Monday, July 23, 2018

Jewish objections to Jesus

In this post I will field some Jewish objections to Christianity. For purposes of this post, I'm using "Jew/Jewish" in contrast to Christian. I think the NT writers were Jewish. I think Messianic Jews are Jewish. But in this post I'm going to reserve "Jew/Jewish" to denote Jewish critics of Jesus (e.g. Orthodox Jews, rabbinical Judaism). "Jew/Jewish" as an antonym for "Christian".

I. False prophet

1. The allegation is that Jesus was a lawbreaker/covenantbreaker who incited Jews to commit apostasy by disregarding the Torah. This allegation goes back to Jewish critics of Jesus in the Gospels. The same allegation is reflected in the Talmud (see below). 

i) The allegation poses a dilemma for Jewish critics. One strategy is to drive a wedge between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. They claim the NT fails to reflect firsthand knowledge of Jesus. Instead, it represents legendary embellishment. If, however, the Gospels are accurate enough to faithfully record the "impious" words and deeds of Jesus ("impious" by the standards of Jewish critics), then they're accurate enough to fatefully record his supernatural abilities. So that strategy backfires. 

ii) Conversely, another strategy is to concede that Jesus might have supernatural abilities. But that doesn't prove his messianship since that's consistent with a false prophet (Deut 13:1-5). That concession is reflected in the Talmudic indictment of Jesus:  

Jesus was hanged on Passover Eve. Forty days previously the herald had cried, “He is being led out for stoning, because he has practiced sorcery and led Israel astray and enticed them into apostasy. Whosoever has anything to say in his defense, let him come and declare it.” As nothing was brought forward in his defense, he was hanged on Passover Eve (Tractate Sanhedrin 43a).

But that simply shifts the dilemma. For if the Gospels are accurate enough to faithfully record the supernatural abilities of Jesus, then they're accurate enough to fatefully record signs of divine endorsement (e.g. Mt 3:16-17; Jn 1:32-34; Jn 12:28-29; the Father raising Jesus from the dead). 

Not to mention the conundrum of Jesus the exorcist. Satan would be acting at cross-purposes with himself if he empowered a false prophet to cast out demons. So that strategy backfires.

iv) Appeal to Deut 13:1-5 is dicey. What's the evidence that Moses was a prophet of God? Because he was a miracle-worker? But in that event, Jesus has same miraculous attestation as Moses. 

2. The indictment is premised on the immutability of the Torah. But is that a sound assumption? 

i) Readers have noticed discrepancies between Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. So the Torah wasn't static. Rather, we can see examples of internal development in the Torah. 

ii) The Torah isn't all of a piece. Some Mosaic laws adapted to a preindustrial agrarian economy and tribal society. But that world is gone. Modern-day Jews, however observant, do not and cannot obey those laws. Some not a few Mosaic laws are obsolete. 

iii) What does Ezekiel's temple (Exod 40-48) refer to? Do Orthodox Jews view that as a future third temple? But the specifications of the structure and personnel don't match the Solomonic temple. It's not a restoration of the status quo ante. In that event, the Torah is not immutable but revisable. 

iv) Many of the Mosaic laws are arbitrary. In principle, God could decree something different. How many days for a festival, how many offerings, and so forth. There's nothing intrinsically absolute about many of the Mosaic laws. So there's no reason in principle why God couldn't changes some of these stipulations. 

v) Perhaps a Jew will object that if God changes the Torah, then we can't trust him to keep his word. However, most Mosaic laws aren't promises. God isn't breaking a promise if he abrogates many of these laws. 

For that matter, some promises are implicitly or explicitly conditional. God isn't breaking a conditional promise. 

vi) Are these laws an end in themselves or a means to an end? What if some of these laws were temporary by design? A sign pointing to something greater in the fulfill? For instance, my own position is that Jesus supersedes the Temple. In addition, wherever the Spirit is, there is the temple. 

vii) There's a bait-n-switch when Jews appeal to the Torah, because that's amplified by the Oral Torah, Talmud, commentaries on Talmud. Endless layers of interpretation. 

viii) If Jesus is a false prophet, why does God answer prayers directed to and through Jesus? I'm not saying Christians always get their prayers answered. But do Jews get their prayers answered at a higher rate than Christians? 

II. Idolatry

1. Jews say Jesus was a heretic. He committed blasphemy by assuming divine airs. By worshiping a man, Christians are idolaters. 

However, that's a superficial objection. The charge only sticks on the assumption that Jesus made false claims about his true identity. But suppose he really is God Incarnate? In that event, is it idolatrous to worship God Incarnate? 

Put another way, is it forbidden for God to become Incarnate? What bars God from becoming Incarnate if he so desires? 

2. Is a divine incarnation metaphysically impossible? That's a deeper objection. Here's one attempt: 

Maimonides devotes most of the Guide for the Perplexed to the fundamental idea that God is incorporeal, meaning that He assumes no physical form. God is Eternal, above time. He is Infinite, beyond space. He cannot be born, and cannot die. Saying that God assumes human form makes God small, diminishing both His unity and His divinity. As the Torah says: "God is not a mortal" (Numbers 23:19).

Judaism says that the Messiah will be born of human parents, and possess normal physical attributes like other people. He will not be a demigod, and will not possess supernatural qualities.

