WHY ABRAHAM’S CHILDREN BROKE APART: IT’S HISTORY’S MOST CRUCIAL SPLIT UP

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Summary: When the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., it is correct to say that Judaism split into two different religions.  Both were new.  One sect was Christianity, the other, Rabbinic Judaism. Christianity was led by Peter and Paul. Rabbinic Judaism was led, ultimately, by Rabbi Akiba. The difference between these two new forms of Judaism couldn’t have been more dramatic. What are the reasons the two religions would be so different?  What did the split have to do with the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth? Could they ever be reconciled?

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
(Galatians 3:7-9, NIV)

Judaism’s Great Divide

The principles of Talmudic Judaism comprised a complete makeover of Temple Judaism.  As such (perhaps it goes without saying), Talmudic Judaism is less compatible with Christianity than the principles of Temple Judaism.  For Jesus’ opposition to the Judaism of his day wasn’t due to the rituals in the Temple as prescribed by Mosaic Law, for these rituals foreshadowed the meaning of His sacrifice, andthey were God-given laws. Jesus did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) Instead, Jesus’ opposition first lay with the Sadducees that made a mockery of Temple worship as they sought to grow rich through Temple tithes and, on the Temple steps, sell animals for sacrifice. Jesus did not oppose Temple rites, He challenged unrighteousness outside the Temple. “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” (Psalm 69:9, LXX, cf. John 2.17)

In the second place, His opposition lay with the Pharisees who sought to extend the law into nooks and crannies that placedexcessive burdens of the common man and woman.The Pharisees constructed laws that only they could keep, excluding the masses from practicing the presence of God. But Jesus simplified the Law for His followers, prioritizing what was most important, anticipating that He would send HisSpirit to enable His followers to help keep His law. This they would do as they studied His word, supported one another, and placed their trust in Him. Nevertheless, although made entirelyavailable for the ordinaryperson to apply (unlike the Talmud), His law was even harder to follow – absent His ongoing grace and enabling Spirit.

So, although the Sadducees grew extinct as Temple worship ended in 70 A.D., the Pharisees persisted. Evolving into the rabbis, the Pharisees morphed only slightly. With their Sadducee rivals now out of their way – that is, since Temple worship was over – the Pharisees still had two splinter sects to overcome.  The first, the Zealotswho had started the Great Revolt, fell prey to Rome.  The second sect of concern was the Essenes.  They were monastic purists that took keeping the law to the extreme. They secluded themselves at Qumran (and from their former Pharisaic colleagues who were “not quiteholy enough”), alleging Temple worship had become corrupted.[1] [1] 

The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

Regarding the outcome, one commentator supposes, “Many of the Essenes perished in the wars against the Romans. Many of the survivors probably became Christians.” [2] Perhaps.  In any event, Qumran appears to have been deserted late in the first century A.D. or early in the second, based upon the dates of the diminishing manuscripts preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

On the other hand, the next sect whom the Rabbis addressed, proved impossible to suppress – this sect would not succumb to their persecution (either in the second half of the first century or the first half of the second).  That sect was Christianity. The Apostles, under the guidance of Peter, James, Paul, and many other lesser-knownleadershad also transformed Judaism into a distinctly different religion. Christianity proclaimed the Messiah had come. His death was not the end of Judaism, but its fulfillment. As Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” (Matthew 5:17-20, paraphrased)

That the Temple worship did not continue fulfilled Jesus’ prediction, and it also proved what he taught concerning His mission was true. The Law and the Temple weregiven to direct us to the God-man, the Messiah Jesus. After that, the Temple resided within all believers – God now dwelt within.

Rabbinic Judaism took a much different path.  It downplayed the Law of Moses (this author believes) by multiplyingthe Oral Law. The Oral Law had been limited – it amounted to the “traditions of men.” (Mark 7:8; Colossians 2:8)


DEEP DIVE:
JESUS’ CRITICISMS OF THE PHARISEES – FROM THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

THE SIX WOES OF HYPOCRISY

They taught about God but did not love God. They would not enter the Kingdom and couldn’t lead others there either. They were blind guides.  (Matt. 23:14)

  1. They preached about God, butthey converted persons to a dead religion, making their converts twice as fit for Hell as they were themselves (Matt. 23:15)
  2. They taught that oaths sworn on the Temple and its altar were not binding, but if sworn of its gold ornamentation – or a sacrificeon the altar – they were binding. Jesus’ point: The Temple and altar were made sacred by God. So how could they teach oaths sworn on lesser objects could be binding? (Matt. 23:16-22)
  3. They obeyed minutiae about the laws they made up,while neglecting the “weightier things” of the Torah such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness to God. (Matt 23:23-24)
  4. They presented a holy, clean appearance only on the outsideby showing restraint in carnalmatters externally, while inside they were unclean, full of worldly desires, greed, and self-indulgence. (Matt 23:25-26)
  5. They proclaimed themselves holy and set apart by being “keepers of the law”while their inner persons were unrighteous.They were full of wickedness and evil. They were like “whitewashed tombs” with dead men’s bones inside (which would make them unclean “despite the white”). (Matt. 23:27-28)
  6. They claimed, unlike their ancestors, they never would have persecuted or killed the prophets. Yet, they werethe offspring of the prophets– with murderous blood in their veins. (Matt: 23-29-36) This was proven when, along with the Romans, they crucified the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.(Acts 2:22-36)

It was the source of Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees. For the rabbis, being close to God only came through keeping His law, as they interpreted it. In contrast, Christians accepted the truth that God desired to live in their hearts – they were the new Temple. God dwelling within would enable them to live out the Law, not to acquire righteousness; but to demonstrate a right standing with God and ultimate loyalty to Him as they brought their thoughts and actions captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Thus, at the end of the Roman – Jewish Wars, Judaism had split into two religions:  Rabbinic Judaism and Apostolic Christianity.  Rabbinic Judaism would build its new religion by creating a new text. Step one was creating the Mishnah. Step two was the Gemara (together they constitute the Talmud, although in some instances, the Gemara and Talmud are spoken of as synonymous). Christians would follow the leading of the Holy Spirit individually, participate in community, and obey their leadership. This would feature bishops anointed by apostles then later by other bishops (known as Apostolic Succession) while the community would anoint overseers with spiritual gifts (charismata) of the Spirit. (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:27-31)  The new Judaism would follow the rabbis. They were the authority.  “What they said, goes!”

