The Jewish Roots of Christianity: Parts One and Two

Here is a teaching on The Jewish Roots of Christianity: Introduction: Parts One and Two. We discuss what we mean when we say “Jewish Roots of Christianity” and also cover the sects of Judaism at the time of Jesus, the relationship between Jesus and Israel and why it is important to understand Jesus in a Jewish context. These quotes are helpful:

“There is little doubt that the very earliest Christians were, in fact, Jews. They believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah who would fulfill God’s extensive promises to Israel and usher in the kingdom of God. Thus, Jesus was understood quite naturally within the categories. Sure, something new was happening with Jesus – the inauguration of a new covenant, in fact (Luke 22.20). But the first Christians would not have conceived of this as the beginning of an entirely new religion; on the contrary, they would have seen it as the completion of something very old, namely the story of God’s dealings with Israel (cf. Jer. 31.31). Thus, early Christians were quite content, at least at first, to continue worshipping at the Temple (Acts 2.46) and following the laws of Moses.” –Michael Kruger, Christianity at a Crossroads, How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church

“For years, I have reminded my students that Christianity was not invented out of whole cloth, nor did it originate de novo; instead, it was a development from Judaism. To understand anything of the depth of biblical Christianity and its teachings one must understand Judaism. This is sometimes particularly difficult for Christians living in the Western world to grasp. Throughout our history, we have tended to be influenced more by Greek and Latin expressions of Christianity than by those of the Semitic world of the East”- Marvin Wilson, Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal



A Look at Early Christology

We must not forget that within Judaism there is a term called “avodah zara” which is defined as the formal recognition or worship as God of an entity that is in fact not God i.e., idolatry. In other words, the acceptance of a non-divine entity as your deity is a form of avodah zara. (2) As of today, traditional or Orthodox Judaism still upholds the position that Jewish people are forbidden to pray and worship anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9).

In light of this issue, one theory is that Jesus’ deity can be attributed to an apotheosis legend. In an apotheosis legend, a human becomes one among many gods. The New Testament seems to show the rejection of an apotheosis category for Jesus given that the early Jewish followers of Jesus refused worship (Acts 14:15) as did angels (Rev. 22:8–9). There are also references to the negative views of gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5). Gentiles were regarded as both sinful (Gal 2:5) and idolatrous (Rom 1:23). To read more about this, see Paul Eddy’s essay called, Was Early Christianity Corrupted by Hellenism?

In their book  The Jesus Legend, The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy say,

 “During the reign of Pilate and Herod, when Caiaphas was high priest, we find a Jewish movement arising that worships a recent contemporary alongside and in a similar manner as Yahweh-God. To call this development “novel” is a significant understatement. In truth, it constitutes nothing less than a massive paradigm shift in the first century Palestinian Jewish religious worldview.” (3)

The earliest records we have for the Christology of Jesus are Paul’s letters.  And 1 Cor. 15:3-8 and 1 Cor. 11:23 along with other, short Christian creeds include II Timothy 2:8, and Romans 1:3-4 show that the core  teachings of the Gospel (Jesus died for our sins and rose again) pre-date Paul. Hence, the core of the Gospel was being circulated very early and even before Paul was a believer.

Let’s look at Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 8: 5-6:

“For though there are things that are called gods, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many gods and many lords; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him.”

Here is a distinct echo of the Shema, a creed that every Jew would have memorized from a very early age. When we read Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which says, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is our God, the Lord is one,” Paul ends up doing something extremely significant in the history of Judaism.

A glance at the entire context of the passage in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 shows that according to Paul’s inspired understanding, Jesus receives the “name above all names,” the name God revealed as his own, the name of the Lord. In giving a reformulation of the Shema, Paul still affirms the existence of the one God, but what is unique is that somehow this one God now includes the one Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, Paul’s understanding of this passage begets no indication of abandoning Jewish monotheism in place of paganism.

For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity. Furthermore, it would have been no problem to confess Jesus as prophet, priest, or king since these offices already existed in the Hebrew Bible. After all, these titles were used for a human being. There was nothing divine about them.

