tells Nicodemus, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).
  • These famous words may also have been spoken by Jesus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God" (John 3:16-21).
  • He consistently calls the Jews to "believe": "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life" (John 5:24; see also 6:35; 7:37-38; 11:25-26; 12:44-46).
  • He declares the punishment of refusing to believe: "If you do not believe that I am [he], you will indeed die in your sins" (John 8:24).
  • He cites the Father's will that the Son be "honored" just as the Father is honored (John 5:21-23).
  • He's the source of true "rest": "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28; see also vv. 29-30).
  • He calls himself the only "way" to the Father (John 10:6-10; 14:6-7).
  • He's the "good shepherd" who "lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11, 27-30).
  • He's the "vine," the only source of spiritual life. We are called to "remain" in him (John 15:4-7).
  • He's the "doctor" calling the "sick" and demanding "repentance" (Luke 5:32).
  • He demands radical commitment from his disciples: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34; see also Luke 14:33).
  • He demands shameless, public confession of his claims (Matt. 10:32-33; Mark 8:38).
  • He repeatedly emphasizes his need to die for man's sins: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45)
  • Jesus shed his blood and died to institute the new covenant (Luke 22:19-20).
  • He commands his disciples to preach faith and repentance to all peoples (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-48).

Jesus' message centers upon himself: men must believe in him to have eternal life. The message doesn't change in the book of Acts. At Shavuot (Pentecost), Peter declares, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). He later says, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Paul's "gospel of grace" is the same message given by Yeshua and his other Apostles.

Matthew 5:17-20 doesn't contradict the gospel given elsewhere. Jesus didn't come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them; through him, the Law and the Prophets found their ultimate expression. Jesus insists on a higher code of living than the practice of devout Jews of his day; he provides the ability to live out this code through the New Covenant.

Matthew 7:21 is also consistent with New Testament teaching, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21 doesn't teach that Law-keeping is necessary for salvation. Instead, it indicates that newness of life and obedience to God necessarily flow from salvation.

When the rich young ruler asks how he can have eternal life, Jesus replies, "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments" (Matt. 19:17); however, when the young man replies, "All these [commandments] have I kept" (v. 20), Jesus doesn't tell him to just keep obeying the Law. Instead, he tells him to abandon all of his possessions, give them to the poor, and follow the Messiah (v. 20-22). Such requirements weren't in the Law!

Finally, Matthew 25:31-36 indicates that when Jesus returns, he will judge the nations according to how they treated his followers. This standard of judgment is mentioned nowhere in the Torah. Even at this judgment, Yeshua is the focal point; how you treat Yeshua's followers is ultimately how you treat Yeshua himself.

The New Testament consistently indicates that salvation is only through the person of Yeshua, not through obedience to the Law. Jesus is the "Savior" (Acts 13:23), the one who "saves his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 177-184.

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The teachings of the New Testament may have started out Jewish, but before long, they became totally pagan. This was done intentionally, since the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah and only the pagans would listen to the message.

The book of Acts never indicates that only pagans listened to the message. When Peter preached at Shavuot (Pentecost), 3,000 Jews in Jerusalem embraced Yeshua (Acts 2:41). The number increased to 5,000 shortly thereafter (Acts 4:4). Acts 6:7 records, "The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith." Much later, elders in the Jerusalem church reported that "many thousands [Gk. "ten thousands" or "countless thousands"]" came to faith in the Messiah; these believers were "zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20). Scholars estimate that there were at least 100,000 Jewish believers in Yeshua by the end of the first century.

Paul certainly faced his fair share of opposition. As a result, he had to shift his focus from Jews to Gentiles in several cities: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46). However, in other cities, great numbers of Jews embraced Yeshua: "Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed" (Acts 14:1). Paul never permanently abandoned his Jewish outreach; he was instrumental in bringing many Jews to faith in Yeshua.

Additionally, the New Testament writers continued to observe Jewish holy days and customs. References to biblical holy days include Acts 27:9 (Yom Kippur), Acts 12:3-4 (Passover, not "Easter" as KJV erroneously translates), 1 Corinthians 16:8 (Feast of Weeks), and John 10:22 (Hanukkah).

Contrary to the claims of some, the New Testament doesn't teach that the church replaces the Jewish nation. Paul clearly indicates that the nation will experience a future restoration:

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
"The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins."
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Rom. 11:25-29)

As Paul preached to the Gentiles, he hoped that he would motivate his own people to jealousy (Rom. 11:11-15).

Pagan practices didn't enter the ranks of believers because of the early disciples; after the first century, however, the professing church strayed from its Jewish roots. As a result, pagan traditions began to influence believers. This is why Messianic Jews seek to restore distinctly Jewish expressions of worship.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 184-188.

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Jesus was really all right. He was a good Jew and a fine rabbi. It was Paul who messed everything up and founded Christianity.

Historically, Messianic Jews have struggled to convince other Jews that Jesus was not an apostate founder of a new religion, but was actually the promised Messiah. For this reason, the "Jewish reclamation of Jesus" has been a positive development. More and more Jewish scholars are recognizing Jesus' distinctive Jewishness. Many have shown increasing sympathy toward the New Testament depiction of Jesus, much more so than liberal Christian scholars.

Many who have recognized Jesus' Jewish background have attacked Paul instead. Beth Moshe claims that Paul "shaped the Church in a manner which stripped away all links to Judaism and cursed it at the same time." David Klinghoffer's Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, based on Hyam Maccoby'sThe Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, claims that Paul was a Gentile by birth with no knowledge of Hebrew. He charges Paul with forming an apostate pagan religion. Klinghoffer's book contains some embarrassing errors, such as his citation of Acts 4:13 to prove that "the Jews regarded Paul as 'uneducated'" (Klinghoffer, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, 97). The original accusation in Acts was hurled at Peter and John, well before Paul was even a follower of Jesus! Klinghoffer correctly admits that his position is outside the mainstream of contemporary scholarship.

Paul never turned Jesus' movement into a pagan religion – Gentile customs and beliefs came well after Paul's time. Many well-respected Jewish scholars attest to Paul's Jewish credentials. Joseph Klausner (1874-1958), former professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, argues, "Paul . . . was also a typical Jew in his thinking and in his entire inner-life. For Saul-Paul was not only a 'Pharisee, a son of Pharisees,' but also one of those disciples of the Tannaim who were brought up on the exegesis of the Torah and did not cease to cherish it to the end of their days" (Klausner, From Jesus to Paul, 453-54). Alan F. Segal describes Paul as a "trained Pharisee who became an apostle to the Gentiles" (Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee, xi-xii). Daniel Boyarin takes "Paul at his word" and acknowledges him as "a member of the Pharisaic wing of first-century Judaism" (A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity, 2). Orthodox Rabbi Jacob Emden (1679-1776) describes Paul as "well-versed in the laws of the Torah" (cited by Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee, 18).

Many New Testament scholars who are well-versed in early Jewish scholarship also testify to Paul's Jewish credentials. According to Peter J. Tomson, "Paul had an openly avowed knowledge of Hebrew and of Pharisaic tradition" and "his mother tongue, quite probably, was . . . the Hebrew and Aramaic of Jerusalem" (Paul and the Jewish Law, 52-53). Critical New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan and archaeologist Jonathan L. Reed conclude that "Paul was Jewish born and bred, understood Hebrew, was a Pharisee, and was proud of all that lineage" (In Search of Paul, 4). The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters cites Paul's use of Midrash in Romans 9:6-29 as a "highly sophisticated composition" evidencing a "formal education in the Judaism of the time" (Stegner, "Paul the Jew,"506). Esteemed church history scholar Jarislov Pelikan notes that, in modern times, scholars have "rediscovered the Jewishness of the New Testament, and particularly of the Apostle Paul" (Jesus through the Centuries, 18).

James D.G. Dunn, one of the world's top scholars in his field, concludes that Maccoby's claims are "wildly fanciful" and show "no sensitivity to Paul's whole argument in Romans" (Romans 9-16, 635-36). Esteemed scholars simply don't take claims like Klinghoffer's and Maccoby's seriously.

Was Paul really unable to read Hebrew? Several factors argue against this conclusion. The Jewish scholars we've just cited clearly recognize Paul's fluency in the language. Furthermore, Paul doesn't always quote from the LXX; passages like Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 demonstrate his familiarity with the Hebrew text. Even Paul's LXX citations (as many as 50 out of 100) demonstrate some variance from the translation, and it's quite possible that he revised the LXX text based on the Hebrew. Finally, Paul's writings demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the Tanakh.

if Paul abandon the Jewish roots of Yeshua's movement and start a pagan religion? David Wenham has addressed these claims in his books Paul and Jesus: The True Story and Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? Wenham observes Paul's strong "familiarity with Jesus' teaching on the Second Coming, on ethical issues, such as divorce, and on ministry issues, such as apostleship" (Paul and Jesus, 181). He also finds an "overall similarity of Jesus' kingdom preaching to Paul's gospel . . . . Both men proclaimed the dawn of God's promised day of salvation. Both believed that God was intervening to bring righteousness, healing and reconciliation to the world. Both called on people to respond to the good news in faith" (Paul: Follower of Jesus?, 70). Wenham finds that Paul's Christology is in complete accord with what Yeshua says about himself. While many of Paul's other teachings generated significant controversy among Yeshua's followers, "there is no hint that his view of Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Son of God was seen as inadequate or unorthodox" (Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus?, 124).

Wenham finds noteworthy "hints" of Pauline doctrine in Yeshua's anticipation of the crucifixion (Paul: Follower of Jesus?, 155). Jesus emphasized that he would have to be crucified (e.g., Matt. 16:21) and even pointed to Isaiah 53 (Luke 22:37). All the sermons in Acts focus on Jesus' death and resurrection (e.g., Acts 2:22-24; 3:13-15; 5:30-31; 7:52; 13:26-31). Although Paul emphasizes the same things in his preaching, he goes beyond Jesus by speaking of the necessity of Christians participating in the suffering and death of Christ. Paul's fuller teaching stems from his different perspective, one that comes after the cross. It's understandable that Paul would build on the foundation of Jesus' and the other apostles' teachings.

Although Paul's teachings on community have a slightly different focus than those of Jesus, Wenham notes that both sets of teachings have "considerable theological continuity, with Jesus looking for a universal kingdom and Paul recognizing the priority of the Jews" (Paul: Follower of Jesus?, 190). Concerning Jesus' return, they "both have a very strong sense that the last days have come. Both see Jesus' death and resurrection as key events in the coming of the future kingdom. Both associate the coming kingdom with the heavenly coming of Jesus. Both decline to specify when the future kingdom will actually arrive, but suggest that its coming will be preceded by a period of witness, suffering, and judgment on the Jewish nation [To this it could be added that both look forward to Israel's final salvation!]" (Paul: Follower of Jesus?,304).

Wenham observes Paul's strong familiarity with Yeshua's ministry:

Paul may well have been familiar with much of the gospel "story" as we know it. He certainly knew resurrection traditions, very probably a form of the passion narrative, and also traditions of Jesus as a miracle worker. He probably knew about Jesus' baptism, about his style of ministry and life, and (a little less certainly) about the transfiguration. He may have known the stories of Jesus' infancy similar to those found in Matthew and Luke, the story of Jesus' temptation, and possibly an ascension story. (Paul: Follower of Jesus?, 371)

These findings demonstrate that Maccoby's thesis is incredibly disingenuous. Paul's writings reveal an intimate familiarity with the teachings, life, death, and resurrection of Yeshua. When Saul initially heard about Jesus, he passionately persecuted his followers. After a mystical encounter withYeshua on the road to Damascus, he was embraced by Yeshua's disciples. The leaders in the early church acknowledged Paul's important role (Acts 15) and he dispelled any doubts about his teaching and personal practices (Acts 21). Rather than putting forth his own teachings as dogma, he consciously distinguished between his own opinions and the commands of the Lord. Far from fabricating Christianity, he passed on what he received (1 Cor. 11:23; 15:3). In fact, his teachings were considered so sound and inspired that other New Testament writers regarded Paul's writings as "Scripture" (2 Pet. 3:16). Furthermore, the second generation of Yeshua's followers generally accepted Paul's teachings as authoritative. The focal points of Paul's preaching reflect those of Jesus himself. All of this goes to show that Paul's teachings are in line with the teachings of Jesus and that he was not the inventor of Christianity.

I am going to give Paul the last word:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James [Jacob], then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born [meaning, born out of due time].
. . . this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. (1 Cor. 15:1-8, 11)

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 188-202.

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If you study world religions, you will see that the teachings of Jesus borrow extensively from Hinduism and Buddhism.

First, all world religions share some common ground. This shouldn't be surprising. As human beings made in God's image, we all have access to God's revelation in creation (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:19-20). Traditions around the world have parallels of biblical accounts (e.g., Noah's flood and the Tower of Babel). Some religious traditions (e.g., Islam) have even used some Jewish and Christian thought in their own teachings. As people pursue God, the laws and proverbs of various traditions are bound to share similarities (e.g., the Golden Rule). It also shouldn't be surprising that different traditions would have similar rites of cleansing and purification.

Second, no evidence suggests that Jesus borrowed from Hinduism and Buddhism. There's no evidence that Jesus visited far Eastern countries to learn these faiths, nor is there evidence that first-century Jews had any significant contact with Hindus or Buddhists.

Third, many of Jesus' teachings differ radically from Hindu and Buddhist doctrine. Jesus taught monotheism, unlike polytheistic Hinduism and atheistic Buddhism. Jesus taught that we each have one life (followed by an eternal afterlife), not that we are reincarnated as Hindus and Buddhists teach. Jesus taught that he was the only way to God, while Hindus and Buddhists are often accepting of other beliefs (provided that they are sufficiently inclusive). Jesus stressed a sin-cleansing new birth; Hindus and Buddhists teach no such concept.

We could cite further proof, but it should be clear that Jesus borrowed nothing from Buddhism or Hinduism.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 202-204.

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Jesus abolished the Law.

Maimonides claims that Yeshua's movement "caused . . . the Torah to be altered." Jesus did not do away with the Torah, but instead fulfilled it. Jesus' fulfillment of the Torah can be demonstrated by analyzing his famous Sermon on the Mount. The core teaching of the sermon is found in Matthew 5:17-7:12. The phrase "law and [or] prophets," found in both 5:17 and 7:12, forms an inclusio or envelope around the body of the sermon.

Consider Matthew 5:17-20:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus' coming didn't annul the Law or the Prophets. In fact, not even "the least stroke of a pen" will be abolished from the Law "until heaven and earth disappear." Jesus exalts the entirety of the Tanakh, both the Law and the Prophets and came to fulfill (Greek, pleroo) them. Jesus himself is the completion or goal of Tanakh. The same verb (pleroo) is used elsewhere in Matthew to indicate Jesus' fulfillment of prophecy (Matt. 1:15; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14, etc.).

Jesus' teaching indicates that some parts of the Torah would reach their intended goal before "heaven and earth disappear" (note the term until that appears twice in v. 18). Laws related to sacrifice, atonement, ritual cleansing, priesthood, and tabernacle/Temple have found their purpose in the Messiah. For Messianic Jews, the destruction of the Temple poses no serious problem for worship. Although the disciples continued to participate in Temple functions after Jesus' crucifixion, they recognized that the aforementioned aspects of the Law had already accomplished their objective. Messianic Jews have a Redeemer who has atoned for sin, but Rabbinic Jews have no Redeemer, no Temple, and no means to offer sacrifices. Rabbinic Jews are incapable of fully obeying the Tanakh as written.

Did Jesus make changes to the Law? Even Rabbinic Judaism has made changes to the Law. According to traditional Jews, when Moses received the written Torah on Mt. Sinai, he also received the oral tradition, which had the dual function of explaining and applying the written text. Rabbis maintain that they have power to create new laws (takkanot, enactments, and gezerot, decrees). For traditional Jews, the Torah is a living document that can be adapted (within strict guidelines) to changing times.

One example of Rabbinic Judaism's adaption of the Torah is related to Numbers 15:37-42, which commands the people of Israel to wear blue tassels (or, fringes) on the corners of their garments. In ancient times, these tassels had four "corners" and were worn out rather than tucked in. Traditional Jews have adapted this command to contemporary culture since the dye used to make the tassels is no longer available andsince clothing styles have changed. Jewish men today wear white tassels with 613 knots (the traditional number of Torah commandments) and wear tallit katans underneath their shirts. If a modern Jew disregarded this newer tradition and produced a garment identical to the one prescribed by the writtenTorah, he would be guilty of breaking the Law! The oral tradition carries equal authority to the written Torah.

The Mishnah notes other changes to the written Law:

When murderers increased in number, the rite of breaking the heifer's neck was abolished [see Deut. 21:1-9] . . . . When adulterers increased in number, the application of the waters of jealousy ceased [see Num. 5:11-31]; R. Jochanan ben Zakkai abolished them, as it is said, I will not punish your daughters when they commit idolatry nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery [Hos. 4:14].

Sometimes, the rabbis simply annulled Torah legislation altogether. Hillel issued an infamous annulment called the prosbul. The Torah required Jews to forgive debts every Sabbatical year (Deut. 15:1-2, 9). Because so many people disobeyed this law, the poor were often unable to receive loans. Hillel believed that maintaining the legislation would result in more harm than good, so he abrogated the law to uphold the rights of the poor.

I'm not ridiculing Rabbinic Judaism; I'm simply observing that changes to the Law are often necessary due to changing circumstances. The Jews are a dispersed people with no Temple, priesthood, or sacrificial system, and the oral tradition serves to guide the people in shifting times and situations.

Although traditional Jews have the oral tradition, Jesus offers us a better way. Observe his approach to the Torah. In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus applies the Torah on a much deeper level than the Torah actually prescribes. The condemnation of murder applies to hateful words and thoughts (5:21-26), the prohibitionof adultery applies to lust (5:27-30), the provision for divorce applies only in the case of sexual immorality (5:31-32), swearing is forbidden – ourword must be our bond (5:33-37), we must set aside our right to retaliation (lex talionis) (5:38-42), and the command to love our neighbor is extended to include even our enemies (5:43-48).

In 6:1-18, Jesus gives his teaching onalmsgiving (6:2-4), prayer (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18). These acts are not to be performed for the sake of public recognition; instead, we should seek the approval of our heavenly Father and perform such deeds privately. The next section, 6:19-34, deals with attitudes toward earthly treasures and concerns. Jesus teaches that we arenot to worry about worldly matters, but instead are to trust that God will provide for us as long as we have righteous priorities (6:33).

In 7:1-5, Jesus tell sus to avoid a judgmental spirit, while in 7:6, he calls us to practice discernment. In 7:7-11, Jesus describes our Heavenly Father's eagerness to answer prayer. Finally, in 7:12, Jesus summarizes the Law and the Prophets (as well as the body of the sermon): "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." Similarly, Hillel famously remarked, "What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it" (b. Shab 31a).

Jesus' teaching was never intended to prescribe specific details for every area of life; instead, Jesus offers general principles to guide our lives. This does not mean that Jesus' teaching is not comprehensive enough to cover every aspect of life, since his teachings can easily be applied to the specific circumstances of one's life.

