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Judaism’s Relation to Christianity Essay

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Judaism’s Relation to Christianity

            Since the emergence of Jesus’ ministry, Christianity has begun creating religious and cultural tremors, ultimately creating a strained relation shared by the Judeo-Christian tradition.  As much as Christianity’s thorough spread across continents undermined Judaism’s established norms, it also contributed to a polemical debate between the Christians and Jews, as a result of Christianity’s divergence from the conventions and norms established by Judaism.

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            Most scholars believe Judaism is an outgrowth of a process that began with polytheism, progressed to henotheism (the worship of one god without denying the existence of others), and ended in the belief in a single Lord of the universe, uniquely different from all His creatures.[1]  The evolution of Christianity from Judaism demonstrates the same organic evolution as Judaism itself evidenced in moving from polytheism to monotheism.

Due to the close relations in terms of origin, doctrine, and customs, the relevant question becomes apparent: does Christianity, to a certain extent, fulfillment of the prophecies indicated in the sacred texts of Judaism.  Due to Christianity’s derivations and allusions from Jewish texts, a debate emerged, asking whether or not Judaism stands as an incomplete religion due to its refusal to admit the full significance of Christ’s messianic state into its philosophies.

As both tradition and convention hold, Jews and Christians profess belief in one God, addressed as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The modern Christian churches also have priests and pastors who lead the churches just like the Rabbis, Scribes, Levites, Pharisees, and Sadducees of the early Jewish synagogues.  The architectural designs of churches, mostly in the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions, have mostly been patterned after Synagogues.  For example, some of the Catholic Church buildings that were built during the 12th century have interior designs similar to synagogues during the time.

The systematic norms and doctrines of both Christian and Jewish faith make a place of worship sacred ground, with the sanctity influencing architectural concepts.  James Burtchaell indicates that the respective Christian and Jewish places of worship, the synagogue and the church are relatively similar in structure and levels of sacredness. Burtchell attributes such similarities to the hierarchal leadership that Christianity adapted from Judaism. He says that Christianity simply continued the offices of the synagogue, and retained relatively similar systems in terms of leadership and the hierarchy in authority. [2]

The unparalleled holiness of God’s essence constitutes as a fundamental component of both Christian and Jewish faith. [3] While Christianity’s deviation has caused a seemingly permanent rupture with its Jewish roots, the teachings of both religions remain relatively similar with minor differences.  Judaism generally focuses on obeying the will of God through action as fulfillment of the Covenant with God.  Likewise, Christians also direct life toward the fulfillment of the covenant, however, Christians believe that fulfillment of the covenant is achieved by following the examples of Jesus Christ.

Long before the ministry of Christ became public, God’s essence is understood in a socio-political perspective His interventions are meant to affect the Israelites as a nation and race of people.  Although the Jewish adherents acknowledge his divinity and omnipotence, their perception of God is of historical and racial magnitude, there by covering national and political interests. [4]

            For orthodox and mainstream Jewish traditions, God is perceived as a single entity and is transcendent as well as immanent.  God’s transcendence exists in such a way that Judaism considers Him as the magnificent creator of the universe and is thereby “above, beyond, and more than the universe.” [5]    God’s immanence, on the other hand, is dwells on His unyielding presence in the world and is first felt upon freeing the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt. [6]

Likewise, God for the Christians as mentioned in the Bible’s Old and New Testament is given the same merit of excellence; as the sole supreme creator of existing elements as well as being above all creation. [7]   However, a defining concept of Christian theology on the concept of God lies on the principle of trinitarianism, wherein God exists as three separate entities bound by a single divinity. [8]

Christianity however deviates from Jewish tradition by making the death of Jesus central  to the Christian faith.  Jews who either had no personal relationship to Jesus or could not see why he had to be the central means of salvation from sin” (Lyden) since previous religious convictions were not predicated on the individual’s relationship to God but on a national and racial relationship with God.

As previously mentioned, Jews and Christians share relevant teachings, hence, both religions operate under similar sets of moral codes to guide adherents to spiritual fulfillment.  For Judaism, the relatively moral acts towards the self and others constitutes as achievement of the Jews’ covenant with God and path to ultimate salvation. [9] Christianity also encourages a similar set of norms, however, Christian theology includes faith as a significant element in fulfilling humanity’s covenant with God and achieving eternal salvation.  [10]

Despite the fact that orthodox Jews reject the teachings of Jesus regarding the laws of Moses, Christianity and Judaism remain to stay connected with the aforementioned creeds.  The Jewish teaching implies that the Torah functions in a way that it should teach Jews how to act in an appropriate manner.  Accounts in the canonical Gospels of the Bible’s New Testament suggest that Jesus did not transform or reject the law but simply called for the understanding of its actual moral value.  Christ simply emphasized on the inwardness or the sincerity of conforming to the law rather than superficial performance. [11]

Sin, meanwhile constitutes as another relative element between Jews and Christians.  As both religious disciplines hold, sin is a direct violation of God’s divine commandments.  The context of sin being held by Judaism stipulates that sin is an act of violation against the pact made by man with God, committed in thoughts, words, and deeds, toward God and toward other people.  [12]   Sin, for the jews, is also considered as a violation of the Jewish law, regardless if the law violated challenges moral and ethical codes or not. [13]

The non-canonical Jewish scriptures of Qumran suggest a different denotation on the concept of sin as it is defined in the function of a power that takes over human beings, which in turn, influences their course of action. [14] Sin in this sense of Jewish thought is not considered as a particular violation of the laws of God and the Jews but an element that conquers the spirit of an individual.