Larry Hurtado  describes the early devotion to Jesus as a “mutation.” (4) One of the primary factors that Hurtado presents for the cause of this “mutation” in the context of Jewish monotheism is the resurrection itself and the post-resurrection appearances. Some of the features in the early Jesus devotion are as follows:

First, there are hymns to Jesus ( Col 1:15-20; Phil.2:5-11) which are exalted things about him done in song.

Second, there are prayers to Jesus: we see prayer to Jesus in prayer-like expressions such as “grace and peace” greetings at the beginning of Paul’s letters and in the benedictions at the end. Also, the early followers of Jesus are seen “calling upon” the name of Jesus as Lord (Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16;1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 10:13), which is the same pattern that is used in the Hebrew Bible where it refers to “calling upon the Lord” (Gen. 12:8;13:4 ;21:23 ; 26:25; Psalms 99:6;105:1; Joel 2:32). (5)  Allow me to expand on this:

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-8, Paul says, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  So here is Paul, a staunch Pharisee who was raised to call nobody ‘Lord’ expect the God of Israel. But despite this,  he is asking Jesus the ‘Lord’ to help him.

As Baker”s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes:

“While kyrios was common as a polite, even honorific title for “sir” or “master, “calling Jesus “Lord” to imply divine associations or identity was by no means a convention readily adopted from the Roman world. In Jesus’ more Eastern but militantly monotheistic Jewish milieu, where the title’s application to humans to connote divinity was not only absent but anathema, the title is an eloquent tribute to the astonishing impression he made. It also points to the prerogatives he holds. Since Jesus is Lord, he shares with the Father qualities like deity ( Rom 9:5 ), preexistence ( John 8:58 ), holiness ( Heb 4:15 ), and compassion ( 1 John 4:9 ), to name just a few. He is co-creator ( Col 1:16 ) and co-regent, presiding in power at the Father’s right hand ( Acts 2:33 ; Eph 1:20 ; Heb 1:3 ), where he intercedes for God’s people ( Rom 8:34 ) and from whence, as the Creed states, he will return to judge the living and dead ( 2 Thess 1:7-8 ).” (6)

What about “The Name”?

What is even more significant is the statement in Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other NAME under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” How could Jesus be declared as the only one whom God’s salvation is effected? In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer.  James R. Edwards summarizes the importance of this issue:

“In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer. To the Jewish people, an idol could not properly have a “name” because it has no being represented by the name (Is. 44:9-21). The “name” to which the apostles refer does not signify an event, but a person, in whom the authority and power of God was active in salvation. The saving activity of God was and is expressed in the name of Jesus Christ.The name of Jesus is thereby linked in the closest possible way to the name of God. “No other name” does not refer to a second name of God, but to the unity of God with Jesus, signifying one name, one nature, one saving activity. The shared nature of God and Jesus is signaled in the most striking way by the custom of the early church to pray to God in the name of Jesus.” (7)

So just as in the Hebrew Bible where the name of God represents the person of God and all that he is, so in the New Testament “the Name” represents all who Jesus is as Lord and Savior. Furthermore, as Jean Danielou says:

The beginning of the Christology of the Name are already found in the New Testament. On the one hand Old Testament texts mentioning the Name are frequently quoted in the New Testament. Thus Acts 15:17, quoting Amos 9:12, reads:  ‘All the Gentiles upon my Name is called….’ Paul (Rom 2:24 mentioned Is. 52: 5 ‘The Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ The same Epistle quotes Ex. 9:16: ‘that my Name might be published abroad in all the earth’ (Rom. 9:17). ….In these various quotations the Name can in fact only mean Yahweh, but it is hard to see why these texts should have been collected in messianic dossiers unless the Name had appeared to have some relation to Christ. There are, moreover, some passages in which this relationship is explicitly stated. Thus Joel 3:5: ‘Whoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved’ is quoted in Acts 2:21 and 4:12 in a somewhat indeterminate  sense. But the same text is repeated in Rom 10:12,as follows: ‘(Christ) is the same Lord (Kurios) of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, Whosoever, shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Here the Name is clearly that of Christ;…. (8)

Furthermore, In Acts 7:59-60, Luke records the following about the prayer of Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. The word translated “prayed” in the NRSV (as well as the NIV) is a form of “epikaleo,” which literally means to “call on” someone. (9) And when this word is used in religious contexts of appealing to supernatural beings for divine help, “epikaleo” is a technical term for prayer. (10) Stephen is actually seen as entrusting the “Lord Jesus” with his very spirit. The immanent theologian Jaroslav Pelikan said the following about Stephen’s willingness to call upon Jesus as Lord: “For Stephen to commit his spirit to the Lord Jesus when the Lord Jesus himself had committed his spirit to the Father was either an act of blatant idolatry or his acknowledgment of the kurios Iesous [Lord Jesus] as the fitting recipient of the dying prayer of Stephen.(11).

