Why Jesus in Jewish Context Matters!

“One of the first things seminarians are taught about biblical interpretation is the importance of context. If the interpreter has found the proper context, his or her interpretation will be the better informed and more accurate for it. Becoming acquainted with Jesus’ Jewish context is a must for sound exegesis; finding it brings us much closer to the Jesus of history and of faith.”- Craig Evans at https://www.gci.org/jesus/judaism

As a Christian, I have learned plenty of spiritual insights from my Jewish friends who believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and the entire world. When I became a Christian in my 20’s, I was fairly ignorant about the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. What is more interesting is that as of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.” Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.

Some of the non-Jewish scholars that are currently active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn. In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.”

Two other comments need to be noted. The first is by Philip Yancey. He says,

“Is it possible to read the Gospels without blinders on? Jews read with suspicion, preparing to be scandalized. Christians read through the refracted lenses of church history. Both groups, I believe would do well to pause and reflect on Matthew’s first words, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The son of David speaks of Jesus’ messianic line, which Jews should not ignore; a title without significance for him.” Notes C.H. Dodd,”The son of Abraham speaks of Jesus’ Jewish line, which Christians dare not ignore either.” (1)

The second is by Jaroslav Pelikan. He says,

“Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been as Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion and icons of Mary not only as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven but as the Jewish maiden and the new Miriam, and on icons of Christ not only as Pantocrator but as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth?” (2)

As we read through the Gospels, we see some of the aspects of the Jewishness of Jesus such as:

•Jesus participated in Mikvah: (Matt. 3:13-16)
•Circumcision (Lk. 2:21): Jesus’ parents are obedient to Mosaic Law by having him circumcised on 8th day
•Mary’s Purification (Lk. 2:22-24): Mary follows purification law (Lev. 12)
•Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year at Passover: (Lk. 2:41)
•Jesus’ model prayer bears resemblance to typical Jewish prayers:(Matt. 6:8-13)
•Jesus wore “tzit-tzit” or fringes: (Matt. 9:20)
•Jesus revered the Temple and ceremonial worship:(Jn. 2:16)
•Much of Jesus’ teaching is done in context of Jewish Holy Days: Sabbath (Matt. 12); Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7); Feast of Passover (Matt. 26); Hanukkah (Jn. 10)
•Jesus taught in the synagogue: (Lk.4:14-20; Jn. 18:20)
•Jesus gathered disciples:(Matt. 8:23)
•Paul says Jesus became a servant to the Jewish people: (Rom. 15:8)
•Jesus settled disputes: (Mk. 9:33-37)
•Jesus debated other rabbis:(Matt. 12:1-14)
•Jesus viewed His mission to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matt. 15:24)
•Jesus commissioned the seventy to go to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matt. 10:5-6)
•Jesus viewed himself as being revealed in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, (Lk. 24:44); (Jn. 5:39)
•Jesus taught Scripture was authoritative: Jesus quotes passages from the Torah in the temptation in the wilderness: (Matt. 4:1-11)
•Jesus discussed how Scripture (The Tanakh) is imperishable in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:2-48)
•Jesus also discussed how Scripture is infallible: (Jn. 10:35)

 

Some suggested readings:

 

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