In prevalent Christian theology, sin, similarly functions as a wall in a Christian’s relationship with God.  Like Jewish conceptions, sin in Christian doctrine is similar to the premise of contract breach wherein an act, regardless if it is said, done, or thought of, manifests a sense of hostility against God, and thus, violates man’s covenant with God.  If a Christian does not atone for such violation, he or she commits sin in the eyes of God and other Christians. [15]  .

The canonical Gospels and the epistles found in the New Testament, on the other hand, provide different contexts for sin.   Sin in the context of gospels, Matthew and Luke in particular, relates the premise of sin to a debt, in which if not paid is a direct violation of the agreement between a debtor and the one in debt.  The first epistle of John indicates that everyone who “sins, breaks the law,” thereby indicating that “sin is lawlessness.” [16] As stated in the book of Genesis, both Adam and Eve acquired ability of judgment and knowledge of good and evil as they disobeyed God’s direct commandment on eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. [17]

In the concept of atonement, the Jews dedicate an entire day, the Yom Kippur, for the followers to, ultimately, atone for their transgressions.  The Jewish concept of atonement also includes external manifestations of their repentance from sins, although it does not necessarily signify or determine their sincerity.  The sacrifices come in repenting, fasting, and staying away from the outside world that may corrupt a person.

In Christian traditions, atonement from sin has already been achieved through Jesus Christ’s phenomenal conception and birth, sinless life, as well as his unprecedented suffering and death.  However, certain sects such as the Roman Catholic Church require the sacrament of confession to signify sincerity in atoning for sin. [18]  Protestants, on the other hand, do not have systematic methods for atonement as they believe that atonement can be achieved in a more personal level.[19]

Like the Jews, Christians also abstain from eating and drinking as a form of sacrifice. Fasting, for Christians, is a sign of repentance from their sins, in doing so, they acknowledge the sacrifices Christ made to redeem humanity from the corruption of sin.  The only difference lies in the fact that the Judaism’s adherents are compelled to make necessary sacrifices, while the Christian authorities leave the concept of sacrifice for individuals within the adherents’ capacity to decide.

Evidently, whether or not Christianity is to be argued as a missing facet of Judaism is not relevant.  Whether one simply admits that Judaism is a complete religion even without a notion of personal salvation or a personal, living Messiah, is also irrelevant.  The similarities and differences between the two religions only constitute a close relation between the two.  In this regard, it seems quite tempting indeed to assert that, Christianity, is, in fact, the completion of pre-existing Hebrew prophecy and tradition.  However, slight differences among doctrines and practices do not necessarily mean that it is a focal point for comparisons and contrasts for superiority.

Bibliography

Aguilar, G., The Jewish Faith: Its Spiritual Consolation, Moral Guidance, and Immortal Hope; with a Brief Notice of the Reasons for Many of Its Ordinances and Prohibitions; a Series of Letters Answering the Inquiries of Youth, Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish, MT, 2008.

American Jewish Committee, Jewish Beliefs about God, C/JEEP Curriculum Guide, New York, 1997.

Ball, A, Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, Huntington, IN, 429, 2003.

Burtchell, J, From Synagogue to Church, Cambridge University Press, Boston, MA, 1992.

Grudem, W. A., Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994.

Heschel, S., Heschel, Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus, Illustrated edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998.

Lagasse, P., L, Goldman, A, Hobson, & S, Norton, The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edn, Culumbia University Press, New York, 2007.

Lyonnet, S., & L. Sabourin, Sin, Redemtption, And Sacrifice: A Biblical and Patristic Study, Rome, 27, 1998.

Ward, K, Christianity: a guide for the perplexed. SPCK, London, 2007.

[1] P, Lagasse, L, Goldman, A, Hobson, & S, Norton, The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edn, Culumbia University Press, New York, 2007.
[2] J, Burtchell, From Synagogue to Church, Cambridge University Press, Boston, MA, p. I, 1992.
[3]  S. Heschel, Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus, Illustrated edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 113, 1998.
[4] J, Lyden,. “Atonement in Judaism and Christianity: Toward a Rapprochement.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies vol. 29.no, 1, 1992, p. 47.
[5]  American Jewish Committee, Jewish Beliefs about God, C/JEEP Curriculum Guide, New York, 1997.
[6] Ibid. p. 17
[7] S. Heschel, Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus, Illustrated edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 114, 1998.

[8] W.A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 226, 1994.
[9] American Jewish Committee, Jewish Beliefs about God, C/JEEP Curriculum Guide, New York, 1997.
[10] S. Heschel, loc, cit. 14

[11] S. Heschel, Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus, Illustrated edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 114, 1998.
[12] G. Aguilar, The Jewish Faith: Its Spiritual Consolation, Moral Guidance, and Immortal Hope; with a Brief Notice of the Reasons for Many of Its Ordinances and Prohibitions; a Series of Letters Answering the Inquiries of Youth, Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish, MT, 186-189, 2008.
[13] Ibid. 190.
[14] S. Lyonnet, & L. Sabourin, Sin, Redemtption, And Sacrifice: A Biblical and Patristic Study, Rome, 27, 1998.
[15] Ibid. 32.
[16] 1 John, 3:4, (New American Version).
[17]  Genesis, 3:1-6 (New American Version).
[18] A, Ball, Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, Huntington, IN, 429, 2003
[19] K, Ward, Christianity: a guide for the perplexed. SPCK, London, 48-51, 2007.