Judaisms and Christianities
Author: Skip Moen
“Therefore whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them; for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12Matthew 7:12
English: World English Bible - WEB
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The Law and the Prophets – Jacob Neusner, one of today’s experts in Judaism, makes the following observation:
“What marks Judaism apart from the other monotheist religions? Judaism recognizes no other revelation than the Torah, the Teaching, set forth by God to Moses at Mount Sinai, and encompassing the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets). The Torah, broadly defined, contains the exhaustive account of God’s plan for creation and humanity.”
Once again we realize that the issue of Torah, not the issue of Yeshua as Messiah, is the distinguishing factor between Christians and Jews. At the same time, we must notice that the gospel authors take great pains to portray Yeshua as the prophet foretold by Moses, the prophet who would come later, finishing the work that God first revealed to Moses. This means that the gospel authors would not object to Neusner’s distinction. They would claim that Yeshua was indeed a proclaimer of the final authority of Torah in that He embodied everything Torah was meant to accomplish in the lives of God’s people. That Yeshua is the Messiah is not a condition in addition to Torah, but rather a statement of the purpose and fulfillment of Torah. Yeshua is Torah incarnate.
Neusner goes on to document the fact that during the time of the rise of Christian theology (after 200AD), the various schools of Jewish thought eventually coalesced into what became rabbinic Judaism, the foundation of the Judaism we know today. But this was not the case in the First Century. Yeshua was part of an historical period that evidenced many different views of Israel’s legacy and destiny – and He added His commentary and instruction to that stream of thought. His role as Messiah, recognized by thousands of Jews who clearly understood the crucial role of Torah, provided the authority for His declarations. His teaching is the official divinely-given interpretation of Torah, not a replacement for Torah. To read of Yeshua’s teaching without Torah in the background is to strip away His very existence. What remains is a shell of God’s anointed, not the fully embodied representation of God’s design for humanity.
Neusner adds a crucial fact to our exploration. Judaism did not exist as a monolithic religious block in the First Century. Yeshua lived at a time when great transitions and conflicts were a part of Israel, both politically and theologically. He rose as a prophet in the same vein as the earlier prophets, someone set apart by God to call God’s people back to their assignment at Sinai, to return to the Torah of the ancients. Yeshua’s affinities with Akiva, Hillel and others is not an accident. During this period, great ideas were being hammered out in the religious thinking of the community. Yeshua was a vital part of all of this, a lightning rod and a polarizing factor in a society under worldview pressures.
That’s why a verse like this one in Matthew has such clear parallels to statements of Akiva. The entire corpus of Jewish thinking was being sifted and men like Akiva and Yeshua were strong voices of stability in a world in flux.
Of course, Yeshua is more than a prophet. He is the Messiah. But if we do not first recognize Him as prophet, as reformer, as spokesman of the Most High God, called to exemplify the pathos of God in the midst of Jewish humanity, we will never explain who He is as the Anointed sacrifice, the Messiah ben Joseph.
Perhaps you have embraced Him as Savior, perhaps even as Lord, but you have never considered Him as prophet to God’s people, as the incarnation of Torah in all that Torah implies. Perhaps your view of Yeshua is just as truncated as the contemporary Jew who rejects Him because he thinks Yeshua abandons Torah. First prophet, then redeemer, then king. Perhaps it’s time to rethink who He is as those who knew Him on earth would have thought.