Jesus' application of the Torah extends beyond the Sermon on the Mount. Consider what Jesus says about the Sabbath. The rabbis argued that, in the Oral Law, God gave Moses 39 subdivisions of labor. As Edersheim notes in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, the Talmud took twenty-four chapters to explain appropriate behavior on the Sabbath! Take a look at Edersheim's brief sampling of Sabbath legislation:

The tractate on the Sabbath begins with regulations extending its provisions to the close of the Friday afternoon, so as to prevent the possibility of infringing the Sabbath itself, which commenced on the Friday evening. As the most common kind of labor would be that of carrying, this is the first point discussed. The Biblical Law forbade such labor in simple terms (Exodus 36:6; comp. Jeremiah 17:22). But Rabbinism developed the prohibition into eight special ordinances, by first dividing 'the bearing of a burden' into two separate acts—lifting it up and putting it down—and then arguing, that it might be lifted up or put down from two different places, from a public into a private, or from a private into a public place. Here, of course, there are discussions as to what constituted a 'private place' . . . 'a public place' . . . ; ' a wide space,' which belongs neither to a special individual or to a community, such as the sea, a deep wide valley, or else the corner of a property leading out on the road or fields, and—lastly, a 'legally free place.' Again, a 'burden' meant, as the lowest standard of it, the weight of 'a dried fig.' But if 'half a fig' were carried at two different times—lifted or deposited from a private into a public place, or vice versa—were these two actions to be combined into one so as to constitute the sin of Sabbath desecration? And if so, under what conditions as to state of mind, locality, etc.? And, lastly, how many different sins might one such act involve? To give an instance of the kind of questions that were generally discussed. The standard measure for forbidden food was the size of an olive, just as that for carrying burdens was the weight of a fig. If a man swallowed forbidden food of the size of half an olive, rejected it, and again eaten of the size of half an olive, he would be guilty, because the palate had altogether tasted food to the size of a whole olive; but if one had deposited in another locality a burden of the weight of a half a fig, and removed it again, it involved no guilt, because the burden was altogether only of half a fig, nor even if the first half fig's burden had been burnt and then a second half fig introduced. Similarly, if an object that was intended to be worn or carried in front had slipped behind it involved no guilt, but if it had been intended to be worn or carried behind, and it slipped forward, this involved guilt, as involving labor.

Similar difficulties were discussed as to the reverse. Whether, if an object were thrown from a private into a public place, or the reverse. Whether, if an object was thrown into the air with the left, and caught again in the right hand, this involved sin, was a nice question, though there could be no doubt a man incurred guilt if he caught it with the same hand from which it had been thrown, but he was not guilty if he caught it in his mouth, since, after being eaten, the object no longer existed, and hence catching with the mouth was as if it had been done by a second person. Again, if it rained, and the water which fell from the sky were carried, there was no sin in it; but if the rain had run down from a wall it would involve sin. If a person were in one place, and his hand filled with fruit stretched into another, and the Sabbath overtook him in this attitude, he would have to drop the fruit, since if he withdrew his full hand from one locality into another, he would be carrying a burden on the Sabbath. (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,2:681-82)

Unquestionably, you who are traditional Jews have honored the Sabbath far more than other groups of Jews; however, let's not forget that the Torah prescribes capital punishment for Sabbath violations! Should the power of life and death really be established through 24 chapters of detailed regulations?

How extensive are contemporary Sabbath regulations? Take a look at this brief sampling from an extensive three-volume set:

  1. It is permissible to scratch one's head or beard lightly, and one need not be afraid that one might thereby pull out some of the hairs.
  2. It is also permissible to extract the remains of food stuck in one's beard, so long as one takes care not to pull out any of the hair.
  1. One is allowed to remove loose dandruff from one's hair with one's hand, but
  2. one must be careful not to remove dandruff which is still attached to the skin.
.
  1. One may neither
    1. comb one's hair, nor
    2. brush one's hair with a hard brush. . . .
    1. While one is permitted to tidy one's hair a little with a soft brush which is not likely to pull out any of the hair,
    2. it is advisable to keep this brush especially for Shabbath and Yom Tov (holy days), so that there is a recognizable distinction between the way in which one brushes one's hair on a normal weekday and the way in which one does so on Shabbath and Yom Tov.

A married woman who has forgotten to comb her hair before Shabbath or Yom Tov, as is required before going to the mikveh (ritual bath) on Shabbath or Yom Tov, should consult a qualified rabbinical authority who will tell her how to proceed in the circumstances (Neuwirth, Shemirath Shabbath, 1:160-61).

  1. On Shabbath and Yom Tov one is not allowed to cut, trim or file nails, whether with scissors, a nail file or any other instrument or by biting them.
  2. Similarly, small pieces of skin which are peeling off around the fingernail or any other part of the body, but which are still connected, may not be pulled or cut off with an instrument, by hand or even with the teeth.
  3. Nonetheless, if
    1. the end of a nail has become detached for most of its width and is, therefore, close to coming offand
    2. it is causing, or one is afraid that it will cause, pain, it may be removed, either by hand or with the teeth, but not with an instrument.

A married woman who has forgotten to cut her fingernails or toenails before Shabbath or Yom Tov, as is required before going to the mikveh (ritual bath) on Shabbath or Yom Tov, should consult a qualified rabbinical authority who will tell her how to proceed, according to the circumstances of the case (Neuwirth, Shemirath Shabbath, 1:162).

  1. One is allowed, on Shabbath, to wash one's face, hands and feet or other individual parts of the body, in water which was heated before Shabbath.
  2. One is generally not allowed to wash or shower the whole, or the major part, of one's body in such water, even if one does so bit by bit.
  3. A person who is used to washing the whole of his body in warm water every day and will suffer extreme discomfort should he not do so, or someone who is ill, may wash the whole of his body, even on Shabbath, in warm water, provided that it was heated before Shabbath.
  4. Anyone washing himself on Shabbath should take care to avoid squeezing water out of his hair (Neuwirth, Shemirath Shabbath, 1:150).

If, upon opening an electric refrigerator on Shabbath or Yom Tov, one finds that the internal light has automatically been switched on,

  1. this does not make it forbidden to eat the food inside, but
  2. one should consult a qualified rabbinical authority about what to do with regard to closing the door of the refrigerator again (Neuwirth, Shemirath Shabbath, 1:103).
  1. No fruit may be squeezed either
    1. into an empty vessel or
    2. into a liquid.
  2. This prohibition applies regardless of whether the fruit is squeezed
    1. by means of an instrument or
    2. by hand.
  3. Common examples are
    1. squeezing lemons,
    2. squeezing oranges,
    3. squeezing the juice out of shredded carrots and
    4. chopping up fruit to such an extent that it becomes liquefied.
  4. On the other hand, lemon may be sliced and put into a drink, such as tea or cold water, even though some of the juice will come out by itself, but
    1. it is forbidden to squeeze the lemon with one's hand or with a spoon even while it is in the drink and,
    2. on Shabbath, one must be careful that the drink should either
      1. have a temperature of less than 45 degrees centigrade (113 degrees Fahrenehit) or
      2. be in a keli shelishi [Lit., " a third vessel," which is defined as, "A pot or other vessel into which food is transferred from akeli sheini," lit., "a second vessel," which is defined as, "A pot or other vessel into which food is transferred from the vessel in which it was cooked."] (Neuwirth, Shemirath Shabbath, 1:66)

Is this really what God meant when he established the Sabbath law? The Torah prohibits anyone from adding to or removing God's laws (Deut. 4:2; 12:32), but these regulations unquestionably add to God's laws!

Some of the Talmudic Sabbath regulations were likely in development during Yeshua's ministry. In response to his repeated butting of heads with the religious leaders, Jesus taught the following principles:

The Sabbath as a day of liberation from bondage. Consider Deuteronomy 5:15:"Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." Ironically, the religious leaders turned this day of liberation into a day of further bondage. They frequently criticized Yeshua for healing weak or crippled people on the Sabbath. Jesus responded that even a practicing Jew would untie his donkey on the Sabbath so that it could drink (Luke 13:15) or rescue his sheep from a pit (Matt. 12:11-12). How much more important arethe needs of hurting people than those of donkeys and sheep? In spite of Jesus' tremendous miracles, the religious leaders declared that he was "not from God" (John 9:16b), and even plotted to kill Jesus after one Sabbath healing (Mark 3:6)!

The Sabbath as a time of true spiritual rest. The Pharisees condemned Jesus' disciples for plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-2). In the preceding verses, Matthew records this teaching: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). Yeshua is the fulfillment of Sabbath rest. He grants his followers daily rest, for they are free from the guilt of sin. We honor the Sabbath not by diligently attending to countless legal minutiae and manmade traditions, but through a heart that has found its rest in Yeshua by following the essence of the Law in loving God and neighbor.

The Messiah is Lord of the Sabbath.In Matthew 12:1-14, Yeshua teaches thatsince the Temple priests can lawfully work for God on the Sabbath, Yeshua's followers can sometimes do the same. Jesus cites Hosea 6:6 to show that God "prefers a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual" (Matt. 12:6-7, The Message). Vincent Taylor summarizes the meaning of these verses by explaining,"Since the Sabbath was made for man, He who is man's Lord . . . has authority to determine its law and use"(cited in Walter W. Wessel, "Mark," EBC, 8:638). Yeshua's teaching gives real meaning to the Sabbath, far more than never-ending sets of rules and traditions.

Clearly, Jesus didn't abolish the Law. AsDouglas J. Moo explains,

Jesus was quick to clarify that his authority did not negate the role of the Law in salvation history. But he also made it clear that this authority involved the right not only to exposit, add to or deepen the Law, but to make demands of his people independent of that Law. . . . The Law, God's great gift to Israel, anticipated and looked forward to the eschatological teaching of God's will that Jesus brought. This teaching, not the Law, is the focus of the Gospels, and the Law remains authoritative for the disciple of Jesus only insofar as it is taken up into his own teaching. ("Law," 461)

The Law and the Prophets are ultimately fulfilled in Yeshua, and this fulfillment necessitated certain changes. Should change always be utterly opposed? Many of the Torah commands can only be obeyed if Israel is in the land under the sacrificial system. This means that we can only obey 7 of the 22 Torah 'olam ("forever") commandments and only 9 of the 29 "throughout your generations" commandments. Out of these fifty-one commandments that are either said to be "forever" or "throughout our generations," we have not been able to keep more than three-quarters of them for the last 1,900 years! Either an important change took place before the destruction of the Temple, allowing us to worship God properly, or we have been on the wrong path for centuries! Since Jesus knew that the Temple would be destroyed, making us unable to keep many of the Torah's commands, he shed his blood to bring in the new covenant, and he has poured out his gift of the Holy Spirit. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, his body is the new Temple, he is our great high priest, and he has offered up the perfect sacrifice of himself once and for all. If you are still unconvinced, remember that the prophets predicted that Messiah's coming would bring about changes in applying the Law (e.g., Zech. 8:18-19).

Now that Yeshua has fulfilled the Law, he, not the Law, is our primary focus. As a result of Yeshua, many Jews who had formerly been secular have started observing the Sabbath and other Jewish feasts in honor of the God of Israel. They don't do so out of obligation, but out of a heart moved by the Spirit. They know what the freedom of the Sabbath really means: freedom from sin through the sacrifice of Yeshua, our paschal lamb. Have you experienced this Sabbath freedom?

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 204-236.

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Paul abolished the Law.

Several of Paul's statements could be construed as abrogating the Law:

For he [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Eph. 2:14-16)

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Rom. 3:20)

It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. (Rom. 4:13-15)

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)

For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Rom. 7:5-6)

For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. (Rom. 7:8b-9)

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4)

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:56-57)

We who are Jews by birth and not "Gentile sinners"know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Gal. 2:15-16)

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." (Gal. 3:10-13)

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Gal. 3:23-25)

You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal. 5:4)

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. (Gal. 5:18)      

          However, Paul also praised the Law in many of these same contexts:

For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Rom. 2:13)

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth . . . You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? (Rom. 2:17-20, 23)

Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. (Rom. 2:25)

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Rom. 3:1-2)

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe . . . Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Rom 3:21-22, 33)

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! (Rom. 6:15)

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." . . . So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. . . . We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. . . . And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. . . . For in my inner being I delight in God's law . . . So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. . . the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. (Rom. 7:7, 12, 14, 16, 22, 25a; 8:7)

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4)

For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts (Rom. 10:4, Jewish New Testament; note that this verse was cited, above, from the NIV).

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. . . .Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:8, 10)

Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses . . . (1 Cor. 9:8-9b)

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. (Gal. 3:21)

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. (1 Tim. 1:8)

Not only did Paul praise the Law, but he also continued to observe the Law even after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul affirmed before King Agrippa, "The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem" (Acts 26:4). He told the Jewish leaders in Rome, "My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans" (Acts 28:17).

Paul responded to his life-changing experience with Yeshua by "preach[ing] in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20). Whenever Paul traveled to a city with the gospel, he would almost always start by preaching in the synagogue. Paul was only able to do this because he and his associates were identifiably Jewish.

Acts 18:18 records Paul's observance of a Jewish vow, "Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken." Paul also denied the charge that he taught Jews to disregard the Law; he eagerly joined in Jewish purification rites to establish his innocence on this charge:

Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality." The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. (Acts 21:20-26)

In Acts 15, Paul asserted that Gentiles were under no obligation to observe the Torah. However, he still assumed that Jews would observe the Torah!

When Paul stood trial before the Sanhedrin, he declared, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead" (Acts 23:6). This declaration caused a "dispute" to break out "between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided" (v.7). There's no question that, even as a believer in Yeshua, Paul never ceased to identify himself as a Torah-observant Pharisee.

Now that we've examined Paul's faithful observance of the Law, let's look at his theology of the Law. When we find passages that seem to abrogate the Law, we must ask, "Who was Paul's original audience?" In Galatians, Paul was largely addressing Gentiles. False teachers in Galatia insisted that Gentiles be circumcised and follow the Torah to obtain God's favor. Paul askedthe Gentile believers, "Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?" (Gal. 3:2). He also declared, "For in Messiah Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Gal. 5:6). The Gentiles didn't need to be circumcised or follow the Law to enjoy fellowship with God since circumcised Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles are equals in God's family. Paul didn't tell Jews to stop following the Law! In 1 Corinthians 7:17-18,Paul teaches, "Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the [congregations]. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised." Paul never encouragedeither Jews or Gentiles to abandon their respective lifestyles.

In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul states, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Messiah." Just as in Galatians, the audience here is Gentile believers. Peter O'Brien points out the particular problem in Colossae: holydays were observed for the sake of "astral powers who directed the course of the stars and regulated the order of the universe"(Colossians, Philemon, 139). This passage doesn't teach Jews to abandon their observance of the Sabbath and sacred holidays.

While there's some controversy surrounding Paul's audience in Romans, virtually no one asserts that Romans addresses only Jewish believers. When Paul says, "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike" (Rom. 14:5), his remarks should be understood in the context of Jewish and Gentile believers worshipping side-by-side; his comments are not an attack on the Law.

Perhaps more difficult is Ephesians 2:15, where Paul states that Jesus "abolish[ed] in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations." It is important to keep in mind the subject that is being discussed, to understand the relationship between this teaching and Paul's broader teaching on the Law, and to analyze the precise meaning of the phrase, "the law with its commandments and regulations." First, the topic of discussion in this passage is the division between Jews and Gentiles. Uncircumcised Gentiles "who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ" (v. 14). The Law is "abolished" insofar as the partition between Jew and Gentile is lifted through Yeshua. Second, Paul's statement here must be understood in light of what he says elsewhere concerning the Law (e.g., Rom. 3:31), which clearly teaches that the Law has not been rescinded by Yeshua. Third, the phrase "the law with its commandments and regulations" occurs only here in the New Testament. Many believe that the reference is not to the Torah itself, but to legalism. This understanding fits the context, for legalism separated Jew and Gentile with its manmade additions to the Torah. For these reasons, Ephesians 2:15 ought not to be interpreted as a literal abolishment of all of the Law, but as an abolishment of the laws which serve as an addendum to the essence of the Law, which is fulfilled by Jesus.

Paul's issues with the Torah largely stem from the human inability to keep it. Because of this inability, God promised to make a new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). The Messiah came to fulfill the Law, which we could never perfectly obey. "Everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" is "cursed" (Gal. 3:10; cf. Deut. 27:26 LXX). Therefore, our justification before God is not of works, but of faith in the Messiah that God sent (Rom. 1:16-17). We must rely on the Messiah who "became a curse" for us so that we would be "redeemed from the curse of the law" (Gal. 3:13; cf. Deut. 21:23).

The coming of the Messiah isn't a summons to throw away the Law, but a summons to stop observing it as a means of justification. Thanks to the Messiah, there is no room for boasting in one's observance of the Law (Rom. 3:27-31). Our position before God is to be freely received as a gift:

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
"Blessed are they
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." (Rom. 4:4-8, citing Ps. 32:1-2)

In this light, Romans 6:14 ("For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace") makes perfect sense. Paul makes it clear that "if righteousness could be gained through the law, Messiah died for nothing!" (Gal. 2:21). These passages indicate that true righteousness and fellowship with God don't come through Law-keeping, but come through faith in the Messiah.

Naturally, these Messianic ideas are quite different from the teachings of traditional Judaism. Messianic Jews believe that Messiah has already come whereas traditional Jews are still expecting him to come for the first time; these two perspectives lead to two very different approaches to the Torah. Consider Galatians 3:23-25:

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Messiah that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

In this passage, Paul is not throwing out the Law; he's simply recognizing the Messiah's fulfillment of the Law.

Many Messianic Jewish scholars believe that Paul's apparent rhetoric that is seemingly directed against the Law is actually directed against legalism. Consider how David Stern translates some of these controversial passages: "legalistic observance of Torah commands" (Rom. 3:20, JNT); "you are not under legalism" (Rom. 6:14, JNT); "in subjection to the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism" (Gal. 3:23, JNT). Stern points to Paul's "death to the Torah" in Romans 7 as referring to "(1) its capacity to stir up sin in him (vv. 5-14), (2) its capacity to produce irremediable guilt feelings (vv. 15-25), and (3) its penalties, punishments, and curses (8:1-14)" (Stern, JNTC, 375).

Other Christian scholars often relate Paul's Torah concerns to salvation history. These scholars may not appreciate the continuing significance of the Torah, but they correctly acknowledge that the Messiah's coming changed everything. Finnish scholar Risto Santala quotes Jewish Professor Joseph Klausner, "The Torah and commandments lose their significance in the days of the Messiah" (Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel, cited in Risto Santala, Paul the Man and the Teacher). For Santala, the main issue isn't Paul's view of the Law, but his claims about Yeshua. The Messianic age has brought about great changes.

I close with three considerations.

First, many of Paul's statements about the Law reveal the breakdown of ethnic barriers. For instance, in Romans 10:4, the "end" of the Law could mean "termination," but it could also mean "fulfillment." Dunn explains, "Israel had after all been specially chosen by God . . . but that choice had always been wholly in terms of grace (9:6-13) and always had the extension of that grace to all the nations wholly in view from the first (4:16-18), in which case Christ is the realization of God's final purpose in choosing Israel initially" (Romans 9-16, 597). Jews cannot claim exclusive access to God; the Messiah has made God's grace available to all peoples. Paul generated great controversy by promoting one body of equals composed of both Jews and Gentiles.

Second, Paul stressed the superiority of the new covenant over the old covenant:

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Cor. 3:7-11)

The letter to the Hebrews constantly refers to the new covenant as "better" (7:22; 8:6; 9:23; 11:40; 12:24, etc.). Whereas the covenant at Sinai condemned us to death for our sin, the new covenant brings us life. Whereas the covenant at Sinai demands a functioning high priest and sacrificial system, the new covenant offers its own high priest and once-for-all sacrifice (Heb. 7:23-25; 10:1-10, etc.). In the new covenant, God himself has provided atonement for man's sins; this divine method of atonement is farmore capable of bringing about reconciliation than servile obedience to the endless Rabbinic traditions.

Third, texts like Isaiah 2:1-4 ("The law will go out from Zion") don't indicate the centrality of the Pentateuch in the Messiah's ministry. "Law" can refer generally to "instruction," not simply to the five books of Moses. The Messiah himself is central both now and in the future age (Isa. 2:4; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6; Ezek. 34:20-31); he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 236-265.

