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What Is the Relationship between Judaism and Christianity?

Since I teach courses in comparative religions at Biola University and through Reasons Institute, people sometimes ask me what I think about the relationship between the biblical religions of Judaism and Christianity. And in that specific context, I’m also asked about Messianic Judaism.

In fact, some time back I was contacted on social media by a Messianic Jew who is very supportive of the science apologetics ministry of Reasons to Believe but is critical of historic Christianity overall. In fact, the person expressed a sentiment that surprised me, so I reflected on the comment for some time before responding. I thought readers of my Reflections blog might appreciate hearing my reply.

Respondent (paraphrased): Historic Christianity without Judaism is astray and volatile and internally harmful.

My response:
Greetings, friend.

Historic Christianity has deep connections with traditional Judaism. For example, Christians view the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as the inspired Word of God and share many of the values of ancient Judaism, such as human beings having inherent dignity and moral worth as bearers of the image of God. Further, historic Christianity views the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who Christians worship and serve as being the Jewish Messiah. Moreover, many historic Christian theologians I have read also affirm that Jews and Christians worship the same God. Finally, many Christians today— particularly in America—are very much pro-Israel.

In my opinion as someone who has studied all the major world religions, I think Messianic Jews can be described as being culturally Jewish but theologically Christian. For example, Jews for Jesus affirms the doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons), which traditional Judaism rejects (Yahweh is viewed in unitarian terms as one God, one person). Worldwide, many contemporary Jews are secular and most religious Jews don’t accept Jesus (or Yeshua) as the Messiah. Since you are a Messianic Jew you have more in common doctrinally with orthodox Christians than you may recognize. 

Christendom’s long history has a dark side, unfortunately, which includes periodic antisemitism. But I think theologically conservative Christendom today is deeply respectful of its Jewish heritage and remorseful of the way it has at times persecuted Jews and Judaism.

But I would also say that Christendom’s influence overall has been deeply positive for the world and for all people. The Christian worldview, which is strongly influenced by the Hebrew Scriptures, has been the catalyst behind many, if not most, of the great advancements in Western civilization. Christianity motivated advancements in education, science, political liberty, economics, the sanctity of human life, and justice.1

All individual Christians are broken sinners and Christendom is far from perfect, but I don’t agree with your assessment that historic Christianity without Judaism is astray and volatile and internally harmful. In fact, I don’t think Christendom—when it is true to its theological roots—can ever stray far from the Hebrew Scriptures, which are foundational to the Christian faith.

I hope that by showing my genuine respect for you that you may come to better understand and even to possibly respect historic Christianity the way I respect traditional Judaism and your Messianic Jewish convictions.

Shalom.

Reflections: Your Turn
How can Christians today go about showing their respect for Jewish people and the historic religion of Judaism? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Kenneth Richard Samples, Christianity Cross-Examined (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2021). In this book I answer twelve questions about historic Christianity’s truth, relevance, and goodness.

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