Volume 7, Issue 4: Thema
Salvation is from the Jews
Perhaps modern evangelicalism resembles that befuddled archaelogist,
Dr. Howard Carson, in the parody, Motel of the Mysteries.
In a 4022 A.D. archaelogical expedition, Howard stumbles into an encrusted,
though quite standard, 1985 motel. Being cut off from the context of our
time, Howard completely misunderstands the functions of some very mundane
objects - an ice bucket, a TV remote control, a toilet seat - misdescribing
them as sublime and esoteric artifacts of bygone religious practices.
He describes a typical telephone sitting beside a lamp as a
highly complex percussion instrument . . . near the statue of WATT. . . . The
Bell System was played by holding one half of the instrument in each hand
and banging them together in some pre-established rhythmic pattern.
The impact would cause a small bell inside the larger of the two pieces
to ring. 1
And so on, misinterpreting everything with academic naivete.
Howard's missteps are rather inconsequential, but when we in the modern
evangelical church mirror such foibles by overlooking the deep Jewishness
of Christianity, we can paralyze generations of believers.
So many of the contemporary issues that plague local churches and national
theological currents will be resolved more easily when we rediscover our
more scriptural and natural Hebraic roots. The attitudes that have been
undermining evangelicalism for over a century have been very unJewish -
individualism, anti-historicalism, egalitarianism, retreatism in the
church, sacred/secular compartmentalizations, impotence of families,
law/gospel dichotomies, introspectionism, etc.
Much of the Protestant Reformation recognized the dangers of these
attitudes that so characterized their anabaptist opponents. While the
Reformed were calling the Church back to its Jewish, New Covenant roots,
the anabaptists were heading in the other direction at a feverish pace.
Well, now we see it more clearly. In the long run, the anabaptists have
won the Reformation. Their rather unJewish assumptions have taken the day
in contemporary evangelicalism.
Seeing beyond our own horizons isn't impossible as some suggest, but it
does take effort. As we learn more about the Jewish context of the first
century, we'll understand more and more of Scripture. For example,
Sunday school taught us of that unique little episode where Christ
welcomes the children and blesses them. In its Jewish context, we learn
that this was a standard rabbinic practice of the time. Every year,
parents would bring their children to the rabbi for a special blessing,
and Christ followed suit, revealing not only His love for children but
also revealing their place as part of the covenant community. Similarly,
casting lots for another apostle looks odd from our angle, but less so
when we understand that such lot casting was a regular part of the Jewish
Temple work. Priests were assigned various duties, on a regular basis,
by means of lots.
In the synagogue, the religious leader who aided and protected the reading
of Scripture by peering over the shoulder of the scroll reader was known,
not so creatively, as the "overseer", - a term carried over for leadership
in the Christian Church (Acts 20:28), as were so many other titles.
Additionally, Paul makes passing reference to the baptism of the dead
(1 Cor.15:29), and instead of sitting dumbfounded before the triumphant
glare of Mormon missionaries, we should learn the Jewish context and
point them to the Old Covenant ceremonial baptisms for the dead
The phenomena of tongues has a similarly Jewish context.
For centuries, God had threatened the Jews with oppression from foreigners
babbling alien tongues as a sign of His displeasure (Deut.28:49; Jer.5:15).
Paul reminds us of this fearful curse of tongues for apostate Jews (1
Cor.14:21), though our charismatic friends carry on, often quite oblivious
to the Jewish context. And the book of Revelation will forever dumbfound
us until we read it with first-century, Jewish eyes. The entire book is
so permeated with symbols taken directly out of the Old Testament, that
our misunderstandings of this glorious book reveal how far we often are
from recognizing the Jewish framework of our faith.
Unlike modern Christians who unthinkingly sever Judaism and Christianity,
first-century Christians were so Jewish in their understanding of the faith
that they wrangled over whether Gentiles could even be admitted to
Christianity! The apostles, acting like the Jews they were, called a
typically Hebraic council (Acts 15), a sanhedrin, to judicially settle the
matter once and for all. One commentator notes,
Because Judaism and Christianity have long been separate entities, we tend
to read the division between the two faiths back to the very beginnings of
the Christian church. Yet the truth is that the majority of the first
generation of Christians regarded themselves as faithful Jews, and saw
their faith in Jesus as the fulfilment of Judaism. 3
The Jewishness of Christianity is not just handy in deciphering New
Testament details. The heart and soul of the Christian faith is thoroughly
Christianity self-consciously saw itself as the continuing outgrowth, the
fulfillment, of true Judaism. As such, Christianity didn't start in the
first century but long before with King David, Moses, Abraham, and ultimately
the first man, Adam. Everything in older Judaism was building up and pointing
to the work of Jesus Christ.