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The Torah is forever, every jot and tittle, and only traditional Jews keep it. In fact, even the so-called new covenant of Jeremiah 31 says that God will put the Torah in our hearts. Therefore, since Jesus abolished the Torah, he cannot be the Messiah.

We've already shown that Jesus didn't abolish the Torah. God didn't just give revelation at Mt. Sinai; he also gave revelation to the prophets, who predicted a time when God would make a new covenant with his people, forgiving their sins and enabling them to obey his Law. The Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, but God never intended that we would be incapable of keeping his Law for over 1,900 years; instead, he sent the Messiah who perfectly fulfilled the Law. Yeshua is the one to whom the Law and the Prophets ultimately point. Just as Rabbinic Jews see the Torah through the prism of their traditions, so we see the Torah through the prism of Jesus, the promised Messiah; the difference is that by interpreting the Torah in light of Jesus, Messianic Jews are able to uphold the permanent validity of the Torah, especially those aspects which impossible for traditional Jews to keep.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 265-266.

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Anyone who changes the Law—no matter what signs or wonders he performs—is a false prophet. That applies to Jesus!

When you hurl this accusation at Jesus, remember that the Rabbinic writings make significant alterations to the Torah. Traditional Jews argue that Moses received both the written Law and the oral tradition at Mt. Sinai. Maimonides contended, apart from any support from the Tanakh, that the Messiah would be "learned in Torah and observant of the mitzvoth, as prescribed by the written law and the oral law" (Hilchot Melachim, 11:4, emphasis added). Orthodox Jews hold that their adjustments to the Law are essential due to the dispersion of the people and destruction of the Temple; yet the fact remains that God explicitly demands that nothing be added to or taken away from the Law (Deut. 4:2; 12:32).

Jesus didn't abolish the Law, but fulfilled it and instituted the new covenant. Jesus' miracles confirm his Messianic claims. He said, "The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me . . . . Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father" (John 10:25, 38). The disciples continued performing miracles, proving that Jesus had risen from the dead in fulfillment of prophecy (Isa. 53:8-12; Ps. 16:8-11; 22:20-31).Yes, the dawning of the Messianic era has brought about great changes. Nevertheless, Jesus confirmed the truthfulness of his message by performing great signs and wonders. The Rabbinic writers performed no such miracles.

The Torah indicates that Moses's message was also confirmed through miracles, when it states that "no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel" (Deut. 34:12). Rabbinic Judaism often compares Moses Maimonides to Moses, even though Maimonides never performed any miracles. Yeshua, on the other hand, did perform miracles, and his signs are a tremendous testimony to his claims.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 266-269.

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Observance of the Sabbath has been the hallmark of the Jewish people, separating us from other nations and identifying us with the covenant of God. Since Christianity changed the Sabbath, Christianity is obviously not for the Jewish people.

I commend you who are traditional Jews for your strenuous Sabbath observance. Although such observance cannot make us righteous (Rom. 9:31), the presence of Sabbath-observing Jews in the world is a sign of God's promise to preserve his people. While Jesus took issue with many of the hypocritical practices of the religious leaders, he praised them for their rigorous obedience to certain commands (Matt. 23:23). At the same time, your noble dedication to the Sabbath has caused you to take issue with Christianity. Many Jews are under the impression that Christianity does away with the Sabbath and that for this reason, it is impossible for a traditional Jew toembrace Yeshua.

As we've seen, neither Jesus nor Paul abolished the Law; to the contrary, both men rigorously obeyed the Law. Jesus exposed faulty human traditions that took away from the meaning of the Sabbath and instead opened up the deepest, most spiritual aspects of the Sabbath.Throughout the history of Yeshua's movement, we find Jewish believers observing the Sabbath, just as we find in our day.

Gentile influence prompted later church councils to change the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday; however, this change has no biblical basis. When the early churches gathered for worship on Sundays, such gatherings didn't replace the Sabbath. Torah-observant Jews worshipped on Saturdays and Sundays.

What is problematic about Gentile believers worshipping on Sunday? The Sabbath is a sign to Israel (Ezek. 20:12-21), not to the Gentiles. Some Christians (such as Seventh Day Adventists) argue that Gentiles are obligated to observe the Sabbath as a creation mandate (Gen. 2:1-3), but this is not a common view. The practice of Gentile Christians worshipping on Sundays takes nothing away from Jesus' Messianic claims.

What do we make of Jewish believers in Yeshua who don't practice the Sabbath? Some would argue that they're failing to meet their covenant obligations. Others would say that, since Yeshua has fulfilled the Torah, Jewish believers have already entered into the Messiah's Sabbath rest. Whichever wayyou look at it, one thingis certain: you too can experience the Messiah's rest, a rest that transcends weekly observance of the Sabbath (Matt. 11:28-30).

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 269-273.

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According to Mark 7:19, Jesus abolished the dietary laws.

In Acts 10, God-fearing Gentile Cornelius has a vision of an angel who instructs him to seek Jesus' disciple Peter. Peter subsequently receives this vision:

He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (Acts 10:11-16)

This text isn't a divine imperative to eat treif (unclean food). Peter would later recall the vision's significance: "God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean" (Acts 10:28). Notice Peter's response to Jesus' instructions: "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean" (Acts 10:14). The fact that Peter (a key source of information for Mark's Gospel) continued to refrain from treif even after Yeshua's resurrection is very significant.

In order to understand Mark 7:19 (cf. Matt. 15), we have to understand its context. While Yeshua was healing the sick (6:53-56), the Pharisees took issue with his disciples, who ate with ritually unwashed (or "unclean") hands (7:1-5). In response, Jesus condemnedthe Pharisees for placing their manmade traditions above God's Law, explaining, "Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean'" (7:15). Jesus then said to his disciples, "Are you so dull? Don't you see that nothing enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body," prompting Mark to observe, "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean'" (7:17-19). The application of the teaching is seen in the latter part of the chapter, which describes Jesus' mercy toward a Gentile ("unclean") woman.

If Mark 7:19 had in fact abrogated dietary laws, Jesus' own disciples didn't get the message. Multitudes of their Jewish converts to Jesus were "zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20). John Fischer comments, "His [Jesus'] detractors had just accused him of not observing their traditions, and he had responded that they did far worse; they did not observe the commandments of the Torah (vv. 9-13). To choose this time to set aside other commandments of the Torah would have undercut his whole response" ("Jesus through Jewish Eyes").

Among the various interpretations of Mark 7:19 that have been proposed are the following:

  1. All foods are, in and of themselves, "clean." Jesus' teaching was not a summons to consume pork, but a revelation of a crucial spiritual truth for the disciples' ministry to the Gentiles (see also Rom. 14:1-23; 1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:25-33; 1 Tim. 4:4).
  2. Jesus wasn't talking about treif, but about foods eaten by unwashed hands, which were deemed unclean only by Pharisaical tradition, not by the Law.
  3. Jesus declared all foods clean for Gentiles only.
  4. The Messianic age has removed the barrier between Jew and Gentile, rendering the dietary laws obsolete; however, the disciples continued to observe the dietary laws long after the events of Mark 7. An undoing of these laws would also contradict Jesus' denunciation of the Pharisees.
  5. The verb katharizo doesn't mean, "declare clean," but, "purge." The phrase "out of his body" (NIV) literally means, "out into the sewer." Foods don't go into a man's heart, but they're purged out of the body and into the sewer. This view does little to explain other New Testament statements that seem to do away with the dietary laws. It also fails to grasp the implications of Yeshua's teachings.

Out of these interpretations, the first is the best. Jesus didn't abolish the dietary laws, but changed his disciples' relationship to these laws. In some situations, it would be better for the disciples to consume unclean food than to miss opportunities for ministry with Gentiles. Mark 7 teaches that Jewish and Gentile believers in Yeshua are equals in God's family.

Let's look at other New Testament passages that, at first glance, appear to abolish the dietary laws:

  1. Romans 14:14 says, "As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food [lit., "nothing"] is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean." Three views have been offered:(1) Paul is simply telling believers not to judge each other,(2) Paul is noting the conflict between Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua, and (3) Paul is saying that we can eat anything thanks to the changes brought about by the Messiah's coming.
  2. 1 Corinthians 10:25-26 says, "Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, 'The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.'" Paul addresses Gentiles, who faced the question of whether to eat meat sold in the market that might have been offered to an idol. These Gentiles weren't subject to the Mosaic Law.
  3. 1 Timothy 4 condemns demonically-motivated teachers who "forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth" (v. 3). Some interpret this to mean that all foods, even those restricted by the Law, should now be consumed with thanksgiving. Others argue that, since the food is "consecrated by the word of God and prayer" (v. 5), Paul's teaching applies only to foods permitted under the Law.

Even if you take the above texts to mean that the New Testament abrogates the dietary laws, consider the Midrash to Psalm 146:7, "Some say that every creature that is considered unclean in the present world, the Holy One blessed be He will declare clean in the age to come" (Midrash Tehillim 146:4). It could be argued, then, that the inauguration of the Messianic era rightly brought about changes in the dietary code.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 273-282.

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If the death of Jesus really inaugurated the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet, then why hasn't it been fulfilled?

We deal elsewhere with the objection, "If Jesus is really the Messiah, why isn't there peace on earth?" The answer is that Jesus' first coming fulfilled a different set of prophecies. He's both king and priest: he atoned for the sins of the world. You've seen only the first act of the play; the second is yet to come!

According to the Talmudic timetable, "The world will exist six thousand years. Two thousand years of desolation [Adam to Abraham]; two thousand years of Torah [Abraham to the Common Era]; and two thousand years of the Messianic era [roughly the last two thousand years!]; but because our iniquities were many, all this has been lost" (Sanh 97a-b). A well-known error in the Seder Olam chronology places the anticipated start of the Messianic age at approximately 70 CE, forty years after Messiah was crucified and rose from the dead. According to the Vilna Gaon, "Although the Jews had not merited Mashiach's coming by their deeds, nevertheless the Era of Mashiach had indeed arrived at its appointed time. At 'the midpoint of the world' God began turning the wheels of history to insure the ultimate arrival of the scion of David" (Feldman, The Juggler and the King, 146).

Of course, the Gaon didn't believe that the Messiah had comeor that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but he did correctly identifythe start of the Messianic era. Is it more logical to assume that the Messianic era began with no Messiah or with the Messiah?

Returning to the new covenant, let's look at the pertinent text in Jeremiah:

"The time is coming," declares the LORD,
"when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,"
declares the LORD.
"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more." (Jer. 31:31-34)

The letter to the Hebrews cites this passage to describe Yeshua's inauguration of the new covenant (Heb. 8:7-12). It seems, however, that not all of these promises have been fulfilled. Israel has not received universal forgiveness, nor has she become completely compliant with God's laws. The truth of the matter is that anti-missionaries frequently fail to consider all the implications of the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, including (1) the physical return of the exiles to the land, (2) their blessed resettlement there, (3) their spiritual renewal and restoration, and (4) the glorious reign of the Messianic king. S. R. Driver summarizes Jeremiah's prophecies:

Not only does he promise what actually came to pass: the return of the exiles to the territories of Benjamin and Judah, and the resumption there of the interrupted social state, in which again, as of old, the sounds of joy and life would be heard in the villages (xxx. 18f.; xxxiii. 10f.), shepherds would again tend their flocks (xxxiii. 12f.), and houses and fields would again be bought and sold by the restored exiles (xxxii. 15, 44).. . .The restored nation is pictured as returning to Yahweh 'with it[s] whole heart' (xxiv. 7; cf. xxix. 13); . . . the iniquity of Israel will be forgiven and remembered no more (xxxi. 34b, xxxiii. 8; cf. l. 20). (Driver, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, xxxix-xli)

Certainly, Jeremiah's prophecies concerning the exiles were fulfilled, though not with the scope he would have expected. Jesus' inauguration of the new covenant follows a similar pattern. I note in my commentary:

The historic event serves as the deposit and down payment of the future event, the former guaranteeing the latter, with the return from Babylon in the late sixth century BC serving as the "first coming home," while the final, eschatological return will serve as the "second coming home," similar to the Messiah's first and second comings. So also with the establishing of the new covenant: It did begin, as promised—the "days are coming" oracles cannot be pushed into the eschaton in their entirety—but touching a much smaller group of people than expected and still not in its full force. (Brown, "Jeremiah,""Excursus on the Fulfillment of the New Covenant [31:31-34])

Prophecies of the Messiah and prophecies of Israel's return from exile are interwoven in many of the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures. It's exegetically unsustainable to assert that the former are restricted to the distant future, while the latter were fulfilled in the distant past. We must acknowledge that, while both the return from exile and the new covenant have been fulfilled, they were not fulfilled to the extent originally anticipated. Both elements are being fulfilled in deeper ways in our own day than in times past, as the nation of Israel has been reconstituted and Yeshua's movement continues to grow, even among Jews. Note, again, my commentary:

It is actually this [Christological] reading that provides the template for interpreting all the restoration from exile promises in Jer, promises which include: (1) the physical return of the exiles to the land; (2) their blessed resettlement there; (3) their spiritual renewal and restoration; (4) the glorious reign of the Messianic king. Each of these promises has a historic, partial fulfillment, beginning in the 530's BC, when the first wave of exiles returned home and when Jerusalem was initially rebuilt, and each of these promises has a future, ultimate fulfillment which awaits the end of the age. . . . At that time—at the eschaton--there will be a final, supernatural regathering of Israel's remaining exiles, a Jewish return to God of national proportions, the Messiah's second coming, the establishing of God's kingdom on the earth, and the final, glorious rebuilding of Jerusalem. The promises in the late sixth century BC would have the quality of "already/not yet"—to borrow George Eldon Ladd's terminology—signifying that the time of redemption had begun but its final consummation was still to come. . . . As noted in the discussion of several key passages (see 23:5-8; 24:5-7; 30:8-9; 31:38-40; 32:37-42; 50:4-5), it is clear that something monumental was expected in the aftermath of the Babylonian exile, something of even greater proportion than the destruction itself, yet those hopes, articulated by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, among others, were not fully realized. And since it is impossible to dismiss these oracles as extreme examples of prophetic hyperbole, while readers who accept the Scriptures as inspired must recognize some level of historic fulfillment of the time-related prophecies (in other words, prophecies that had to come to pass within a certain historical framework), it is the Christological reading alone, a reading that recognizes that we have been in a "transition age" for two millennia, that satisfies the criteria.

So then, just as the return from exile did take place after seventy years, as prophesied, although not with the expected glory, so also the Messianic era began and the new covenant was established, only not with the expected glory. (Brown, "Jeremiah," EBC)

While the New Testament writers may not always refer to the new covenant directly, they frequently make mention of "new" things: a new birth (1 Pet. 1:3), a new command (John 13:34), a new life (Acts 5:20), a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), a new order (Heb. 9:10), a new way (Heb. 10:20), and a new heaven and earth (2 Pet. 3:13). While our full redemption will come in the future, believers in Messiah have new life due to God's Word being written in their hearts just as Jeremiah promised. The new birth is the answer to our struggle to please God and obey his Law on our own. If you've struggled to obey God's Law in your own strength, consider the testimony of Charles Wesley:

Long my imprison'd spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night:
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose went forth, and follow'd Thee.

No condemnation now I dread
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine:
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach th' eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ, my own. ("And Can It Be?" in Psalms and Hymns)

I can personally attest to the power of the new covenant. Although I was strongly addicted to heroin and other drugs, on December 17, 1971, Yeshua took away my sin and guilt, and I was given a new heart and a new desire to do God's will. Similarly, an Indian friend of mine, Br. P. Yesupadam, was an alcoholic and an atheistic communist who was raised in the caste of the untouchables. When he had a vision of Jesus, he was converted from a life of hatred and violence to a life of love. He's now a compassionate man who reaches out to the needy. Millions of others can testify to the power of the new covenant! We understand what it means to "know the LORD" and to have our sins completely forgiven (Jer. 31:34).

You might say, "But what about the fact that God promised to write the Torah in our hearts in the new covenant?" This should not be understood as a reference to the Talmudic explanations of the new covenant. In my commentary, I contest:

It is commonly pointed out that the new covenant oracle did not envisage a change in the content of the divine law (tôrâ, rendered "Teaching" by NJV here and in verses such as Josh 1:8). . . . Rather, the difference between the Sinaitic covenant and the new covenant would be in the response of the people, obedient by nature rather than recalcitrant. Certainly, the text itself does not state that there will be a new Torah, nor would other passages in Jer explicitly point to such a change. However, three observations should be borne in mind: First, it is unlikely that those hearing or reading this oracle over the centuries would have even raised the question of, "Will this be the same law/teaching or a different law/teaching?" The sweeping, wonderful nature of the promises would overshadow any such thought. . . . Second, the radical newness described here and in the previous oracles is so comprehensive that it would be fair to ask whether there would be any changes in the way the people of Israel would live and the way they would relate to God. . . . Third, it follows then, with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the banishing of the Jews from Jerusalem in 135 AD, that many Torah texts had to be reinterpreted and/or reapplied, as a result of which Jewish observance in the fifth century BC looked very different than Jewish observance in the fifth century AD, the latter heavily influenced by the developing Talmudic traditions. Yet this was not an intentional deviation from the Torah on the part of the rabbinic sages but rather an attempt to maintain allegiance to the Torah despite national upheaval. In the same way, the New Testament Scriptures offer a different way to maintain allegiance to the Torah (specifically, for the Jewish people, while providing a way for Gentile believers to relate to God's law), claiming that radical changes were intended by God with the coming of the new covenant, changes, however, that may not have been fully implemented or even realized by Yeshua's Jewish followers until the temple was destroyed.(Brown, "Jeremiah," EBC)

In summary, Jesus himself has ratified the new covenant. Don't keep waiting for the new covenant to come; it's here already!

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, pp. 282-299.

 

Traditional Objections

  • We have an unbroken chain of oral tradition going back to Moses.

    Read Answer…

  • The Written Torah refers to "Torahs" in the plural: written and oral.

    Read Answer…

  • The Torah is unintelligible without the rabbinic traditions.

    Read Answer…

  • The rabbis have the sole authority to interpret the Law.

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  • Anyone who tells us to deviate from the Law of Moses is a false prophet.

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  • Biblical figures such as Daniel followed the rabbinic traditions.

    Read Answer…

  • Modern computer studies show that the Oral Law was divinely inspired.

    Read Answer…

  • Our tradition is totally self-sufficient.

    Read Answer…

  • Judaism is anything but a dead religion; Christianity is a step down.

    Read Answer…

  • The Christian view sees the Law as a curse; we see it as a gift.

    Read Answer…

  • The only identifiable Jews are those whose ancestors rejected Christianity.

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  • Judaism began with a revelation witnessed by the nation; it can't be changed.

    Read Answer…

  • Judaism is a rational religion; Christianity is illogical and unreasonable.

    Read Answer…

  • Anything good in the New Testament can be found in Rabbinic Judaism.

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  • Jesus himself taught that his followers were to submit to the Pharisees.

    Read Answer…

  • Traditional Jews are the people of the Book.

    Read Answer…

  • According to Psalm 19, the Torah is able to save and convert the soul.

    Read Answer…

  • I'll keep my Judaism. You have nothing I need or want.

    Read Answer…

   
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We have an unbroken, authoritative chain of oral tradition going back to Moses. Who are you to teach us what our Bible says?

