Discontinuity And Continuity How far is too Far?

The Christian faith’s connection with Judaism represents one of the hardest problems in theology. Two possible errors exist, both of which must be avoided. Several problems occur if we create too much of a discontinuity between Judaism and the Christian faith. One of these problems is that we decontextualize Jesus, who was regarded as a rabbi by His disciples, from the very milieu in which He ministered and taught - the environment of First Temple Judaism. But even the practice and testimony of the apostle Paul becomes, at best, ignorance of Judaism, or worse, deliberate deception on his part if we look at Paul’s own statement in Acts 23:6 (NKJV): “But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’” The Greek phrase “I am a Pharisee” renders the Greek word for “I am” in the present active indicative tense. In other words, Paul is not saying he WAS a Pharisee. Therefore, it is reasonable that Paul understood his Messianic faith clearly as being within Jewish pharisaic thought, that not in agreement with the majority view of the Pharisees, however.

 Furthermore, he continued to practice ceremonies connected with the Jewish religion, as we see in the following instructions to Paul. “But they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law (Acts 21:21–24, NKJV).” Paul would hardly have continued in Jewish ceremonial practices if he had regarded his faith in Jesus as being somehow entirely disconnected and entirely new from Judaism.

The error of creating too much discontinuity interferes with the bringing of the good news to the Jewish people, and logically so. It would not be honorable for a Jewish person to embrace something that is antithetical to all the revelation and the molding of Jewish culture which God did in times past. To expect a Jewish person to jettison a God-given identity and its underpinnings is not required by God and would not be consistent with the understanding of the first disciples or the early church. This is an error that too many make.

The other mistake would be to make faith in Jesus another form of Rabbinical Judaism. Clearly, Jesus made claims that connected to certain minority views and ideas in Judaism which were not accepted by the majority. Jesus also claimed an authority above the rabbis and the oral law later codified in the Mishnah, making Jesus and any of His followers distinct from other individuals of the Jewish faith. The purported view, however, reduces faith in Jesus to a mere, historically and theologically problematic, Judaism.

So how is Jesus distinct, and in what ways should we view Him as radically divergent from the majority of Jewish opinion in His day? The radical differentness of Jesus is found in His person and mission, not in separating Him from the Jewish context in which He ministered. One of these aspects would be the newness of the covenant He offers. This material can be clearly understood from Jeremiah 31:31-33. Even more essentially, He is new in His person as the God-man. No prophet or priest prior to Jesus could ever, would ever, dare to make such a claim. Yet John 1:1-3 (NKJV) states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” Finally, there is uniqueness in the atonement He offers which is far above and distinctly different than atonement under the Mosaic system. “But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore, He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24–25, NKJV).”

In conclusion, we must strive to keep Jesus’ uniqueness and distinctiveness on the proper grounds and not infer a total disjunction from the Judaism of His day. This is the path that matches biblical theology and avoids error. This is also the path that preserves God’s heartfelt intention to reach the Jewish people.