Friday, June 26, 2020

Make Sure You Know What The Jewish Jesus Means

I use the phrase “Yeshua, the Jewish Jesus” to distinguish between the person that lived in the first century who was named “Yeshuaand the person they read about in the New Testament called “Jesus” and “Jesus Christ” and “beliefs about Jesus” that were created centuries after the Romans executed him.

I think there are a lot of people, Christian and Jewish, that have a “Pre-K understanding,” like I used to have, about what “Christian and Jewish” mean. I was an ordained minister and I viewed 2,500 years of history as the histories of two religions – Judaism and Christianity. Back then I viewed “Jesus as the founder of Christianity” and “the Jews as the people that opposed Jesus.” In other words, my whole reality was built around “my beliefs about Jesus.”

In order to know what “The Jewish Jesus” means we have to view Yeshua in the context of the world in which he lived and know what “Christianity” was like in the second and third centuries CE.

The World of Yeshua

Based on our research, Yeshua was born in 6 BCE and was executed around 27 CE. He was a resident of the village of Nazareth in the Galilee for almost his entire life. Around 24 CE he founded a movement and preached “The Gospel of the Kingdom of God.” In Yeshua’s world there were other groups that were much older and larger than his – and some preached a “Kingdom of God” message too. They included the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Hellenists and Herodians. They were all “Jewish” too.

Understanding what “Jewish” means in relationship to Yeshua,
requires knowing what distinguished Yeshua’s group from
the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Hellenists and Herodians –
and what Yeshua’s group shared with them.

Yeshua had attended the synagogue in Nazareth all of his life. He had gone with his family to Jerusalem to celebrate the major festivals at the Temple all of his life. Two things members of the above groups shared were God’s covenant with Abraham and a commitment to the Torah. Yeshua became a part of God’s covenant with Abraham when he was circumcised and he made it very clear that he was totally committed to the Torah.

Yeshua clearly worshiped the same God as the members of the above groups and the Temple in Jerusalem was the closest place a person could come to His presence. He kept many of the same Jewish customs as members of the other groups, and just like them, he had his unique interpretations of words of the Torah. All of the apostles were “Jewish” like him. His teachings were about Jewish things that his Jewish audiences understood.

Early Christianity

A lot is known today about Christianity during the second and third centuries. It was a period of rich theological diversity that surprises most Christians today.

Christian Beliefs About God -- Some Christians believed that there was only one God, the Creator of all there is. Other Christians insisted that there were two different gods — a God of wrath and a God of love and mercy. These were not simply two different facets of the same God, they are two different gods. And there were other Christians that insisted that there were twelve gods -- others said there were thirty godsand still others said there were 365 gods! All these groups claimed to be Christian, insisting that their views were true and had been taught by Jesus and his followers.

The Christian New Testament -- Why didn’t the groups above simply read their New Testaments to see whose views were wrong? It is because the New Testament Christians read today did not exist. All the books of the modern New Testament had been written by this time, but there were also lots of other books that claimed to be written by Jesus’ own apostles — other gospels, acts, epistles, and apocalypses.  They had very different perspectives from those found in the books that eventually came to be called the New Testament. The New Testament itself emerged out of these conflicts over God (or the gods), as one group of believers acquired more converts than all the others. That group decided which books should be included in the canon of scripture.

No Centralized Theology -- During the second and third centuries, there was no agreed-upon canon of New Testament books and no agreed-upon theology. There was a wide range of diversity: diverse groups asserting diverse theologies based on diverse written texts, all claiming to be written by the apostles of Jesus.

Some Christians Celebrated PassoverAs late as 170 CE the Christians in Asia continued to observe the Passover.

But everything changed with “the conversion” of Constantine the Great, Emperor of the Roman Empire. The event that changed everything was the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, a meeting called by Emperor Constantine. He invited all Christian bishops of the Roman Empire to attend. However, because Christians had witnessed many persecutions in the first three centuries – some by officials of the Roman Empire and others by pagan mobsmany bishops chose not to attend.

By the end the fourth century, the Roman Catholic Church emerged as a religion backed by the authority of Roman Emperors and institutions and it gave Christians a theology and a New Testament. It also made Christianity and Judaism two separate mutually exclusive religions.

I hope you found this informative and thank you for reading it.

Jim Myers

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Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why By Bart D. Ehrman © 2005; HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY; pp. 152, 187.

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