Paul also says the following

Another passage that stands out is 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha.” Maranatha means “Our Lord Come!” Because this liturgical expression was present at the worship gathering for Jesus to come eschatologically, it is evident that this was a plea that was a widely known feature of early Christian worship that started among Aramaic-speaking believers and had also become a part of the prayers among Pauline Christians. Hurtado says, “What is even more significant is that there is nothing in comparison to a corporate invocation to Jesus to any other group related to a Jewish tradition at that time period.” (12)

As I said, one thing that can be observed by the historian is cause and effect. In other words, a historian can observe the effect- the radical shift in the devotional practice of the early Christian community. While the Jesus devotion of the early Christian community is related to the disciples experiences with Jesus before the resurrection, there is no doubt that Hurtado’s comments about Jesus’ messianic work by being raised from the dead certainly lends credence to the fact that He was worthy of their worship and devotion.

The Cause for Jesus Devotion? Paganism, Hellenism, Mystery Religions?

Now I know the skeptic will try to find some naturalistic explanation to explain the “shift” in the devotional practice of these early Jewish believers. As I said, there are also references to the negative views of gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5). Gentiles were regarded as both sinful (Gal 2:5) and idolatrous (Rom 1:23). To try to say that during the Second Temple period that the early Jewish believers were syncretistic is problematic.  I have discussed these issues elsewhere. I have also written elsewhere that it is doubtful a dead, crucified Messiah wouldn’t jump start the early Christology.


So what has the best explanatory power for birth of Christology? The answer to this question can’t be determined apart from a person’s presuppositions. If one has decided to not rule out any explanation that isn’t naturalistic, then I concur with Hurtado that it is the resurrection itself and the post-resurrection appearances that provides the best hypothesis for the birth of Christology.

1. Paul Barnett, The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2005), 8.
2. David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, 160-174.
3. Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 132.
4. Larry Hurtado, One Lord, One God, Early Christian Devotion And Ancient Jewish Montheism (Philadelphia, PA. Fortress Press. 1988), 100-124.
5. Ibid.

6. ” Robert W. Yarbrough, Jesus Christ, Name and Titles of” This is available online at

7. James R. Edwards,  Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 2005.

8. Jean Danielou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, trans. John A. Bake


Chart on Approaches to the Existence of God

When it comes to attempting to have fruitful conversations about whether God exists, I used to just jump to an argument for God. As someone that has talked to hundreds of agnostics and atheists on a large college campus, I used to sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up. Thus I am convinced more than ever that the first question in the discussion is “How should we approach the existence of God?” or we can ask, “If God exists, how should God show people he is real?” In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. People are intellectual, emotional, and volitional creatures. So here is a chart on some of the different ways people approach the existence of God.


 A Generic God/ A Deistic God/A God of Nature (general revelation) explains:


Note: These points are compatible with Judaism and Islam.



A Intelligent Designer/God is more likely to explain:


  God as an Explanatory Hypothesis/Which Explains Reality Better? God or No God (Nature is all there is)












Revelatory Arguments: A Theistic God: God’s disclosure of Himself to humanity(Historical Revelation)

C.S. Lewis said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (see The Weight of Glory). To apply what Lewis says, we might utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. For example, when we look at these features of reality, which provides a more satisfactory explanation:

  • How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
  • How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?


 Why the need for a revelation?

  • Man’s lack of knowledge: Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.”