I have no problem affirming that some of our customs and traditions can be traced back to the very beginnings of our history as a people. What I am questioning, however, is the notion of a divinely given, comprehensive, Sinaitic Oral Torah. There is plenty of evidence in the Hebrew Bible to affirm that God's covenant with Israel was based on the Written Torah, but nowhere is there any evidence for a divinely inspired Oral Torah going back to Moses. There is no evidence in the Hebrew Bible, or even in Jewish writings for several centuries after the Bible was completed. The traditional concept of the Oral Torah given by God to Moses is a myth; it was in fact developed by rabbis from the first through the sixth centuries CE.

I am aware that the Talmud claims otherwise, declaring that the covenant made with Israel was from the start based on an Oral Law, however, the Talmud's idea of the Oral Law is not right. My argument is based on the following seven principles: (1) God's covenant with Israel was based on the written Word alone, (2) no references to the Oral Law, whether explicit or implicit, can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures, (3) not only is there no evidence for an Oral Law in the Tanakh, but there were times when the Written Law itself was forgotten, (4) Moses did not receive every detail of the Oral Law on Mt. Sinai, (5) sometimes the rabbinic writings abuse or convolute the plain meaning of Scripture, which demonstrates that they cannot really be traced back to Moses, (6) the Oral Law doesn't always understand the written Word, because many of the traditions only came into being centuries after the Scriptures were written, and (7) the fact that the rabbinic traditions had to be written down is proof that there could not have been an Oral Law passed down from Moses, which would have needed to have been preserved for 1500 years without being written down.

I know this topic is very sensitive, but I encourage you to keep reading without fear. If your position is right, there's no reason to worry about what you'll read; however, if you find your views being challenged by what you read, if you're really serious about the truth, then you should see where the questions lead. Let me reassure you that you can continue to respect and honor the sages of the past, even as you question their authority. After all, it was God who gave us minds and hearts so we could think and pray and study and search, and he is pleased when we use the abilities he has given us to find out his will for our lives. Let's see where our study leads us.

  1. The Scriptures indicate clearly that God's covenant with Israel was based on the written Word and on the written Word alone.

    When Moses came back down from Mt. Sinai, he told the people everything he had heard from God, and, after the people had promised to live according to what Moses had told them, he wrote down everything that God had told him (Exod. 24:3-4a). Even after Moses' second trip up and down the mountain after Israel's sin with the golden calf, everything was written down according to God's instructions (see Exod. 34:27). It was this Book of the Covenant that formed the basis for their life together as God's people, and this book was to be handed down through the generations. There is no mention of an oral tradition, nor is any hint given that there is any additional, hidden information not contained in the book, necessary for the establishment of the covenant.

    Deuteronomy declares that future kings of Israel were to make a copy of this book of the law and study it diligently; no mention is made of an oral explanation that accompanies these written words. It is obvious that the written Word can be understood without the aid of oral interpretation (see Deut. 17:18-20). As the people were preparing to enter the Promised Land, they were told to write the words of the law on stones and to set them up on Mount Ebal (see Deut. 21:1-8). They were to keep the book of the law in the Ark of the Covenant, and it was to be taken out to be read every seven years so that all generations would hear the word and learn to fear God (see Deut. 31:9-13). No mention is made in any of the Five Books of Moses of an oral tradition to accompany this Written Law. The Written Torah was intended both to serve as a witness against God's people and to provide the key to their success for living faithfully according to his covenant.

    There are many good reasons for writing down the covenant: it preserved it for future generations, it kept regulations from becoming forgotten or confused, and it ensured its authority. If Israel could manage to forget the Written Torah from time to time, imagine what would have happened with an oral tradition. It is highly unlikely that it would have been preserved intact throughout the centuries! Why do you think the rabbinic traditions were also consigned to the written Word and not simply passed on orally?

    All the necessary requirements for living faithfully as God's people are included in the Written Torah. Laws regarding everyday life, as well as instructions for carrying out all the religious duties, are meticulously described. Where creativity or design beyond the description was needed, the Scriptures say that this was provided by the Spirit of God and the gifts of the artisan, not by an oral tradition. The laws are not merely general summaries or vague "chapter headings", but are sufficiently detailed in themselves as not to require fleshing out by an oral tradition. Those elements that appear to need further clarification (e.g., what is meant by "a handful") are sufficiently clear as not to warrant a precise definition.

    From the time of Moses to the return of the people from exile, the Written Law was used as the standard by which to judge the faithfulness of the people and their leaders. While not one leader of Israel mentions an additional oral tradition—not Moses, not Joshua, not Josiah, not Ezra, not Nehemiah—all of the great leaders were adamant about keeping the Written Law. There is not one reference to the Oral Law in the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures—every single time the law is mentioned, it refers to the Written Law. Take a look for yourself and see what you find (e.g., Josh. 8:31–32; 23:6; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 23:25; Mal. 3:22; Dan. 9:11, 13; Ezra 3:2; 7:6; Neh. 8:1; 2 Chron. 23:18; 30:16; 34:14). If such an oral tradition existed at all—and I'm not saying that it did—it is clear that it wasn't very relevant to the keeping of the covenant.

    If the Oral Law really were necessary for living out the covenant, then why is it impossible to find a single explicit appeal to it anywhere in the entire Hebrew Scriptures, while there are many completely obvious references to the Written Law? Such references can't be found, because an Oral Law which can be traced back in its entirety to Moses never existed in the first place. It's a myth, and yet the rabbis constantly appeal to the Oral Torah. Most of the practices and studies of the rabbis are based on the Oral Torah, especially the Talmud and the medieval Law Codes, rather than on the scriptural text; no wonder they keep citing a supposedly authoritative Oral Torah! Unfortunately, such a concept goes against all the biblical evidence.

    Not only is it at odds with the command to obey what is written, but sometimes the interpretation found in the Oral Law even completely contradicts what is written. How do you think Moses or Joshua would have responded if they had heard a Jewish leader explaining that "even though the Torah legislates that an unrepentant, stubborn and rebellious son is to be stoned to death so that the whole congregation would fear God (see Deut. 21:18–21), we tell you that God never intended that Written Law to be followed. Instead, he put it in the Torah so we would have the merit of figuring out that he never meant it!" At the very least, the biblical leaders would have wondered where the authority behind that statement had come from!

    The burden of proof lies with those who claim that an ancient Oral Law exists. It is not enough to say that the reason the Oral Law is not mentioned in the Tanakh is because it is oral, not written. Since when has lack of evidence been an acceptable argument for accepting a statement?

    In sum, all the explicit biblical evidence is against the existence of a binding Oral Law that was passed to Moses at Sinai; none of the explicit evidence is for it.

  2. There are no explicit or implicit references to the Oral Torah within the Written Torah.

    In the first section, I tried to make it absolutely clear that there is no explicit mention of the Oral Torah in the Hebrew Scriptures. In this section, I want to consider whether the evidence in Scripture for the existence of an oral tradition might take a more subtle form. I'll consider some of the passages in Scripture that are often considered as hints of an Oral Torah and see how they hold up to scrutiny.

    One of the texts that is said to lend support to the existence of an Oral Law is Exodus 34:7 (mentioned in the section above), in which Moses goes up Mt. Sinai for the second time and God says to him: "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." Though most impartial translators would automatically assume the accuracy of "in accordance with," the Talmudic rabbis prefer to read this as "on the mouth of." Following the Talmud (b. Git. 60b), Rashi explains this to mean: "But you are not permitted to write down the Oral Torah." Given that everything in the passage in question is emphasizing the written nature of the covenant and given that Moses was told to write everything down, it is difficult to see how such a contradictory interpretation could have gained so much prominence in the traditional Jewish view, but it has!

    Exodus 24:12 is another passage held up as evidence of Moses receiving both a Written and an Oral Law on Sinai. Rashi interprets the "teachings and commandments" written on the tablets to mean that all of the 613 commandments [mizvot] are there, embraced within the Ten Commandments. His explanation, which indicates that God had communicated with his people in such a way that all they needed to know about living out the covenant was there in writing, is a viable interpretation. A similar interpretation is also found in Targum Pseudo Jonathan.

    However, sixteenth-century biblical commentator Obadiah Sforno maintains that it was because of the idolatry of the Israelites that God did not write out the whole Torah with his own hand, as he had written the Ten Commandments, but had also presented Israel with an Oral Torah. This interpretation is highly speculative.

    In b. Baruch 5a, the Talmud interprets Exodus 24:12, in which God states that he would give Moses the law on stone tablets, as referring to the Mishnah and the Talmud, the whole Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Writings (e.g., Schottenstein Talmud, 5a, n. 15). In other words, on Mt. Sinai, Moses received the entire Hebrew Bible and all of the Oral Law. Granted, these rabbis understood that they were not setting forth the plain meaning of Scripture, otherwise they would have declared their interpretation as final and authoritative; however, this interpretation moves beyond even the creative use of a text, to the abuse of a text.

    This last interpretation is an inadequate interpretation of Exodus 24:12 for the following reasons:

    1. The Talmud doesn't explicitly say that it is offering anything other than the plain meaning of the text; throughout the centuries, however, it has been quoted as if it were explaining the literal meaning of the passage. This text from the Talmud has been abused by subsequent generations, who have taken it as authoritative. Maimonides opens his Mishneh Torah with an explicit reference to the Talmudic interpretation of this verse, declaring that God gave Moses both the Written and the Oral Torah on Mt. Sinai.

    2. This interpretation cannot be taken seriously, since the Hebrew Scriptures didn't reach their completion until about one thousand years after Moses, and the Talmud wasn't finalized until two thousand years after Moses. This alleged revelation of the entire Bible on Mt. Sinai is just absurd.

    3. Nowhere else in the Hebrew Scriptures does it state that God himself wrote the Prophets and the Writings. While it is appropriate to say that God inspired texts like the Psalms or Job or Ecclesiastes, it would be theologically problematic to say that God wrote prayers to himself, wrote arguments about himself, and wrote meditations on the meaning of life and death!

    There are two options for those who want to hold on to the traditional interpretation of Exodus 24:12: 1) They could enter into the hopeless task of arguing that the Talmud does have the true interpretation of the text, which would force them to admit that the Scriptures have no intrinsic meaning but can be made to say whatever one wants them to mean; or, 2) They could acknowledge that even though the text is not actually referring to later tradition, nevertheless, a highly creative use of the text is still justified because the commentators knew that their traditions could indeed be traced to Moses. Either way, it proves my point that the text cannot be used to demonstrate the existence of an Oral Law given to Moses. In the first case, they would have to recognize the arbitrariness of Scripture, which can be twisted at the will of the rabbis. In the second case, they would have to employ a contradictory, self-defeating, circular argument since they justify this particular Talmudic interpretation of the text because they believe that this interpretation is true, not because the Scripture verse actually indicates their position is true.

    The rabbis are aware that there are no explicit references to the Oral Torah in the Scriptures, but they maintain that the Written Law cannot be understood without the aid of the Oral Torah, and they affirm that there are clues in the Scriptures regarding the existence of an Oral Torah. In support of this point, one Orthodox Jew, Chaim Schimmel, commends this ambiguity regarding the Oral Law in the Torah for its ability to cultivate true faith in Jews, rather than fostering their reliance on science.

    Deuteronomy 12:21 contains another one of these so-called "hints" of the Oral Law. According to the Talmudic interpretation, this passage, which has to do with the slaughter of animals, refers to certain instructions regarding the procedure which God was supposed to have given Israel; however, since these particular instructions cannot be found in the Written Law, it is argued that they must be part of the Oral Law given to Moses (Rashi, following Sifrei and b. Chullin 28a).

    The passage in Deuteronomy is part of a larger discussion regarding centralized worship and sacrifice, but also includes instructions for slaughtering animals for normal consumption. It is actually very clear, when read as part of the whole chapter, that the "instructions" mentioned in verse 21 refer back to those instructions found earlier in the chapter (v. 15), not to some additional Oral Law. The fact that very particular phrases or words (bekol-awwat napsheka "as much as you desire" or "whenever you desire"; '-k-l basar "eating meat"; z-b-h "slaughter") are used several times in the twelfth chapter of Deuteronomy demonstrates the very close connection between these instructions. The case is made even stronger when you consider the fact that the phrase "as I/he commanded" ka'asher+ts-w-h occurs seventy times in the Pentateuch, and in every single case, without exception, it refers back to something previously stated by God, Moses, or another authority, in the written Word.

    This phenomenon also applies to the reference to the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. When Moses recounts the Lord's words some forty years after receiving the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17), he uses the phrase "as the Lord your God commanded you" in connection with two of the Ten Commandments (Sabbath, honoring parents), acknowledging that those particular instructions had already been given in the Written Torah. This phrase is not used in Exodus—since those commands were only just being received—but in Deuteronomy, Moses can refer back to the instructions that have already given. The same thing is happening when Deuteronomy 12:21 refers back to Deuteronomy 12:15.

    Traditional Jews attempt to refute this line of reasoning by claiming that 12:21 can't refer back to 12:15 because it doesn't give a command, but rather grants permission. This is not true for several reasons. First of all, the topic of commands can be found in 12:11, 12:14, and 12:21. Secondly, although the Hebrew imperfect verbs in these places are sometimes translated into English as "may," in Hebrew they are normally understood as imperatives, i.e. commandments. In other words, the distinction made between "permit" and "command" is somewhat artificial in the Hebrew.

    Other traditional Jews assume that this passage must be referring to particular rituals regarding slaughter God verbally gave to Moses that do not appear in the Written Law. Verse 21 is concerned with non-ritual slaughter (the chosen verb here is z-b-h, rather than sh-ch-t, which is the verb for ritual slaughter in Rabbinic Judaism, but appears nowhere in Deuteronomy!). But even if the verb does refer to ritual slaughter, it can still point back to previous written instructions that should be followed even when slaughtering animals for consumption at home. No additional oral tradition is necessary to make sense out of the passage as it stands.

    Where did the Israelites learn the detailed instructions of shechitah if they didn't have an Oral Law? They didn't! They had the Written Torah, which gave certain instructions regarding slaughter, particularly the command to "slit the throat," which is the most fundamental meaning of the root sh-ch-t. As more details and traditions were developed throughout the centuries, their origins were gradually forgotten, and the rabbis began claiming that they could be traced back to Moses himself, with passages like Deuteronomy 12:21 supposedly providing hints to this Oral Law!

    Another alleged hint can be found in Numbers 31:21, which refers to "requirements of the law" (huqqat hattorah) given by Moses to Eleazar the priest regarding soldiers returning from battle. The reason why this verse is considered to be a hint of the Oral Law is because it refers to detailed purification rituals which are not found in the Written Law, but Eleazar refers to them as "requirements of the law." While on the surface, this appears to uphold the concept of the Oral Law, upon closer analysis, we see that it is not a strong argument.

    Significantly, the phrase "requirements of the law" (huqqat hattorah) can only be found in one other place in the entire Bible—also in Numbers (19:2)—and it, too, is connected with Eleazar the priest. Again, it has to do with soldiers and with the ritual requirements for those who had come into contact with a dead body, including those killed on the battlefield. It is not too difficult to see that there is a genuine connection between the two texts and that the latter instruction points back to the earlier ritual of purification. If there had been additional information given in Numbers 31:21, and if these stipulations had been understood to be requirements of the law (which is unlikely), the only reason we would know that they were given by God to Moses is because it is referred to in writing. The more likely explanation is that the actual commandment was stated in Numbers 19:2, and that in Numbers 31, Eleazar was giving the people practical instructions on how to carry it out. In other words, what can be observed here is merely a demonstration that the practical application of the Written Law has to be worked out in every generation.

    God did not just communicate with Moses on Mt. Sinai, but gave different laws at different times during their stay in the wilderness. Perhaps God continued to give new instructions through Moses when Eleazar was facing the questions regarding the purification of returning soldiers and their spoils of war; however, the only reason we know that Eleazar received these laws from Moses is because they were put in writing. It is the written Word that is the foundation for God's covenant with Israel.

    Don't you find it curious that all the foundational documents of the Oral Torah—the Mishnah, the Talmuds, the Midrashim—were ultimately written down in books, and all the foundational documents of the Oral Torah that followed—most notably the Responsa literature and the Law Codes—were written down in book form from the very outset? They were written down, because if they had not, they could not have been accurately preserved. How could a body of laws that was given to Moses—but was never written down—have survived intact through all the turmoil and neglect of the centuries up to the time of the rabbis?

    The final primary text used to give support to hints of the Oral Torah in the Written Torah is Deuteronomy 30:11-14. This passage is intended to stop us from looking for a further divine revelation on matters relating to Torah observance, since the Torah is no longer in heaven, but is now in our "mouths and hearts." In the views of the rabbis, this means that the Torah is passed on orally. Is this what Moses meant here?

    The text is actually quite straightforward: The people had already been given the Written Torah along with the tablets of the Ten Commandments; they had heard and understood what God required of them. There was no need to go searching for the will of God since it was in their hearts and on their lips. The very next chapter of Deuteronomy emphasizes that God's commandments were to be passed on in written form and that the Written Torah was to be read and followed. There is no good reason for thinking that this passage hints at an Oral Law, which is supposed to accompany the Written Law.

    Don't you find it a bit odd that the only time Rabbinic Judaism can speak of a totally oral tradition is when there is no evidence to support it?

    There are a couple of other things I want to discuss in relation to the Oral Law such as whether the term torot suggests two different forms of the Torah (Written and Oral), and whether the Written Torah can be understood without the help of an Oral Torah. I'll cover those topics in sections 6.2 and 6.3. I close this discussion by reiterating my opening claim: There are no explicit or implicit references to the Oral Torah in the Written Torah.

  3. Throughout biblical history, not only was there no evidence of an authoritative Oral Torah, but at times there was gross ignorance of the Written Torah.

    If you're familiar with traditional Judaism, you'll know that the rabbinic portrait of biblical Jewish history is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Rabbis acknowledge that the people of Israel were not without their sins and blemishes. On the other hand, the rabbis recast many of the biblical characters as Talmudic scholars and faithful adherents of the rabbinic traditions, which is a very different picture from what is actually presented in the Tanakh. I want to consider this discrepancy here since it poses a challenge not only to the rabbinic belief that the people were sufficiently capable of handing down intact through the generations an unwritten body of law, but also to the assertion that such a body of law existed in the first place.

    A perusal of the Hebrew Scriptures offers a number of texts which describe, often in agonizing detail, the failure of our ancestors to keep the Written Torah. They struggled to remain faithful even while under the leadership of Moses and, as forewarned by God, things only got worse after Moses's death. Although Moses passed on this warning to the people (see Deut. 31:16-18, 27-29), they paid little attention to it.

    The rabbis do comment on the disobedience of Israel in the wilderness, recognizing their failure to keep certain commandments, including the celebration of Passover and the practice of circumcision; however, in reference to Joshua 5:2, Rashi creatively ascribes the failure of Israel to practice circumcision for forty years to a constant lack of wind from the north, and cites other traditions that speak in terms of a second circumcision which went beyond what Abraham had commanded. In other words, the Israelites had been faithful as far as Abraham's command was concerned, but just hadn't completed the second stage until after arriving in the Promised Land.

    Not only do these interpretations contradict the biblical text itself, but in their attempts to soften the accusation of disobedience against the Israelites, the rabbis raise the issue of Abraham's faithfulness and his relationship to the Oral Law. How can you hold that Abraham was lacking certain necessary details about circumcision, but still claim that he kept the Oral Law in its entirety, which is the standard interpretation of Genesis 26:5? In addition to this, despite the fact that the Torah accounts for around 42,000 deaths during the wilderness wanderings as a result of God's judgment on Israel's disobedience, there are Rabbinic traditions that portray that rebellious generation as devoted Torah scholars (and even to some degree, devoted Talmud scholars). How is this justified?

