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How the Jewish and Christian Religions Separated

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Dr Lindsay Wilson, Academic Dean and Lecturer in Old Testament, Ridley, Melbourne, has briefly reviewed for The Melbourne Anglican The Separation of Early Christianity from Judaism, by Marianne J Dacy (Amberst, New York: $119.99). Dacy is a Catholic.

He says her analysis is largely an historical one. That has to be good, for many Christians think fundamental theological differences between the Jewish and Christian religions were the reason for the separation. It is not so. The Jews, many Christians say, rejected God and murdered His son, so they were the people of the Devil, abandoning God, even though He had declared they were His Chosen Ones. Dacy does not think such theological factors had much, if anything, to do with it, and she puts little emphasis on them. Her thesis is that Christianity became Gentile not because of carefully argued theology, but largely because of the increasing number of Gentile converts, the marginalising of practising Jewish Christians, and the change in the balance of power in the Roman Empire.

Surely she is right. Christ was a Jew, and despite the supposed perfidy of the Jews, all the first Christians were Jews, though many were Hellenized Jews. It was through the increasing preponderance of Hellenized Diaspora Jews in Christianity outside of Palestine that gentile godfearers, mainly women at first, were drawn in, then men once the Pauline faction had abrogated the need for circumcision. Jewish Christians seem to have fought with the Romans in the war of 66-70 AD, and sympathized with the ambitions of Bar Kochba, while refusing to recognize him as messiah—how could they—and being unwilling to actually fight.

Even so it was in the period between the two Jewish wars that the Christians outside Judaea began to separate themselves from Jews generally. When Christianity was accepted by Constantine, things began to get harder for the Jews, as Christian prejudice against them was able to be expressed, and eventually the privileges given to Jews by Julius Caesar were lifted by Theodosius, and Jews began to be maligned like all the other non-Christian religions, and their synagogues smashed just as temples to the classical gods of Rome had been. Dr Wilson truly writes:

One of the striking features of this story was to see Christians, when they rose to political and social prominence (fourth to fifth centuries) using the law to impose Christianity and discriminate against other religions. This is the very practice used by Islam today, and widely condemned by Christians. There is value in reading church history!

Wilson is pointing out Christian hypocrisy, with the appropriate degree of coyness Christians feel is necessary when they ever so politely criticize others of their co-religionists, however objectionable their behavior might have been, or still be!

He continues that the rift between Christianity and Judaism was accelerated by the rise of Christianity to a position of political and social privilege. Once Christians had power, they no longer bleated about persecution like that they had received at the hands of a few emperors anxious that the decline of the empire curiously paralleled the growth of Christianity within it. Now they could mercilessly attack pagans, then Jews, then even each other—over metaphysical, nay mythical, doctrinal matters concerning the nature, substance and body of Christ.

Christianity had already declined beyond a savagery that had not been seen in civilized society for a very long time, but which was to persist for over a thousand more years of Christian darkness, before the glimmers of the Enlightenment were seen.

Written by mikemagee

9 February, 2011 at 7:55 pm

4 Responses

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  1. An argument could be made that as the Christians grew into political favor with the government (i.e. Constantine), they also grew out of the true foundations of Christianity.

    I find it interesting that Jesus was so completely against organized religion and yet with the Constantinian rise to socio-economic / political power Christianity became the very thing which Jesus spoke so harshly against… organized religion.


    10 February, 2011 at 4:23 am

  2. Jesus spoke harshly against the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, just as many, maybe most, Christians are today, but it would be hard to argue he was against organized religion per se, at least as organized as it then was. He says, for example, in Mt 23:3 that Jews should do what they say but not what they do–not be hypocritical!

    The view I argue is that Jesus was an Essene, and, quite frankly, only hypocritical Christians could argue otherwise, the evidence is so good. So, he was in a religious organization. It was, though, a Jewish organization, and one which was expecting the world to end in the Day of God’s Vengeance. It is what Jesus thought he would see in the Garden of Gethsemene. He was mistaken, but it does mean that what Jesus taught was (a) meant to save Jews, and (b) could not have been meant to start a new religion–the world was supposed to be ending soon!

    Of course, the fact that it did not end, and Jesus was crucified as someone illegally assuming the rights of the Roman emperor over the Jews, meant the teachings of Christ should have died with him. It was the disappearance of the body–taken by the Essenes for a respectable burial–that left his more naive supporters thinking he had been resurrected, the sign in Hosea that the end had come or was coming, and Jesus had been the first fruits of the general resurrection of the righteous.

