Jewish Attitudes toward Christians and Christianity
For a biblical explanation of how God views the Jewish people, read chapter 11 of Paul’s letter to the Romans
In recent years, God has been turning the hearts of Christians toward the Jewish people and toward the nation of Israel. This phenomenon can be seen among Christians of every race and nationality. As Christians begin offering their prayers, their love and their friendship, they must not be naïve as to the difficulties Jews and Israelis have in accepting what is being offered. To understand the reason for this Jewish reticence, we must look at how the Jew perceives Christians’ beliefs as well as the Christian Church.
Let’s try to see us from a Jewish point of view.
First, let’s look at some major differences between Christian and Jewish beliefs (and why the Jew doesn’t believe in Jesus).
Original sin and “fallenness”:
Traditional Christian theology states that Jesus is first, and foremost, our Redeemer. Jesus came to earth to redeem mankind from a state of fallenness (brought about by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden). Fallenness is that evil, depraved state, into which all mankind is born and which energizes all mankind to sin and be unable to please God in his natural (unredeemed) state.
Jewish theology does not recognize original sin. To the Jew, God created the world but left His creation incomplete. When scripture states that on the 7th day God rested from His works, the emphasis is on the word His. In other words, God has done His part, and now it is up to man to finish the job. God also created the world with the potential for both good and evil and evil is only overcome when enough people do enough good. This theology concludes that man is not born into a state of sin, or fallenness, because he must have the capacity to choose what is good in order to complete God’s creation and overcome evil. If humanity is not in a state of fallenness, the nature of man is not depraved and it is not natural for man to sin. Conclusion: Without a depraved nature, there is no need for a Redeemer. In order for a Jew to believe it is possible for man to obey God’s Law (as revealed in what Christians call the “Old Testament”), Jews must believe that the natural state of man is good, not evil. Jewish theology teaches that God has given the Jew a special soul which enables him to obey God’s Law.
Jews believe that God would never require man to obey something he is incapable of obeying. Therefore, since man can obey God’s Law, man must obey God’s Law. All of it.
Christians hold that mankind will always attempt to reach God through his own efforts (whether by building a tower to heaven or seeking to obey a set of religious laws). The Law was given precisely because God knew man would not be able to obey it (due to man’s depraved nature). By giving a set of laws which man could not obey, man would eventually have to face the fact that the problem of his continual disobedience was within himself (his own fallenness) and he would eventually seek God’s “cure” which is a new nature that comes through man’s identification with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6-8 and all of Galatians, especially Gal 3:24). Man’s desire to obey God’s law, coupled with man’s inability to do so, would eventually drive man to Christ who satisfied the requirements of God’s Law for all humankind.
Christians believe that man’s (depraved) nature cannot change (man cannot repent of his nature) until he accepts Christ’s death on the cross for him, personally. This is because his natural tendency is toward evil, and his first act of repentance must be to accept what Christ has done for him: that is, change his relationship to God through the individual’s identification with Christ. Then, and only then, does he please God because God sees him “in Christ” (he is no longer the depraved individual he was born to be). Further, since his very nature is changed through this “identification”, he can go on to please God by his life (Romans 6 & 8).
To the Jew, if man’s natural state is good, it follows that any act of evil, or of disobedience to God’s law, is unnatural. Therefore, repentance is a simple act of asking forgiveness and agreeing to do the right thing at the next opportunity, thereby immediately returning the individual to God’s favor. Also, whatever sins a Jew has committed unintentionally throughout the year are forgiven on the annual “day of forgiveness” known as the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
The Messiah and Monotheism:
To the Jew, the Messiah has always been a political/spiritual leader. The concept of God having a son, and then sacrificing him, is beyond comprehension to Jews.
The Jew considers himself to be the guardian of monotheism (the belief that there is only one God). The idea of believing in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit means, in the mind of the Jew, that Christians are polytheists—believers in more than one god. So, to the Jew, Christianity is similar to the beliefs of the Greeks, the Romans, the Hindus, and any other group which does not believe in one God only.
Christianity has one similarity to Islam: it is an evangelistic religion. However, whereas Islam has mainly evangelized through fear and the threat of death, Christianity at least began by evangelizing by the word, by love, and by supernatural power. Unfortunately, throughout its history, the Church has done much of its evangelism the same way the Muslims have: by killing or impoverishing those who refused to accept Jesus.
Judaism is not a missionary religion. Jews believe that Judaism is for Jews only. God never intended any other peoples to follow Judaism or obey the Law, nor did He equip them to do so.
