How Similar Are Judaism and Christianity?

Judaism-Christianity

This should really be a book-length discourse, and I may write such a book one of these days. First, however, I want to give you some of the highlights and begin to get my thinking in order.

At their cores, Judaism and Christianity are more similar than you might expect. Their appearances of course are different. After all, it is very much in the interests of leaders on both sides to proclaim how very right they are, which means that all others must appear to be wrong… and different.

Whom Do We Hear and See?

When dealing with this subject, there is a first obstacle that must be dealt with carefully… or else we’ll get a skewed picture of both religions. And the choice we must make is this:

To whom shall we pay more attention; to the leaders of the movements, who are few but loud, or to the simple believers, who are many but generally unheard?

It’s far easier to hear from the leaders. We have their writings and their endless disputes, after all. And in fact this is what has nearly always been done, a situation that has begun changing only in recent times.

However, as I see it, the average believers matter considerably more than the leaders. Granted, their voices are harder to hear, but they were always where the weight and mass of these religions lay. And their willingness to follow any particular leader or movement affected the ultimate shapes of these religions.

And fortunately for us, we do sometimes hear and see the average believers. If nothing else, we are told about them from the leaders of their religions as they complain (which they often do) that their followers aren’t following very well. We also find the average believers in the descriptions of outsiders and now in the archaeological record. A picture of these people is emerging.

Now, with that in mind, let’s proceed to the two religions.

Judaism Was Becoming Christianity Anyway

Most of us think of Judaism as being almost entirely law-based. But while this is true for a goodly number of modern, Orthodox Jews, it’s really something of a throw-back. Judaism had long been changing into what Christianity was to become. Here’s what I mean:

A passage from the prophet Micah:

With what shall I come before the LORD and bow myself before God on high? … with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

One from Amos:

Though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them… But let justice run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream…

And there are many others. What we’re seeing is Judaism moving away from laws and rituals and into purity of heart. In other words, it was moving directly toward Christianity.

Christians and Jews Intermixed

Here’s a fact that may shock you: Through at least the 4th century, Christians attended synagogues. We know this because it greatly irritated a famous Christian leader of the day, one John Chrysostom. This man complained at length about the fact that Christians were worshiping in synagogues and partaking of the Jewish festivals.

Furthermore, the first people who carried knowledge of Jesus to the Roman world (before St. Paul) were Jews and worshipped in synagogues along with other Jews. On top of that, it was standard procedure for Christians to identify as Jews, since it allowed them to stay within the exemptions that Rome accorded Jews. It insulated them from the wrath of Rome.

Again there is more to say but we’ll move on.

Through the Years and Now

Through the many centuries between 400 AD and today (and that’s a lot of condensing) Judaism’s concern was far less on doctrinal progress and far more on physical survival. And the founding of the state of Israel, less than 100 years ago, has further complicated things. But since Jews gained the status of “citizen” – first in the US, then France, and now in most places – we’ve seen movements, such as Reform Judaism, that focused on “what you are inside” rather than on keeping 613 laws. Even Orthodox Judaism moves that way frequently. After all, it’s in their book just the same as in the book of the Christians, and it’s the obvious line of human development… of human evolution.

How silly is it to pretend that you’re close to a loving and all-knowing God while harboring hate in your heart?

The Modern Differences

Many Jews remain convinced that Christians are their enemies… and not, we should admit, without cause. From the perspective of a modern Christian, this might seem misguided.

“The people who killed your ancestors,” they would say, “were blind sectarians and embarrassments to Christ.”

And while they too would be right, the children of the violated may not forget so easily.

On top of that, the voices of the various leaders can still be counted upon to accentuate the differences between the two religions. As can those who are devoted to doctrines rather than goodness of the heart.

And so, while the foundations of their beliefs (another big thing I flew past) are almost entirely the same… including most of the same stories… the window dressings of the two groups are purposely, and sometimes flamboyantly, made different.

But aside from a few excessive people on either side, Judaism and Christianity are far closer than might be comfortable for many people.

We might even imagine a happy future in which they begin coming back together, however slowly and hesitantly.

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Proof that the Bible is Anti-Government

anti-government religionsJudaism and Christianity are, at their cores, subversive, anti-government religions. This is strongly reflected in the holy books of these religions, a.k.a. the Bible.

So, I’m going to provide a quick cheat sheet for biblical anarchy – a list of passages that make a clear case: The God of the Bible has nothing to do with the governments of Earth and, in fact, considers them evil.

This list may offend people. But their anger doesn’t make it any less true.