    Of course there were always some people who were faithful (a righteous remnant), but during the time of the judges, the people "did as they saw fit," and idolatry and other forms of disobedience were rampant in the land. In fact, Eli the priest allowed his sons to do things which the law forbade. God was continually sending judgments upon the people. As a result of the people's disobedience, the Ark of the Covenant was taken away by the conquering Philistines. If this is how the Scriptures describe not only the people, but also the leadership, during the time of the judges, how can the rabbinic tradition portray some of them as devoted scholars, and Eli, who couldn't even keep his own sons in line, as the head of the Sanhedrin (see Yalkut HaMechiri, Tehillim [Psalms] 75:4; b. Tem. 16a)?

    As communicated to Samuel, God interprets Israel's demand for a king as a personal rejection and as yet another example of the disobedience that had been ongoing since leaving Egypt (1 Sam. 8:7-8). In what is described as Israel's "golden days," during the reigns of David and Solomon, things were not much better: even those two kings were guilty of blatant disobedience, succumbing to adultery and idolatry. It was in the reign of Rehoboam, son of Solomon, that Israel broke away from Judah. For more than two hundred years the people of the northern kingdom, led by their kings, persisted in their idolatry. Torah observance was so far down on the agenda, and idolatry so popular, that most of God's true prophets had found it necessary to go underground because of persecution. God himself said that in the land there were only seven thousand faithful to be found during the days of Elijah, who courageously contested eight-hundred-and-fifty false prophets of Baal. It took a destructive fire from heaven to convince the people that it was God, not Baal, who deserved their worship and obedience!

    Judah, the southern kingdom, didn't fare much better. Asa (for the most part), Hezekiah and Josiah stand out from the rest of the kings of Judah because of their faithfulness. Tragically, a purified, functioning Temple proved to be the exception to the rule. Manasseh had desecrated the Temple and introduced idol worship into the house of God. Furthermore, for great periods of time the Written Law was nowhere to be found, partly because (according to Radak) Manasseh had been so thorough in his attempt to destroy Torah scrolls. Rabbinic tradition does not even try to find excuses for the state of affairs before Josiah's reforms. The footnote in the Stone edition to 2 Kings 22:8 follows Radak and explains:

    Manasseh had systematically destroyed all the Torah Scrolls and alienated the nation so thoroughly from the Torah that the people were completely unfamiliar with its contents. Sixty-seven years had elapsed since the beginning of Manasseh's reign, so that [the] discovery [of the Torah] was a surprising revelation to everyone.

    During Josiah's purification of the Temple, one of the Torah scrolls was discovered. Based on the reactions of Josiah and the people when they heard it read, it was clear that the Torah had been abandoned for a very long time. The neglect of Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Sabbath all needed to be addressed and reformed (see 2 Chron. 30, 36:21 and Neh. 8).

    Unfortunately, after the death of Josiah, things fell apart again and corruption trickled down from the top. The people's disobedience to God's Law resulted in the destruction of both Israel and Judah and led the to the people's exile. During the initial period after the return from exile, the people, including the priests, were guilty of intermarriage, usury, and working on the Sabbath (see Ezra 9, 13:15-22; Neh. 5:1-13, 13:23-30). A hundred years later, Malachi had to address the corruption of the Levites and priests (see also Ezek. 44:10).

    The ninth chapter of Nehemiah presents a national confession of sin in which the history of the constant rebelliousness and deep sinfulness of the people of Israel is recounted:

    Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the warnings you gave them. Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways (Neh. 9:34–35).

    Ezra's confession (9:6-7) completely confirms this picture. Both confessions simply repeat the same story that is told time and time again throughout the Tanakh. The punishments meted out by God, who is rich with compassion and incredibly long-suffering, also support the truthfulness of the confessions. Even the people acknowledged that God never gave them what they really deserved (Neh. 9:31, 33, 36-37; Ezra 9:13).

    Unfortunately, this pattern continued. Within a decade after those heartfelt confessions and the written agreement, bound with a curse and an oath, to follow the Law of God (Neh. 10:29), the people were intermarrying again with the other nations, neglecting the Sabbath, and refusing to tithe (see Neh. 13:10-11, 15-18, 23-27). It appears that it was the national norm to neglect the Written Torah of the Lord.

    As I come to the end of my rehearsal of Scripture's long, sad story about our people's constant rebellion against God and their refusal to keep his laws, I want to raise the question with which I started this section: How can you read the many accusatory biblical accounts of our nation's history and still argue the possibility for a highly complex collection of laws, traditions and customs to have been successfully handed down orally by this same people through the generations? How could they have managed to preserve an Oral Torah, when it is clear that they couldn't even manage to remember and honor the Written Torah during much of that time?

    Perhaps it is easier to accept the possibility and preservation of an Oral Torah when the tradition paints a different picture of this same history, as often seems to happen. Consider the following description, which can be found on the Being Jewish website:

    After Moses passed away the Children of Israel continued to study Torah. In the Land of Israel they built yeshivos, and Teachers taught Torah to thousands upon thousands of students constantly. Some yeshivos were smaller, of course. We find, for example, that the Prophet Elisha had at least one hundred students (2 Kings 4:38–44). Students generally searched until they found the best Teacher for them, since people aren't all able to learn at the same level. (www.beingjewish.com/unchanged/true_mesorah.html)

    I find it difficult to see how this can be squared with the survey of the Tanakh I've just recounted. It seems clear to me that the history of Israel and Judah was marked by apostasy more than fidelity and by ignorance of the Written Torah more than obedience to it. The terrible divine judgments suffered by Israel and Judah emphasize this verdict. Clearly then, the idea that an unbroken chain of oral tradition was preserved during the biblical period is completely untenable, especially since, according to rabbinic belief, this oral tradition was not secretly preserved by a few choice disciples from Moses until Ezra but was often the heritage of a larger portion of the populace.

  4. Contrary to many rabbinic traditions, Moses did not receive every detail of the Oral Law on Mt. Sinai.

    Even though there are passages in the Torah that clearly refer to the giving of laws both before and after the revelation on Mt. Sinai, and even though there are only four passages in which Moses clearly admits that he does not yet know what should be done in a particular situation, nevertheless, traditional Jews claim that Moses received the Oral Law in its entirety on Mount Sinai (or, at least, was given all basic principles that would ever be needed to interpret the Written Torah).

    It is these four passages (Lev. 24:10-23; Num. 9:1-14; Num. 15:32-36; Num. 27:1-11) in which Moses expresses uncertainty that I want to consider in this section to determine how the Talmud deals with these situations.

    It seems that in Leviticus 24:10-23, Moses is presented with a new situation—a young man with an Israelite mother and Egyptian father curses God's Name during a fight with an Israelite—and wonders how it should be handled. So he waits for God to reveal his will. Eventually, Moses is told that any blasphemer, regardless of nationality, should be stoned to death. This is fairly straightforward, unless you have to explain why Moses didn't already know what to do, even though he'd already received the entire Oral Law.

    Numbers 15:32-36 presents a similar case to that of Leviticus 24 (in fact, it is so similar that Rashi explains them both together). This time, the new situation has to do with a man caught gathering wood on the Sabbath. The passage explains that Moses and Aaron put him in custody because "it was not clear what should be done to him." At some point, God reveals to Moses that the man must be stoned to death outside the camp.

    In his commentary on Leviticus 24 (in which he also comments on Num. 15), Rashi maintains that Moses knew full well that the penalty for blasphemy (and for desecrating the Sabbath) was death; what he didn't know was by what means the sentence should be carried out. Rashi seems to be admitting that Moses didn't know the Law in its entirety, which certainly contradicts other rabbinic statements that claim Moses received a complete revelation of Torah and Mishnah and Talmud and Haggadic lore on Sinai, even to the point of knowing everything that any student would ever learn in the future (see y. Meg. 28). Rashi's explanation also challenges the idea that even if he did not receive the whole Oral Law, Moses was still given all the necessary principles for interpretation (see Exod. Rabbah 41:6).

    Things get even more complicated when it comes to explanations for Numbers 9:1-14, which addresses the issue of whether those who had become unclean by touching a dead body could still fully celebrate Passover. Moses tells them to "wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you." This statement seems clear enough: Moses doesn't know exactly what to do and needs further information. Rashi sidesteps Moses' uncertainty, however, by emphasizing his humility. According to Rashi, Moses wanted those who had posed the question to have their piety honored by allowing the answer to be brought to the people through them (Sifrei Beha'alotecha 1:22). Rashi doesn't quite address Moses' lack of knowledge on this point, and he wholly disregards the text when he claims that the instruction was allowed to be spoken through those who had brought the question, even though Moses clearly delivers this Torah law himself.

    Similarly, in Numbers 27:1-11 Moses is presented with the question of whether surviving daughters could inherit their father's property if he had no sons. What does Moses do? He waits for an answer from the Lord who reveals new laws on the matter, and after Moses tells them to the people, they become part of the Written Law. Rashi, repeating older rabbinic traditions, has two explanations for this situation. One is similar to the case above: the merit of the daughters earns them the privilege of having the law "written through them" (B. Batra 119a; Sanh. 8a). The other indicates that "the law eluded [Moses]" as a punishment for assuming authority he should not have claimed (Mid. Tanchuma Pinchas 8).

    Once the simple, clear interpretation of these four texts is rejected, explanations start to become forced and grow ever more complicated, which forces subsequent interpreters to account for their difficulties. Texts like the four above generate discussion on what exactly Moses received on Sinai. Some rabbinic traditions suggest that Moses simply couldn't remember everything he did receive, while others cannot allow for Moses to forget anything. Some traditions maintain that many, perhaps even thousands of laws were forgotten after the death of Moses, which has led to the need for study and deduction (and helps explain the later disputes between the sages) to fill in the gaps of the missing details.

    Rather than maintaining that all of these forced interpretations are correct, wouldn't it just be simpler to acknowledge that Moses never received an Oral Law in addition to the Written Torah on Mount Sinai? Which explanation makes more sense to you?

  5. The rabbinic writings at times completely violate or twist the plain meaning of the Scriptures, making clear that they cannot represent a valid tradition dating back to Moses.

    Within the Tanakh there are examples of the interpretation and application of laws from the Torah. These applications always show that it is the plain, natural meaning of the law that is intended, not some convoluted or contrived meaning. God seems to speak in a clear, straightforward manner, which means that the people's obedience or disobedience cannot be blamed on an inability to understand what is being put before them. In other words, when God and Moses speak, they mean exactly what they say.

    Granted, additional layers of interpretation of a text are certainly possible, but they should not violate the plain sense, and they carry no authority. If an interpretation contradicts or violates a text, it should not be considered either Mosaic or divine. Unfortunately, this is precisely what rabbinic interpretations do much of the time. I've chosen a couple of representative examples of rabbinic interpretations of passages from the Tanakh that claim to carry legal authority, or which claim to have the correct, original meaning.

    The first example comes from Deuteronomy 21:18-21, in which a stubborn, rebellious son is brought by his parents before the elders to see what shall be done. The fact that the commanded punishment of stoning is meant literally can be concluded from the fear response expected of the people of Israel when they hear about it. The death penalty is also commanded in a number of other situations (see Deut. 13:5, 17:7; 17:12, 19:19, 22:21-22, 24 and 24:7). All of these cases point to behaviors that would undermine society if they were not punishable by death.

    How did the Talmudic rabbis deal with texts like this in which a rebellious son is given the death penalty? Their desperate attempts to avoid the harshness of the punishment result in some very convoluted, complicated interpretations. Some try to argue that such a situation in which parents would bring their son to be judged by the elders could never have arisen in the first place (i.e. R. Shimon, R. Yehuda), and, therefore, never will be encountered in "real life." Some claim that the passage about the rebellious boy should not be taken literally because it was meant either to strengthen parental authority or children's obedience, or to encourage parents to raise their children with the proper values. Some add so many additional stipulations that the law could never possibly be put into effect (see Mish. Sanh. 8:1-4; Sanh. 71a; Maimonides, Hilkhot Mamrim 7). Rabbi Yehuda even concludes that these kinds of passages are not really meant to be applied, but were only put in the Torah by God to test our conscience and ability to determine whether God really meant what was claimed in his name or not. Can you believe it! Not only is the Word of God rendered useless, it actually becomes a divine trick, put there to test our ingenuity so that we can, through study, determine that God never meant what he said!

    Deuteronomy 25:11-12 is another case in which corporal punishment (in this case, cutting off a woman's hand for seizing her husband's assailant by the genitals) is rejected by the Talmudic sages. They maintain that the punishment is not to be taken literally, but should be replaced by a monetary fine (b. B.K. 28a). Sa'adiah Gaon believed this passage deserved a literal interpretation, but thought it had more to do with providing a means of escape for the man than with the woman's punishment. Maimonides maintained that whoever insisted on the literal interpretation of the punishment (thereby going against rabbinic tradition) was a false prophet and should be put to death!

    Malachi 2:16a states: "'I hate divorce,' says the Lord." What do the rabbis do with this? They turn it on its head, so that instead of God speaking about his rejection of divorce, he's depicted as saying to the husband, "If you hate her, divorce her!" or "For he who hates [his wife] should divorce [her], says HASHEM, God of Israel" (Stone edition)! This interpretation can be found in the Targum, in Rashi, Radak, and Metsudat David and Zion. Isn't that incredible! That is the very opposite of the plain meaning of the text, and yet it is presented as the standard modern Orthodox translation, without offering any other possibilities for interpretation. Talk about reading one's own ideas back into the Bible!

    This is but one example of many rabbinic attempts to harmonize the biblical texts with their practice. Unbiased scholarship shows that the ideas of the Oral Torah, most all of which originated more than a thousand years after Moses, were read back into the Scriptures, often at the expense of the Word of God itself. Let me give you four more examples.

    The first is not as crucial as the other three are, but it does show how a misinterpretation can influence subsequent understanding and end up twisting the very meaning of the text itself. The passage is Deuteronomy 31:16, in which God is telling Moses about the unfaithfulness of Israel which would take place after the death of Moses. The text seems fairly straightforward, however, R. Gamaliel, and then R. Yehosuah ben Chananiah take the phrase "will rise" as proof of the resurrection of the dead in the Torah, rather than it's plain meaning, which refers to the level of rebellion the people will reach after Moses has gone. Seeing an allusion to resurrection in this text became an accepted, authoritative interpretation of the passage, and influenced how the verse itself would be understood, even though there is no mention of resurrection in the text. What is really amazing is that some Orthodox Jews maintain that precisely because an interpretation is so far-fetched (couldn't possibly have come from reading the plain meaning of the text itself), there must be some authentic tradition behind it, rendering it worthy of respect! In other words, it's the absurdity of the interpretation that gives it validity. With logic like that, what's the point of dialogue? (And traditional Jews criticize Christians for being irrational!)

    Psalm 119:126 can be read in two ways, each of which makes sense of the Hebrew: "It is time for you to act, O Lord; your law is being broken" (NIV); or, "It is a time to act for the Lord, for they have violated Your teaching" (NJV). The first interpretation emphasizes divine action, the second human action, but in both cases the action is a response to the fact that God's law is being broken. How does tradition interpret this text? "It is a time to work for God, make void His Torah." In other words, breaking or suspending certain laws is justified when God's honor is at stake. How can this be argued with any kind of legitimacy?

    Deuteronomy 25:5-10, which is about levirate marriage, is another case in point. While the text plainly states that a man's brother is to marry his widow and name the first son after his dead brother, the Talmud concludes that the man does not need to carry on the name of the dead brother. Raba acknowledges that in this case the ordinary meaning of the text has been replaced by rabbinic interpretation. It is cases like this that make me wonder how the inspiration or authority of the Oral Law can be supported.

    The final example I want to bring up is Exodus 23:2. The misinterpretation of this text has become almost a proverbial quote in rabbinic literature. It has been so turned on its head that rather than taking the text at face value as a warning against following the majority (i.e., when they are doing wrong or perverting the course of justice), the text is used to lend support to the idea that the majority of rabbis should be followed. There are many places which demonstrate the continuing effects of this misinterpretation which is used to justify majority rule, and none of those who use the quote admit that this is not what the verse actually says. In fact, some of them declare their interpretation to be fact, or even a divinely legislated principle (e.g., R. Reinman, R. Hirsch).

    How can one possibly move from the explicit message, "Do not follow the majority," to its complete opposite, "The majority must be followed," especially when the misuse of the text is used to justify the powers of the rabbis to determine that they must be listened to when they interpret other texts, even when the rabbinic majority overrules the plain sense of the text, the message of a prophet, or sometimes even the voice of God himself?! As a result of this tactic, there is no way to question rabbinic interpretation, unless the majority of the rabbis change their minds. Is there any place left for appeal to the Scriptures, to the intervention of God, to logic or reason? Even though this text very clearly states, "Do not follow the majority," tradition bases its authority on the very opposite: Majority rules!

    These misinterpretations together constitute clear proof that the oral traditions are neither divinely inspired nor Mosaic. Are you ready to reject the principle of "majority rule"?

  6. The Oral Law has large, critical gaps in its understanding of the written Word because most of its traditions came into existence centuries after the Scriptures were written.

    I have already established that ancient Israel often struggled to keep the Written Torah and that there is a tradition of reading later Talmudic practices back onto the biblical characters and taking them literally (i.e., Adam knew about and was amazed by Rabbi Akiva [b.Sanh. 38a, cf. also b. A.Z. 5a]; after the flood, the descendants of Noah studied the rabbinic writings [b. Sanh. 24a)]). Many of the Torah laws do not seem to have been understood by the rabbis, most likely because of the significant gap in time between Sinai and the traditions. One of the traditional explanations for why there are disagreements and disputes among scholars is that many of the details of the laws had been forgotten. This forgetting is attributed to Moses himself (cf. Exod. Rabbah 41:6; b. Ned. 38a; y. Hor. 3:5), Joshua, or to the Sages of Israel (Rashi, b. Eruvin 21b). Some say that Moses' death caused such a shock that other laws disappeared from the memory of the people. The Talmud itself explains that so many laws were forgotten that even through acute legal analysis, they could not be reconstructed, thus the majority had to be followed (Tem. 15b). As if this account from the Talmud didn't cast enough doubt on the legitimacy of the Oral Law, the Talmud also says that Caleb's brother Othniel was an advanced Talmud scholar who managed to restore the forgotten laws by means of pilpul ("dialectics") (b. Tem. 16a)!

    One of the laws apparently forgotten during the period of mourning for Moses was designated as a halakha lemoshe misinai ("a law given to Moses on Sinai"). Such a law was neither based on a scriptural text, nor could its authority be derived from a scriptural text. This should make you wonder how it could ever be recovered when it was lost, since it cannot be found or derived from Scripture, or deduced through logic, and cannot be revealed by a prophet (since the Torah is no longer in heaven, according to the traditional interpretation of Deut. 30:12).

    It is because these details were forgotten, the Talmud explains, that there were so many legal disputes among the rabbis about the interpretation of particular laws. What I find very interesting is that the Talmudic rabbis can demonstrate a remarkable agreement on extra-biblical traditions—even on the details—and yet, when it comes to interpreting biblical laws, they can't seem to reach the same kind of consensus. Why would there be so much disagreement on the Written Law—and on even quite important things such as karet (the punishment of being cut off from others) and which animals and birds should be treated as unclean—if Moses had actually received everything needed to understand it, and then handed that understanding down through the generations to the rabbis themselves? How can you agree on thirty-nine subdivisions of labor forbidden on the Sabbath, but be so unsure about so many specifics of the Written Torah? How does this reflect on the claim that the Oral Law can be traced back to Moses in an unbroken chain?

    The idea of there being an unbroken chain going back to Moses is a myth. Far from receiving an authoritative interpretation of the Written Torah, the rabbis developed their own traditions, and, because they were so near to them in time and in mindset, the rabbis knew these traditions quite well. Granted, there are still some disputes over minutiae in the oral tradition, but there is a general agreement on basic Jewish lifestyle. The disagreements on the Oral Law are nothing like those that are attached to the Written Law, and I would argue that this indicates that the interpretations were never passed down from Moses through the generations in an unbroken fashion.

