The preeminent Christian theologian Carl Barth said, “The Bible is a Jewish book. It cannot be read, understood and expounded unless we are prepared to become Jews with the Jews.”
Why would two learned men of different religious traditions, Judaism and Christianity, reach such a similar conclusion? And why do so many Christians have a strong affinity with the nation of Israel? The answer is simple. Christianity finds its roots in ancient Judaism. As one writer said, “Christians are spiritual Semites.”
Actually the term ‘Jew’ was a later adaption for the people of Israel. They were originally called Hebrews. Abraham was known as, ‘Abram the Hebrew.’ (Gen14:13) — The term Hebrew is becoming even more popular in Israel today —
The apostolic writers taught that Christians are the spiritual children of Abraham. Without being technical over terms, does it surprise you that anyone would speak of Christians as spiritual Semites?
Whatever the case one of the greatest needs among Christians today is to rediscover our Hebraic heritage. The Church has been living in a Greek-Latin mind set ever since she lost her appreciation for her Hebrew roots. (You can pretty much thank Rome for that. And don’t mistake a rediscovery of our Hebrew roots for the Messianic movement today. That movement can largely be compared to the Judaisers of Paul’s day. Read Galatians.)
Actually many Christians are not aware that Christianity began as a sect of Judaism. Early Jewish Christians spoke of themselves as ‘the Way.’ (Acts 9:2; 24:14,22) Later Jewish authorities began to speak of Jewish Christians as ‘Notzrim’, or, ‘the Nazarenes’. (Jerome says that Jews cursed ‘the Nazoraeans’. Cir. 400 a.d.)
Only two movements survived.
After the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, only two of these movements survived. One evolved into Rabbinic or Talmudic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism was a take off from the Pharisees.
The other movement took on the name Christianity. Christianity became heir to the ancient faith of Israel in which she longed for her Messiah. Rabbinic Judaism would have her day, but it would be in the far distant future. (Second coming of the Lord.)
Yet in spite of all this, we still share a deep kinship with the Jewish people. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. The apostles were Jews. The prophets were Jews. The Bible of the early Church was Jewish. In fact the Bible we love is a Hebrew document from Genesis to Revelations. (This is why when Jews read the New Testament, they hear a Jewish voice.)
When Jerusalem was destroyed, Rabbinic Judaism, which had its source in the Pharisees, began to supplant Biblical Judaism, and became anti-Christian. Jesus Christ was rejected as the Messiah. Because of the rejection of Jesus, the Jews would become prey to many false Messiahs. This has been their history.
In early church persecutions, the persecutions were Jews persecuting Jews. Christian Jews were accused of being heretics. Following the destruction of Jerusalem, the two branches of Judaism continued with a love-hate relationship. The issue, however, was that the Christian branch had an atonement in the Messiah. The Judaists had neither atonement nor temple. A new religion had been created. It continues that way to this day.
With the temple gone there was little need for a priesthood in Israel. The Sadducees passed off the scene. Judaism eventually evolved into modern Judaism with its three major groupings; Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed Judaism. The Rabbis were at center stage.
As for the other major branch of Judaism, a name change was foretold by the prophets. Peter, who was most certainly a Jewish apostle, told the new covenant believers never to be ashamed of their name as ‘Christian.’ (Cf. 1 Pet 4:16; Isaiah 65:15)
The changing picture.
As Gentiles flooded into the Church, Christianity began to drift from her Hebraic roots. Greek philosophy filled the Church. Dualism became the norm. But it was when Christianity began centering in Rome, that the Church started taking on a strange nature. The Church put on her imperial vestments. She was now ‘the’ religion. She was now ‘the’ kingdom of God manifest in the earth. She could now pronounce curses on any who did not agree with her. And she carried the sword to enforce her will. Saddest of all, the Jewish element of the Church was treated as a step child at best.
(It should be noted, however, that there have always been purer forms of Christianity than that which evolved out of Rome. Keep in mind that the one who has the votes writes the history.)
What eventually happened is that the Greek-Latin aberration of Christianity took the place of the Hebraic form. Darkness began to overtake much of the Church. Paul warned of this. (Cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-6)
Engrafted into the ancient tree of redemption
Paul had also warned Gentile believers not to boast against the Jewish branches who were broken off because of their rejection of Jesus, nor to boast against the Hebraic nature of the Church.
Paul went on to explain that Gentile believers are wild olive branches who have been engrafted into God’s cultivated olive tree. This means that Gentiles were partaking of a completed Messianic-redemptive faith.