We also need to know the following:

  • Character of God: We need a concrete communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like?
  • The Origin of Evil/The Fall: Man needs to be educated concerning the reasons for our situation.
  • Man’s Origin: Without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God.
  • Mankind’s Destiny: In the absence of a revelation, we might think that this life is all there is.
  • The mediums God uses in the Bible are: General revelation (Creation; Psalm:1-4;Rom. 1:20; Conscience; Rom. 2:12-15); Special/Historical Revelation: physical appearances of God (Genesis 3:8, 18:1; Exodus 3:1-4 34:5-7 ); Dreams (Genesis 28:12, 37:5; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2 ); Visions (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 8:3-4; Daniel 7; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7); The written Word of God (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17); Prophecy (Isaiah 41:21-24; 42:8-9), and most importantly—Jesus (John 3:16; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; Heb. 1:1-2), and Messengers (Acts 10:30-33).

 “Why won’t God give me a sign?” See our post called The Most Common Objection on College Campuses

·  Response: The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him.  Sadly, this is misguided on several levels. God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  However, there seems to be other texts that indicate people did see God. Even in Exodus 33:11 Moses speaks to God “face to face.” Obviously, “face to face” is a figure of speech which means they were in close communion or conversation.

Also, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel. But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1, it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God appears in various forms. But this is not the same thing as seeing God directly with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). If they did, they would be destroyed. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God and he shows the world who God is (Heb. 1:1).


Problems with Conflicting Revelations 

We must admit that all the Holy Books contain contradictory revelations: To assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Furthermore, what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800′s (Mormonism and the Watchtower Society) that both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim. If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being.








·   We have to weigh the evidence for each claim.

The Old Testament explains:

The New Testament explains:

(1) The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate/the Jewish Messiah.  God authenticated Jesus’ teaching/ claim to divinity by His miracles/His messianic speaking authority, His messianic actions, and His resurrection. (2)  Hence, Jesus is God incarnate. (3) Jesus (i.e., God incarnate) taught that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, and he promised the inspiration of the New Testament through his apostles.(4) Therefore, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is divinely inspired.


Existential Arguments
  • Existential Needs: The latest book by Clifford Williams Called Existential Reasons For Belief in God is another approach to why people believe in God. According to Williams, for some people logic and reason are dominant and in others emotion and satisfaction of needs are dominant. Williams mentions 10 existential needs from his book:
  • the need for cosmic security
  • the need for meaning
  • the need to feel loved
  • the need to love
  • the need for awe
  • the need to delight in goodness
  • the need to live beyond the grave without the anxieties that currently affect us
  • the need to be forgiven
  • the need for justice and fairness
  • the need to be present with our loved ones


Pragmatic Arguments





Challenge to Pragmatic Argument







Religious Experience











Challenge to Religious Experience Argument



· “I don’t understand what difference Christianity would make in my life?”

·  People say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life.

·  “Jesus works in my life. Thus, it is true!”


·   If Mormonism or Islam makes someone a more moral person or makes them more responsible, does that mean Mormonism or Islam is true?

·  Can’t people from other religious backgrounds feed the poor and do good things?

·  Pragmatic arguments have to be tied to evidence as well.


People have had a personal encounter with Jesus: Disciples of Jesus are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of The Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2).

·  Other people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Mormons claims that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as well.

·  Christians can’t rely on experience alone. There is a difference between “being certain” and “feeling certain.” Our feelings/emotions can be up and down.

·   All experience must be grounded by truth/objective truth. Truth wins over experience!



All religious experiences must have an external test.

Christians often lack the assurance of the work of the Spirit because of:

1.Unconfessed Sin/Unrepentant sin

2. Weak prayer life/devotional life

3. We aren’t rooted in community

4. We don’t know God/faulty views of God

5. Internet Information

6. Little or no apologetic/critical thinking skills

7. Poor discernment







James Warner Wallace on “Is Your Transformational Religious Experience Evidence Enough?”

My friend James Warner Wallace wrote an article in 2015 called  “Is Your Transformational Religious Experience Evidence Enough?” 

In it, he says “I just finished a wonderful weekend at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. This is a large, active church with an innovative and visionary leadership team. They invited me to speak to their members because they understand the growing skepticism in our culture; they’re eager to prepare younger members to defend what they believe and to equip older members to better share the truth. Our sessions were well attended and energetic. After one talk, a frustrated sister in Christ (I’ll call her Jan) told me about a recent exchange she had with a friend who believed in God but rejected Jesus. In past efforts to share her faith, Jan relied on her own relationship with Jesus and her testimony of transformation. But when she took this approach with her friend, she discovered she wasn’t the only person who had a transformational experience. Jan’s friend shared her own relational experience with God and her own testimony of transformation. Jan found herself at a stand-off: personal testimony vs. personal testimony. She discovered her transformational experience simply wasn’t evidence enough.”

