- Posted March 2, 2013 by
THE JEWISH RELIGION OF JESUS: New findings raise questions about Jesus and Christianity
This is said in reference to new findings which confirm that Jesus never viewed his religion as something called “Christianity,” understood as a movement totally separate and discontinuous from Judaism. On the contrary, it is now clear that the religion Jesus founded was actually a new form of Judaism that arose to compete against the established “Sinai Covenant” Judaism followed by the majority of Jews.
Hence, while the Judaism of Jesus was different in form from the Judaism of the Jewish majority, the religion of Jesus was not a movement vitally discontinuous or separate from the historic Judaism within which it arose. As a result, it is not quite accurate to say that Christianity is the religion of Jesus, since a significant aspect of Christianity involves its historic belief that Christianity has replaced Judaism in the eyes of God because of the Jewish majority’s rejection of Jesus. Christianity therefore has never viewed itself historically as a form of Judaism.
Nevertheless, we begin to see the accuracy of viewing the religion of Jesus as a form of Judaism when we consider, first of all, that the name “Christianity” does not appear in the New Testament, which was written by Jews. Hence, the name “Christianity” is not of Jewish New Testament origin; the name emerged separately from Gentile sources. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, the earliest known version of the name “Christianity” first appears in the writings of the Gentile Christian leader Ignatius of Antioch (35 – 108 AD). Ignatius’ original version of the name “Christianity” was the Greek word, “Christianism.”
But of greater significance is the fact that the original Jewish followers of Jesus believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Glorious King (or “Messiah”) of Israel that Moses and the Jewish prophets who followed him had predicted God would send to the Jews. As Jews within Judaism, the original Jews who followed Jesus knew that the concept of “the Messiah of Israel” is at the core of Judaism and not at the fringe—definitely not anything belonging to the non-Jewish world.
For these important reasons, the original Jewish followers of Jesus always believed they were operating at the very center of Judaism under the Jewish Bible legal authority of a “New Covenant” from God. The nature of this “New Covenant” is another important element of supporting evidence, since the “New Covenant” is not a Gentile concept but one that also comes from the center of historic Judaism. The New Covenant concept first appears in the prophecy of Jeremiah, one of the great prophets of Judaism. Jeremiah referred to the New Covenant as one that would replace the Sinai Covenant that God had made earlier with the Jews at Mt. Sinai.
Speaking as a prophet of God, following is how Jeremiah expresses himself on this issue:
Jeremiah 31:31-32 – “‘Behold, the days come,’ said the LORD, ‘that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; my covenant which they broke, although I was an husband to them,’ said the LORD.”
When Jesus appeared in Judaism, he claimed that he was the one whom God had sent as the promised Great Messiah as well as the one God ordained to be the founder of the New Covenant and the new era this would usher within Judaism. According to Jesus, this New Covenant and its era was to be founded and inaugurated in his blood (see, Luke 22:20 – “After the supper [Jesus] took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’”). Hence, the Jewish religion Jesus founded was a form of Judaism that we may call “New Covenant” Judaism. Such a founding quickly became a challenge to the Jewish majority and their previously established “Sinai Covenant” Judaism.
Hence, the split that Jesus initially created within Judaism was not one of Jesus and his Jewish followers founding a separate new religion that would be totally discontinuous from historic Judaism. Instead, it was the creation of a dispute within Judaism and among the Jews as to which form of Judaism was the correct form; only a minority of Jews sided with Jesus and his New Covenant views.
As for what came to be known to the world as “Christianity,” it is far more accurate to say that this was never the pure Judaism of Jesus. Instead, it would be more accurate to say that what the world came to know as “Christianity” was, on the whole—more or less, depending on the particular version, a syncretism—a blend of Jesus’ pure form of Judaism and strictly Gentile notions. The fact that Christianity in its earliest stages under full Gentile control became quickly anti-Semitic reveals how rapidly it distanced itself from Jesus’ pure Judaism.
While Jesus brought about a split in belief among Jews within Judaism, Jesus was never anti-Semitic. Jesus made this clear when he identified his work of salvation exclusively and unconditionally with the Jewish people as a whole. Hence, Jesus was totally inclusive of all the Jewish people—regardless of unbelief among them—when he said without qualification, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).
There were several factors that brought about the rise of anti-Semitism in early Gentile-controlled Christianity. One such factor of major significance was the virulent anti-Semitism that existed in the Roman Empire environment where Christianity (so called) first saw its rise among the Gentiles. Anti-Semitism was entrenched from the lowest to the highest levels of Roman society. Hence, at the highest level, we find the celebrated Roman rhetorician and orator, Seneca, saying of the Jews, “The customs of that most accursed race have gained such strength that they have been now received in all lands, the conquered have given laws to the conquerors.”
By the fourth century, Roman anti-Semitism had so infected Gentile Christianity that it had reached the highest levels of Church hierarchy. For example, Ambrose, who was then Roman Catholic Bishop of Milan (from 374 to 397 AD), had the following to say in defense of Christian rioters who had destroyed a Jewish synagogue: “There is, then, no adequate cause for such a commotion, that the [Christians] should be so severely punished for the burning of a building; and much less since it is the burning of a synagogue, a home of unbelief, a house of impiety, a receptacle of folly which God himself has condemned.”
Under this corrupt Gentile thinking, which came to view all Jews and all Judaism as God-forsaken, the new “Christianity” was seen—in the most profound irony—as having replaced Judaism altogether in the plan of God; all of Judaism had become a “fossil”; salvation could now only be found in the new and separate Gentile-centered Christianity.
Knowing now that the religion of Jesus was a form of Judaism rather than a replacement of Judaism and that it was not something separate that would curse Judaism or the Jews, it is difficult—if not impossible—any longer to assume that one can accurately say, without significant qualifications, that what the world now knows as “Christianity” is what Jesus founded.