The point is that our engraft is into a tree that existed long before New Testament Christianity. The olive tree is metaphoric. It could be said to reach back to Abel. (Many thoughts can come forth from a study on the olive tree.)
As engrafted branches, Gentile believers were to take on the nature of the olive tree, not vice versa. Perhaps it is in this sense that Gentile believers began to feel themselves as having Jewish hearts. (Jewish in the sense of a completed Messianic Judaism.)
While it is true that in God’s salvation code being Jew or Gentile is meaningless, the fact remains that the Church is Hebraic in nature. All believers are spiritual descendants of Abraham. Our Bible is written entirely in Semitic thought form. The more you study, the more you began thinking Hebraically. Paul said that to the Jews alone God committed His oracles. (Cf. Romans 3:2)
Things we have lost.
Now let’s consider some examples of what we have lost from our Hebraic heritage. Often when Christians read and study the Scriptures, our desire is to accumulate knowledge. We gather data. We study with scholastics in mind. However, in the Biblical-Hebrew tradition, God’s people are taught to study the Scriptures in order to draw near to God.
For the ancient Hebrews the study of Torah was the highest form of worship. It was through study that a person came to know God in a personal way. Yet for the Jews who rejected Jesus, the Torah became a closed book in many senses. This is because Jesus is the living Word of God. The Biblical Christian still meets and worships God by meeting Him in the Scriptures.
Then we have prayer. Often Christians are taught that the more we pray the more spiritual we become. The stress is often on long prayers. Certainly there is a place for longer prayers, yet in the Hebrew tradition, long prayers were not that common. In fact, Jesus rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees over their pretence of righteousness with the use of long prayer. (Matt. 23:14)
The Jewish people were taught that their whole life was an offering of prayer. Even their work was to be considered worship. The Hebraic emphasis is more on short prayers of thankfulness. (Cf. Matt. 6:5-13; 1 Thess. 5:16-18.)
When Paul says we should pray without ceasing, he was speaking as a Jewish man. As a rule our daily life should to be a continuous activity of short prayers filled with thanksgivings.
Then there is dualism.
Some Greeks felt that anything of the material world was evil. When Paul said that in his flesh dwelt no good thing, he was not calling his body evil. He was saying that there is a principle of sin in fallen man. The Hebrew writers refer to this as the evil inclination. (Yetzer haRa.) Actually we are to rejoice in our humanity.
With the Greeks the highest form of spirituality was to enter into a monastic form of living. Monasticism comes from a root word which means to be alone. What did God say about aloneness? He said it wasn’t good. (Gen. 2:18) It was this kind of thinking that contributed to extolling celibacy in the priesthood.
One of the Latin fathers went so far as to say that when a man and his wife have conjugal relations the Holy Spirit leaves the bedroom.
Nowhere does the Bible teach that a celibate lifestyle is in particular spiritual. Actually it teaches the opposite. The Bible affirms the goodness of marriage and the family. A Biblical requirement of a Christian bishop (pastor) is that he be married.
In the Hebrew tradition the act of love in marriage was and is considered both sacred and joyful. Love in marriage allows a couple to express their gift of maleness and femaleness. If you don’t think God wants us to celebrate the romantic side of marriage, read the Song of Solomon. Because of our western mindset this book can be embarrassing. It is a love manual. (Cf. Prov. 5:15-20; Eccl. 9:9; Heb. 13:4)
An identity crisis.
Perhaps it is enough to say that we Christians are finding ourselves in an identity crisis. Who am I? What am I about? Where did I come from? You can be certain that many of these questions have their answer in a rediscovery our Hebraic heritage in Christ.
But it is not only Christians who are in an identity crisis. Jews are there also. There is a statistic put out by the Jews that I find quite interesting. They say that over 50% of Jewish men marry outside their culture. Most marry Christian woman. Why would a Jewish man be drawn to a Christian women? Is it possible that it relates to a Messiah hunger in the Jews? Could this be another indicator of the second coming of Christ? I think so. Many walls between Christian and Jew are beginning to melt away.
There is a final caution. In our search for roots, we should not reject everything that is not Hebraic. Neither should we get on a Jewish lust trip. No person is ever closer to God than being in Christ Jesus. What we should do is rejoice in the diversity and beauty of Christianity while seeking to learn more about our true Biblical heritage.
Yes, we do share a heart with the Jewish people. But we have to remember that new covenant people have been given a new name. Christian means those who belong to the Messiah.
Just some things to think about.
A fellow pilgrim on the journey of life,