    It is ironic that while there is a very strong memory for the sources that were developed by the Talmudic rabbis, they struggled to understand the biblical sources. Their traditions were developed by human beings; they didn't spring from God himself. Furthermore, in most cases, those traditions didn't arise until hundreds of years after the events of the Bible, long after the laws had been given. These traditions have no direct line going back to the Bible itself.

    Those who agree with Rabbi Moses Lopes Cardozo that "the interpretation Moshe taught Yehoshua [Joshua] is precisely the same interpretation taught today" are deluding themselves.

  7. The fact that the rabbinic traditions had to be put in writing, beginning as early as 200 CE, proves that there could not have been a previous, oral tradition passed down from Moses to the rabbis—meaning a period of roughly fifteen hundred years—without being written down.

    There are several reasons why the Oral Law had to be committed to writing in the first centuries of this era: life had become more difficult for Jews, they were spreading out across the world, and interpretations and discussions of the Law were growing while scholarship was declining. Considering all that the people of Israel had experienced from the time of Moses to Ezra, it would seem as though the Oral Law (if it existed) would have needed to have been written down earlier than it was.

    According to tradition, the reason the Oral Law could be preserved in the early days of its existence was because the Israelites were so close to the revelation on Sinai. According to this perspective, for the first fifteen hundred years the people were close enough to the Torah and had such a deep understanding of the Law that they were able to preserve intact and hand down all the details of the Oral Law from generation to generation without having to write them down.

    I find this traditional explanation hard to swallow. First, as I've shown earlier in this section, rather than commending the people for their heightened spirituality, the Hebrew Scriptures tell a rather sad story of the nation's disobedience through neglect of God's laws. Second, so many of the laws that occupied the rabbis are nowhere to be found in the Tanakh. Third, it is only after the completion of the Bible that references to the legal disputes of the rabbis can be found. In fact, the Sadducees maintained that their contemporaries, the Pharisees, had generated many of the traditions the Pharisees claimed were ancient, and when this accusation is added to the mix, it becomes even more difficult to believe that the Oral Law they were advancing had actually originated with Moses.

    It is interesting to note that, according to the Scriptures, all of the sins for which Israel was punished can be directly related to the written laws; there is no mention of the people suffering because they had violated the Oral Law. Some try to argue that this omission is due to the fact that the Oral Law was never transgressed, but, given their track record with the Written Law, it doesn't seem possible that Israel would have acted any more faithfully when it came to the Oral Law. It makes much more sense simply to assume that there was no Oral Law at the time.

    The fact that the rabbis, even those rivaling Rabbi Akiva's stature, could not keep the Oral Law preserved in their memories, but had to commit it to writing within one to two hundred years after it had come into being (combined with the realization that those laws have continued to expand exponentially through the years), is a very good indication that if an Oral Law had existed over fifteen hundred years ago, it could not possibly have been preserved without being written down at some point.

    There are good reasons why God based his covenant with Israel on a Written and not Oral Law—even when the laws were written down, the people struggled to remember them and keep them. That's why the prophets were so necessary—they were sent by God to get our people back on track when they had strayed from God's ways. Not only the people, but their traditions had got lost along the way. God sent Yeshua, the Messiah, into the world to teach us and to provide an example of how the written Word can be lived out through the Spirit. With Yeshua as our guide, there is no need for Talmuds and Law Codes, however profound or beautiful they may be.

    Yes, there is much to be appreciated in the traditions preserved by the rabbis, but Moses did not receive an Oral Law in addition to the Written Law. Furthermore, the Written Law can be understood and lived out without the help of an Oral Law. It is the Word of God that brings life, not the words and traditions of human beings. We are only standing on firm ground when we hold on to God's Word alone.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 5, pp. 4-84.

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On several occasions, the Written Torah makes reference to "Torahs" in the plural, meaning two Torahs. This obviously refers to the Written and Oral Torahs.

The plural for torah is torot. Some believe that the eleven references to the torot in the Hebrew Bible denote two forms of the law, i.e. the written and oral forms of the Torah. Certainly, there are many instances in which the term torah refers specifically to the Torah (e.g., Josh. 1:8); nevertheless, there are other instances in which the word simply refers to "teaching, instruction, law, ritual." Leviticus 6:7a makes reference to the "ritual [torah] of the meal offering." Proverbs 3:1a reads, "My son, do not forget my teaching [torah]." The plural torot is best understood in this latter sense.

Here are all eleven usages of torot in the Tanakh (NJV):

  • Gen. 26:5: inasmuch as Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge: My commandments, My laws, and My teachings [torot].
  • Exod. 16:28: And the LORD said to Moses, "How long will you men refuse to obey My commandments and My teachings [torot]?"
  • Exod. 18:16: When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings [torot] of God.
  • Exod. 18:20: and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings [torot], and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow.
  • Lev. 26:46: These are the laws, rules, and instructions [torot] that the LORD established, through Moses on Mount Sinai, between Himself and the Israelite people.
  • Isa. 24:5: For the earth was defiled under its inhabitants; because they transgressed teachings [torot], violated laws [this is actually singular in the Hebrew], broke the ancient covenant.
  • Ezek. 43:11: When they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the plan of the Temple and its layout, its exits and entrances—its entire plan, and all the laws and instructions [torot] pertaining to its entire plan. Write it down before their eyes, that they may faithfully follow its entire plan and all its laws.
  • Ezek. 44:5: Then the LORD said to me: O mortal, mark well, look closely and listen carefully to everything that I tell you regarding all the laws of the Temple of the LORD and all the instructions [torot] regarding it. Note well who may enter the Temple and all who must be excluded from the Sanctuary.
  • Ps. 105:45: that they might keep His laws and observe His teachings [torot]. Hallelujah.
  • Dan. 9:10: and did not obey the LORD our God by following His teachings [torot] that He set before us through His servants the prophets.
  • Neh. 9:13: You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven; You gave them right rules and true teachings [torot], good laws and commandments.

The Pentateuch (Gen. 26:5; Exod. 16:28; 18:16, 20; Lev. 26:45) always uses torot in a list with other legal terms like commandments and laws. Clearly, the Torah doesn't refer to both written and oral laws, or to written and oral commandments; why then would torot be used differently than these terms? The same usage holds true in Ezekiel 43:11, 44:5, Psalm 105:45, and Nehemiah 9:13.

Isaiah 24:5 indicates that man's disregard for God's laws will bring judgment on the entire world. This passage refutes the claims of anti-missionary Tovia Singer, who asserts that torot is only used in reference to the Jewish nation. In this context, the NJV's footnote is most fitting, indicating that the verse refers to "the moral law, which is binding on all men (cf. Gen. 9.4-6)." Clearly, there's no indication of an oral Torah here, nor is there in Daniel 9:10, which refers to the torot passed down, not by Moses, but by the prophets.

To render torot as "Torahs" (in the sense of the Oral and Written Torahs) requires tremendous twisting of the pertinent passages. The Orthodox Jewish Stone version reveals the irregularity in translation. This version translates torot as "teachings" on most occasions, but in Isaiah 24:5 translates it as "commandments," a less precise term. It then provides a bizarre translation of Genesis 26:5: "Because Abraham obeyed My voice, and observed My safeguards, My commandments, My decrees, and My Torahs." The inconsistency in translating Genesis 26:5 indicates a desire to read into the text an element clearly not present, particularly in light of the mention of "safeguards," "commandments," and "decrees." The Stone rendering also assumes that Abraham possessed both the Written and Oral Torahs, in spite of the fact that they were revealed to Moses over 500 years later! There's no evidence that God revealed either Torah to Abraham.

This inconsistency is also seen in the footnote to Leviticus 26:46: "The word wehatorot [translated correctly in Stone as "teachings"] is in the plural because it refers to two Torahs: the Written Torah and the Oral Torah . . . . [B]oth were given at Sinai." The Stone version reveals the same inconsistency as the rabbinic tradition, which interprets torot as referring to the Written and Oral Torahs.

The Tanakh makes no reference to dual Torahs. There's also no evidence of an Oral Torah from the Pharisees and the early rabbis. While the Pharisees certainly had well-established traditions, their enemies never credited them with teaching the notion of two Torahs. This idea appears to have developed over a lengthy period of time, primarily after the Second Temple's destruction.

Additionally, Josephus and the Qumran writings make no mention of an Oral Torah. Certainly, these writings refer to Pharisaic teaching at the time and even refer to Pharasaic tradition; however, they never assert that Moses received this tradition on Mt. Sinai. Note Jacob Neusner's remarks:

At issue in the initial stage is the status of a few specific rulings and, of far greater urgency, the standing of the sages in a chain of tradition to Sinai. The dual Torah, the Oral Torah—these do not surface. It is entirely feasible to speak of oral tradition without introducing the category of the Oral Torah, whether the symbol or the myth. (Neusner, What, Exactly, Did the Rabbinic Sages Mean by "The Oral Torah"?, 216)

There's no evidence that the Pharisees promoted the notion of an Oral Torah received at Mt. Sinai; instead, they did pass along their traditions over several generations, beginning in the second century BCE. Over time, they began to assert the antiquity of their traditions, eventually leading to the conclusion that Moses received them on Mt. Sinai as the Oral Torah.

While the early rabbinic evidence certainly points to some laws purported to have come from Moses at Sinai, there's little evidence of a full-blown Oral Torah. The Mishnah makes zero references to dual Torahs. The Tosefta (another foundational compilation of rabbinic law dated shortly after the Mishnah) mentions "two Torahs" only three times. Mayer Gruber observes:

In tSanhedrin 4:5 'two Torahs' refers to the two scrolls of the Pentateuch to be written by and for every king of Israel [see Rashi to Deut. 17:18]. In the two remaining cases—tHagigah 2:9 and tSotah 14:9—'two Torahs' is the term of disparagement applied to the controversies between the disciples of Hillel and Shammai, who, it is alleged, created their two separate doctrines because they failed to study carefully the single Torah which they all received from Hillel and Shammai (Gruber, "The Mishnah as Oral Torah," 114).

Pirke Avot (the Ethics of the Fathers), likely composed near the end of the Mishnah's compilation, claims that Moses received "Torah" on Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, who transmitted it to the elders, who transmitted it to the judges and prophets, all the way down to the rabbinic sages (see m. Avot. 1:1). Martin Jaffee, however, notes that the notion of two Torahs "emerges in only the faintest form and lies buried obscurely in but two passages of midrashic exegesis—not an auspicious beginning for an ideological conception that would . . . come to dominate rabbinic discourse about the origins and authority of halakhic norms" (Jaffee, Torah in the Mouth, 98).

What then of the Babylonian Talmud? It is alleged that Hillel and Shammai told a potential Gentile convert to Judaism of the existence of "a Written Torah and an Oral Torah" (b. Shab. 31a). Reform Rabbi Louis A. Rieser contests this account:

The tale functions to read the rabbinic program back into an earlier time, specifically into the late Second Temple period. By invoking the mythic figures of Hillel and Shammai, this tale creates a bridge back to the ancient days. It also serves to justify the rabbinic program by retrojecting the evolving rabbinic methods and assumptions back to the period of the founders, Hillel and Shammai. As the opening paragraphs of M. Avot build a continuous chain of tradition from Moses to the rabbis, so this tale retrojects the methods and assumptions of the rabbinic program to an earlier time. (Rieser, "On One Foot," 22, my emphasis)

The term "Oral Torah" is found elsewhere in the Talmud only in bYoma 28b and bQiddushin 66a. So much for the Oral Torah being foundational to Judaism! Again, while there were traditions purported to have Mosaic origins, the specific word torot (as used in Scripture and by the early rabbis) doesn't carry the meaning of two different Torahs.

Apart from Sifra to Genesis 26:5, the concept of the Oral Torah appears only in one other place in the rabbinic writings in reference to Leviticus 26:46; however, Rabbi Akiva, the greatest sage of the Talmud, takes issue with this argument:

Rabbi Akiva asked: "And were [only] two Torahs given to Israel? Were not many torahs given to Israel [as demonstrated by the following biblical texts]: "this is the torah of the burnt offering" (Lev. 6:2); "this is the torah of the meal offering" (Lev. 6:7); "this is the torah of the guilt offering" (Lev. 7:1); "this is the torah of the peace-offering" (Lev. 7:11); "this is the torah concerning a person who dies in a tent" (Num. 19:14). (Gruber, Rabbi Akiva's Messiah, 114 n. 13)

Of course, Rabbi Akiva firmly believed in oral tradition. But he didn't believe that the reference to torot in Leviticus 26:46 refers to two Torahs, one oral and one written.

Gruber observes, "The only other explicit reference to a dual Torah doctrine in the tannaitic midrashim is in Sifre Devarim on Deut. 33:10" (Gruber, Rabbi Akiva's Messiah, 114 n. 13). The Masoretic text (the authoritative text according to the rabbis) of Deuteronomy 33:10, however, reads torah, not torot, completely undercutting the entire argument.

From this we can make three important observations: 1) There were differences in the Hebrew texts used by the ancient rabbis, even in the text of the Torah; 2) The verse cited to prove that there was not just one Torah given to Israel actually makes reference to only one Torah in the text found in every Rabbinic Bible used today; 3) Even the variant reading of Deuteronomy 33:10 reflected in the midrash, speaking of Torahs in the plural in no way points to two Torahs. Rather, in keeping with all the verses we discussed above, it is in the context of ordinances (mishpatim).

In summary, although traditional Jewish writings are replete with discussion of the Oral Torah, there's no evidence from Scripture or the early rabbinic writings that torot refers to dual Torahs.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 5, pp. 84-95.

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The Torah (along with the rest of the Hebrew Bible) is unintelligible without the rabbinic traditions. From circumcision to Sabbath observance, from the vowels of the Masoretic text to the Messiah, we can only understand the Scriptures with the help of our traditions. Even common sense would tell you that every set of laws and rules needs ongoing oral explanation and interpretation. And let's also be realistic. Who am I to think that I can understand the Bible on my own? I have to ask my rabbi. In the same way that I go to the doctor with medical questions and the lawyer with legal questions, I go to the rabbi with spiritual and biblical questions. Who am I to dispute him?

Orthodox Jewish journalist David Klinghoffer argues,

In the Pentateuch, on every page, some places in every passage or even every verse, one finds an apparent blunder: solecisms of grammar or diction, weird spelling variations, needless repetitions, missing words, missing passages, self-contradictions, pointless obscurities, logic-defying transitions, blatant anachronisms, characters introduced without identification then abruptly dropped. I say this as someone who spent ten years as a professional magazine editor: to all appearances, the editing job of the biblical text is so extraordinarily bad as to suggest deliberate sabotage. (Klinghoffer, The Discovery of God, 43)

In reply, many of the "solecisms of grammar or diction" are readily explained by historical developments in Hebrew grammar and syntax. "Weird spelling variations" only appear to be weird in light of later orthographic developments or due to our ignorance of certain scribal conventions. Furthermore, the writing style of the Torah is far different from that of Western publications today. Moreover, the rabbinic traditions often offer mutually contradictory solutions to some of the very problems Klinghoffer cites. Finally, it is obvious to any objective reader that the Pentateuch is far more accessible and understandable than the rabbinic writings.

Moses wrote, "Surely this Instruction [torah] which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach" (Deut. 30:11 NJV); nevertheless, Klinghoffer claims,

Either the book really does seek to direct our attention to esoteric teachings, in which case the Torah is a code, a locked text, and everyone knows that neither a code nor a lock is ever made without a key; or it is the product of a unique editing process resulting in both the most ineptly edited book ever and at the same time the most brilliantly influential. (Klinghoffer, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, 26)

Klinghoffer's argument is self-defeating. The Pentateuch is the "most brilliantly influential" document precisely because millions of Christians throughout history have adopted it as their sacred Scriptures, and they have done so without the so-called key of rabbinic tradition. In fact, Christians' use of the Scriptures have been so effective that they have used the Torah to transform governments and cultures.

There's no evidence that Moses received an Oral Torah on Mt. Sinai (see 6.2 above). Exodus recounts how the people responded to the written words God gave Moses: "Moses went and told the people all the LORD's words and laws, they responded with one voice, 'Everything the LORD has said we will do.' Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said" (24:3-4). Once the people agreed to observe the covenant, Moses didn't burden them with further traditions that undermined the clear meaning of the written laws. No mention is made of oral traditions.

Still, anti-missionaries claim that the Written Torah lacks sufficient information to guide the people. Rabbi Moshe Shulman asserts that "a general lack of explanation . . . exists for almost all of the commandments" (Shulman, "An Explanation of the Oral Law," 8). Shulman's claim is refuted by the very specific regulations concerning sacrifices (Lev. 1:14-17), the requirements for the priesthood (Lev. 21:16-23), and the prohibitions of incest (Lev. 18:9-18).

Many cite Nehemiah 8:7-8 as proof that the Written Torah requires detailed oral explanation: "The Levites . . . instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read." Nevertheless, if we study Nehemiah 8 carefully, we'll find that just the opposite is true.

First, Nehemiah 8:3 and 8:18 indicate that Ezra read the Law "from daybreak till noon" for eight days. Such a timeframe easily allows for the entire Torah to be read (even two or three times) with explanations from the Levites. If the Levites had recited the Oral Torah, Ezra wouldn't have made it through a few chapters of the Law in the allotted time.

Second, Ezra's audience had just returned from the Babylonian exile. They spoke Aramaic rather than Hebrew. The Levites' explanations were likely translations of the text or discussions of unfamiliar terms.

Third, Nehemiah 8:9b says, "For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law." Rashi says that their weeping stemmed from their failure to "uphold the Torah appropriately." The people were ignorant of God's laws, particularly the regulations concerning Sukkot (Neh. 8:13-15). Since the Torah had to be translated just to be understood, it's unreasonable to assume that the people could have digested and preserved much more detailed regulations in the rabbinic writings. Furthermore, the people obeyed the Law's instructions "as . . . written" (Neh. 8:15b), not according to the oral traditions.

The Levites were able to explain the Torah's meaning not because they understood the Oral Torah, but because they understood the Hebrew enough to translate it into Aramaic. Since they were responsible for teaching the Law, they naturally would have understood its meaning better than the average Israelite. There's also no indication that what they classified as "Torah" went any further than the written text.

In light of the people's ignorance of the Torah, b. Sukkah 20a seems credible: "When Torah was forgotten by Israel, Ezra came up from Babylon and (re)established it." This claim is far more believable than claims that Ezra was well-acquainted with the oral traditions (e.g., y. Shek. 5:1) or that he instituted extrabiblical regulations (b. Bav. Kam. 82a). If the people failed to obey even the most rudimentary aspects of the Written Law, how could Ezra have instituted additional regulations?

The rabbinic portrayal of Ezra's day is similar to other unbelievable depictions of the biblical era, in which the biblical characters are recreated in the image of the later rabbis while the populace becomes absorbed in rabbinic study. Consider this description of Hezekiah's day:

The oil of Hezekiah . . . burnt in the synagogues and schools [meaning, he was constantly engaged in Torah study—and note also the anachronistic reference to synagogues, which did not exist in ancient Israel for several more centuries]. What did he do?—He planted a sword by the door of the schoolhouse and proclaimed, "He who will not study the Torah will be pierced with the sword." Search was made from Dan unto Beer Sheba, and no ignoramus was found; from Gabbath [in the north] unto Antipris [the later name for a location near Jerusalem], and no boy or girl, man or woman was found who was not thoroughly versed in the laws of cleanliness and uncleanliness. (b. Sanh. 94b)

Note also what Rashi (in accord with the Talmud) says concerning Genesis 26:5:

5 Because Abraham hearkened to My voice when I tested him. and kept My charge [Referring to] decrees to distance [himself] from transgressing the warnings in the Torah, e.g. secondary prohibitions to prevent incest from occurring, and the Rabbinic decrees to safeguard the prohibitions of the Sabbath. My commandments [Referring to] things, which, had they not been written, would have been fit to be commanded, e.g. [prohibitions against] robbery and bloodshed. My statutes [Referring to] things that the evil inclination and the nations of the world argue against' e.g. [the prohibitions against] eating pork and wearing garments of wool and linen for which no reason [is given]' but [which are] the decree of the King and His statutes over His subjects. and My instructions To include the Oral Law, the laws given to Moses from Sinai [b. Yoma 28b].