The List:

Starting with the Hebrew Scriptures, then moving into the Greek, here are the relevant passages:

In Exodus 1, Hebrew women openly defied the king of Egypt:

And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives… when ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools, if it be a son, then ye shall kill him; but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.

You can find other defiance passages in Daniel 3 and 6.

The classic passage on rulership is from 1 Samuel 8, where the Israelites, then living in a tribal anarchy, go to Samuel the prophet and request a king. Samuel was displeased by this, but prayed to God anyway. God tells Samuel to warn the people how badly their king will abuse them (He gives him a detailed list) and then tells Samuel:

They have not rejected you, they have rejected me.

Another great story involves King David: God hand-picks this young man and says that he possesses a “heart like God’s own.” After a few years in power, however, he is corrupted and kills one of his soldiers, in order to steal his wife. This is the great example of “power corrupts.” (2 Samuel 11)

Neither Abraham nor Moses gave Israel a king or a government, and they were fully aware that such things were the way of the world. The Hebrews lived in their own land, with no ruler, from perhaps 1400 BC to 1000 BC. Then came the 1 Samuel episode mentioned above and lots of trouble.

What people sometimes fail to grasp about the Hebrew Scriptures is that they initiated a permanently subversive concept: Placing justice above the ruler. That concept alone undercuts every government on Earth.

But, But, But…

Leaving the Hebrew Scriptures, let’s continue by addressing the great refuge for statist Christians, a few verses in the 13th chapter of the letter to the Romans. The passage says:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil.

To interpret this as referring to presidents and princes, every one of them would have to “be a terror to evil works” and not to good works. Shall we apply that to Stalin? To Mao? To Pol Pot? To Nero?

If “there is no power but of God,” and if these powers are Earth’s rulers, we have to say that Hitler did good works, and so did Vlad the Impaler. That cannot be honestly argued. (Though it can be blanked-out.)

Was it right for the Christians of Germany and England to kill one another in WW1? Will we really say that God orders his children to destroy each other?

Beyond this, nearly every major figure in the New Testament defied their rulers. For example:

  • Jesus refused to answer any of Herod’s questions (Luke 23:9).
  • An angel broke Peter out of jail in Acts 12. (And Paul and Silas in Acts 16.)
  • In Acts 5, Peter and John defied their rulers and ended up telling them, to their faces, “We should obey God rather than men.”

Now, with that silliness behind us, let’s move on.

Back To Our List

The government of Judea tried to kill Jesus as soon as he was born. An angel had to appear to his father and tell him how to evade the government. (Matthew 2.)

In Mark 8, Jesus tells his students to “beware of the leaven [the teachings] of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” In other words, “Don’t believe the religious people, and don’t believe the government.”

In Luke 4, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the Earth and says, “All this is mine, and I give it to whomever I please.” He offers it to Jesus, who considers it a legitimate offer but rejects it.

Jesus said on two separate occasions that Satan is the ruler of this world. (John 12:31 and 14:30) So writes Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4.

Jesus flatly denies any association with the rulers of this world in John 18:36:

My kingship is not of this world.

Jesus warns his students not to be like rulers in Mark 10:

You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6, warns Christians not to use government justice systems.

I’ll conclude this section with the big one, from Luke16:15:

That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

So, what is “highly esteemed among men”? That’s easy: The entity people give the right to take their money, to order them to be punished, and to kill. Nothing on Earth is more highly esteemed than government.

And yes, this passage says that government is an abomination. If you don’t like that, blame Jesus, not me.

“Wait! There’s Another Scripture!”

People always grasp for reasons to ignore what they don’t like. For anyone so minded, here’s your “gotcha” list: Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22; 1 Tim. 6:1; Tit. 2:9; Tit. 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-15, 18.

After everything I’ve pointed out above, I’m not going to waste my time on desperate objections. People determined to hold their current beliefs won’t change their minds anyway.

The Truth

The hard truth is that people want to align God with government, because they want an easy way out. They don’t want to suffer for righteousness’s sake.

Which of the prophets weren’t abused? Which righteous man didn’t suffer for his righteousness? Cowardly believers are simply trying to avoid this.

Here are a few of Jesus’ comments on the subject:

  • You shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake. (Mark 13:13)
  • You are blessed when men hate you, when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of me… Their fathers did the same to the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)
  • If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)

By turning the state into a polished fantasy and inserting it into “God’s plan,” people convince themselves that there is no need to suffer. It makes for a cheap, painless (and spineless) religion.

Jesus, however, says that this is false. So do Abraham, Moses, Samuel, the prophets, and the apostles.

If you’re not willing to suffer for your beliefs, you’re not much of a believer.

Paul Rosenberg
FreemansPerspective.com