    It was from now on that Paul saw the new belief as an instance of a dying and rising god–popular among gentiles–actually happening. Hellenized Jews and gentiles both would love the new religion–and did! The emphasis now, though, was on the mystical salvation of believers in the body of Christ, not emphatically on the practical morality Jesus had taught to his Jewish followers. It is the universalization of Christ’s practical morality that always matters for humanity, not mystical superstitions. You can only love God by loving your fellow human beings (Jews specifically, originally).

    So, my view is that Paul (or the faction he personifies) destroyed the moral basis of Christianity. Ever since Christians have been really Paulinians–latter day worshipers of Attis and Tammuz (Ezek 8:14).

    Mike Magee

    10 February, 2011 at 3:00 pm


      The Jesus/Yahsua of the Gospel of Matthew is a TORAH believer and rejected the Oral Tradition of the Pharisees (Matthew 15:1-20; 23:1-39;)
      He is not the “Jesus meek and mild” character preached in Christendom. He was a preacher of Righteousness, just like the Prophets and John Baptist.
      Because of the masochistic slaughterhouse theology preached by Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, people who swallow this garbage are left “spiritually castrated”!
      Talmudic Judaism (Oral Traditions) and Roman Catholicism/Protestantism are spiritual sewers, that have polluted the minds of millions of people.
      TEL AVIV today would make the people of Sodom blush.
      If there is a God, then Israel deserves to be destroyed!

      MATTHEW 15
      Jesus DEMANDED the death penalty for the son who curses his parents:
      MATTHEW 15:1-9
      Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

      Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition”?

      For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy. 5:16] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[Exodus 21:17; Leviticus. 20:9]

      But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

      You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

      “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
      They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’[Isaiah 29:13]”

      The Reading of the Text
      Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
      3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if a man says to his father and mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ 6 he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
      8 ‘These people honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.
      9 They worship me in vain;
      their teachings are but rules taught by men’.”
      10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’.”
      12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you not know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
      15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean’.”

      The passage unfolds step-by-step. First there is the challenge by the teachers and the response to them by Jesus (1-9). Then there is the report that Jesus turned to teach the crowd on the real source of uncleanness (10, 11). Third, the disciples ask about offending the Pharisees, and Jesus answered them with a parable that then had to be explained (12-20). In effect, then, the teachers raise the question, and Jesus answers them, explains his answer to the crowds, and explains his dealings with the teachers to the disciples. There was one occasion, but Jesus has three separate audiences to address, with separate issues.

      In the study it will be important to learn about the traditions of the elders on the subject of washing or purifying the hands. For this you may start with a good book on the backgrounds to the Gospel, but may in fact go to the primary source, the Mishnah.(1) While tracing down that issue in early Judaism, you will also want to learn more about the issue of “Korban” that Jesus discusses here—how they got out of supporting parents by making a dedicatory offering.

      (1)The Mishnah is the collection of teachings from the sages from about 200 B.C. to about 250 A.D. It may be obtained as a separate publication, or it may be obtained with the Talmud for the Talmud includes Mishnah. The material is arranged topically, and so you would have to locate the discussions of washing hands and on vows (for “Korban”).

      The two issues from the Old Testament that will need some clarification will be the laws on cleanness and uncleanness from Leviticus, and the citation from Isaiah about hypocrites. These too will be best treated in the context as they come up. But a good word study book (2) will certainly help with the difficulty of “clean” and “unclean,” and a commentary or two on Isaiah may be consulted for the passage used.

      (2) There are a number of word study books that are quite good; but for someone who plans to do a lot of Bible study in Old Testament issues like this, the recent multi-volume set edited by Willem van Gemeren, The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan). One volume provides topical studies, and one of the topical studies concerns “clean and unclean.” The set is arranged by the order of Hebrew words, but is so well cross-referenced that a person who has no Hebrew can use it easily.

      Challenge and Response: In response to the challenge by the teachers about the disciples’ violation of their traditions, Jesus rebuked the teachers for their hypocrisy (15:1-9).

      First, the accusation (1, 2). The men who bring the accusation are from Jerusalem, meaning that they were the best trained and most highly respected teachers in the land. They also had a good deal of zeal to be this far away from home. Their appearance here must be a deputation or mission of some kind. Whatever the reason for their presence, they were the source of the most direct confrontation and personal attack that Jesus had to endure.

      The point of their accusation is telling: Jesus and his disciples had violated the “traditions of the elders” as if those traditions were now authoritative and could be sinned against. These traditions were still oral in Jesus’ days, but were written down a couple of centuries later. The traditions about washing would be found in the tractate called Yadayim or “Hands” (see Mishnah Yadayim 2:1). What this means is that the traditions of men had been elevated to the status of Scripture, so that one could be guilty of violating them. By the way, the same problem exists today as many groups have their “biblical” views, and to violate them means criticism or expulsion from the group. But some of those views are applications and not what the Bible actually teaches.

