Judaism & Christianity: Profound Closeness in the New Testament

Judaism & Christianity: Profound Closeness in the New Testament November 30, 2016


Nicodemus and Jesus on a Rooftop (1899), by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




I shall contend that Paul and the early Christians did not consider Judaism and Christianity two separate religions or fundamentally different.
I had one of those wonderful “aha!” moments today when I noticed a few small (but highly important!) details, in defending the broad notion of the openness of the young Church to the existing Judaism (which I have dealt with before). The question under consideration is the following:

Which of the following options best describes how the earliest Christians viewed pharisaic, rabbinic Judaism, after the resurrection and ascension of Christ?:

1) Fundamentally hostile to it, as if Judaism had no good thing in it, and as if Christianity did not develop from Judaism.

2) As separate from it, though not fundamentally hostile to it in any way.

3) As still part of it: as a faction: those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and God.

I shall argue that the correct choice is #3, and that #1 is virtually impossible for anyone to argue, based on the NT data (while #2 is at least arguable). What I discovered today strongly backs this up. I was recounting my usual arguments about early Christian-Jewish relations, in reply to some highly critical statements about Judaism:

I find that extremely interesting, since the early Christians (even after the Resurrection) continued to worship in both the Temple and the synagogues. Even the Judaizers were Christians. St. Paul called himself a Pharisee three times, after the resurrection (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Philippians 3:5). Paul showed respect to the high priest, even when he was on trial (Acts 23:4-5). Jesus told His followers to do what the scribes and Pharisees who sit on the “seat of Moses” tell them to do (Matthew 23:2; right before he blasts them for their hypocrisy), and that not one jot or tittle of the Mosaic Law was taken away (Matthew 5:17-18), but only fulfilled in Him.

The details I refer to came in how St. Paul spoke during his trial. His chosen words show exactly what he thought about the relationship of Judaism and Christianity:

Acts 23:1-8

[1]And Paul, looking intently at the council, said, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day.”
[2] And the high priest Anani’as commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.
[3] Then Paul said to him, “God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?”
[4] Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?”
[5] And Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, `You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'”
[6]But when Paul perceived that one part were Sad’ducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial.”
[7] And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sad’ducees; and the assembly was divided.
[8] For the Sad’ducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

Acts 26:4-5

[4]”My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and at Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews.
[5] They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.

Philippians 3:5

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee,

Note the words in blue. Does St. Paul think Christianity is something entirely distinct from Judaism, because many of the Jews rejected Jesus and His claims? He does not:

1) Paul continues to refer to himself as a “Pharisee” (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Philippians 3:5). Rabbinic Judaism was precisely that of which the Pharisees were in the forefront. Since Paul identified himself with this party, then he was (in his own mind) also part of “Rabbinic Judaism” after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. He wasn’t thinking in terms of a clean break, or two entirely distinct religions, as we do today.

2) When addressing non-Christian Jews (Jews who practice Judaism and do not accept Jesus as Messiah), he calls them “brethren.” (Acts 13:26,38; 22:1; 23:1,5-6). He and his companion were called “brethren” too, by the “rulers of the synagogue” in at least one instance (Acts 13:15). Cf. Acts 18:8: “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household . . .” St. Stephen did the same before a council with Jewish elders, scribes, and the high priest (Acts 6:12; 7:1), addressing them as “brethren and fathers” (7:2). Paul used the exactly same terminology, as recorded in Acts 22:1.

3) He sees himself as somehow still under the authority of the Jewish high priest (Acts 23:4-5), because he repented for objecting to the high priest ordering him to be struck, and by his accompanying statement shows that he still believes that the high priest is a “ruler” of Christians; indeed, even a Christian apostle like himself.

4) By stating, “according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5), he clearly proves (especially by the “our religion”) that he did not think Christianity and Judaism were two separate religions, but one, and that he remained a member of Judaism in good standing.

5) Elsewhere I showed that Paul was still worshiping and even presiding over the services in synagogues (Acts 13:13-44). Acts 18:4 describes Paul as having “argued in the synagogue every sabbath,” thus implying that he was worshiping there, too. He wouldn’t just barge in after the service and start arguing. He would have worshiped with them first.

6) Acts 3:1 tells us that Peter and John were worshiping at the Temple, during the ninth hour. The notes in my RSV explain that the ninth hour was 3 PM “when sacrifice was offered with prayer (Ex 29.39; Lev. 6.20; Josephus, Ant. xiv.4.3).” Acts 2:46 described the early Christians as “day by day, attending the temple together.” This would have certainly included St. Paul, too, when he was in Jerusalem, and he himself alludes to his presence in the Temple as well as synagogues (Acts 24:12), and is described as continuing to participate in Temple rituals (Acts 21:26: “Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, to give notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for every one of them” — cf. 25:8: “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended at all”). In Acts 22:7 he refers to his practice of “praying in the temple,” and in Acts 24:18 as having been “purified in the temple” (see also 24:17: “I came to bring to my nation alms and offerings”).

Related Links:

Apostles & Synagogue & Temple Worship [3-25-07]

Passover in Judaism & the Supra-Temporal Mass: “Past Events Become Present Today”/ Survey of “Remember” in Scripture [7-7-09]

Biblical Evidence for the Oral Torah (Hence, by Analogy, Oral Apostolic Tradition) [10-18-11]

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