In all honestly, I would say from my experience, many youth groups and even some college ministries teach people to give their testimony. Of course, they even have people give their testimony during a service. I have talked to plenty of Muslims, Mormons, and people from other spiritual backgrounds. They can be kind, moral and loving. They can do good works. They can testify about how their faith has changed their life. What’s my point?

Disciples of Jesus are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2). However, people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Thus, people have contradictory religious experiences that seem quite real. For example, Mormons claim that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as true by a “burning in the bosom”—this is something they consider to be a confirmatory personal experience. While religious experience is important, all experience must be grounded by truth and knowledge. In my view, personal religious experience doesn’t negate the need for having other good reasons for one’s faith.

Also,  our culture is built on pragmatism. If something doesn’t work, you try something else that gets results. Thus, the idea that “if theological ideas prove to have a value for concrete life, they will be true” are seen in the writings of William James (1842–1910) and recently by neopragmatist Richard Rorty (1931–2007). People want to know if beliefs can be tried and tested out in the reality of life. This does have some merit. After all, if one’s faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. However, what would you say if a person of another religious background said the following: “I follow Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, or another faith because it makes a difference in my life.” Would you consider committing to a different belief system just because it has led to moral and personal transformation?

Some have scorned the need for apologetics because they think the most effective testimony is how we live our lives. I am not opposed to using a testimony and trying to showing people the truth by how we live. But in today’s culture, one’s testimony, and life witness should be one aspect of our overall cumulative case for what we believe. When it comes to discipleship, it isn’t enough to have new people in the faith learn to give a personal testimony. Those days are long over!

Perhaps we can conclude with the words of J.P. Moreland:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus,”– J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1997, pg 30





How Should Christians View Israel? Part Three

This is the third post in our series on “How a Christian Should Israel?” Part One is here: 
Part Two is here. 

As I already mentioned,  I will expand on R. Kendall’s Soulen’s  The God of Israel and Christian Theology which has shown the long history of supersessionism in Church history.  Soulen, Professor of Systematic Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington DC. has written on  the standard Christian “canonical narrative”—i.e., our view of the Bible’s overarching narrative framework—in such a way that avoids supersessionism and consequently is more coherent. Soulen identifies three kinds of supersessionism: (1) economic supersessionism, in which Israel’s obsolescence after the coming of the Messiah is a key element of the canonical narrative, (2) punitive supersessionism, in which God abrogates his covenant with Israel as a punishment for their rejection of Jesus, and (3) structural supersessionism, in which Israel’s special identity as God’s people is simply not an essential element of the “foreground” structure of the canonical narrative itself. Soulen sees structural supersessionism as the most problematic form of supersessionism, because it is the most deep-rooted. He identifies structural supersessionism in the “standard model” of the canonical narrative, which has held sway throughout much of the history of the Christian church. This standard model is structured by four main movements: creation, fall, Christ’s incarnation and the church, and the final consummation. In this standard model, God’s dealings with Israel are seen merely as a prefigurement of his dealings with the world through Christ. Thus, the Hebrew Scriptures are only confirmatory; they are not logically necessary for the narrative (see Lionel Windsor’s  Reading Ephesians and Colossians after Supersessionism: Christ’s Mission through Israel to the Nations (New Testament after Supersessionism Book 2)

In this post we will discuss punitive supersessionism, in which God abrogates his covenant with Israel as a punishment for their rejection of Jesus.

Punitive supersessonism has mostly resulted from Gentile Christians  assuming  the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and 135 are God’s permanent rejection of Israel. According to Philip S. Alexander, the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem handed Christians “a propaganda coup” in that it gave them the opportunity to argue that the catastrophe was “a divine judgment on Israel for the rejection of Jesus.” (see Philip S. Alexander, “‘The Parting of the Ways,’” in Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways A.D. 70 to 135, ed. James D. G. Dunn (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 20.

