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A Personal Statement of Faith

What It Means to Be a Jewish Christian

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.


I can’t call myself a Jewish Christian without immediately getting myself into trouble. People will inevitably and understandably make the wrong assumptions. After all, aren’t Jewish Christians certain Jews who have converted to a form of Christianity indistinguishable from Evangelicalism but who still call themselves Jews, and whose mission it is to convert the rest of the Jewish people to their way of thinking? That is decidedly what I am not.

The “Hebrew Christians,” “Messianic Jews,” or “Jews for Jesus” of today are a relatively modern invention. These are Jews who have adopted the contemporary Evangelical tradition. What I stand for is a form of Jewish Christianity closer to what I believe must have been the original Jewish Christianity before the “parting of the ways.” Today it seems impossible for someone to be both Jewish and Christian, but the earliest Christians were in fact Jews, and they, Jesus included, valued their Judaism.

How we understand Jewish Christianity, and indeed Christianity in general, will depend on what we take to be the Christian message. The words “gospel,” from Old English, or “evangel,” from the Greek, both literally mean “good news.” What is this “good news”? An “evangelical” approach might put it this way: We are all sinners. We cannot help it. We all require salvation. But there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We are in need of a Savior, who is Jesus Christ. He atoned for our sins through his death on the cross, and paid the price for all of us. And by his resurrection he overcame the powers of sin and death. Therefore, if we are to escape everlasting punishment, we must accept Jesus Christ as our Lord, Savior, and even God, or his atonement will not cover us. The “good news” is that there is an escape from the endless torment that we all deserve, and that is faith in Christ.

This is not at all what I take the Christian message to be. I have given my reasons in two other articles, “Did Christ Die for Our Sins?” and “Do Nonbelievers Go to Hell?” I will not repeat them here. Right now I would rather focus on what attracted me to Christianity, which is something totally different. I do so because I strongly believe the Christian message needs a different articulation. I will conclude with what I believe to be the real Christian message, the real “good news,” but I need to lay some groundwork first.

The Meaning of Salvation

Too many Christian evangelizers are using the wrong method. They use fear to sell Christianity: Accept Jesus Christ or your sins won’t be forgiven and you will be eternally condemned. This is the wrong approach. It sends a message not of a God of love and forgiveness, but of vindictiveness and cruelty. It would actually be a moral imperative to resist such a God.

It is not the approach Jesus used. The best record we have of Jesus’s ministry and teachings is contained in the Synoptic Gospels. (I have dealt with John’s Gospel in my papers “Do Nonbelievers Go to Hell?” and “Jesus and the Christ Angel,” so will not recap that here.) In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus’s message is clear. The kingdom of God is close at hand. We need to prepare for it. And this requires repentance, as well as treating each other with love and compassion. That is the standard; not what you believe about Jesus. “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32). We need to remember that there is no doctrine of the Trinity in the Gospels; that came later. The Holy Spirit is not some entity distinct from God the Father; it is the voice of God as it speaks to human beings. To deny the Holy Spirit means to set oneself up against God and against God’s goodness, love, and justice, always choosing ego instead. That is what gets one into trouble. Compared to that, recognizing Jesus Christ specifically as God’s messenger is of secondary importance.

We tend to forget, and many modern readers are not even aware, that New Testament theology is rooted in first-century Jewish apocalypticism. The phrase “kingdom of God” (or the more Jewish version “kingdom of heaven” used in Matthew) is part of that theology. Apocalyptic theology grew out of the experience of a people long time oppressed and crying out for justice. Its many expressions in New Testament times tended toward certain common elements:

People at the time who subscribed to this theology believed that they would live to see this final judgment. And so repentance before it came was an urgent necessity. This is why John the Baptist was so eager to spread his baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And why Paul was so anxious to propagate the message of belief in Christ and his resurrection throughout the empire. They believed the judgment was imminent, and so tried to save as many from it as possible.

