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Jews for Jesus: Why Not?

The "Jews for Jesus" are in Denver right now, and there are advertisements posted all around saying: "Jews for Jesus: Why Not?" 

Thank you very much for asking.

I respect "Jews for Jesus" -- I have met some messianic Jews and believe they are sincere and should have the right to practice their beliefs.  However, I do not agree with their perspective, and don't think it will help Christianity.

I'll let the Jews deal with the question of whether "Jews for Jesus" distorts Judaism, and tell us whether Judaism has anything to do with a sect which believes in fundamentalist Christianity, Jesus as God incarnate, the literal interpretation of the New Testament, virgin birth, and so on, overlaid with a pastiche of Jewish culture. This is basically just another attempt to convert Jews to fundamentalist Christianity.

But my complaint is different Jews for Jesus also misrepresents early Jewish Christianity.

The early Jewish Christians were totally different from Jews for Jesus. They believed that Jesus was a prophet, not the incarnation of God; the Christ, but not the only Christ. They thought that Jesus' preaching was about simple living, pacifism, and vegetarianism, and that he never intended to create a religion separate from Judaism. Based on such sources as the Recognitions and the Homilies, early church writers such as Epiphanius, and -- at an even earlier period -- the letters of Paul, what do we find are the characteristic Jewish Christian beliefs?

1. They believe in simple living and nonviolence: they are vegetarians, pacifists, reject wealth, and reject animal sacrifice. The main Jewish Christian group was called the "Ebionites," a name which comes from the Hebrew ebionim which means the poor.  

In the Jewish Christian Ebionite gospel, Jesus says, "I have come to destroy the sacrifices, and if you don't stop sacrificing animals, my wrath will not cease from you."  (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.16.5)

"I will not suffer men to take up arms and fight against one another." Recognitions 3.42

"Love your enemies."  Matthew 5:44

2. They rejected the literal interpretation of the Bible. Specifically, they rejected the commands to make animal sacrifices in the temple. These were false texts inserted into the scripture by scribes who came after Moses. 

"For the Scriptures have had joined to them many falsehoods against God on this account."  -- Homilies 2.38

3. They reject the virgin birth. They thought, naturally enough, that Jesus was the son of two human parents, Mary and Joseph, but that Jesus became God's son at his baptism. The Ebionite gospel says that God said to Jesus at his baptism, "This day I have begotten you," a reference to Psalm 2:7.

4. They did not believe that Jesus was God, and did not believe that Jesus was unique in being the Christ all believers are Christs. 

"Our Lord neither asserted that there were gods except the Creator of all, nor did He proclaim Himself to be God."  -- Homilies 16.15

". . .  God anointed [Jesus] with oil which was taken from the wood of the tree of life: from that anointing therefore He is called Christ. . . . He . . . anoints with similar oil every one of the pious when they come to His kingdom."  Recognitions 1.45

The Jews for Jesus do not misrepresent Judaism so much as they misrepresent early Jewish Christianity and Jesus himself. We live in a world in which violence is accepted very casually. We have just gone to war and killed thousands of people over a non-event. We live in a world in which the brutal exploitation of nature, and the torture and killing of animals by the millions and billions, is accepted as a matter of course. This is the richest country in the world, yet there seems to be more interest in maintaining a steady supply of oil to support our consumptive lifestyle using violence if necessary than in reducing the vast and growing inequality in the world today.

What happened to simple living and nonviolence? What happened to the message of Jesus? We do not need a group to convince the Jews to follow Jesus. We need a group to convince Christians to follow Jesus. 

-- Keith Akers
September 6, 2004