How much should Christians borrow from Judaism?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Are there any reasons not to draw heavily from Judaism... particularly if one has a strong appreciation for the culture and people of the old covenant? Do most Christians view Judaism as a completely valid and authentic faith and lifestyle package within its own right... with the only issue that they use the Old Testament and not the New?

If a person likes both religions, could he attend a synagogue on Saturday and a church on Sunday... and get the best of both worlds? ... and why is it that Christians don't have as much of an issue if one of theirs attends Synagogue as the Jews do if one of theirs attends a church?

Why can’t a person be both Jewish and a Christian if they like both the Mogen David and the cross? I see Judaism and Christianity as related faiths. So, is there any way I could follow both religions... even though some of their teachings disagree? Could I manage this theologically... while waiting for God to sort things out in the end?

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries. It will be my pleasure to respond to your questions and comments about Judaism today — and there are a few! But there is one core issue, and this will be my emphasis.

Originally, Christianity was a sect of Judaism called “the Way.” Members of the Way were full-on Jews who differentiated themselves by believing that Jesus was the Christ — the promised Messiah. The vast majority of the Jews did not believe this, however. In fact, it was their Jewish brethren who delivered Jesus to be killed by the Romans.

In the following verse, the then-converted apostle Paul revealed that he was a member of the Way, and he tells how that belief system honors both Judaism and Jesus Christ. This is the only place in the Bible where you will find Judaism and Christianity together in the right kind of way.

“However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets,” (Acts 24:14, NIV)

(See also Got Questions Ministries article on “the Way.” https://www.gotquestions.org/the-Way.html)

But here’s the thing: only a Jew who lived at that seminal moment in history could be a member of the Way. It is not an option for this age. We are now in the Church age — the age of grace… and since there is now no difference between Jew and Gentile, the time for a movement like the Way — which bound true Jews to a belief in Jesus as the Messiah — has passed... and it passed with the first generation of Jewish believers. But why was this? The gentiles were being added to the Church, so practicing Judaism was no longer a prerequisite.

When Cornelius and company received the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 10, it became empirically obvious that God had leveled the salvific playing field. But later, Paul covered this doctrinally. He — the consummate Jew (Philippians 3:4-6) — taught plainly that there was now no difference between Jews and Gentiles.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,” (Romans 3:22, NIV)

“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,” (Romans 10:12, NIV)

He was talking salvifically, though... and about membership in the Body of Christ. Their cultural differences remained... as they do with any convert. Therefore, there is no reason — then or now — to appropriate the Jewish culture and/or practice Judaism. In fact, there were people who tried to teach the early church just that... and they caused a lot of confusion with their attempts to Judaize gentile believers (Galatians 1, 2).

So, if you were a Jewish believer, you stayed a Jew culturally. If you were a gentile believer, you remained in your native culture. The thing you did not do was become a Jew... or take on the religious practices of Judaism. Both Jews and gentiles continued their lives much as before their conversions, but they did so as regenerated persons (2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5). That is, they were born again believers in Jesus Christ (John 3:3).

That being said, the Jews had more to lose than did the gentiles... and this leads me to ask, what made these full-on Jews become members of a cult — because that’s what the Jewish establishment considered the Way to be — and have their families ostracized and put in jeopardy of starvation — or even stoning?

They believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. That made the difference then… and it should make a difference now. Even secular historians understand that belief in the resurrection changed the world — and they believe this whether or not they believe the resurrection actually happened.

If you purport to follow the biblically revealed Jesus Christ — and that’s the only kind of Christ we follow here at Mainsail Ministries — then you must be hypersensitive to the things that Jesus said about himself in the Bible. For example, Jesus told us that he was “the way” to salvation… but he did so by emphasizing that he was the only way.

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice .... Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:1–10, NIV)

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6, NIV)

The above passages contain mutually exclusive statements from the lips of Jesus. This means that a person cannot identify with Old Testament Judaism by doing Old Testament things… but then claim — and almost as an add-on — that they believe in Jesus Christ too. If that’s the case, they are not believing in the biblically revealed Jesus Christ… because he said he is the only way to salvation.

People who merely “add” Christ to existing systems like Judaism are postulating a type of Jesus Christ that Jesus himself disavows... one that the Bible does not recognize. It works the other way too: people cannot bring things in from the outside and “add” them to salvation... and this includes the aspects of Judaism that Paul condemned in Galatians chapters 1 and 2.

Interestingly, the most direct instruction from God that we should not go backwards into Judaism came in symbolic form. When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was ripped in two! This was a powerful sign that the old methods of sacrifice would never again be acceptable  — either in whole or in part. In fact, the old ways would now become a mere shadow of Jesus’ completed sacrifice… and why bother with shadows when the real object has been fully revealed?

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:37–38, NIV)

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1–4, NIV)

So, although Judaism and Christianity are related via the Judeo-Christian tradition, today, a person cannot be a congruent practicing Jew while also being a true regenerated Christian. They can play at this culturally — and perhaps be a bit of each on some level — but they cannot be both truly... because the two belief systems are mutually exclusive. In fact, they went into mutual exclusivity at the death of Christ.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, though. A person can be a cultural, national or ethnic Jew and still be a Christian. Indeed, a person from any background can become a Christian! The thing they cannot do is bring in elements that militate against the New Testament revelation of how people get saved — and that’s what uncompleted Judaism does... but especially with its sacerdotal activities.

As to your question then, it’s not so much Old Testament revelation versus New Testament revelation. It’s that Judaism is a works-based salvation system while Christianity is a grace-based salvation system — and these cannot commingle. In fact, they form a dichotomy that is well-known in evangelical circles: works versus grace. We must respect this dichotomy to understand — how, when and where — salvation in the New Testament is different from salvation in the Old Testament.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NIV)

“he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5, NIV)

So, where are we? The commonalities of Judaism and Christianity stand: we are both monotheistic, we both honor the Scripture and we both understand that the Jews are God’s chosen people from the Old Testament. But without the New Testament, there is no revelation of Jesus Christ — and in this age, not believing that Jesus is the Christ — the Messiah... is a salvific dealbreaker that Judaism owns.

You see, the culture of Jesus saves no one. But the person of Jesus that saves everyone... everyone, that is, who comes to him on God’s terms (1 John 5:11-13) — and that’s the problem: practicing Jews reject the person of Jesus Christ who was revealed in the New Testament.

Because of this rejection, the Jews are reaping the whirlwind. So why risk borrowing traditions from a religion that has rejected God’s choice of Messiah, that has become hardened to the truths of this age (Romans 11:25) and that has stopped short of the salvation... although they had it in their grasp?

For all these reasons I assert that Christians should not mix, borrow or conjoin theologically with Judaism. Instead, I implore the Jews to enjoy the most current revelation of God and to move out of the Old Testament’s shadowlands.

You have asked some telling questions about the Jewish and Christian cultures. However, you do not have the tone of a regenerate Christian. If this is not true, forgive my presumption. But I can tell you from personal experience that the Holy Spirit helps me sort out these matters more often than does my biblical knowledge… and I’d hate for you to miss out! So, please consider this query as respectful, and I ask you to visit the following links:

https://www.gotquestions.org/how-can-I-be-saved.html

http://mainsailministries.org/index.php/christian-topics/395-an-alternative-to-death.html

God bless you.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article on Judaism — consider doing so at the following link: 20200113 Given their commonalities, why can’t we mix Judaism with Christianity?).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)