This is where our popular notion of “salvation” comes from. In the Hebrew Bible, salvation is of this world: it meant rescue from persecution by one’s enemies or from natural disasters. In Paul, who was an apocalypticist and who expected the end to arrive shortly, it meant something else: salvation for Paul means rescue from God’s negative final judgment of sinners expected at the close of the age. Jesus’s resurrection was especially significant because, according to Paul, it was the “first fruits” of the general resurrection to follow. Jesus showed us what it was like to escape God’s judgment. And, according to Paul, we like Jesus can escape judgment and rise to eternal life by joining Christ in his resurrection and accepting his lordship.

But then something happened, or rather, didn’t happen. The final judgment never came. And that was a serious blow to apocalypticism. Even in the New Testament there are attempts to deal with this delay: Mark thought the end was already arriving (“the Lord... has cut short those days,” Mark 13:20), but Luke said not to expect it just yet (“but the end will not follow immediately,” Luke 21:9; “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,” Luke 21:24). If these Gospel apocalypses do in fact refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70, Mark saw that as a sign of the end, but Luke did not. In First Thessalonians Paul assures his followers that they will live to see it. In Second Thessalonians, later than Paul and not written by him, there is a delay. But the hope was always that the delay would not last too long.

But the delay has lasted, for two thousand years and counting. Apocalypticism as a theology was discredited, except by those diehards who still use the Bible, especially Daniel and Revelation, to predict when the end will come (and they have always been wrong). And so both the resurrection and salvation became detached from their origins in Jewish apocalypticism. Christ’s resurrection became no longer a sign of the end but a singular event in history, possible because of his assumed divinity, and salvation became detached from its connection to the eschatological event and evolved into an escape from a fearful endless hell. This is how popular Christianity with its doctrine of “Believe or else” came about. It is an artifact of a dead apocalypticism, and is not, I believe, faithful to what Jesus lived and taught.

Jesus was very explicit about what leads to eternal life, and it is not a matter of what we believe. It is the two Great Commandments: Love the Lord (which I take to mean love the goodness that God creates and wills), and your neighbor as yourself. It is the love you show expressed in the actions you perform for “the least of these” in God’s creation that attracts God’s favor. “Faith alone,” which became a central Protestant doctrine, has no basis in the Synoptic Gospels (and is questionable in the rest of the New Testament as well). I don’t think Jesus would recognize it. Jesus called us to follow him not just in words or thoughts but in deeds and in service.

These considerations bring us to a need to redefine salvation. While there is a final judgment, as Jesus told us there would be, salvation will not be from a grotesque and hideous hell conjured in apocalyptic visions. It is better to think of salvation in positive terms. Salvation means that one’s life is determined by God and the goodness of God, and not by the accidents of this world. When we say that Jesus came to bring us salvation, this is what I believe it should mean. And here is a great irony: we may be saved without knowing it! We may be beset by doubts and fears, but if we are devoted to pursuing God’s goodness and, as best we can, embodying it as Christ did, we are already God’s own. We have done what God asks of us, and that is all that matters: love of God and love of God’s creatures. And so Jesus told us to “seek first the kingdom of God” and then we will find fulfillment. That is what brings us to salvation. And notice that Jesus said “seek.” We do not need to accomplish it all in this short life. We just need to be headed in the right direction, where the “Two Great Commandments” become our highest priority and our ultimate concern. It is then that God’s goodness, and not our own machinations, determines the course of our lives.

Jesus and the Kingdom

John the Baptist was an apocalyptic prophet. He expected a cataclysmic end to be coming very soon: hence the urgency of repentance. Paul, too, was in his own way an apocalyptic prophet. He expected to see the end come within his lifetime (1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15). Was Jesus?

Jesus too preached an urgent need to repent: “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ’Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matthew 4:17). But did he mean the same thing? Some scholars consider Jesus to have been no more than an apocalyptic prophet like all the others. I think that is too reductionistic and misses Jesus’s essence. Jesus took the language of the kingdom, current in the theology of his time, and redefined and transformed it. No apocalypticist spoke of the kingdom the way Jesus did. And that makes all the difference.

For a typical apocalypticist, the coming of the kingdom is a cataclysmic event on a grandiose scale. It engulfs everyone and everything, bringing great destruction before the final redemption. We do find such passages in the words of Jesus. But Jesus does not leave it there. While he did recognize this world as temporary and passing away, to be replaced by something better after a time of trial, his view of the kingdom was radically different from other apocalypticists, and has escaped many theologians as well.

