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Reply To: Did any of the similarities or differences between Christian and Jewish theology surprise you? If so, which/why?

Dominique Hoffman

Listening to Dr. McDermott reminded me of the themes I learned researching for my senior thesis in undergrad. My thesis examined how Christianity and Judaism respectively intersect with politics and conflict, with further implications on how the West and Israel view the importance of the land of Israel. In my studies, and reviewed in this lecture, there were three differences in Jewish/Christian theologies that greatly surprised me. My early concepts of Judaism were greatly informed by my Christian upbringing. I knew the Jewish people were God’s chosen people with whom God created a covenant relationship through the Abrahamic covenant. I knew the Davidic covenant promised a ruler from the line of David. Lastly, I knew the Mosaic covenant helped establish Torah for the Jewish people. I grew up in a charismatic church that taught the exact opposite of Supersessionism, I would characterize it as prosperity gospel associated with Christian support for the Holy Land. However, with this theological framework I assumed that the missing piece for Jews was Jesus, they simply needed to see him as the Messiah. I learned in my many trips to Israel that the Jewish people do not see the nature of man as sinful which demands a Savior for redemption. According to a Judean worldview, the nature of man is not predestined to sin, rather, human nature is free to choose what God commands (with an emphasis on free will). Jews speak of a life of “decency,” which is achieved through a life lived by Torah. “The concept of original sin greatly divides the Jewish and Christian understanding of man’s ability to uphold Torah. For the Christian tradition, the commandments of the Old Testament are viewed as a moral guidance. Due to the sin nature of man, humanity can never perfectly keep God’s commandments, and thus, Jesus is the only perfect atonement for the law that man cannot perfectly keep. The concept of original sin, which occurred in Genesis 3 with the fall of man, is the cornerstone of Christian faith with the need for a perfect and sinless Savior. This concept is completely missing from Jewish ethics. Living a righteous life in Judaism means living and doing Torah, and Christianity upholds that righteousness through works alone can never be achieved and perfect adherence to Torah falls short due to man’s sin nature.” Therefore, the need for a Savior is not read into the Jewish tradition. Thus, the Jewish tradition does not necessarily see the Messiah as a person (there are different beliefs within Judaism), but commonly believed to be an age. “Judaism is less concerned with ​who​ the Messiah is, and more focused on ​what​ the Messiah will do. Judaism rejects the fundamental assumption of Jesus and Messiah, but also the Christian idea of Supersessionism and completion of the law. In the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, an ideal Davidic king is one of the most common ideas held of the eschatological redeemer. The idea that the Messiah will be a future king, an “anointed one,” is not a prevalent theme in the Tanakh.’Levenson highlights the Jewish idea of a Messianic Age vs. the Christian belief in a Messianic figure, “following the Tanakh, the focus of the texts is less on the messianic figure than on the Messianic Age, the time when God’s justice, rather than cosmic earthly evil rulers, would prevail.’ The Matthean author presents Jesus as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, as Jesus is presented as the Son of David. Growing up I thought the Jews were waiting on their Messiah, a person, but in reality, they rejected Jesus because in their theological worldview He did not fulfill the Messianic Age they were waiting for. The last difference between Judaism and Christianity that surprised me is the lack of emphasis Jewish theology has on the afterlife. The binary of heaven and hell exists only in Christianity, greatly informed by the sin nature of man and the acceptance of Jesus who is the only complete atonement under the law. The Christian idea of a new heaven and a new earth ushered in through the second coming mirrors ideas of the Jewish Messianic Age. The nature of man, the need for a Savior, and our place in the world to come are the cornerstone of Christianity which is completely different from the Jewish worldview.

* The parts in quotes are from my thesis, it perfectly fit the topic.