The same was also true concerning the failed second Jewish revolt in AD 135. Marcel Simon asserts that the destruction of Jerusalem in 135 “appeared to Christians as the confirmation of the divine verdict on Israel.” (see Marcel Simon, Versus Israel: A Study of the Relations Between Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire (135–425), trans. H. McKeating (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 65

A common  proof text  used for punitive supersessionism is Matt 21: 43: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruits.”

Many have read this out of context and assume that this teaches God divorced and judged unfaithful Israel (who had murdered the Messiah) and married a faithful bride: His Church. But once again pre- 70 ad, there is new religion what was separate from the Jewish world called “Christianity” nor was there something called the “Christian church.”  Even Reformed scholar Michael Kruger says the following:

“There is little doubt that the very earliest Christians were, in fact, Jews. They believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah who would fulfil God’s extensive promises to Israel and usher in the kingdom of God. Thus, Jesus was understood quite naturally within the categories. Sure, something new was happening with Jesus – the inauguration of a new covenant, in fact (Luke 22.20). But the first Christians would not have conceived of this as the beginning of an entirely new religion; on the contrary, they would have seen it as the completion of something very old, namely the story of God’s dealings with Israel (cf. Jer. 31.31). Thus, early Christians were quite content, at least at first, to continue worshipping at the Temple (Acts 2.46) and following the laws of Moses.” –Michael Kruger, Christianity at The Crossroads, How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church.

Furthermore, regarding Matt 21:43,if we read it in context, the “you” of Matt 21:43 is identified in Matt 21:45 not as Israel or the Jewish people but as ‘the chief priests and the Pharisees,”—the temple authorities who confronted Jesus in Matt 21:23-27. The “people” referred to in Matt 21:43 is not the church in contrast to the Jewish people, but the new leadership group that will replace the old.Thus, Jesus is judging the corrupt leadership. If we read Matt 21: 45, it is clear the leadership even knew Jesus was speaking to them.

Furthermore, Craig Keener notes that “nation” here probably recalls Ex 19:6 and strict Jewish groups that characterized themselves as “righteous remnants” within Israel (e.g.,Qumran) could also view themselves as heirs of the biblical covenant community. In this period “ethnos” applies to guilds, associations, social classes or other groups or even orders of priests: urban Greeks used the term for rural Greeks, the LXX for Gentiles, and Greeks for non Greeks. Matthew implies not rejection of Israel but of dependence on any specific group membership, be it synagogue or church (The Gospel f Matthew: A Social Rhetorical Commentary), pgs,515, 516.

Romans 9-11

We already mentioned Romans 9-11. We know anyone that has read Romans 9-11 knows no possibility of Paul teaching Israel’s rejection by God. Now when I say rejection, I mean the consequences of God’s judgment on Israel would mean  Israel, was an the “earthly” people of God in the Old Testament, has been replaced, expanded, or fulfilled  in the divine plan not by another “earthly” people or peoples, but by a “spiritual” people, the church of the New Testament.

But to assert this, we need to remember that by the time Paul wrote the letter to the Romans (about 57 C.E.), it was clear that most Jewish people at that time were rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. Paul called them branches of the cultivated olive tree which had been cut off. Yet he warned the Gentile believers that they must not take undue pride in being grafted into the olive tree or think themselves better than the cut-off branches, since they hold their position only by faith and without it will themselves be cut off.

But regarding Romans 9-11, despite Israel’s unbelief in Jesus, “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:2). Israel remains God’s beloved chosen people “on account of the patriarchs” (Rom. 11:28). Paul also says God’s gifts and callings to Israel are irrevocable (Rom 11:29). Also, in Romans 11, the “riches” Gentiles are experiencing now during the state of Israel’s “stumbling” will escalate with the “full number” of national Israel’s salvation (see Rom. 11:26). The 10 references to “Israel” in Romans 9-11 refer to ethnic/national Israel so the Israel who will be saved in Rom 11:26 must refer to ethnic/national Israel. Israel will experience a national restoration and salvation at some point in the future.