This is what Jesus says about the kingdom:

How strange is that? No apocalypticist other than Jesus ever spoke of the kingdom that way. Jesus takes traditional apocalyptic language and turns it upside down. The kingdom of God is not a huge cataclysmic event: it is a mustard seed. It will not arrive with a violent clash of opposing forces: on the contrary, we may not even notice it. The kingdom of God will make more sense to little children than to seasoned warriors. The kingdom of God is not off in some remote future, nor even in the immediate future. In fact, it is already here, right in our midst.

Admittedly, Jesus does make more typical apocalyptic statements, foretelling catastrophic events to come on a grand scale (Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21). But only in the Gospel of Luke are these events associated with the kingdom of God (Luke 21:31). In Matthew (24:14) it is called only the “kingdom.” Mark, the earliest Gospel, does not even call it that. In Mark, this apocalyptic tradition is not even associated with the kingdom. If you want to know how Jesus saw the kingdom, you won’t find the answer in the apocalyptic passages.

And right after the corresponding passage in Matthew, when Jesus returns to talking explicitly about the kingdom (Matthew 25), the tone is markedly different. It is not about the inbreaking of widespread upheaval and violence upon the world. Instead we get the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. We are back to the very subtle, unobtrusive yet decisive kingdom, for which we must carefully prepare or else risk missing it.

Clearly Jesus did not mean by “kingdom of God” what other apocalypticists meant. We will return later to the possible significance of the Gospel apocalyptic passages. First, we need to consider what exactly Jesus teaches us about the kingdom.

For Jesus, the kingdom is an unseen yet present reality. It is a different way to be. It is a hidden, yet powerful dimension of existence. It shows us that the natural world, with all its pain and tragedy, is not the only reality, and does not have the final word concerning our destiny. Another name for this kingdom is eternal life.

No other theologian has described this as well as Paul Tillich. In The Shaking of the Foundations, in his sermon “We Live in Two Orders,” he speaks of “two orders of being: the human, political, historical order, and the divine, eternal order.” He adds, “The human order, the order of history, is primarily the order of growing and dying.” But that is not all. There is something else: “The order beyond the order of history is the divine order.” The divine order reverses the human order: the weak become strong and the last become first. And even in the greatest depths of the pain of the human order, the divine order appears: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

The good news (evangelion) that Jesus brought is that the human order (time) and the divine order (eternity) are not separated from each other. As Tillich puts it:

[T]he two orders, the historical and the eternal, although they can never become the same, are within each other. The historical order is not separated from the eternal order. What is new in the prophets and in Christianity, beyond all paganism, old and new, is that the eternal order reveals itself in the historical order.

This means there is always a possibility for us to experience a belongingness to an order outside the one in which we suffer. In that second order (which is actually the first) we are redeemed, and nothing of spiritual value in our lives perishes. This, according to Christ, is the truth of our existence, although we do not always know it. But it is not beyond our reach. “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Clearly Jesus did not mean, strive first for that cataclysmic wave of destruction. That would have been a call to zealotry. No, Jesus meant us to recognize and to value the divine order of existence, to pray for it and seek to know it as our most essential truth.

To me, this is what being a Christian means. It is recognizing Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the messenger designated by God to bring to us in its fullest clarity the message that eternity is real and that we are a part of it. He did this both in his teaching and in his being. He embodied he incarnated in his life and in his ministry the qualities we associate with the divine, in particular unadulterated non-self-interested love. It is in this sense that Jesus could say “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). It is in this sense that we can say that Jesus as the Christ represented God’s presence on earth.

I believe that understanding the relationship of these two orders helps us appreciate the full power of the Gospel message. Jesus, as a human being, suffered some of the worst things one can experience in this life: rejection, condemnation, and a tortured and agonizing premature death. A message of faith, to be truly effective, must embrace these extremes of human experience. And so Jesus said “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering” (Mark 8:31). There is much controversy surrounding the title “Son of Man.” One way to understand it is that when Jesus identifies with that term, he does so as the representative of humanity: the essence of the human as created in the image of God, and also the suffering that is inevitably part of human life. Jesus embraced the fate attached to being human, and worked through all its agony until he found the ultimate realization of his connection to eternity. This is the “Comforter” he wants to send us: to know that, whatever we must go through in this life, we are part of eternity, and that since eternity is not separate from our human existence, we can always hope to see it manifest in our human experience.

