Q. Is it possible, as “Messianic Jews” claim, to believe in Jesus while remaining Jewish?
A. Messianic Jews who claim to believe in Jesus and at the same time remain Jewish are a contradiction in terms.
There are many differences between Judaism and Christianity and it is impossible, and wrong, to ignore or blur them.
As everyone knows, Jesus himself was born a Jew and died a Jew. His followers were Jewish. His teaching was based on the tradition of Judaism as he had received it and as he understood it.
But the religion about Jesus that developed after his death became widely divergent from Judaism, and it is not possible to follow both faiths at the same time.
What are the differences? At the risk of over-simplifying, let me summarise them. They fall under three headings: beliefs about God; claims about Jesus; and views of life.
Firstly, as to beliefs about God: Christianity believes in the Trinity or the tri-une nature of the Deity as Father, son and holy spirit. The precise meaning of this doctrine is difficult to define; it is less a logical than a mystical concept. But as far as Judaism is concerned any such notion – no matter how explained – is completely unacceptable. Judaism believes in the Unity of God. There is only one God, and He is unique and indivisible.
Concerning Jesus, Christianity says that he was the son of God, the incarnation of God. Judaism is adamant that no man can be God, and God can never be anything other than pure spirit; for God to take on human form is blasphemy.
Christianity says that Jesus was the Messiah. Judaism sees no evidence that he fulfilled the Biblical prophecies concerning the Messiah. It continues to affirm that the Messiah is yet to come, and believes that we have to help to bring about his coming. Even non-traditional Jews who do not accept that there will be a person who will be Mashiach agree that there will be a Messianic age, and towards it mankind must continue to strive and progress.
Christianity says that Jesus mediates between man and God. Judaism believes that man needs no mediator to approach God but can do so direct. Christianity says that Jesus is the Saviour and without belief in him, one cannot be “saved”; Judaism maintains that salvation comes from living an upright life, no matter what one’s formal creed or religious label.
The third group of differences concerns views of life. Again it is unfair to over-simplify, but the differences may be summarised in this way:
Christianity teaches that man is born inherently sinful and can overcome this handicap through belief. Judaism believes that man is born innocent, neither righteous nor sinful. If the evil inclination leads one to sin, one can return to God by making a personal effort of repentance and good deeds.
Christianity teaches that the body is evil and the soul is pure. Judaism does not distinguish between body and soul. Both are God’s handiwork: “The soul is Thine and the body is Thy handiwork”. Both must work in harmony to serve God.
Christianity stresses the life of faith, Judaism the life of Torah and fulfillment of the Divine commandments. Christianity stresses the salvation of the individual, Judaism the welfare of the whole community. Christianity emphasises life after death; Judaism, while not denying that there is a life after death, does not speculate much about it but prefers to stress making the most of life on earth. To attempt to be both Jewish and Christian at once is spiritual schizophrenia.
This is not to say that one is right to be smug and superior as a Jew. Milton Steinberg wrote, “To the modern Jew, it is good that religions are plural, just as it is advantageous to the world that there are many persons and civilisations… He prefers not to put religions in contrast with one another. He is content that each has its share of variety and worth; that all have the right to be…. As for himself, he is at peace in Judaism.”
A Jew who honestly, humbly and lovingly seeks to discover his heritage, will indeed find himself at peace in Judaism.