Jewish Roots – To What Jewish Traditions Do Christians Relate?

Many Christians today seek to understand the Hebrew background to Christianity. In some cases, this is little more than appreciating the history of Jewish culture and customs.  In other cases, it means respecting the Jewish religion that Jesus experienced as a child – coming to a better understanding of the place of Holy Scripture and the Temple in the life of the Jewish faith. For others, it implies gaining a balanced view of the interrelationship between the Old and New Testament. (No doubt, Christians under appreciate the value of the Old Testament in providing the context for the New.) Unfortunately, others in their ardent approach may go so far as to identify with keeping the Law of Moses as crucial to the process of salvation. This has led to many historic conflicts among believers -returning to us to arguments over legalism and contentions captured so dramatically in Paul’s Book of Galatians.  As Paul summarized the situation,

     “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?  So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:1-5)

To paraphrase Paul’s argument; “Having been justified by grace do you now seek to grow into maturity by following the Law?”

The relationship between Law and Grace, or more specifically, the connection between the Law of Moses and “justification by faith alone” continues to be a difficult matter for which believers must come to terms. (In theology, we call this the doctrine of soteriology).

450 pages, released January 2019

The Jewish religion of the Mishnah and the Talmud is distant from Christianity. The two were much closer before the “schism” of Judaism which led to these two radically different religions. Most Christians assume that there is more commonality today between Judaism and Christianity than there really is.  This appearance may exist due to the tone in Reform Judaism (which is “liberal”);  But it is rarely so with Orthodox Judaism (“fundamentalism”) taught by the rabbis. In essence, Christians should not romanticize the situation believing that the two can easily become one once again.  No doubt, this lies at the heart of what we know today as Christian Zionism. However, those of us that have a love for Israel and for the Jewish people should be discerning, understanding that the dominant form of Judaism which follows Torah “religiously” poses real challenges to our Christian faith.

A prime example is the seemingly blind enthusiastic support among many conservative Christians concerning the desire of some Orthodox Jews to rebuild the Temple and reinstitute sacrificial worship.  On the one hand, a rebuilt Temple appears to be a major fulfillment in Bible prophecy setting the stage for the realization of the conventional scenario of the Second Coming of Christ — as the Antichrist enters a restored Temple declaring himself God — setting off the final 3.5 years of Great Tribulation. On the other hand, believers in Jesus Christ must regain a New Testament perspective, that the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the Most Holy Place, was torn in two signifying the end of hostility between God and humanity. Christ’s finished work on the cross should not be denied, officially or practically. To endorse rebuilding the Temple tells Jews we believe there are two paths to God. One can believe in Christ or follow the law and perform sacrificial rituals. Christians who believe in the exclusivity of Christ’s death and His name as the only name under heaven by which we must be saved, cannot compromise on this cornerstone creed of the Church.

A personal note:  I had the privilege to work closely with Rabbi Daniel Lapin when I lived in Seattle. Daniel even wrote the foreword to my book, Decoding Doomsday. Daniel is uniquely interested as an Orthodox Jew in reaching out to Christians, ministering to them, and finding common ground between Jews and Christians.  I do support his work and do believe that he is building valuable bridges leading us to find common ground.  He is a “mensch.”  He taught me how this word is to be understood and he certainly embodies it. We broke bread together many times and I miss his company. But our religious systems are not compatible theologically.

Nevertheless, there should be mutual respect between Jews and Christians since we share so many vital interests. And we should unite around common causes in ethics, morality, politics, and culture. We both care about the creeping secularism in our society. We share a ProLife view. We are likely concerned with justice, the rights of individuals, and the right to property. But our religions are different. While our God ultimately may be the same, how we understand Him is very different indeed. Even more, how we obtain right standing with Yahweh is not directly reconcilable. As Christians, we believe Jesus is Yahweh. As Jews, they do not believe that Yahweh could or would ever become a human being.

Therefore, for biblically-based Christians, reconciling with Talmudic Judaism is simply out of the question. I argue that there are reasons to honor the Talmud as a basis for the “rule of Law,” but this is in spite of its many slights of Christians and some slams on Jesus.  However, looked at as a humanistic endeavor, it is a remarkable accomplishment and an amazing creation for how it held the Jewish people together for nearly two millennia.  Still, reconciling constitutes “a bridge too far.” The Pope would bring us all together by diluting the distinctive attributes of all religions – most of which are not favorable to biblical affirmations. This can’t happen.

In conclusion: “Finding our Jewish roots” has some distinct limitations and broad boundaries which we must discern and uphold for the sake of the Gospel of Grace.


Notes

[1] “But both scholars and laypeople would do well to remember that during the entire Qumran period, the Pharisees and Sadducees were as much ‘sects’ as the Essenes were!” Abegg at al., op. cit., Kindle Edition. Loc. 244. The Essene’ legacy is, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls of which we will have much more to say. An outstanding paper on the Essenes can be found at Heritage History on the Essenes.

[2] Upper Biblical Studies for All, “The Essenes who were they?” Retrieved June 15, 2018, from https://mjseymour1959.wordpress.com/the-essenes-who-were-they/.

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