Whereas Christians say that one must become a believer in Christ and Muslims say one must become a follower of Mohammed and the religion of Islam, Jews say one should not become a Jew unless he simply can’t help himself. Even then, converting to Judaism is made very difficult for one who chooses this course.
If Judaism is only for Jews, and only Jews need to obey the Law, how then is the rest of mankind supposed to follow God and please Him?
The Jewish answer to pleasing God is to say that God actually made two separate covenants of Law for two separate groups of people. One covenant of laws for the Jew and another covenant of laws for everyone else.
The second Covenant of Law God gave to the sons of Abraham through Moses. This is the path all Jews are to follow, forever. [A discussion of The Law appears in a different Note].
The first Covenant of Law God gave to everyone else—all the Nations [gentiles]—and that Covenant was given to all non-Jews through Noah. This is called the Noahide Covenant, or “The Seven Laws of Noah”. Many of these seven laws are similar to the 10 Commandments given through Moses. You may read about this Covenant by googling “Noahide Covenant”. (Incidentally, Noahide is becoming an official religion in many countries and is recognized as such by the U.S.). Some believe the Noahide Covenant is what is referred to in Acts 15:19-21. The followers of the Noahide “faith” do not consider themselves Christians as it is a different religion altogether. In other words, Noahide is not Christianity.
From a Jewish perspective, there is only one reason a Christian would want to have a relationship with a Jew: the Jew’s conversion to Christianity. A Jew would tell you (tongue in cheek, but quite seriously) that “the choice of converting or burning in hell” strikes him as somewhat of a lose-lose proposition. One can imagine why Jews are hyper-sensitive to any question or remark that appears as an attempt to draw them into a discussion concerning their salvation.
Jewish attitudes toward the Church:
The idea that the Christian Church has turned its attention and its heart toward the Jewish people and toward Israel is difficult for many Jews to accept at face value. One woman recently told me, “Look, it’s taken us 2,000 years just to get to the place of being cynical! We’d love to believe in your intentions, but look at your history: all you’ve ever done is hurt us!”
This sentiment is, of course, not totally accurate. Few Israelis are aware of the part many Christians played during the 19th and 20th centuries to help turn world opinion in favor of the acceptance of Palestine as the Jewish national homeland, or of those who helped Jews during the war years. However, a Christian with even a superficial knowledge of history must admit that the institutional Church has done vast evil to the Jewish people in the name of Christ during most of its existence.
“Christian”, or believer in Christ:
One thing Jewish people have a hard time comprehending is that there can be a difference between one who belongs to the institution called “The Christian Church” and one who believes in Jesus. These have not always been the same and are not necessarily the same today. Whereas many people who belong to institutional churches have a heart for Israel and the Jewish people, quite often those who have a heart for the Jewish people and for Israel don’t want to be identified with the historic institution, the Church, because of what the church has done historically to the Jewish people.
Every person has the choice to live under religious laws or under grace. Law is available in every religious system, including the religious system known as Christianity. Grace is not available in a religious system because grace requires a relationship with a Person and not with a System. People choose Law because living by Law allows one to know, at any given moment, where one stands in relationship to a set of objective requirements. Grace requires one to have faith that he is accepted and loved regardless of how he seems to be “doing” at any given moment and that, as Paul said, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Warning to Believers:
In the Christian Bible (Romans 11) there is a warning which few Christians have heeded throughout history. The warning states that any Christian who takes an arrogant attitude toward the Jewish people is in trouble with God. The true followers of Christ have never been arrogant toward the Jews; however, many who would call themselves Christians, have.
A further issue in the land of Israel is the growing Messianic Movement. A number of Jews have come to believe that Jesus is their Messiah (it is estimated that there are approximately 20,000 of these believers in Israel today and the number continues to grow). Since Jesus was an Israeli and a Jew, these Messianics consider him “one of us”. Many Israeli followers of Jesus do not call themselves Christians just as the earliest believers in Jesus didn’t call themselves Christians (Christian was a label given to Jesus’ followers later—see Acts 11:26). Many in this Messianic Movement act much like the very earliest believers before the influence of the writings of Paul and the influx of the gentiles changed the Church’s composition and enlightened its initial (Jewish) theology.