      Second, the Rebuke of Jesus (3-9). The reply of Jesus is more a counterattack than a reply to their question. He first accuses them of breaking the commands of God in order to keep their traditions. This puts the issue back to them—they were the sinners, not Jesus and his disciples, because they had broken God’s commands and not just some teachings of elders.

      To press his point he reminds them of their tradition of getting around the law of God. They could pronounce a vow on their things with the word, “Korban,” meaning it is a gift (see tractate Nedarim in the Mishnah, chapters 1, 9, 11). The word “Korban” is based on the word in Leviticus for bringing something near to God. If because of greed, for example, a man did not want to help support his aging parents, he would announce “Korban.” That would mean the money was frozen, and could not be used for taking care of the parents. Thus, they could use their traditions to get out of taking care of their father and mother (which the Law required). Then, they might find a way of nullifying the vow so they ended up keeping the money. A clever tradition of swearing or taking oaths had grown up as a way around a clear cut teaching of the word of God.
      This, Jesus says, is hypocritical, and thus they fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. Here is the first place that Jesus called them hypocrites. Here he quotes Isaiah 29:13, which was clearly addressed to the prophet’s own audience. But by quoting it Jesus was saying that his generation was doing the same thing as Isaiah’s generation, and so the words are also addressed to this generation. In both contexts, Isaiah and Matthew, the people spoken to are Jews from Jerusalem who had a religion that was characterized by externals that often crowded out truths. The Jews in Jesus’ day were just preserving the spirit of the folks in Isaiah’s day. They said all the right things, giving the impression they were pious; but their hearts and wills were not obedient at all (they would not honor father and mother, for one example). They had a religious form, but not the reality that goes with it. So their teaching was in vain because there was nothing of God’s authority behind them.

      The quotation from Isaiah generally follows the shorter form of the verse found in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint. The point is very clear: Jesus was saying to his audience what Isaiah said to his, that their worship was vain because they were far from God in their hearts.

      II. Teaching: Jesus explained to the crowd that what went into a man’s mouth did not make him unclean, but what came forth (15:10,11). The Old Testament had a lot to say about clean and unclean (for which see the discussions in commentaries or in word study books). Everything was classified as either clean or unclean, and what was unclean was not allowed in the temple. So defilements, diseases, sins, contaminations, discharges and the like made a person unclean. The Pharisees were rigid in observing the laws of cleanness as well as the Sabbath observances and the tithes. In the process they were so concerned with the outward observance of these defilements and contacts with things unclean that they failed to realize that the real defilement was sin. The diseases, discharges, and defilements that made a person unclean were things in life that were the result of the presence of sin and death. To observe the outward rituals and miss the connection with sin was a waste of time. The real source of uncleanness was the human heart, as Jesus will say shortly. To harbor sin and wash hands with ritual washing was hypocritical.

      The ceremonial laws, including the dietary laws, were given to keep Israel distinct from the nations, but in the coming of the Messiah the believers from the nations would be united with believing Israel in the new covenant. Here Jesus would address the real source of uncleanness, which got to the heart of the matter. They were holding to externals and missed the real spirit of the law and the reason for the washing.

      III. Question and Answer: Jesus answer’s the disciples’ question about his treatment of the Pharisees by stating that they were blind guides (15:12-20). The question of the disciples showed that the Pharisees must have understood what Jesus had said and taken offence at it. The people held these teachers in high regard, and so the disciples were worried that Jesus was too hard on them. They wanted to be exactly clear on what Jesus had said and meant that offended them; and Jesus wanted them to be clear on the unreliability of the Pharisees’ teaching. The basic issue was their misunderstanding of the Law—they dwelt on the externals as the source of uncleanness and did not realize that the source of the defilements was sin in the world, so uncleanness originated in the human heart.

      In short: the human heart produced sin, and sin brought the curse, and the curse brought disease, defilement and death. God legislated rituals to deal with the defilements and the death as a way of reminding Israel of the fact that they were defiled by sin. And Jesus often healed people as a way of showing that He could deal with the cause of the sickness, sin, as well as the results.

      To answer the disciples Jesus used a couple of images. The first was that any plant that the Father had not planted would be rooted up (v. 13). The image comes from the Old Testament again that pictures true Israel, the covenant believers, as God’s planting (see Isaiah. 5:1-7). Jesus was not saying that false teaching would be rooted out, but false teachers. In other words, the Pharisees are not part of God’s planting.