How should we assess that objection?

i) For the sake of argument, let's bracket the Trinity, as a simplifying assumption. 

ii) Maimonides isn't getting that straight from the OT. He's a classical theist. His position is cross-pollinated by Greek and Muslim philosophy. That doesn't make it ipso facto wrong, but you can't legitimately say the doctrine of the Incarnation is blasphemous or idolatrous because it doesn't sit well with Greek and Muslim philosophy. That's not the standard of comparison. That's not equivalent to OT theism. 

iii) It's unclear how the objection actually applies to the Incarnation. There are different models of the Incarnation. The Incarnation doesn't entail that God divests himself of his transcendent attributes. He doesn't cease to be timeless, spaceless, unoriginate or immortal.  

According to one standard model of the Incarnation, God doesn't directly enter time and space. Rather, he forms a union with a temporal human mind and physical human body. God's presence is mediated by an intervening conduit. 

To take a comparison, suppose I leave a message on someone's phone. My voice enters his time and space. My voice is present in his time and space. But my presence is indirect. I'm not in the same place or timeframe as he is. Rather, my presence is mediated by an intervening process. 

III. The Second Coming is ad hoc

1. Jews view the doctrine of the Second Coming as a face-saving expedient. Because Jesus failed to fulfill messianic criteria the first time around, Christians salvage his messiahship by bifurcating his mission and reassigning the messianic actions to an unverifiable future.

How should we assess that objection?  

i) Unlike pre-Christian Judaism, Rabbinical Judaism is (re)defined in conscious opposition to Christianity. So their messianic criteria is circular. Necessarily, it will resist the classification of any OT passages that messianic that feed into Christian theology. It makes eliminative use of Christian theology as the frame of reference to discount OT passages as messianic if they play into the hands of Christian theology. Not surprisingly, they don't find any passages that support Christian theology since, by definition, their own position must preclude it in advance. They cannot acknowledge such evidence. 

ii) What about Jews who bifurcate the messiah into two or more individuals with different roles? Why isn't that a stopgap explanation? 

iii) The interadventual age is not a makeshift position but a necessary implication of Christianity as a missionary religion. Jesus first came as Redeemer, to return a second time as Judge. That allows the Gospel to spread in time and space. Geographical and diachronic expansion. Over the course of centuries, multiplied generations of men, women, and children are ushered into God's eternal kingdom. If Jesus came was eschatological judge in the 1C, only a few thousand people in Palestine would be saved. The opportunity for billions of future humans to enter the kingdom would be preempted.

iv) Consider the argument that OT prophecy requires messiah to come before the destruction of the Second Temple? If Jesus wasn't the messiah, then it's too late for any other candidate to fill that role. If Jesus wasn't the messiah, that falsifies Judaism, because the window of opportunity has closed for another candidate to meet that condition. We passed the last exit 2000 years ago. So it's Jesus or bust:

There is only one Messiah, but there are two parts to his mission, hence two comings, but the first had to precede the destruction of the Second Temple as we learn from Haggai 2 (where God promised to fill the Second Temple with greater glory than the First Temple, yet the Second Temple did not have the Shekhinah or the divine fire or even the ark of the covenant); Malachi 3 (where the Lord Himself promised to visit the Second Temple and purge the priests and Levites); and Daniel 9 (where the measure of transgression and sin had to be filled up, atonement made for iniquity, and everlasting righteousness ushered in).

Yeshua fulfilled these prophecies, bringing the glory of God to the Temple with his own presence and sending the Spirit to his followers there, and as the Lord, visiting the Temple and purging and purifying the Jewish leadership. And the measure of transgression was filled up when the Messiah was crucified, at which time he made atonement for iniquity and ushered in eternal righteousness. And so Haggai, Malachi, and Daniel testify that the Messiah had to come before the Second Temple was destroyed.

This is why we also have two pictures of the Messiah’s coming, one meek and lowly, riding on a donkey (Zech 9:9), the other high and exalted, riding on the clouds (Dan 7:13-14). But these are not either-or pictures, they are both-and pictures. First he comes riding on a donkey, to be rejected by our people, to die for our sins, only to become a light to the nations of the earth; then he will return riding on the clouds, bringing judgment on the wicked, regathering his scattered people, and establishing God’s kingdom on the earth.


  1. Though I'm not a Jew, I'd like to ask this question.
    What about these failed expectations of New Testament authors?

    Heb 10:24,25,36,37
    24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

    36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,
    “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.”

    Romans 13:11,12
    11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

    1 John 2:18,19
    18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

    Just read this post:
    It seems okay, but what about the above three passages?

    1. RK Skeptic, I think Reformed Apologist referred you to AD 70 because that's when the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple occurred, thus ending the Jewish dispensation and fully ushering in the Christian one. While I'm not fully convinced that Partial Preterism is correct on everything or that the true full-orbed "end times" interpretation is limited to it, proponents of that eschatological view show how those passages you've cited, and many others that are claimed as proof of false prophecies in the New Testament, are easily resolved and fulfilled during the first century.

  2. It looks like Steve Hays addressed your question here:

  3. Jewish apologists always bring up Matthew 16:28 "some standing here will not taste death until they see the son of man coming in his kingdom". They say this proves Jesus as a false prophet.