In spite of the fact that Abraham preceded the Talmud by more than two thousand years, he allegedly followed its teachings! Rabbinic Judaism isn't the religion of the Tanakh; it reinterprets the biblical events in light of its own practices.

Perhaps you still have a sticking point with the Sabbath; how can we know how to observe it apart from oral tradition? Some Torah commands contain many details, while others have very few. The Mishnah (m. Haggai 1:8) addresses rabbinic interpretation of these commandments, saying (per Philip Blackman's explanation):

"Release from vows [i.e., the rules about release from vows] hover in the air and they have naught on which to lean; the rules about the Sabbath, Festival Offerings, and sacrilegious misappropriation of sanctified property are as mountains suspended by a hair, because Scripture is meagre and the rules are many [i.e., the bases for them in the torah are few but the rulings founded on them are numerous]; laws of cases between man and man, rules of the Services [Concerning sacrifices in the Temple], laws of the clean and the unclean and the laws of incest, there have bases for support and they [i.e., the laws enjoined by the Sages are to be accepted as of equal importance and equally binding as those founded on the torah] are the essentials of the Law" (Blackman, Mishnayoth, 2:493). [An additional note of explanation adds: "The Talmud adds that we may not derive any interpretation of Mosaic laws from analogies of expression in post-Mosaic (sc., post-Pentateuchal) books. Consequently the traditional rulings of the Rabbis find only slender support in the torah in these subjects" (2:505, note 3).]

Note the following acknowledgments: 1) Some of the Talmudic laws are like "mountains suspended by a hair" (or, thread), since the Scripture says very little and yet "the rules are many." 2) It is acknowledged that, in contrast to this, there is ample scriptural support for many of the rabbinic laws. 3) Blackman says that "we may not derive any interpretation of Mosaic laws" from biblical books outside of the Torah. As a result, "The traditional rulings of the Rabbis find only slender support in the torah in these subjects."

Jeremiah 17:19-27 is the primary basis for the Talmud's regulations concerning carrying on the Sabbath, yet the Talmud states that laws can't be established from any biblical book outside of the Pentateuch! With little or no support found in the Torah, and with the support of other passages of Scripture removed, the only support left for the Talmudic laws is: This is our tradition, without which the Torah laws are unintelligible.

This logic is devastating for the oral traditions since it demonstrates that they don't go back to Sinai. For example, consider the practice of wearing tefillin (phylacteries). According to Rabbi Moses Lopes Cardozo,

The tradition of laying [i.e., putting on] tefillin is based on a rabbinic interpretation of the following verse:

And these words which command you this day, shall be upon your heart. . . . And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be ornament between your eyes. (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 6:6, 8)

Nowhere does the Written Torah describe this sign and ornament. The tefillin we use today are the result of the tradition of the orally transmitted Torah. Yet not only are the fragments of tefillin found in the Qumran excavations similar to our own; the order of the biblical passages written on these fragments indicates that the difference of opinion between Rashi (eleventh century) and Rabbenu Tam (twelfth century) dates back to the earliest moments of Jewish history, for tefillin of both types were found! (Piskei Tosafot, Menachot 34b)

The literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:6, 8, however, was anything but universal. While the Qumran community used tefillin, other ancient Jewish groups did not interpret this passage from Deuteronomy literally. Additionally, the Qumran phylacteries violated Talmudic guidelines because they included the Ten Commandments. Ancient Greek Pentateuch translations and Samaritan writings reveal a metaphorical understanding of the passage.

The Talmud reveals a battle between two varying tefillin traditions. Note m. Sanhedrin 11:3: "Disregard of the enactments of the Scribes is more severely dealt with than disregard of the injunctions of the Law. If one says, '[Not to wear] phylacteries [is] not a transgression of the Law,' he is exempt." According to the tradition, a rejection of literal tefillin constitutes a rejection of the Torah. Additionally, the tefillin needed to have four compartments in accord with the scribes. This emphasis reveals a dispute over the acceptable number of compartments. The rationale for four compartments is revealed in the Schottenstein translation and explanation of b. Sanhedrin 4b (the bold text is that of the Talmud):

But it was taught in a Baraisa [i.e., in a Tannaitic teaching not found in the Mishnah]: lttpt, lttpt, ltwtpwt—The Scripture refers to the head tefillin three time as totaphos. The first time it is spelled ttpt, the second time ttpt, and the third time twtpwt. THERE ARE THUS allusions to FOUR compartments; these are WORDS OF R' YISHMAEL. [For discussion of this, see below.] R' AKIVA SAYS: IT IS NOT NECESSARY to derive the number of compartments in the head tefillin from the number of times the word totaphos is mentioned; rather, the law emerges from an analysis of the word itself: The word TOT IN the language of the CASPI region means "TWO," and the word PAS IN the language of the AFRIKI region means "TWO," yielding a total of four compartments.

Even the most basic linguistic training reveals the folly of this logic. Scholars still have not positively identified the places and words Akiva references here. The word Akiva references (totaphos) is incorrectly divided into parts of two different words. Akiva's evidence does little to bolster this rabbinic practice.

Was Deuteronomy 6:6, 8 intended to be taken literally? The fact that the context references writing on the doorposts could indicate an affirmative answer, but there's no evidence that the Jews had to follow rabbinic guidelines concerning its application.

The rabbis cite the tefillin as a halakha lemoshe misinai. Rabbi Lopes Cardozo explains,

Another indisputable class of the orally transmitted Torah is called Halachah LeMoshe MiSinai (laws given to Moses at Sinai). The difference between the explanations received and transmitted by Moshe and Halachah LeMoshe MiSinai is that the former are somewhat indicated in the text of the Torah, while the latter is not, nor can it be deduced severah [logical deduction] or the rules of interpretation. . . . Halachah LeMoshe MiSinai needs no intellectual justification, it is accepted because it was handed down at Sinai, although sometimes reasons were offered. (Cardozo, Written Torah and Oral Torah, 101-2)

Although such laws have zero biblical support, they're still binding because they're purported to have come from Sinai! Rabbi Cardozo even claims, "Some Halachot LeMoshe MiSinai were forgotten and later reinstated" (Cardozo, Written and Oral Torah, 104). It's impossible to back up Rabbi Cardozo's claims since these laws have no scriptural basis. It's far more likely that these traditions were developed long after Moses' day.

Some scholars say that the claim of Mosaic roots for such laws should be taken metaphorically. The Jewish Encyclopedia says, "The phrase 'halakah le-Mosheh mi Sinai' must not be taken literally, since many of the halakot thus designated are admittedly later rabbinical statutes."

You might say that the idea of halakha lemoshe misinai constitutes a copout; whenever a Talmudic rabbi failed to produce biblical or logical evidence of a law, he could simply say, "It's a halakha lemoshe misinai!" The most serious problem of halakha lemoshe misinai, however, is the fact that they add to the Law in clear disobedience to Torah commands (Deut. 4:2; 12:32).

Here are some of the halakhot lemoshe misinai as listed on the Aish Das website:

The altered vocalization of the words which end phrases: Nedarim 37b
Reading certain biblical words as though they contained invisible vowels: Nedarim 37b
The tradition of reading some words which aren't in the Torah, or not reading certain words which are there: Nedarim 37b
Having square boxes for the Phylacteries: Megillah 24b
Breaking Shabbat to save a life: Shabbat 132a
Allowing plowing of a field in which there are 10 saplings in a certain space, until Rosh HaShanah of the Sabbatical Year: Succah 34a, 44a
The minimal height of a Succah Hut: Succah 5b, 6b
Teaching the minimum requisite length of the 3rd wall of a Succah Hut: Sanhedrin 4a; Succah 6b
Invalidating Ritual Immersion if hair separates the skin from the water: Eruvin 4b; Succah 5b, 6a-b
Whether the determination of how long one must remain in a leprous house in order to communicate impurity to his clothing is a Biblical law or a Law Communicated to Moshe at Sinai: Eruvin 4a; Succah 5b-6a
Forbidding 39 Central Forms of Work on Shabbat: Shabbat 97b
Defining a "Wall", vis-a-vis walled-in areas and the permissibility of transportation in and out of those areas on Shabbat: Eruvin 4b, 15b; Succah 4a-6b
Use of the principles of "Gud Achit/Asik" pretending to extend walls to meet ceilings/floors, where legally required: Eruvin 4b; Succah 5b, 6b
Preferred Mezuzah [Doorpost Scroll] and Phylacteries types of leather: Shabbat 79b
Using hairs and veins from Kosher animals to Sew and Wrap the Scrolls inside Phylacteries: Shabbat 108a; Makkot 11a
The form of the knots of the straps for phylacteries [Tefillin]: Eruvin 97a
Circumcision on Shabbat: Shabbat 132a

Some of these traditions must postdate Sinai. The commands regarding the vocalization of the Torah reveal much later developments in the Hebrew language. In addition to this, it is very difficult to accept that the thirty-nine Sabbath regulations were promulgated by Moses. The same applies to the concept of teffilin.

Moshe Shulman cites the importance of the Oral Law in reference to building a sukkah tabernacle:

"And you shall take to you on the first day the fruit of a goodly tree, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willow of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d seven days. And you shall keep it a feast to Hashem seven days in the year, it is a statute forever in your generations, you shall keep it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths seven days, all the homeborn in Israel shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt." (Lev. 23:40–43)

Without the Oral Law, how would we understand this passage? What is a goodly tree? Apples, oranges, maybe figs? What are boughs of a thick tree? Let's say we take an apple, a branch of a palm tree, the thickest bough of the thickest tree we can find (we're very religious you know) and a willow (the whole tree or just a little of it?). What do we do? You can barely hold all this stuff in your hands. And this we have to keep forever? Do you get the feeling that something is missing here? And then for seven days what kind of booth do I need? (Shulman, "Oral Law")

There's little difficulty in interpreting Leviticus 23 unless one holds (without biblical evidence) that Moses was given the exact dimensions of the sukkah as the Talmud claims. Note Baruch Levine's remarks: "There is no mention of the 'etrog [the citron used in the Sukkot] even in Nehemiah 8:15. The word 'etrog itself is of Persian origin. It represents a later interpretation of hadar as 'citrus fruit'" (Levine, Leviticus, 125). The rabbinic interpretation is entirely untenable; there's no evidence that Moses' original audience understood the text this way. Rather, the text (along with many others that are misused by traditional Judaism) should be taken as a general command.

Rabbi Lopes Cardozo has similarly determined that God must have explained the command, "be fruitful and multiply," (Gen. 1:28; 9:1) in specific detail (e.g., the exact number of children and their gender); this way, Jews would know whether they had obeyed the command. This command, however, wasn't given to Israel as a nation, and it's not connected with specific details; it was given to the whole human race at creation and, later, after the flood.

There's also the threefold injunction to refrain from boiling a kid in its mother's milk (Exod. 23:19; 34:26; Deut. 14:21). This command led the sages to conclude that a Jew couldn't eat meat and dairy together. The Judaism 101 website explains the elaborate implications:

This separation includes not only the foods themselves, but the utensils, pots and pans with which they are cooked, the plates and flatware from which they are eaten, the dishwashers or dishpans in which they are cleaned, and the towels on which they are dried. A kosher household will have at least two sets of pots, pans and dishes: one for meat and one for dairy. . . .
One must wait a significant amount of time between eating meat and dairy. Opinions differ, and vary from three to six hours.

Nevertheless, Abraham, who reportedly obeyed the Oral Torah, violated it when he "brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before [his guests]" (Gen. 18:8). Some suggest that, since the guests were angels, they didn't actually eat what was set before them. Others hold that Abraham did follow the tradition and waited several hours to serve the meat after serving the dairy products. No matter how traditional Judaism interprets this text, it has had difficulty with this passage.

It's helpful to see how the Karaites have understood Torah regulations. Traditional Jews often criticize Karaites for their practices, but they often have a better grasp of Torah regulations than the Talmud! For instance, the Karaites cite Leviticus 19:27-28 (a passage supposedly proving the need for side-curls) as prohibiting:

  1. Making a bald spot on the head as an act of mourning
  2. Shaving the beard as an act of mourning
  3. Cutting the skin as an act of mourning
  4. Writing on the skin as an act of mourning

Many traditional Jewish men have, in religious devotion, have made themselves look very strange to outsiders by having shaved heads except for their sideburns, which they let grow out. This is ironic since the passage from Leviticus actually prohibits an odd cutting or disfigurement of one's hair. It is unfortunate that traditional groups fight with each other regarding the length and style of their side-curls.

Let's turn our attention to the Sabbath by examining some contemporary Sabbath guidelines and see whether they're actually what Moses commanded.

The Talmud bans thirty-nine subdivisions of labor on the Sabbath based on its interpretation of Exodus 31:12-17:

The primary labours are forty less one, [viz.:] sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, bleaching, hackling, dyeing, spinning, stretching the threads, the making of two meshes, weaving two threads, dividing two threads, tying [knotting] and untying, sewing two stitches, tearing in order to sew two stitches, capturing a deer, slaughtering, or flaying, or salting it, curing its hide, scraping it [of its hair], cutting it up, writing two letters, erasing in order to write two letters [over the erasure], building, pulling down, extinguishing, kindling, striking with a hammer, [and] carrying out from one domain to another. (b. Shab. 73a)

Let's consider the prohibition of writing:

WRITING TWO LETTERS. Our Rabbis taught: If one writes one large letter in the place of which there is room for writing two, he is not culpable. If he erases one large letter and there is room in its place for writing two, he is culpable. Said R. Menahem son of R. Jose: And this is the greater stringency of erasing over writing (b. Shab. 75b).
If one writes two letters in one state of unawareness, he is culpable. If one writes with ink, chemicals, sikra, kumos, kankantum, or with anything that leaves a mark on the angle of two walls or on the two leaves [tables] of a ledger, and they [the two letters] are read together, he is culpable. If one writes on his flesh, he is culpable: He who scratches a mark on his flesh, R. Eliezer declares him liable to a sin-offering; but the sages exempt him. If one writes with a fluid, with fruit juice, with road dust, or with writer's powder, or with anything that cannot endure, he is not culpable. [If one writes] with the back of his hand, with his foot, with his mouth, or with his elbow; if one writes one letter near [other] writing, or if one writes upon writing; if one intends writing a heth but writes two zayyinin; one [letter] on the ground and another on a beam; if one writes on two walls of the house, or on two leaves of a ledger which are not to be read together, he is not culpable. if [sic] one writes one letter as an abbreviation, R. Joshua B. Bathyra holds him liable, whilst the sages exempt him. (b. Shab. 104b)

Is this really what God meant when he gave Israel the Sabbath laws? Dr. Alan Dundes, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has done a study on the idea of shinui (change), in which something that would be considered to be "work" on the Sabbath is no longer considered to be "work" if it is done in an unusual way. One modern example of shinui is in toilet paper usage on the Sabbath. The Talmud bans any kind of tearing on the Sabbath. Therefore, if no Gentile is available to tear the toilet paper, the "paper may be torn, but not on the perforations and in an unusual way, e.g., with the feet." Or, "One may use the paper without tearing it from the roll, and when finished, insert the used portion of the roll in the toilet and flush. The paper in the bowl will thus be torn automatically from the rest of the roll" (Dundes, Shabbat Elevator, 56).

Examples of shinui can be multiplied indefinitely.

There are some quaint forms of shinui that serve to circumvent the prohibition against "kneading," which is defined as "binding together small particles by means of a bonding agent to form one mass" (Cohen [The Shabbos Kitchen], 142). These include reversing the usual order of combining the ingredients in food preparation—for example, instead of pouring milk on cereal in a bowl, one would put the milk in the bowl first and then add the cereal, stirring a mixture with crisscross strokes instead of the usual typical continuous circular motion, stirring a mixture with one's bare hand or finger, or using the handle of a spoon or fork, or a knife-blade. (Cohen [The Shabbos Kitchen], 149–152; [Children in Halachah], 97–99) (Dundes, Shabbat Elevator, 57)
In the case of a medical emergency, say with a newborn baby, one can use a normal telephone to speak to a doctor. The life-threatening rule that takes precedence over any Halachic principle would obviously be in effect. Still, even in this instance, it is preferable to employ some form of shinui. "The receiver of the telephone should be lifted off with one's elbow or with another object. The number should be dialed with the end of a spoon, one's little finger, the joint of a finger, etc." (Cohen [Children in Halachah, 79–80) (Dundes, Shabbat Elevator, 36)

Orthodox rabbis say that pushing an elevator button constitutes labor on the Sabbath. Therefore, Jews must either use a Sabbath elevator (one that automatically stops on every floor) or ride the elevator in hopes that a Gentile will press the button to their floor. Some believe that using a shinui is permitted: "In the case of the elevator, one informant reported that while it was forbidden to push the elevator button with one's finger, one could push the button with one's elbow or even one's nose" (Dundes, Shabbat Elevator, 33).

Here is one example of a law related to the Shabbes Goy, "a non-Jewish person who is employed by an observant Jewish family to perform activities forbidden to Jews on the Sabbath, such as cooking and turning lights on and off" (judaism.about.com/od/sabbathdayshabb2/f/shabbesgoy. htm, accessed April 1, 2014):

According to one source, "cutting nails with scissors or a nail clipper falls under the Biblical prohibition of shearing, whereas biting or tearing off nails is prohibited Rabbinically" (S. Cohen [The Shabbos Home], 160). The same source also describes a hypothetical situation in which a woman scheduled to visit the mikveh (ritual immersion pool) Friday night forgets to cut her fingernails before the Sabbath. In such a case, "she should have a gentile tear or bite off the fingernails . . . . If the gentile is unwilling to do this, she may have the gentile cut off the nails with an instrument" (166). (Dundes, Shabbat Elevator, 66)

Many have developed loopholes not only around the traditions, but even around the Written Torah itself! Residents of Kibbutz Sarid found a way around the law against raising pigs on Israeli soil: "They raised pigs on wooden platforms so that technically, the pigs' feet never touched Israeli soil." In some cases, a devout Jew will "sell" his leaven to a Gentile prior to Passover and then "buy" it back right afterward. Others will "sell" their land to Gentiles in the Sabbatical year and work the now Gentile land before "buying" it back after the year is over.

These loopholes simply miss the point of what God was trying to tell his people when he gave them these laws. Why try to find loopholes if you really love the Torah? Obedience to the Torah demands trust in God. Failure to trust in God inevitably results in ingenious circumvention around the clear meaning of his laws.

I could cite hundreds of other Sabbath regulations. Talmudic Judaism does not have the true, original interpretation of the Sabbath, or of many other Torah laws, despite its claims to have an unbroken chain of tradition going all the way back to Moses.

In no way am I putting down rabbinic Judaism, which has many beautiful traditions. What I am rejecting is the notion that these traditions were received along with the Written Torah at Sinai. I'm rejecting the idea that understanding of the Written Torah is contingent upon an understanding of rabbinic tradition.