So what about the apocalyptic passages? These only constitute one chapter in each of the Synoptic Gospels, while Jesus’s teachings of the subtlety, pervasiveness, and eternal nature of the kingdom permeate the whole. Therefore I believe that what Jesus is getting at in the apocalyptic saying goes beyond the traditional predictions of the end times and overthrow of oppressive governments. The human order, the temporal world, is exactly that: it is temporal and will come to an end. And once that end is reached, there will be only the eternal. As Paul put it, then God will be “all in all.” There will be nothing else. But we need to pass through this temporal experience first in order to become aware of what eternal life really is. Without it, eternal life would be somnolence. The jolt of temporality drives us to the eternal, to the understanding that love, which permeates eternal life, begins with compassion, which means being with others in their suffering.

The entire history of Israel as recorded in the Bible, from Abraham through Moses through the Hebrew Prophets, chronicles human evolution towards awareness of the eternal. Jesus built on all that preceded him and completed this prophecy to reveal more clearly than ever the nature of the eternal as grounded in divine love. The natural world with all its pain is not all there is. There is always cause for hope. This is the good news.

Relationship of Jewish Christianity to Christian Orthodoxy

If I am using a term like “Jewish Christianity,” questions naturally arise about what is its connection to “Messianic” Judaism, to traditional Judaism, and to Christian orthodoxy. The answer to the first is simple. There is no connection whatsoever to “Messianic” Judaism. The Jewish Christianity I am proposing represents a total and complete break with “Messianic Judaism” and any of the modern forms of Christianized Judaism built on the Evangelical model. Those forms of “Judaism” are actually disguised versions of Evangelical Christianity. They hold that traditional Jews are “incomplete,” and that no Jew is saved unless she or he comes to Christ, recognizing Jesus Christ as both divine and as their personal savior. The conversion of Jews to Christianity therefore becomes imperative. Such systems have no claim to the title of “Judaism” in any form. It is truly unfortunate (especially for me) that the term “Jewish Christian” cannot be used without immediately evoking images of Messianic Judaism.

The relation of Jewish Christianity (properly understood) to both Christianity and Judaism is more complex. First, while “Messianic Judaism” is a modern invention, authentic Jewish Christianity goes back to the origins of Christianity itself. The first Christians were in fact Jews, and back then being both was not considered a contradiction. The leader of the Jewish Christians was James, and there is even a book named after him in the New Testament.

When the influence of Christianity spread and it became a predominantly Gentile religion, things began to change. Gentile Christians saw the Jewish “law” (the Torah) differently than Jews did. No doubt Paul’s influence played a significant role, though his own ambivalence towards Torah is still a matter of scholarly dispute. After Paul, foreshadowed in the Gospel of John, and beginning in earnest in the second century, Christianity became decidedly anti-Jewish. Christianity began treating the Jewish law, the Jewish religion, and even Jews themselves, as irrevocably opposed to Christ and to God.

Traditional Christian orthodoxy, especially as represented by great figures like Augustine and the Protestant Reformers, has misunderstood Judaism completely. It sees Judaism as a religion not of grace but of “works.” Jews, the orthodox believe, think they can earn their own salvation by the commandments they obey and the works they perform. Judaism, they say, is a religion of “works righteousness” that denies God’s saving activity with the human race. Jews find such a picture of Judaism unrecognizable and extremely puzzling. Nevertheless, it still persists in many Christian circles, especially Protestant ones.

Opposition to Judaism became entrenched once Christianity made what I believe to have been the greatest and most far-reaching mistake in its theological history: the adoption of atonement theory, and most especially in the form of penal substitution, to explain the death of Christ. It is the notion that Christ suffered and died to atone for our sins by taking upon himself the punishment that was due to each of us. The New Testament does not actually teach this, but before long this theory evolved and was read back into the scriptures. Once it became established church doctrine, reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism became impossible.