It is clear that the Lord made the new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (see Jer. 31:31–34, quoted in Heb. 8:8–12) and not with the nations of the world, which leads us to ask the question: How do Gentiles get to partake in the new covenant? In response, God’s plan for Israel was to be a light to the nations and be a conduit for Gentiles to come to faith in the one true God. The only way Gentiles get to partake in the new covenant is that they grafted in as Paul talks about in Rom. 11: 13-24.. Israel will be grafted back in when the fullness of the Gentiles leads it to respond (Rom 11:11-12; 15, 30-32).

As we just said,  in punitive supersessionism, God abrogates his covenant with Israel as a punishment for their rejection of Jesus. But this view seems to contradict Romans 9-11. Furthermore, by the time Paul wrote the letter to the Romans (about 57 C.E.), it was clear that most Jewish people were rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. In Romans 11, Paul called them branches of the cultivated olive tree which had been cut off.  Yet he warned the Gentile believers that they must not take undue pride in being grafted into the olive tree or think themselves better than the cut-off branches, since they hold their position only by faith and they can be cut off as well.  Thus,  Jewish people who have rejected the Messiah (cut-off natural branches), and  Jewish people who have come to faith in the Messiah,  (natural branches attached to the tree), and Gentile believers (grafted-in wild branches) each have their own kind of ongoing participation in the one Israel. If anything, punitive supersessionism is a display of Gentile boasting that Paul had warned about.

In the next post, we will pick up the controversial topic of Zionism and why Christians are divided on the topic.


The Relationship Between Arguments and Persuasion

Anyone who has done a fair amount of apologetics can easily end up saying to themselves “I don’t understand why this person doesn’t accept my argument.”

Just yesterday, I spent a long time engaging a student who’s a Unitarian Universalitst yesterday. After going over every possible alternative to the resurrection, he finally admitted most of the naturalistic theories fail. But then he said he said he wasn’t persuaded which basically translates as “my will is in the way.” This discussion made me think of a wonderful book by the late Ronald Nash who noted the  following:

 “It is important to distinguish between arguments on one hand and personal persuasion on the other. People come to their beliefs about reality and truth based upon various factors, some rational and some nonrational. A good argument provides reasonable and truthful support for its claim. Just because a person is not persuaded by a given argument doesn’t necessarily mean that the argument is somehow logically defective. Nonrational factors such as ignorance, bias, self-interest, fear, or pride may stand in the way of a person genuinely understanding and feeling the full force of a powerful argument and thus being persuaded by it. A person’s noetic (belief-forming) faculties are seldom as neutral, detached, and coolly objective as many people-including especially “intellectuals”-would like to think. This subjective, egocentric predicament is shared by all people, regardless of educational level.Persuasion, then, seems to be “person-relative,” and no single argument will likely persuade everyone-especially when it comes to the big issues.” – Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason

In the end, while evidence might be rationally compelling, for some, it
may not be emotionally or willfully superb, and able to overcome the human heart. Hence, for many people, they may understand an argument, but still may not believe, due to the lack of a one size-fits-all approach for people who have various intellectual, emotional, and willful obstacles to belief.



Apologetic Issues and the Resurrection of Jesus

When it comes to the Christian faith, there is no doctrine more important than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings but on the person and work of Jesus Christ. From a soteriological perspective, if Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead, Christians are still dead in their sins (1Cor.15:7). Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even of he dies.” An important aspect of possessing eternal life is the ability to raise the dead. The Jewish people knew the God of Israel as the only one who could raise the dead (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13).

Therefore, by claiming the authority to raise the dead, Jesus was exemplifying both the same actions and attributes of the God Israel. Through the resurrection, Jesus took on the role as advocate and intercessor (1 John 2:2; Rom. 8:34). Jesus’ resurrection also guaranteed the Christian the opportunity of having a resurrected body’s like Jesus’ (1Cor. 15:20-23, 51-53; 1 Pet. 1:3; Phil. 3:20-21; John 5:25-29). Since Jesus did predict his death and resurrection (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34), if Jesus did not rise from the dead, he fails the test for a true prophet (Deut. 18:20). The resurrection demonstrated that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and the whole world. The resurrection also marked Jesus Christ as the one who will be the judge all men (Acts 17:31).