How, then, do we determine what constitutes labor on the Sabbath? Apparently, God has only given us as much information as we need in the Written Torah, meaning: 1) in an agrarian society, there was a general understanding of what constituted "work"; 2) God was not concerned with all the minute details and questions raised by Talmudic Judaism; 3) the death penalty was for flagrant violation of the commandment to cease from work on the Sabbath, not for the rabbinic interpretation of this commandment; 4) when Moses was unsure of something, he went to God, and later, questionable cases and situations could be brought to local elders, leaders, or prophets for counsel and revelation; 5) further national customs would naturally develop, but if those customs became binding and contrary to the spirit of the Torah, problems would arise.

It's possible to obey the Sabbath laws without following detailed rabbinic guidelines. The Karaites, the Essenes of Yeshua's day, and Messianic Jews today all demonstrate this. Gentile Christians are able to observe Sunday as a day of rest apart from extrabiblical traditions.

The Hebrew Scriptures never condemn the people for failing to observe rabbinic Sabbath guidelines. Consider Numbers 15:

"But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD's word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him." While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.

If Moses had received an oral tradition accompanying the Written Law, he wouldn't have needed to ask God for further instructions! Some reply that the offender must have known that gathering sticks was a violation of the Sabbath from the Oral Law, but this need not be the case. We don't know all of the details of the account, but if we were there, we would have known that the man was guilty of breaking the Sabbath. The context indicates that his Sabbath violation was clear and flagrant.

In closing, I offer two final considerations. First, contrary to the belief of traditional Jews, the transmission of the written Scriptures does not depend upon Oral Law. The way the Hebrew Bible has been passed down is through various manuscript traditions. There are many witnesses to the biblical text, including translations and the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic texts, which contain thousands of variants among themselves. The fact that there are so many differences among the Masoretic texts proves that it was not the Oral Law that preserved them; otherwise, they would have a much higher level of uniformity.

Second, Jewish groups that predate the Pharisees by centuries are unaware of many of the customs of the Oral Law. B. Gittin 45a recounts a difference in interpretation between the Cutheans, who took the Written Law literally, and a traditional Jewish slave, who adhered to the rabbinic interpretation. In modern times, Golan Brosh has pointed out to me in a private communication the practices of the Beta Israel, Ethiopian Jews who have been transported to Israel:

As for their religion, scholars believe Beta-Israel to be one of the most traditionalistic-keeping-of-Torah communities among all Jewish ethnic groups! Their most sacred book, called The Orit, includes all books of Moses and most books in the Bible. As for some of their religious practices, they still follow sacrificing-rituals, use a very strict law considering purity (menstruating women, etc.) and preserving priestly functions . . . . On the other hand, due to the fact that they are ignorant of the Oral Law and Rabbinic heritage, they find the custom of lighting Sabbath candles a very odd tradition, as it is emphasized in the Torah not to light fire on Sabbath. They are not familiar with the talit [prayer shawl] or tefillin, they possess a different prayer book than the Siddur, and therefore practice a much different religion of Judaism.

The practices of these Jews reveal that the Oral Law can't be dated back to Moses and that it's possible to obey the Written Law without it. Unfortunately, for many devout Jews, the oral traditions and the written laws are so intermingled that it's difficult to separate the two.

The rabbinic laws are mandated by fallible men, not by an infallible divine command. Proverbs 3:5-6 commands us not to lean on our own understanding, but to trust in God. Let's heed the Lord rather than trusting in fallible rabbis.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 5, pp. 95-139.

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According to Deuteronomy 17:8–13, the rabbis have the sole authority to interpret the Law and to tell us how to live. Whoever refuses to listen to them is guilty of a serious sin in the sight of God.

This passage nowhere refers to the rabbis! Take a look for yourself:

If a case is too baffling for you to decide, be it a controversy over homicide, civil law, or assault—matters of dispute in your courts—you shall promptly repair to the place that the LORD your God will have chosen, and appear before the levitical priests, or the magistrate in charge at the time, and present your problem. When they have announced to you the verdict in the case, you shall carry out the verdict that is announced to you from that place that the LORD chose, observing scrupulously all their instructions to you. You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left. Should a man act presumptuously and disregard the priest charged with serving there the LORD your God, or the magistrate, that man shall die. Thus you will sweep out evil from Israel: all the people will hear and be afraid and will not act presumptuously again (NJV).

Jeffrey Tigay observes, "This is not a court of appeals but a court of referral for difficult cases in which guilt or innocence cannot be determined or how to apply the law is unclear." The court was composed of levitical priests "or the magistrate in charge at the time" to rule on "matters of criminal and civil law" (Tigay, Deuteronomy, 163).

Rashi interprets "homicide" (literally, "between blood and blood") as, "between ritually unclean blood [of menstruation] and ritually clean blood." He interprets "assault" (literally, "between affliction and affliction") as, "between a ritually unclean lesion and a ritually clean lesion" (as related to leprosy). However, according to Tigay, "Menstruation and 'leprosy' are unlikely to have been subjects of litigation in the local courts" (Tigay, Deuteronomy, 164). Still, this passage is cited to give rabbinic leaders far-reaching authority. Rambam goes so far as to say, "Even if it seems obvious to you that the judges are in error, follow their ruling. Do not say, for example, 'How can I execute this man whom I believe to be innocent?'"

The rabbinic approach is dubious. First, Deuteronomy 17 establishes a court to sort out difficult cases, not to legislate every minute detail of a Jew's life. Second, the text refers not to the rabbis, but to judges. The decisions of this "Supreme Court" would be taken as binding; anyone who disregarded them would face the death penalty. (Sadly, this passage is misused to undermine the Written Law. Rabbinic leaders are to be followed even when their rulings run counter to the clear meaning of the Torah.) The Scriptures nowhere grant the rabbis this power!

Note the following texts from Moses Maimonides that emphasize rabbinic authority:

  • In order to "cleave to God," one must "cleave to the sages and their disciples" (Sefer HaMitzvot).
  • One who vilifies the sages "will not receive a portion in the World to Come and is included among those who 'scorned the word of God'" (Hilchot Talmud Torah 6:11).
  • 1,001 sages are of greater authority than 1,000 prophets (Introduction to the Mishnah).
  • Whenever there's a difference between rabbinic tradition and the clear meaning of Scripture, the former is always to be followed. Any prophet who advocates otherwise is to be put to death (Introduction to the Mishnah).

There's also the following Talmudic account, which discusses the cleanness of an oven:

R. Eliezer declared it clean, and the Sages declared it unclean; and this was the oven of 'Aknai . . . . Said he to them: "If the halachah agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it!" Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place—others affirm, four hundred cubits. "No proof can be brought from a carob-tree," they retorted. Again he said to them: "If the halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!" Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards—"No proof can be brought from a stream of water," they rejoined. Again he urged: "If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it," whereupon the walls inclined to fall. But R. Joshua rebuked them, saying: "When scholars are engaged in a halachic dispute, what have ye to interfere?" Hence they did not fall, in honour of R. Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honour of R. Eliezer; and they are still standing thus inclined. Again he said to them: "If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!" Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: "Why do ye dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him!" But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: "It is not in heaven." What did he mean by this?—Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline [misquoting the end of Exod. 23:2] R. Nathan met Elijah and asked him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do in that hour?—He laughed [with joy], he replied, saying, "My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me." It was said: On that day all objects which R. Eliezer had declared clean were brought and burnt in fire. Then they took a vote and excommunicated him. (b. Bava Mesia 59a-b)

Majority rule from rabbinical tradition reigns supreme! It's superior to supernatural miracles, true prophets, and even God's own voice from heaven! According to the Schottenstein Talmud's note to b. Sanhedrin 90a, to reject the divine authority of the Oral Torah is to forfeit one's place in the world to come.

Let's say that you're a strict Orthodox Jew debating with me the meaning of Deuteronomy 25:11-12. I cite other ancient Near Eastern law codes to say that the text should be taken literally, but you cite tradition to support the idea of monetary recompense. In so doing, you reject the plain sense of the text.

What if a devout Jewish prophet (one with a proven track record of predicting the future) were to come and say that the Torah should be interpreted literally? What if he were to even call down fire from heaven to prove that he's telling the truth? Would you still refuse to believe in the literal meaning of the Torah?

What if God's voice were to speak from heaven and say that the Torah should be interpreted literally? Would you still reject the clear teaching of Scripture, a true prophet, a divine miracle, and even God's voice in favor of rabbinic tradition? How do you think God would deal with you on Judgment Day should you do so?

Although the Talmud teaches that the Torah is no longer in heaven (lo' bashamayim hi'), it nonetheless attributes divine inspiration to the rabbinic sages (b. Bava Bathra 12a). As Rabbi Abraham Yeshayah Karelitz (Chazon Ish), says, "Those who are forever toiling in Torah and whose eyes are cast Heavenward for assistance in properly interpreting the Law—they are the angels produced by toil in Torah. It is their obligation to do as the Torah spirit within them dictates" (Finkelman, The Chazon Ish, 102).

While a culture can't survive without law enforcement, human leaders often institute unjust laws (e.g., Isa. 1:21-28). We can't blindly follow human leaders no matter how full of integrity they may be. Simply put, neither Deuteronomy 17 nor any other scriptural text gives the rabbis this kind of comprehensive power.

I don't take any of this lightly. Yeshua transformed my life in 1971. As I spend my life sharing his message, I find significant opposition from traditional Jews. Other Jewish believers in Yeshua experience insults and even physical persecution for sharing their faith. I've reached my conclusions about rabbinic authority through a careful search for God's truth.

The Mishnah records an event that further highlights rabbinic authority (Rosh HaShanah 2:8-9). When Rabbi Joshua challenges Rabban Gamaliel's timing of the new moon, Gamaliel orders Joshua to meet him with staff and purse in hand on the Day of Atonement (based on Joshua's reckoning). Jewish law forbade Joshua from doing this, but he supposedly needed to learn the supremacy of rabbinic authority. Rabban Gamaliel had the power not only to establish the timing of holy days (whether right or wrong), but he could also force another respected sage to violate his own conscience and submit to his authority.

Traditional Judaism has placed the authority of the rabbis above that of prophetic teaching from heaven. As the introduction to a commentary on the Shulchan Arukh states, "The truth is as the sages decide with the human mind."

Note the ending to the story in b. Bava Mesia 59a-b cited earlier:

A Tanna taught: Great was the calamity that befell that day, for everything at which R. Eliezer cast his eyes was burned up. R. Gamaliel too was travelling in a ship, when a huge wave arose to drown him. 'It appears to me,' he reflected, 'that this is on account of none other but R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus.' Thereupon he arose and exclaimed, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Thou knowest full well that I have not acted for my honour, nor for the honour of my paternal house, but for Thine, so that strife may not multiply in Israel!' At that the raging sea subsided.

Subsequently, however, when Rabbi Eliezer poured out his heart to God in tearful supplications, Rabban Gamaliel suddenly died:

Ima Shalom was R. Eliezer's wife, and sister to R. Gamaliel. From the time of this incident onwards she did not permit him to fall upon his face. [Meaning, in a special time of daily prayer in which the supplicant would fall on his face and pray prayers with his own words. The footnote in this translation explains, "Ima Shalom feared that her husband might pour out his grief and feeling of injury in these prayers, and that God, listening to them, would punish R. Gamaliel, her brother."] Now a certain day happened to be New Moon, but she mistook a full month for a defective one. [Had this been the day of the New Moon, R. Eliezer would not have prayed the special prayers, but it turned out that his wife's calculation was incorrect.] Others say, a poor man came and stood at the door, and she took out some bread to him.16 [On her return] she found him fallen on his face. 'Arise,' she cried out to him, 'thou hast slain my brother.' In the meanwhile an announcement was made from the house of Rabban Gamaliel that he had died. 'Whence dost thou know it?' he questioned her. 'I have this tradition from my father's house: All gates are locked, excepting the gates of wounded feelings.'

Is there any reflection of divine displeasure about the excommunication of Rabbi Eliezer, even here within the Talmud—or , at the least, with the spirit of the ban?

Note also the fate of Rav Sa'adiah Gaon (882-942) who, after vehemently condemning the Karaites, was excommunicated by David ben Zakkai and Rabbi Kohen-Zedek. The writ of excommunication called him "the bloody and wicked man" and "a churl, the son of a nobody." Sa'adiah responded in like fashion.

Reconstructionist Rabbi Moshe Zemer uses such examples to make sense of contemporary polemics of the ultra-Orthodox against other branches of Judaism. He cites Rabbi Moshe Feinsten (1895-1986) who concluded: 1) non-Orthodox rabbis are heretics; 2) a traditional Jew may not accept a position or pray in a non-Orthodox synagogue; 3) a traditional Jew who associates with the non-Orthodox is in jeopardy of leaving the Orthodox fold.

Ironically, Rabbi Feinstein has been attacked by other ultra-Orthodox Jews. Rabbi Yomtov Halevi Schwartz said that Feinstein "misled [people] to eat unkosher foods by ruling that it is permissible for old people to eat meat in the homes of their apostate children" (Zemer, Evolving Halakha, 305). One ultra-Orthodox rabbinic court declared Rabbi Feinstein's yeshiva "a forbidden place" which would "cause the present and future generations to commit sins of sectarianism, heresy, and the uprooting of religion" (cited in Zemer, Evolving Halakha, 305; emphasis in the original).

Here are ultra-Orthodox Jews fighting with one another, branding one another as heretics! We cite these examples to show how traditional groups sometimes treat one another. This treatment, however, extends more vehemently to those on the outside.

Look at traditional Jewish sentiments against the Karaites. It has been ruled that a Jewish physician may not violate the Sabbath by treating a Karaite, and that a Jewish midwife may not deliver the baby of a Karaite. A footnote in the Stone Torah claims that the Karaites "sat in spiritual darkness all their lives." All these attacks stem from the fact that the Karaites dared to interpret the Torah on their own apart from the rabbis. Traditional Judaism tolerates no rivals, and it does this without any support from the Torah.

Traditional rabbis claim to have a monopoly on Mosaic authority and maintain that they are the only valid interpreters of the Law, although nowhere in Scripture do we find that they have been given such authority. Yet, rabbinic leaders who abuse Scripture insist that they are to be followed without question! Consider Rabbi Baruch Paz's claims:

The Rabbis are permitted to enact safeguards in order to prevent the violation of Torah commandments, even if the safeguard itself "uproots" (i.e. violates) a Torah law. Yet, we find a discrepancy between the sages of the Talmud concerning the nature of this uprooting. According to Rabbi Natan in the name of Rabbi Oshaya, rabbinical safeguards may be enacted in cases where they result in a passive violation of a commandment of the Torah (i.e. to forbid that which the Torah permitted), but not in cases where they would cause an active violation (i.e. to permit that which The Torah forbade). Rabbi Chisda, though, holds that the Sages are even permitted to legislate an active violation. Rabbi Natan in the name of Rabbi Oshaya admits, though, that in a case where the violation is only temporary it is permissible even in the case of an active violation . . . .
These are preventative measures, safeguards designed to prevent people from violating actual commandments of the Torah. (Baruch Paz, "Adding, Uprooting, and Rabbinical Authority")

Is there any reason to take the words of fallible men over the eternal truth of God? Note Jeffrey Tigay's remarks on Deuteronomy 13:1:

Keeping in mind that a prophet is God's envoy . . . it is noteworthy that in a Hittite treaty, the suzerain tells his vassal that when he sends him messages, if there is a discrepancy between the written text of a message and the oral version given by his envoy, the written message is authoritative and the envoy is not to be believed. Here in Deuteronomy the discrepancy is between the written text of the Decalogue and the oral claims of the false prophets. (Tigay, Deuteronomy, 188)

If we apply the same standards to rabbinic traditions, the Written Law should trump the Oral Law every time! Yet the Seven Rabbinic Commandments connect God's blessings with obedience to rabbinic laws:

These seven rabbinical commandments are treated like Biblical commandments in so far as, previous to the fulfillment of each, this Benediction is recited: "Blessed be the Lord who has commanded us . . .," the divine command being implied in the general law (Deut. xvii. 11, xxxii. 7; Shab. 23a). Many of the Biblical laws are derived from the Law only by rabbinical interpretation, as, the reading of the Shema' (Deut. vi. 4–7), the binding of the tefillin and the fixing of the mezuzah (ib. 8–9), and the saying of grace after meals (ib. viii. 10). (Wikipedia, "Mitzvah")

The citation from b. Shabbat 23a says,

What benediction is uttered? [after the lighting of the Hanukkah candles]—This: Who sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us to kindle the light of Hanukkah. And where did He command us?—R. Awia said: [It follows] from, thou shalt not turn aside [from the sentence which they shall shew thee (Deut. 17:11)]. R. Nehemiah quoted: Ask thy father, and he will shew thee; Thine elders, and they will tell thee [Deut. 32:7].

The rabbis misused and continue to misuse Deuteronomy 17 to claim sweeping power over Jewish life, even to the minutest details. Their approach to the Torah mirrors the current trend of judicial tyranny in America by which judges actually create new law, rather than simply ruling upon it. A similar tyranny is taking place among the rabbis of traditional Judaism. I know that the rabbis are well meaning, but they've placed manmade tradition above God's Law. The testimony of Isaiah is fitting:

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever (Isa. 40:7–8).

I urge you to place your trust on the sure foundation of God's Word rather than the fallible ideas of men.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 5, pp. 139-161.

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We have an eternal covenant that was given at Mount Sinai, and anyone who tells us to deviate from that covenant is either a false prophet, a false teacher, or both. Just look at the last verse in your "Old Testament." What does it say? Remember the Law of Moses! That's why we reject Christianity. It's a foreign religion and a deviation from Sinai.

We've already established that Jesus didn't abolish the Torah but fulfilled it (see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 4, 5.28), that there's no biblical evidence for an Oral Law accompanying the Torah (6.1-3 and 6.6), and that the Sinaitic covenant is based on written texts, not the oral traditions that form the basis of traditional Judaism (6.4).

By contrast, our faith is rooted in the Written Torah, which promises worldwide blessings through Abraham's seed (6.9). The biblical calendar and sacrificial system point to Yeshua (see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 2, 3.9-3.15), the prophet whom God promised would guide future generations (see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, 4.1). While Rabbinic Judaism holds that the interpretations of the Written Law are above everything else, Yeshua's followers see the Torah as more central than the manmade traditions concerning the laws. For Messianic Jews, the Torah is foundational for God's continued revelation and activity in the earth.

You might counter by arguing that Malachi 3:22-24 (4:4-6 in Christian Bibles) is proof of an enduring Mosaic Torah until Elijah comes. Note how the NJV divides the text:

Be mindful of the Teaching of My servant Moses, whom I charged at Horeb with laws and rules for all Israel.
Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the LORD. He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.

The passage first gives a critical reminder to the people to obey the Torah. Then, there's a promise of the future coming of Elijah prior to the terrible judgment. Notice, however, that there's no indication that Malachi's revelation is the final word from God before Elijah's coming. With the Messiah's arrival, our relationship to the Torah has changed.

You might also point to Deuteronomy 30, which clearly states that, once we come back to the land, we'll continue following the Torah. I discuss this passage in detail elsewhere (6.12). Whereas traditional Judaism isn't based on Sinai, but on subsequent extrabiblical traditions, we hold that the same God who gave the Law at Sinai has now spoken through his Son.

For the full answer, see Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 5, pp. 162-164.

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Various passages in the Tanakh demonstrate that biblical figures such as Daniel followed the rabbinic traditions. For example, according to Daniel 1, he wouldn't eat certain foods—just as the rabbis teach, but something not required in the Written Torah—and according to Daniel 6, he prayed three times each day—just as the rabbis teach. Similarly, Nehemiah 13 follows the rabbinic understanding that forbids buying and selling