There are many problems with the atonement explanation of Christ’s death. First, it is not needed to explain why Jesus died, and in fact it obscures the actual history. Jesus was put to death because he incurred the disfavor of both Temple and Roman authority. By vigorously protesting the corruption of the priestly class (the Sadducees), in his act of vandalizing the Temple, he put a conspicuous mark on himself. We must remember, however, that it was the Romans who executed Jesus, and they would not have cared what Jesus did to the Temple. What they did care about was his drawing large crowds who began treating him like a leader and a king. The sign under which they crucified him says it all: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

The Temple leadership may have colluded in Jesus’s betrayal, but the Romans would not have crucified him (a distinctly Roman form of punishment) had they not seen it in their self-interest. In fact, what Jesus did would have gotten him killed by the Romans regardless of any efforts by members of his own people to do him in. When crowds swelled during the Passover holiday, so did Roman surveillance. The activity surrounding Jesus and the crowds following him is exactly the kind of thing that would have drawn the Romans' attention, and they would not have just stood by passively watching while it took place. But scholars believe that for political reasons, the New Testament writers played down the Roman role in Jesus's fate and gave more weight to the Jews. Pilate as we know him from Josephus and other sources was far more brutal and not as passive as the Pilate of the Gospels.

Even the Gospel of John, the Gospel with the highest Christology, makes clear the reasons for Jesus’s death:

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:45-50)

These religious leaders understood the danger Jesus’s very public activity was creating. So they tried to find a way to save the nation.

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord - the King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13)

Once large numbers of people began publicly proclaiming Jesus as a king, he had no hope of getting out of it alive.

We do not have to reach for theological explanations to understand why Jesus had to die. Scripture portrays clearly enough the conditions that made his death inevitable.

There is still a much worse problem with atonement theory. If the Gentile Christians believed that the death of Christ was necessary to atone for our sins, then they could not possibly grant legitimacy to Judaism, for if Jews could find favor with God without needing to accept Christ’s death as atonement for their sins, then Christ’s death was for nothing and Christianity was a hoax. Therefore the continued existence of Judaism and Jews became a powerful irritant to Gentile Christianity. And once Christianity acquired state power, the conflict with Jews reached a new level of lethality. There is a straight line from early Christian anti-Judaism and the pervasive anti-Jewish invective in the church fathers and Protestant reformers, which became state-sponsored anti-Semitism, to the Holocaust. In fact, it is only since the shock of the Holocaust that Christianity truly began to reform. The sixteenth-century Protestant “Reformation” created new doctrinal difficulties and new expressions of anti-Semitism, so while necessary to correct certain Catholic excesses, did not achieve reform where it was needed most.

So did Christ die for us? Substitutionary atonement is not necessary for us to see Jesus’s suffering and death as an expression of deep love for us. Jesus knew that by taking a public stand against corruption and openly preaching his message of religious reform and the kingdom and sovereignty of God, drawing the attention of both Jewish and Roman authorities, he was placing his life in danger. He even predicted as much. But he did it anyway, because he wanted us to have this message. And the way he died demonstrated that even under the worst possible conditions of human existence God is still present with us. That is love.

And today even many non-Jewish Christians are appreciating the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish roots of their faith in new ways. Much progress has been made, and cooperation and conversations between the faiths have become possible as never before.

Relation of Jewish Christianity to Judaism

Once we see that substitutionary atonement is not a necessary part of Christianity, we can appreciate Judaism in a new way. One may object to any questioning of substitutionary atonement with the cry: “Then how can my sins be forgiven?” Judaism has an answer of its own: God is not just a God of strict justice, but of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The “good news” is not what we sometimes hear: that Jesus died on the cross in order that our sins be pardoned. Jews find this incomprehensible. They have long known that God does not require the suffering and death of an innocent in order to pardon our sins. God does not expect perfection and will not condemn us if we fail to achieve it. As Paul said, we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God knows this, and does not ask for perfection but for sincere repentance. We can always go to God for forgiveness:

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits -
who forgives all your iniquity...
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:2-3,14)

This forgiving Jewish God of grace is also the Christian God. Between Judaism and Christianity I see no inevitable conflict; I see continuity. One can view Christianity’s relationship to Judaism in either of two ways: either Christianity’s incorporation of Jewish scripture, history, and theology is the greatest example of cultural appropriation in human history, or Christianity is Judaism universalized.

