A Very Challenging Task: Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus

Introduction

Out of all the people I have encountered over the years, I find Jewish people to probably be the most difficult to reach for the Messiah. We seem to be living in a day when some Christians are being stumbled by objections by Jewish people. And for the record, I also see atheists appealing to Jewish objections to Christianity. So I think this is a worthwhile topic. I know it is easy for many Christians to forget that the Gospel is still “To the Jew First” (Romans 1:16).  Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs: unashamed, is and believes. All are in the present tense. The gospel is, not was, but is the power of God, it is to all who believe, and it is to the Jew first. (1) Also, as Trevor Wax notes in his article, “Why Did Jesus Say He Came Only For Israel,”

“The Gospels reveal a Jesus focused on Israel. In fact, his ministry appears to be focused so relentlessly on the Jewish people that many scholars have debated whether Jesus was concerned with outsiders at all. When taking into consideration the nations-focused mission of the early church as directed by the risen Jesus that was so prominent in Christian thinking, it is striking to discover that this global impulse appears to be absent from Jesus’ earthly ministry.”

I want to go over some of the objections that I have heard and still hear from Jewish people. I will provide some tips and resource that may help:

The Incarnation and Trinity Issue:

Over the years I have heard several objections from Jewish people. Keep in mind, there are many Jewish people who are not overly religious. Hence, they are not Orthodox in practice and belief. But for the ones who are Orthodox, they have spent some time learning from counter-missionary organizations like Jews for Judaism and Outreach Judaism.  Hence, they know our arguments and tend to be ready to give their own apologetic as to why we are wrong about our claims about Jesus being the Jewish Messiah.

In other words, the entire belief in Jesus’ deity is a Christian invention that developed much later in church history. Therefore, Christian theological concepts like the incarnation, the virgin birth, the Trinity, etc. are totally foreign to both Judaism and the Jewish Scriptures (The Old Testament). I would like to give some tips in how to handle these objections. I speak from personal experience:

The study of the Godhead is an enormous task. A study of the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus/ making a case for a divine Messiah go hand in hand with each other. My advice is to take the time and do a long study of the topic. If you want to do this superficially, you will pay the price. One of the best resources on this topic is my friend John Metzger’s  Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God (over 900 pages).  For Orthodox Jewish and some conservative Jewish people as well, the idea of God becoming a man is just an impossibility and it goes against their strict monotheism. Hence, God is noncorporeal and that settles it!

I always cite evidence  that the early Jesus community’s adhered to monotheism, resisted  idolatry and was not corrupted by Hellenism. And we can give extensive answers to the charge that Christians  are not committing Idolatry and Violating the 2nd commandment.  But we have to remember that we are trying to provide a response to paradigms that have been long established in Jewish thought. The paradigm that the Messiah is not God and that the Trinity is something that is a pagan idea is firmly entrenched in Jewish people’s mindsets.

In the end, you may need to just stick with the Tanakh (the Old Testament) and show there is a case for the plurality in the Godhead. But in order to do this you will need some linguistic/hermeneutical skills or rely on those who have done the hard work to provide resources to the Church (see the Metzger book or other resources). And remember, both the incarnation and the Trinity are revealed truths. What was implicit in the Old Testament becomes more explicit in the New Testament. But you may say “But the Jewish Scriptures was what Paul and Apostles appealed to when they witnessed to Jews.” True! However, what text were they using? The Greek Septuagint ( “LXX”, or “Greek Old Testament”) is an ancient translation of the Hebrew Bible, or The Masoretic Text which is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible?  Most Jewish people don’t have a high regard for the Septuagint. So now you need to explain why the Septuagint is valid translation. For more study on this topic, see:
Dr. Michael Heiser: The Jewish Trinity

Jewish concept of the ‘Word’ being a Divine Person

Messianic Expectations and Maimonides

Another problem in discussing messianism with Jewish people is that the most dominant messianic expectation is one put forth byMoses Maimonides (1138- 1204), who was a medieval Jewish philosopher. His writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. Maimonides asserted that since God is incorporeal, this means that God assumes no physical form. Therefore, God is Eternal, above time, Infinite, and beyond space. Maimonides also stated that God cannot be born, and cannot die. For Maimonides, the Messiah will be born of human parents, nor be a demi-god who possess supernatural qualities. Furthermore, for Maimonides, it is clear he was writing in response to Christianity. Here are some of the things he said about the Messiah are still at the forefront of the minds of Jewish people:

  • Restore  the throne of David
  • Rebuild  the Temple (He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18).
  • Gather  the exiles (He will bring about the  political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and  restoring Jerusalem
  • Be a descendent of David
  • He  does not have to perform signs or wonders

Let’s look at a couple of these:

#1 The Temple Issue and the Gathering the Exiles

Now don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for Maimonides. But I don’t think he is inspired by God and I am not going to look to him as the sole authority for the messianic credentials. But the reality is for Jewish people that are convinced the messianic task is all a one act play, they generally appeal the following:

  1. The Jewish people are regathered to their land both before and after the Exile: Isa. 11:10-16; Jer. 3:11-20; 12: 14-17; 16: 10-18;  23:1-8; 24:5-7; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14-23; 32:36-44; Ezek.11:14-20;20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16; 23-31;36:16-36;37:1-28;39:21-29.
  2. The Jewish people are ruled by their Messiah with Jeresulem as its capital: Jer. 23: 5-6; 33:17; Ezek. 37:22, 24; Zech 9: 10; 14:9.
  3. Israel is recognized by the nations as being blessed: Isa. 62:2; 66:18; Ezek. 36: 23; 36; 37:28; Mal. 3:12.
  4. The nations go to Jerusalem to worship God: Isa. 2: 2-4; 56: 2-8; 62: 9-11; Jer 16: 19; Zeph. 3:9; Zech 9:16; Zech 14:16-18.
  5. The Temple is rebuilt with the presence of God in it: Isa. 2:2; 56:6; Ezek 37: 26-28; 40-48; 43:1-7; 48:35.

In response, Christians generally appeal to the Second Coming of Messiah to fulfill those things. Some Christians see no fulfillment at all and spiritualize these texts. In the end, the entire issue leads to the next point :

Is There One Messianic Expectation?

The problem with talking to many Orthodox  or other Jewish people is that the only messianic expectation is the one put forth by Rabbinic Judaism which came into being after the Temple was destroyed in 70 a.d. So the problem with this is that we don’t get a broader understanding of what the messianic expectations were pre-70 ad/before the time of Jesus. Before 70 CE, messianic figures could go by a variety of names such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Prophet, Elect One, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, Coming One, and so forth.  It is when we study the entire history of messianism that we get a much broader understanding of the topic. To see more on this, see our posts:

Six Messianic Expectations and One Messiah

THE MESSIAH AND THE HEBREW BIBLE: JOHN H. SAILHAMER

Messianic Hopes and   Messianic Figures   In Late Antiquity/Craig Evans

The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament by Randall Price

Three Reasons Why Jesus is Qualified to be called the “Messiah”

Messianic Prophecy

When I was a new Christian I was exposed to popular apologetic works. Messianic prophecy has always been one of the main ways Christian use to show Jesus is the Messiah. The problem is that many of these works treat the topic in an overly superficial fashion.  The more I have taught on this topic, the more I realize that one of the first steps is to learn the hermeneutics of prophecy. To simply say some prophecies are about the first coming of the Messiah and others are about the return of the Messiah takes greater clarification. Some of the pertinent questions are the following: Are we sure that when the prophets spoke, they knew for sure about the timetable?  Did they know or not know that centuries would come and go between their initial prediction and its actual fulfillment?  Are some of the messianic promises  gradually being fulfilled or are partially fulfilled and will be completely full filled one day? What about typology?   These things are important since we see that both Christianity/Messianic Judaism and  Traditional Judaism have had to make adjustments in their thinking about messianism. Even in the time of Jesus we see that the disciples were confused about what the role of Jesus was. And after he rose from the dead, they still thought he would establish the Davidic Kingdom. Jesus says that ” If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.”- John 5: 46. Can you show exegetically where Moses wrote about Jesus?

See more here:

Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies?

Did Moses Really Write About Jesus? A Look at Messianic Prophecy in the Torah

Resources for the study of Messianic Prophecy

What About an Atoning Messiah?