Evidence/Historical Apologetics

When it comes to evidence, the skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “Do we really know what we think we know-especially in religion- when our beliefs are not properly based on evidence?” And in the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? Verification has to do with how to test the meaning or truth of a claim. It is true that Christianity is a historical faith and it has been common for apologists to appeal to the historical evidence of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a verification of its claim to be true. Within apologetic methodology, the classical apologist says it is futile to speak about the resurrection as an act of God unless it is established that there is a theistic God who can act within human history. Historical apologetics overlaps with classical apologetics. However, historical apologists believe that the truth of Christianity, including the existence of God, can be shown from the foundation of historical evidence alone. In examining the resurrection of Jesus, one must utilize a variety of disciplines. Some of them include:

1. Philosophy of History/Historiography: What tests do historians utilize when examining written documents in antiquity? What approach do they use in approaching a miraculous claim such as the resurrection of Jesus?

2. Metaphysics: Any attempt to examining a claim such as the resurrection of Jesus will involve a metaphysical commitment. Without metaphysics, a person would be incapable of constructing a worldview. A worldview must explain all of the pieces of the puzzle we call reality. What tends to be forgotten is that evidential claims must be interpreted in light of one’s worldview. An apologist can give all the evidence for a historical claim such as the resurrection of Jesus, etc. However, the apologist may have to deal with a philosophical or metaphysical issue as well. If one has a commitment to philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, the resurrection of Jesus will be interpreted in a naturalistic way.

The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are supernatual but not anti-natural. Biblical theism does acknowledge that while God is the primary Cause of all things, He also works through secondary causes. In other words, God acts in the world through direct intervention (a miracle such as creation or the resurrection of Jesus) and natural casues or indirect actions (preservation).

In the debate about the resurrection of Jesus, the word “fact” needs some clarification. If one argues the resurrection of Jesus is not a fact, there needs to be a clear definition of the word “fact.” As Norman Geisler says,

If “fact” means original event, then neither geology nor history is in possession of any facts. “Fact” must be taken by both to mean information about the original event, and in this latter sense facts do not exist merely subjectively in the mind of the historian. Facts are objective data and data are data whether anyone reads them or not. What one does with data, that is, what meaning or interpretation he gives to them, can in no way eliminate the data. There remains for both science and history a hard core of objective facts. The door is thereby left open for objectivity. In this way one may draw a valid distinction between propaganda and history: the former lacks sufficient basis in objective fact but the latter does not. Indeed, without objective facts no protest can be raised either against poor history or propaganda. If history is entirely in the mind of the beholder, there is no reason one cannot decide to behold it any way he desires.” (1)

And since history has a large role in the evidence for a miracle the resurrection of Jesus, one must always realize the following. As Geisler says:

“Every historian interprets the past in the overall framework of his own Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview). The Weltanschauungen will determine whether the historian sees the events of the world as a meaningless maze, as a series of endless repetitions, or as moving in a purposeful way toward a goal. These world views are both necessary and inevitably value oriented. So, it is argued, without one of these world views the historian cannot interpret the events of the past; but through a world view objectivity becomes impossible. A world view is not generated from the facts. Facts do not speak for themselves. The facts gain their meaning only within the overall context of the world view. Without the structure of the world-view framework the “stuff” of history has no meaning.” (2)

3. Epistemology: is the branch of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge. People rely on the testimony of others on a regular basis. Also, the historian knows it is difficult to know much of anything in history apart from eyewitness testimony. Testimony as an epistemological enterprise plays a large role in examining the eyewitness testimony to the resurrection in the New Testament.

4. Linguistics/Hermeneutics: When examining resurrection passages, an individual will have to utilize the original languages. Biblical hermeneutics is the art and science of biblical interpretation. When a person assumes the resurrection of Jesus is not to be taken literally, hermeneutics helps answer what is to be taken literally and non-literally in the Bible. Hermeneutics also enables the reader to understand what the author of a text meant when he wrote it to his original audience.

5.  Genre Studies: It is important that an individual understands the genre of the Gospels and other parts of the New Testament before interpreting it. If someone makes the claim that the Gospels or other parts of the New Testament are myth (meaning half-truth, folklore, fantasy, or a fictionized account of history, etc), genre studies help clear up the confusion about this issue).