One might reasonably ask, if this is true, and if Jews as well as Christians can be saved, then why be Christian? And should Jews feel threatened by Jewish Christianity?

A Jewish Christian understands Jesus as the culmination of Hebrew prophecy - not in a literal sense, as if the prophets had Jesus in mind when they spoke; that is a misunderstanding. But Jesus brought the Hebrew prophetic message to its ultimate conclusion. While a detailed exegesis of relevant passages is beyond our present scope, the prophetic message moved the Jewish consciousness in the direction of a God of universal justice and non-exclusionary love. Jesus distilled this message into its most succinct and purest form.

But what about the traditional Jewish objection to Jesus being the Messiah? That the Messiah was supposed to transform the world, but the world is still as conflicted and brutal as ever? Jesus gave us the blueprint for transforming the world ourselves: overcome tribalism, the source of the conflicts that lead to war, by practicing the love that takes you beyond your native boundaries (Matthew 5:46-47, Luke 6:32). That is the work that we must do, and no Messiah is going to do that work for us.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) tells us how Rabbi Joshua ben Levi went out to seek the Messiah. He searched high and low, until finally he found the Prophet Elijah. Overjoyed, he asked him, “When will the Messiah come?” But Elijah told him to find the Messiah himself and then ask him. So Rabbi Joshua went out again to search for the Messiah.

Finally he found him. He asked: “When are you coming?” The Messiah replied, “Today.”

Sorely disappointed, Rabbi Joshua went back to Elijah and complained: “I have found the Messiah as you asked, but he lied to me. He told me he was coming today.”

Elijah responded: “No, he told you the truth. You didn’t hear the entire message. He said: ’Today - if you listen to his [God’s] voice!’ (Psalm 95:7).”

Not even the Messiah can change the world if we do not cooperate. We cannot just sit back, do nothing, and expect miracles to happen.

It should now become clear how Judaism and Christianity can coexist. Both proclaim a God of justice, forgiveness, and love. Both look towards a better age, when God’s kingdom will be established on earth. Christians experience Jesus as the embodiment of this messianic expectation. Jews do not. It is not a matter upon which one’s eternal destiny should depend. Both have equal access to God and to divine forgiveness. God is present in both the church and the synagogue.

This means that there is no justification for any Christian efforts to proselytize Jews. Jews do not need Christianity in order to be saved. Yet Jesus was Jewish, and Jews are entitled, if they so choose, to see him as their own. Christians must be careful not to take Jesus away from Jews by presenting him as a symbol of exclusivity and intolerance.

Finally, I understand that some traditional Jews may not trust me because of my association with Jesus. That does not sway me; I remain a defender of Judaism.

Conclusion

Sometimes Christians ask me if I believe, as did some early Jewish Christians, that one must become Jewish in order to be Christian. I do not. Part of Jesus’s prophetic vocation was to universalize the Covenant. He began preaching exclusively to Jews, but then expanded his scope to include Romans and Samaritans. And while the first Jewish Christians (as I also) had questions about the way Paul conducted his mission to the Gentiles, the validity of the mission is not in doubt. Jews could only become a “light unto the nations” by showing them that they too are included in God’s essential care. “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).

The message of covenantal faith is universal. Its essence is that our human experience with all its sorrows is not all there is. I like to think of faith as the awareness of the power of eternity. The Bible is a record of the evolution of human consciousness toward the realization of eternal life, and eternal life has the power to change the way we experience human life. It is the journey of a lifetime. We may never do it perfectly, but remembering the reality of the eternal brings us hope. It is a response to a universal need. Jews and Christians are rightfully partners in bringing to the world the fulfillment of this need. And Jewish Christians, in the sense intended here, are a living expression of this partnership.

December 2020