For the disciple of Jesus, His death is a “ransom” (Mark 10:45), “reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Col. 1:22), and “redemption” (Rom. 3:24; 8:23; Eph. 1:7, 14; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12–15). Jesus is also called the “Suffering Servant” (Acts 3:13; 8:32ff), and the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19). While the Christian community takes these truths for granted, the majority of the Jewish community asserts that Jesus’ death automatically annulled the possibility of Him being the promised Messiah of Israel. Christians tend to cite Isaiah 52:13-53 and Psalm 22 as a slam dunk for a suffering/atoning Messiah. But Rabbinic Judaism sees the Isaiah texts (and for that matter most of the Servant Songs) as being about Israel. Also,  no man can atone for anyone else! The gist is that the Suffering Messiah concept eventually made its way into Judaism. I have written more about this here Atonement and the Suffering Messiah in Judaism

But speaking from experience, in order for Christians to cite Isaiah 52-53 correctly, they will need some knowledge of Hebrew.  A more recent resource on this topic is The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology [Darrell Bock, Mitch Glaser. Another good online resource is The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) by Peter J. Gentry (just scroll down to the bottom)

Also, SOME Jewish people are unaware of the Jewish literature about the Suffering Messiah concept. And even if we do cite some of it (see our link above),they will say it is not referring to Jesus. I respond by saying I agree that while this may be true, it is incorrect to say there is NO mention of a person who can atone for the sins of Israel. Hence, to say it is a Christian concept that has no basis in Judaism is just patently false.

Furthermore, an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two:  Messiah ben Yossef who is also referred to as Mashiach ben Ephrayim, the descendant of Ephrayim will serve as a precursor to Messiah ben David. His role is political in nature since he will wage war against the forces that oppose Israel. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef is supposed to prepare Israel for its final redemption. The prophecy of Zech. 12:10 is applied to Messiah ben Yossef in that he is killed and that it will be followed by a time of great calamities and tests for Israel. Shortly after these tribulations upon Israel, Messiah ben David will come and avenge the death of Messiah ben Yossef, resurrect him, and inaugurate the Messianic era of everlasting peace.(19)

What is interesting is that R. Saadiah Gaon elaborated on the role of Messiah ben Yossef by starting that this sequence of events is contingent. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef will not have to appear before Messiah be David if the spiritual condition of Israel is up to par.(20)

This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a). (2)

Note: See Can We Reconcile The Messiah Ben David and The Messiah Ben Joseph Tradition in Judaism?

Supersessionism

You may say what is Supersessionism? In this article, Michael Vlach says two points that stand out about Supersessionism are the following: (1) national Israel has somehow completed or forfeited its status as the people of God and will never again possess a unique role or function apart from the church; and (2) the church is now the true Israel that has permanently replaced or superseded national Israel as the people of God. Supersessionism, then, in the context of Israel and the church, is the view that the New Testament church is the new Israel that has forever superseded national Israel as the people of God.

Does this matter? Well, I know some Christians don’t know much about this. But others are aware of it and do hold to this position. Just think if you were trying to tell a Jewish person about why Jesus is their Messiah (the Jewish Messiah) and you said, “By the way, I do think national Israel has no future in the plan of God. Your people and land have no future as well.” This will probably cause your discussion with Jewish people to end very quickly.

Conclusion:

Believe it or not, I have barely scratched the surface on all the Jewish objections to the Christian faith. You can see our page here called A LOOK AT JEWISH OBJECTIONS TO JESUS. Also, the most well-known Messianic apologist at the present time is Dr.Michael Brown.  Dr. Brown has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He has debated many rabbis on shows such as Phil Donahue, and Faith Under Fire. Dr. Brown is a Jewish believer in Jesus and is visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is at http://askdrbrown.org. You can read Dr. Brown’s books called:

General Objections/Historical Objections

Theological Objections

Messianic Prophecy Objections

New Testament Objections

Traditional Jewish Objections

The Apostle Paul showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5), (Rom. 10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). The best thing to do with any Jewish person is to build relationships of trust. Never assume anything. Always follow the example of our Lord by asking questions. And always remember that all Jewish people come to faith just like anyone else. They must be open to the truth and God’s Spirit must open their eyes (2 Cor.4:4-6).

Sources:

1. This section was taken from JEWISH EVANGELISM AND DISCIPLESHIP, Article 3 of 13: GOD’S UNCHANGEABLE PLAN by Sam Nadler at http://messianicassociation.org/ezine14-sam.God%27sUnchangeable%20Plan.htm?vm=r&s=1

2. Jacob Immanuel Schochet. Mashiach: The Principle of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition. New York: S.I.E. 1992, 93-101.

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