A Thumbnail Sketch of Judaism for Christians - page 3


Receive our Publications and Updates
Complete Library
Knowing & Doing

From the Fall 2015 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

A Thumbnail Sketch of Judaism for Christians

by Gerald R. McDermott, Ph.D.
Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion, Roanoke College


« continued from previous page


  Traditionalists and modernists both talk about a life of “decency” that is honoring to God. They agree that the prophets in the Hebrew Bible rightly showed us that this life will seek justice and compassion for all human beings. It will perform the mitzvoth (commandments), which are summed up by the Ten Commandments. They forbid idolatry (the first), using God’s name irreverently (second—in the attempt to treat God’s name with reverence, many Jews refuse to utter the revealed name “Yhwh” and will write “G-d””), dishonoring the Sabbath (third) or parents (fourth), murder (fifth), adultery (sixth), stealing (seventh), false witness (eighth), and greed for what others have (ninth and tenth).
  Traditionalists believe the moral life is spelled out by the 613 mizvoth of Torah; modernists think the general principles of justice and compassion are found through modern reason and experience.

Human Nature

  Both traditionalists and modernists believe the human being is free to do what God commands. Here is where Jews and Christians disagree: Jews think the human will is able to master sin if it makes an effort; Christians believe in original sin, which means the will is disabled by an inherent selfishness that taints all its acts. Jews insist that although we will never be perfect, by repentance we can return to God and use God-given willpower to do what He has told us to do. Christians say this can happen only by the grace of Christ.


  Traditionalists say God chose Israel as the chosen nation because of the merits of the fathers/patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and that Israel (the community of Jews everywhere) now lives to communicate God’s truth to the nations.
  This does not mean, by the way, that traditionalists think they are in God’s family because of their works. It’s more complex and less self-righteous than that. Some decades ago, the scholar E.P. Sanders showed that first-century Jews (think especially of the Pharisees) did not think their good works made them members of the kingdom of God. Instead, they believed God had put them into the “covenant” (God’s family) by grace, but that they needed to follow the important rules of the law to stay in. Most traditionalists, and also some modernists, believe similarly. They say God made them Jews simply out of His goodness. And now that they are in the covenant, they need to make sure they stay in the covenant by obeying God’s commandments. That faithfulness will ensure a good prospect in the life to come.
  Modernists have a different view of chosenness. They agree that the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) chose God, and this is why God chose them. But they add that if other nations choose God, they too will be “chosen.” They are a bit embarrassed by the “one chosen nation” idea and interpret it as a universal call to all nations to observe the divine principles of compassion and justice.

Religious Practices

  Traditionalists believe that everything Jews have done in their historic liturgies and daily practices (which have been developed by rabbinic tradition) represents God’s will in Torah. Therefore they are scrupulous about even the smallest details, for they believe they are all of God.
  Modernists, on the other hand, think the rituals are merely human devices for making us feel close to what is good and divine. So these rituals are always subject to improvement. But their basic inspiration may have been divine.

Next page »

Page   1   2   3   4   5
To view this full article on a single page, click here.


Support Discipleship
Come partner with us in the
call to develop disciples for Christ!

Learn More

Discipleship Resources
Audios, videos, publications, &
small group DVDs for heart & mind

Learn More

Find discipleship conferences
and events in your area.

Learn More

Fellows Program
Do you want to experience the
power of a transformed life?

Learn More