      The second image is that the teachers of Israel saw themselves as guides for the blind (as Isaiah described the ignorant people of the land; Isaiah. 42:18). But Jesus says that these leaders were blind themselves, and so blind leaders of the blind, and both would fall into a pit. The leaders were blind because they failed to understand the Scriptures that they taught, and so majored on externals and missed the reality. And, since they were so weak in spiritual understanding, they also failed to perceive who Jesus was and failed to follow Him—that is the ultimate spiritual blindness (see John 5:39-40). Therefore, as leaders they will lead people away from Messiah, because they do not rightly discern the Scriptures.
      The disciples have faith in Jesus, but are still weak in their understanding of all that Jesus taught. So Peter asked the meaning of the parable mentioned in verse 11, and the disciples’ failure to understand shocked Jesus: “Are you so dull,” meaning, “Are you still without understanding?” This question draws greater attention to their failure to understand.

      So Jesus explains in some detail what it is that defiles a person. What someone eats goes in the mouth and is cast out into a latrine eventually. That in one sense is eventually unclean, either the wrong foods being eaten, or what is excreted. But Jesus is saying that the real issue is not what enters the mouth but what comes out, because that comes from the heart. And what are the products of the heart or will? — murder, anger, immorality, etc. (following generally the order of the latter commandments).

      The point that Jesus is making is that it is what a person actually is that brings defilement. The external laws of cleanness and uncleanness if properly understood to reflect the effects of sin in the world were helpful for a devout Israelite to avoid the impurities as a way of following a life of purity. But as is so often the case, it was easier to focus on the external rituals and forget the spiritual reality behind them. Jesus is teaching that true religion must deal with the true nature of men and women, not just the outer performances. The teachers would have known this if they had been concerned about inner purity.

      Jesus finally ends this teaching by saying that eating with unwashed hands does not make a man spiritually unclean, but what comes from the heart does. This is a radical departure from not only the traditions of the elders but also the details of the Law. But Jesus has already made it clear (see Matthew. 5:21-48) that He has fully expressed what the Law is about, and therefore whatever the laws teach must be determined by their relationship to Him. Not only had Jesus rejected the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law as the authentic teachers of his day, but he had assumed that role for himself—he is the REAL teacher. The conflict between what he was teaching and what the traditions of the Jews taught would come to a head later. But now that the Messiah has come and gave the full expression of the Law, every detail of the Law has to be seen in that way, in the light of the fulfillment of the Old Testament in him. And that usually means that the external regulations of the Law are no longer binding, but what it revealed about God and about His will are.

      After all, the spirit of the Law was to develop righteousness, not to provide a number of binding external regulations. Jesus was more concerned that people understand that to develop righteousness they would have to be transformed in their hearts so that they would produce righteousness and not uncleanness. Washing hands, therefore, ceased to be a significance step in that direction when the heart was unclean. And the only way that people could be transformed in their hearts was to accept the Message of Jesus and find forgiveness. But the Jewish teachers would have none of that.

      The passage focuses on the main idea that spiritual uncleanness is in the heart, the will, the mind, or whatever term is used for the spiritual nature of the person. It does not come from eating without washing the hands. The keeping of external regulations was to have directed the faithful to focus on inner spirituality, but it did not do this. And so external ritual replaced inner spiritual reality. And so Jesus took this opportunity to
      teach that truth—at the expense of the teachers’ reputation. As far as he was concerned, they had failed in their task because they misunderstood the Scripture, and so they were useless as guides. They should be rooted out and destroyed.

      One clear lesson, then, for this passage would concern external rituals. If people participate in Church services and follow all the ritual perfectly, religiously, that may represent a heart of faith, but it may not. Unbelievers can have the appearance of being devout, but if there is not faith their ritual will not help. Ritual without the reality of faith is worthless. It is more important for people to get their hearts right with God than to get the order of the ritual down; and getting the heart right with God begins with obeying the Message of Jesus, finding forgiveness and cleansing from God, and following faithfully Jesus’ teachings about the spiritual life.

      One particularly telling witness of uncleanness in the heart comes from this business of Korban. If people are trying to legitimize ways of not fulfilling their spiritual duties then the heart needs cleansing.

      Buddy Silver

      10 April, 2018 at 9:42 pm

  3. Jesus Christ was a Jew! Really, I can’t believe that.It’s because of I have read so many articles and posts that always confused me about the Jesus Christ. But one thing that I am sure about him that “he is a son of God” and we are the children of him. Thanks for sharing this.

    Mark Paul

    15 October, 2013 at 9:56 am

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