When Mary, Jesus' mother, learned that she was to give birth to the
promised Messiah, she didn't think that this would be some new,
unconnected event, beginning only in the first century A.D. No, she sang
of God's ancient promises to Abraham and Israel: "He has helped His
servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to His seed forever" (Lk. 1:54,55; Lk. 1:68-74). And
Christ's apostles declared the message that "Christ has redeemed us
from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. . . that the
blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus. . .
And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according
to the promise" (Gal. 3:13,14,29; Acts 3:20-26). The New Covenant writers
even explained that the New Covenant gospel was preached to the Old Covenant
saints! The writer of Hebrews wrote quite explicitly of Moses' time
saying, "the gospel was preached to us as well a to them" (Heb. 4:2). Paul, too, declared that God "preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed'" (Gal.3:8). That's the Christian gospel, ancient and glorious and Jewish.
So when we start thinking about Christianity, we
have to understand its very Jewish roots. We should assume that Christianity
ought to look and sound like Judaism except when it explicitly claims to
change something. We should expect that the Scriptures, institutions,
basic principles, laws, meditations, family life, etc. of Judaism would
carry over into Christianity, unless Christ authoritatively changed a
practice. For example, since Christ is the reality to which all the ancient
Judaic animal sacrifices were but a picture, a foreshadow, we no longer
need the ineffective pictures. Thus, animal sacrifices have ceased, having
been fulfilled by the true sacrifice, Christ Himself.
One of the most central notions of Christianity that developed out of
Judaism is the notion of a covenant. We don't often hear talk of
covenants in our day, but we really can't understand the heights and
depths and riches of Christianity if we don't have a good grasp of a
covenant. To start, a covenant is a special kind of relationship between
persons. People can be related by friendship, employment contracts,
geographical location, citizenship, etc., but a covenant ties persons
together in a bond of mutual promise that involves conditions of blessing
A covenant is so important in grasping basic Christianity because the Bible
makes clear that this is the sort of relationship that God chose to have with
humans. He could have chosen another kind of relationship, like a labor
contract, but He didn't. He chose to bind Himself to us by a covenant. A
covenant is intended to establish a very intimate, merciful, and gracious
relationship. This special covenantal bond that God instituted between humans
and Himself is the core around which the history of the world develops. We
can't properly understand family life or church government or civil
activities or Scripture itself if we are ignorant of the workings of
Right at the core of this covenantal gospel lies a very Hebraic notion of
justification. Unlike Roman and Eastern Catholicisms which are caught
up into a Platonic notion of justification,the Reformers correctly grasped the
Jewishness of justification. Rome and the East are simply not ancient enough.
The Bible is full of the language of justification, and these many
descriptions tell us that justification is what takes place in a courtroom.
For example, God declared in His law that the purpose of a good judge is to
"justify the righteous and condemn the wicked" (Deut. 25:1). Such a
judge doesn't make a person clean or inwardly holy; his justification of
the accused is an authoritative legal judgment or declaration - "Not
guilty!" The threat of judicial condemnation no longer hangs over that
person; he is forgiven. This is part of what God has done through Christ.
He has justified authoritatively removed His condemnation from His people.
But God cannot just overlook our flagrant and deep rebellion and arbitrarily
declare us not guilty. That would go contrary to His holy nature. In order
to declare us not guilty, He imputed or covenantally attributed His
people's sin to their New Covenant representative, Jesus Christ; and in
turn, God has imputed or attributed Christ's righteousness to His people - a gracious double
imputation! Christ is declared legally guilty for our sin, and we are declared
not guilty by His perfect righteousness. As the Scripture explains: "For
He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might
become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21). And on this just
basis, God can justify the ungodly, those who have no righteousness of
As David said long ago: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute
iniquity" (Ps. 32:1,2). This is the glory of the Christian gospel. And
since our salvation is anchored in the perfect and complete work of Christ,
and not in ourselves, we can have great assurance that our redemption is
unfailing and secure. How wonderful! How Jewish!
When we understand that Christianity is true Judaism, we'll glory in the
New Covenant's description of the Christian Church with Jewish titles,
such as the "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16), "Abraham's offspring" (Gal. 3:29),
the "twelve tribes" (James 1:1), "the true circumcision" (Phil. 3:3), and "a
chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own
possession" (1 Pet.2:9; Ex. 19:6).
This is all just scratching the surface of the Jewish depths of our faith.
Jewishness pervades the doctrines of Lordship, sovereignty, antithesis,
sacraments, church government, eschatology, sola scriptura, sola fidei,
sola gratia, and more. As Christ taught, "father Abraham rejoiced to
see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (Jn. 8:56). After all, salvation
is from the Jews (Jn. 4:22).
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