The growing Messianic Movement has had the overall effect of turning religions Jews, the Israeli government, and Israeli citizens against Christians and Christian organizations within Israel. These organizations are increasingly perceived as having the not-so-hidden agenda of evangelizing Jews inside their own land. The assumption is that any Christian is a potential evangelist. After all, it is the nature of Christianity to make converts. This is not something Jews feel they can allow and so even the most well-meaning non-evangelistic Christian is not allowed to move to, nor find work in, Israel except under unusual circumstances. And, there seems to be a growing movement within Israel to seek ways to force Christians out of the land, even those who have lived in Israel for years and who have done much good for the Jewish people.
From the above discussion, several things should be clear regarding how the Jew perceives Christians:
- Christians use the phrase Messianic Jew when referring to a Jew who has converted to Christianity. This term is an oxymoron to the Jew who sees the two religions as being neither similar nor complimentary; therefore, the words Messianic and Jew should never be used together. When the term is used by a Christian to refer to himself, it appears to the Jew that the Christian only wishes he had been born Jewish so he could then have converted to Christianity and have become a “completed Jew” (a term which is, also, highly offensive to Jews).
- Attempting to understand Judaism in order to better understand Christianity is absurd.
- The growing practice among Christians to celebrate Shabbat meals; to celebrate the Jewish feasts, the holy days, the holidays, and other Jewish activities, must be due to the fact that Christians are bored with their own religion and are jealous of the Jews for having more fun being Jewish. However, don’t the Christian scriptures say the Jew will be jealous of the Christian (Romans 10:19 and 11:11)?
- Any organization made up of Christians that exists to benefit the Jewish people (or the nation of Israel) is immediately suspect as it is probably a front to evangelize the Jews.
Are Jewish attitudes changing?
In spite of the general suspicion and skepticism towards Christians that pervades Israeli society, Israelis are pragmatic people. They appreciate tourism. They appreciate bold people (ie. anyone willing to visit Israel when the media portrays their country as somewhat dangerous). They appreciate American investment dollars. They understand that when someone has few friends in the world, Christian friends may not be so bad after all (so long as Jews can hold on to their cynicism of the Christians’ underlying purpose of evangelizing them).
Why Christians are favoring the Jewish people:
It is certainly true that there is a sweeping change in Christians’ attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people. What has caused this dramatic shift and what is its purpose?
First, and foremost, it is God who has done it. Second, it has taken Christians a long time to discover that their Christianity makes far more sense when one understands its roots. Third, Christians are realizing that love is what we are really supposed to be all about. Finally, Christians who understand that only God can bring a person to Christ, are turning to prayer rather than overtly targeting Jews for evangelism. Isn’t it the Father who draws someone to Christ?
An Israeli may ask, “Why have you come to my country?” When this is asked honestly, the questioner may use a confrontational tone, suggesting that your real reasons for being in Israel are to evangelize his people, especially the young, whom all Israelis consider to be their own, personal children.
If asked this question, it is important to have an answer. Here are a couple of possibilities:
“I am here because I love Israel (and/or the Jewish people).” This response is offensive to most Israelis. Keep in mind that most Jews (even Israeli Jews) are not religious. Christians believe it is God who put a love for the Jews (and/or Israel) in their hearts; however, most Jews simply don’t identify with this concept. Also, the statement that one “loves the Jews” comes across as patronizing and Jews don’t like being patronized.
“Your scriptures say that anyone who blesses your people will, in turn, be blessed by God. I want to bless you because I want God’s blessings.” To a Christian, this response may sound self-centered; however, to an Israeli, it rings both true and pragmatic, concepts most Israeli’s can understand and appreciate.
Because Jewish belief says that man, is, basically, good, Jews are required to believe that attitudes can change, even attitudes among the Church, which has, historically, been the means of much of the Jews’ suffering. Yet, Jews are human beings and, like all humans, we don’t easily forget or forgive.
It is not for us to be offended by a Jew’s hesitation to trust our show of interest in them, their culture, and their country.
When you visit Israel, do so as a learner and not with the attitude that your visit should be met with gratitude. If your show of love is rebuffed, you may want to protest and say, “But I and different! I really do love the Jewish people! Don’t put me in the same category as you do other Christians!
Most Christians don’t realize how long it takes for a Jew to trust him or her, if it ever happens. To offer love to the Jewish people and to Israel, and to have that love rebuffed, will manifest the true heart of the Believer. Love rejected proves love’s genuineness. And, it answers the question, “For whom am I doing this: me or them?”
Because our trips are not mission trips, but are intended to be a learning experience, we request that our travelers not ask questions or engage Jews in conversations which are merely veiled attempts to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity or lead toward a discussion of Jesus.
Instead, be in learning mode every day while in His Land and expect God to speak to you in a very personal way that will forever change your life!